Family Outings In Alaska, Two Weddings Redux & A Sad Goodbye

It has been a busy month or so since my last posting and much has occurred.

I recently returned from a three-couple outing in Alaska. This offered an Alaskan introduction to four travelers and a third consecutive annual vacation visit for me.

Alaska changed throughout these COVID years. It has become a recently more favored escape and experience for those seeking simpler ways and contact with a larger outdoors.

Alaska - Wikidata

Although I have travelled there for short visits in the past, my first significant holiday was in September of 2020, when the State was an early opener for vacation travel during the pandemic. And much has changed.

2020 saw small crowds and State entry burdened with new and imperfect (Covid-related) entry requirements. By 2021 the word was out, and crowds increased with residents needing to financially recover from pandemic-depleted recent times further compounded by lesser recent seasons of Salmon runs; it was busier and more expensive.

But this year (2022) the season ran with even greater attendance and enthusiastic tourism than the prior two years. The peak Summer season, running into September and quickly to Autumn was busier again. Indeed, my own bookings were necessarily made a full year earlier, immediately following my 2021 visit.

And it was well worthwhile. 😊

Alaska is about grand displays of nature, hikes, outdoor living, simpler more independent times, hunting and fishing.

So, let me describe our outings and experiences…

After separate flight arrivals in Anchorage, our three couples (two from NorCal and another from Sweden) picked up a pair of vehicles (SUV’s) and gathered at an overnight Airbnb on the local outskirts of the City.

We shopped for a few essentials that night before turning-in quite early. The next day we found a great local eatery before heading down to the Kenai peninsula.

The journey out to Fosters Alaska Cabins (outside of Soldotna and Kenai) provided great phot-ops for our new visitors during the 3-4 hr. drive-time South. Expansive views of gigantic, U-shaped canyons were all along the way, passing narrow-gauge railway, tributaries and glacial run-off rivers at almost every turn.

We stopped for an hour or so at a Wild-Life conservatory (AWCC) featuring Bears, Wolves, Musk Ox, Deer, Reindeer, Moose, Buffalo, Porcupines, Foxes and much more. The various herds generally contain a dozen or more animals; Elk were in rut with the males separated, again strutting about menacingly as I have witnessed in previous visits. (NOTE: The park is well outside of and South of Anchorage, passed Beluga Point).

After sampling drinks, reindeer hot-dogs and similar we got back on the road in our 2-vehicle convoy.

Following another communal stop for meal and souvenir viewing we ran the last hour down to Soldotna and proceeded to our destination camp.

Upon arrival we checked-in, unloaded luggage into a couple of cabins and then each had ourselves fitted with the waders and boots we would use for the duration of our stays.

Dinners in our camp are large, substantial smorgasbords where guests congregate to feed each night. Ladies first, sit where you please outdoors or upon under-marquis seating, with an eternally open bar. Our first night of this was a great introduction and orientation for our group.

Following or during the feed, details of the next day’s trips for each party were reviewed. The dinner and clarification of the pre-arranged upcoming outings is a nightly ritual.

Some evenings featured singing by local performers. Those remaining following dinner gather around or near the open propane firepit, sipping on drinks, often making song requests for an hour or two.

Chimenea Propane Fire Pit

After our arrival meal we headed back to our cabins for an earlyish night’s rest in preparation for our first outings.

And the first day did not disappoint.

As on most days we split into two groups. This day half of us (3 of our group) headed pre-dawn down to Homer Spit where we boarded a 40’ power boat for a day ocean fishing Halibut and Silver Salmon.

We pounded our way out for an hour or more on the Gulf of Alaska, ringed in the distance by five visible volcanos. There was a little rain, but four of the 6-person total passenger group sat inside, unconcerned about the risk of seasickness.

Most everyone aboard got their 2-fish Halibut limit (one OVER and one UNDER 32” in length) and their accompanying exhausting experience of the serious workout involved in hauling them up from the deep. Following this, we that cared fished for and caught a few Silvers for our 3-man group.

It was then time to forge our way back to Homer Harbor; the journey and fishing had left us all somewhat wet and definately chilled. The lady captain and male crew performed admirably, keeping everyone happy and having all the fish filleted by the time we tied up at dock.

The second part of our group had departed camp a few hours later (also to Homer) where they took the comfortable 49 North Boat Taxi to the State park for a subsequent hike. They had their fun and returned before the fishing group to the Homer Spit and made the traditional round of tourist trips to the famous Salty-Dawg Bar, wholesome restaurants and stores.

After stashing our catch in a cooler, we finally reconstituted our total group, then had a couple of drinks at the Dawg before heading back up the road to camp and the usual evening arrangements.

The next day, two of us set out early on a 50-minute float-plane fly-out to the Kustatan River for Silver Salmon fishing. It was a new adventure for my partner on the trip.

We checked-in, located our plane dockside, climbed aboard and flew out. It was great trip with fine photo-op views, always ensuring a fun adventure. There was just one problem: the landing area was heavily fogged-in.

Normally the plane drops its floats into a narrow river, with wingtips reaching out to the banks either side and swings its way along a short course to a preset stop consisting of manageable mud banks and a couple of wood duck-bords where passengers can clamber out. But not today.

The fog was heavy and persistent. It hung like a curtain some 400yards before the viable touchdown spot, flatly carpeting the entire region. Despite our making multiple passes to get in during 30 mins over the landing site, we were consistently met with an impenetrable wall that just would not move, so we were forced to repeatedly pull out of approaches.

Inevitably, after <2.0 hrs. we touched back down on the small lake from which we had departed earlier. Some 30mins later, subsequent flights verified that nothing would be getting into the Kustutan any time soon; thus, our fishing trip was cancelled.

So, we rushed the few miles back to camp to rejoin the rest of the group who had slept-in prior to leaving for a Sockeye Salmon introductory (“Flossing”) fishing trip. We reconfigured our arrangements so that the two younger couples went out together and my wife and I picked up a separate last-minute arrangement to go flossing later with a new local guide.

In summary, the team of four had a phenomenal time with the group limiting out their couple of dozen salmon. The two girls were novices and enjoyed major success; I do believe the more experienced men were even a little envious of their catches.  The guide was excellent, put them in the right spot at the best time and taught them well. 😉

As for my wife and self, things were not so great. We arrived later in the water and the best spots and time was gone. I got a few Sockeyes yet needed to work extraordinarily hard for that catch. But it was fun and always is.  😊

The highlight of dinner that night were the tales of fishing success and new positive experiences that were had by all. So ended the second day at Foster’s Camp.

The next day was a group trip (3 couples, the six of us) down to Seward for a ferry ride. The journey to and from the Port is spectacular and often forgotten as a treat within itself.

We checked-in on-time after our 2-SUV journey down. The giant, 1-year-old ferry we boarded sparkled in its pristine white and blue colors, all immaculately wiped and spotless throughout its decks, café, seating and glass-windowed viewing areas.

After slipping dock lines and sliding out of Seward we were gone about six hours. Along the way we saw several whales, many seals, puffins, innumerable sets of rafting otters and an endless coastline with massive U-shaped Valleys truncating at the water’s edge.

And the highlight of the trip was a 1/2hr stay, in-close beneath a 0.5mile wide glacier that terminates its 10+ mile length into a spur off the Bay of Alaska. It is one of seven such edifices that originate from a massive, plateaued ice field that enjoys its own climate at about 1000 feet or so higher.

It is a spectacular sight and was an important photo-op for all aboard. Despite the chilled air the passengers posed relentlessly (as we did ourselves) for group shots and videos as large chunks of glacier growled and occasionally broke off, generating small tidal waves that dispersed into the ice flow below.

As much was filmed and photographed of this glacier as there was of the surfaced whales we had cautiously shadowed earlier, capturing their antics for 30 mins or more.

It was an enjoyable day out and we all returned weary and relaxed as we reentered Seward, then disembarked for a pre-arranged Dinner booking at a large local restaurant.

When we arrived back at camp there was a familiar pair of local singers still there, entertaining a small group (of <10 guests) around the firepit beneath the marquis. I listened for a while, confirmed the next-day arrangements and then retired early for the upcoming morning’s adventures.

The following day, three of us (myself, younger son and his significant other; they both in from Sweden) headed out at dawn for a float-plane trip up to Crescent Lake, >1 hr. flight-time away.

I arranged for the lady to take the co-pilot chair as my son and I took our seats in the main cabin with the other 6 or 7 passengers aboard. The flight out garnered some of the better happy-face and mountain landscape pics I would capture on the entire trip. And we landed on the starkly emerald-colored, isolated lake just as planned, beaching up behind another flight that had arrived minutes earlier.

There are only 6 guides allowed to work this lake and 3 were on the beach after we landed. We quickly split into 6 or 7-person groups, boarded our flat-bottom, motorized boats stationed near the landing area and dispersed about the lake.

Our day featured (almost) “Snagging” for Silvers and Humpies down in a corner of the Lake, shortly before it gently spilled into a sluggish downhill river. The fishing was productive for all; I picked up the 7 or so bright red humpies I mostly cared about while others targeted and captured the 3-fish limit Silvers they wanted. Our group had a few Silvers we brought back, too.

Alaska Magazine | In Defense of the Lowly Pink Salmon

Most of the day fishing involved keeping tabs on a nearby group of 4 brown bears (an underwater swimming Mom and 3, 2-year-old Cubs) who constantly threatened to cross over towards us from 150 yards away. Fortunately, they harried the opposite bank of a dozen anglers and a couple of guides all the time and never became sufficiently interested in us. But again, they were so close we were easily able to watch, photograph and video all their mischief and antics.

Last year (2021) I had seen these same bears and as many as a dozen more. This trip there was just “Swimmer” and her 3 boisterous cubs.

After all the fish were had we took off by boat following these bears, taking pics and videos from close range but keeping safely behind them as they quickly progressed unimpeded by any fishing groups down the bank towards the plane landing area.

I managed to fish alone for Dolly Vardens (like Rainbow Trout) and picked up a dozen in the very place the bears were gamboling 3-4 mins before we beached. And this, as the guide filleted the fish, my son tried for more Silvers and the others in our small party looked on, drank and ate while watching for a surprise visit from bears. Finally, we piled back in the boat and moved on.

After a subsequent, quick (< 5minutes) stop required for me to pick up a 19” Lake trout (using newly harvested Salmon eggs) lingering beneath a floating filleting station, we rounded a couple of bends and beached again to await our incoming float-plane transport out.

There were soon perhaps 20 of us on the beach awaiting fly-outs. No bears arrived and a few of the anglers started fishing with snagging rigs while we waited. I must have seen ½ dozen more silvers caught and filleted during the 30 mins or so we stood about and chatted. 

A couple of planes arrived. We all quickly helped load gear, bagged fish fillets and snack coolers then scrambled along the plane’s shore-side float, clambered up the fixed boarding ladder, dove into the cabin and fell into our window seats.

Within the hour we had taxied, taken off, run low out through the blustery, tree-spotted Valley, then crossed the large expanse of water to the mainland, while passing over a few solitary oilrigs in the brown silty waters ~2000 feet below.

We banked sharply into the Lake landing site and within an hour we were back in our own cabins at camp.

The second group (3 persons) of our party rose later that day and had gone on a guided and guarded short hiking tour through bear territory to Russian River Falls. They did not get along too well with their guide that day and thus had not enjoyed the fun and adventure anticipated.

Much as they wanted to ditch the guide, they realized that the other hikers they saw that day were well-armed (lots of bears are around) and so them wandering carelessly unarmed and w/o even bear-spray was perhaps very ill-advised. They did not immediately enjoy the trip, sights and experience as was hoped. It happens. ☹

Dinner that evening was quite a contrast. My Swedish guest saw her flight, fishing, bear viewing and boating as “one of the best and most memorable days of my life.” Great to have such a unique, wonderful experience while capturing so many pics and videos for memories.

The Hiking group even seemed to reflect that there were perhaps some special memories to their day, too.

And so, another day in Alaska passed into history and personal memory.  😊

The following day the Swedish couple in our group began their trip home to work responsibilities.

My eldest son and I took a 2-seater, side-by-side ATV trip into the Hills around 1 hr. drive South of Soldonta, towards Homer. We passed through an old Russian Village with a small, highly ornate church at its center, before taking off on our remote, guided trek.

Alaskan Back Country Side by Side ATV Adventure with Meal 2022 - Denali  National Park

The hills were strewn with brilliantly purple Fire Weed and we ran by deserted trapping cabins and the few remote ruins, all the time travelling on regulated State land. If I recall correctly, for some reason the Government owns >40% of all Alaskan Land. Such massive ownership is typical of many Western US States.

After driving outbound some ~90 mins on moderately tricky trails we reached a halfway point and turned back. Our ATV’s front LHS tire was already running low air pressure when we had set out, and by the time we were 5 miles short of reaching our SUV and trailer, that tire broke its seal, and we ran off-trail.

As no tools of any form were brought along by the guide we staged the vehicle slightly off-trail and returned in the guides (fortunately) 4-seater ATV to our vehicles just outside the Russian Village.

We settled with the guide, and he told us he would return later with tools and a spare wheel to recover the vehicle. It appears that as the weather was starting to turn (colder, wetter; with the Fire Weed dwindling, changing bloom) and the region is so remote, it was unlikely anyone would need to pass the abandoned ATV in the immediate future, certainly not for a day or two.

So, off we went North, back to camp and dinner, with another fine tale to tell.  😉

The following day our NorCal couple (my recently married eldest son and bride) packed up their SUV and headed up to Anchorage and their flight out. My wife and I took a break, just doing laundry and lunching out before the routine evening camp dinner.

The next day I fished alone with a familiar guide. We had planned to fish the Kasilof River, but the Silver runs were not yet really happening there. In fact, other than on fly outs or in the Gulf, they were pretty sparse with the major runs still yet to come in after the Sockeye flow gave way.

So, we fished the tail-out of the lake by the Lower Kenai. It was painfully slow progress and as you can only run a single rod when alone, it is impossible to quickly check out optional lures when pulling plugs. Some of the other six boats we saw that morning also only caught an occasional Silver, despite each being able to run at least four rods.

Eventually we hauled out and headed back down the Kenai River and I picked up a few Sockeyes flossing to add to the single Silver caught at the Lake. So, it was somewhat productive, and provided additional meat to add to the freezer. But it was a good day, and I spent more time with a familiar guide and friend.

The following day was my last fishing on this trip with another guide known to me and hailing from Oregon. Ryan had moved up with his whole family this year for the Summer guiding season in Alaska.

This time I was targeting my favorite, Rainbow Trout. It is all catch and release, but great sport.

The fish were spread out in pockets and so are not easy to find until the Silver Salmon runs are in full flow.

But Ryan found the fish and I had a big day. I took a spectacular 25” Rainbow, a couple of 24 inchers with about 45 total brought to the boat, mostly in the 19-22” range. I lost a 28-29” monster who was a little too smart for my skills; he made my 25” fish look like a tiddler and me feel like a complete novice. 😉

The day demanded a lot of judgement and realignment to the quite different trout nymphing techniques used in Alaskan waters. It took a few hours before my skills really began to set back in with subtle back-handed casting and drift-mending adaptations. In the end I was even able to pick up some nice Rainbows in hard-to-manage, low expectation areas.  😊

And then the fishing was done, and nothing was left but satisfied bragging rights, organizing fish shipments and arranging travel home.

There was about 130 lb. of fish shipped back. Mostly Sockeye, but a smattering of Silver Salmon and some decent Halibut. The freezer is again adequately filled after being only recently emptied of the few last 10’s of pounds of fillets which were still in prime condition from the similar 2021 haul.

But we did not get out Scot-Free.

A few days before we left my wife contracted Covid and it was a full three days later before I finally tested positive. This played havoc with our return. Fortunately, my case was VERY mild; no temperature issues at all and I was testing negative again within 72 hrs. Lucky me!

We both hit the PAXLOVID 5-day course treatment along with a recommended battery of supplements and vitamins. As my own case was so surprisingly short-lived, we were both simultaneously ready for travel and returned home.

Noted lessons learned and worth noting, re: HAVING COVID…

If a standard Covid Lateral Flow Test (CLFT) shows a PALE (Positive) line that takes a while to appear, your case is likely less profound and symptoms less debilitating. The Viral Load you carry is LOWER and most likely you are less infectious, supposedly “only to perhaps pass it on to a Spouse.”

HOWEVER, if you have a DARK RED (Positive) line that appears within a few minutes, the opposite is basically true, and you might even be classed as a “Super Spreader.”

Medical professionals have elsewhere offered these pointers. Your guess is as good as mine as to their efficacy.  😉

Now changing subject…

Since my last posting there a have been a couple of (shall we say), Phase II wedding celebrations to attend. Let me explain…

Inevitably many people still got married during the Pandemic which caused attendance at events to be somewhat to severely limited as folks were either reticent to travel or Covid restrictions remained profound and ominous in the vicinity of the event.

So, some couples choose to have belated, secondary events in more convenient locations and at a (sometimes) much later time. Both thwarted guests and newly married couples often favor a celebration redux. Hence, I attended a pair of such events in recent weeks…

In the first case it was the reception redux locally for friends and neighbors who did not attend my eldest son’s wedding in Kauai, last May. There were a few speeches, great food and a fine turn-out.

The second reception was a celebration of a friend’s eldest son’s marriage which occurred quite quietly during the very early depth of Covid restrictions (mid-2020). This event was a full-blown wedding / vow redux, and the couple now even had their new baby in attendance.

In both cases it was great to see the joy and closure that both events brought to guests and couples alike. People always have fun on such occasions, but it was precious to witness the obvious happiness and satisfaction on the faces of all those privileged to attend.  😊

Perhaps such Phase II events in convenient secondary locations will become increasingly commonplace and traditional? Certainly, the Pandemic has already affected many other aspects of life.

Then next of course there is the Local, World and Domestic News that has flooded in since my last BLOG.

Only the most noteworthy is worth mentioning. So let me begin with firstly a couple of simple Local observations…

Not greatly mentioned is the fact that the entire San Francisco Bay turned a vivid reddish brown for over a month. The effect began in early August and was only diminished and constrained to mostly the Alameda estuary by mid-September. It was recommended the fish caught were not eaten.

An algae bloom not seen for almost 20 years has again returned. The effect was initially quite alarming since the muddy redness deepened as the days warmed and it spread so extensively throughout the entire Bay.

Many of the local Ducks (mostly Mallards and Canadas), Herons (mostly Night Herons, some Great Blues and Egrets) and Cormorants temporarily quit affected surrounding marinas and headed for cleaner fishing grounds, only slowly returning as waters became clearer.

In Monterey Bay, the great Blue Herons nesting in the +80’ high Eucalyptus above the bridge running through the Santa Cruz boat harbor have already produced a new generation for 2022. The birds and their young still frequent the nests and caw loudly to all who will listen.

On the World front…

Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom passed away, aged 96 years. The Country, Commonwealth and many around the World mourn as a new King dutifully awaits his Coronation. And the outpouring is staggering. Sadness of loss remains palpable, yet a new, continued and stable era is anticipated and quickly needed.

Reports from Ukrainian front-line soldiers suggest they lack basic weapons, ammunition, communications, transportation and manpower. As many $100B’s in weaponry and other forms have poured into the Country, one must wonder what is going on.

The day before Ukraine was invaded the President (Zelensky) was considered to the be the head of the most corrupt Government ever known. One day after the invasion he was being hailed as a modern-day Churchill.

The US is reportedly severely depleting their military reserves by channeling much advanced weaponry, ammunition and funds to the Ukraine. Similarly, many European Countries are contributing the same way. So, something smells bad, here. Things do not stack up.

On the COVID front there have been >10 Countries that I have personally seen officially reporting Government-recognized problematic findings from the impact of Vaccination. These include the likes of Germany, Denmark, Israel, the UK, Turkey, Japan and more.

Other than Media reports offering 11 dubious (non-Vax) explanations to now routine and numerous, so-called sudden adult deaths, there is no similar mention or reporting in the US at all and certainly nothing hinting at any problems whatsoever with vaccinations. No wonder there are conspiracy theorists running wild. 😉

The US Domestic front inevitably remains very bumpy…

FBI whistleblowers are coming out of the woodwork and uncovering the obvious current bias and politicization of the Bureau that we have already been increasingly witnessing for decades. They say heads will roll. Time will tell… sigh. ☹

The border crisis continues. In early September, the Administration acknowledged that around 2 million illegals had entered the country under Biden’s reign. Independent bodies are already on record stating that with known missed encounters and existing official recordings the number already greatly exceeds 5 million, with no end in sight. Someone cannot count.

Gas prices in California can now be found in the $5.50/ gal range. We are supposed to celebrate this progress down from >>$6.00 / gal. I recall quite recently when reaching $4.00 / gal was considered disastrous.

Most of the price reduction we are seeing is driven by a great fall in demand driving down pricing. Folks cannot afford gas prices and so are finding other ways to minimize their budget expenses by limiting personal consumption. Another inconvenient truth.

Why high gas prices are more about Wall Street than the White House

The situations we create and to which we are offered delusional or deliberately misleading insight are almost comical. So, let us not dwell on any more of such frustrating News and simply move on…

We are heading into Fall (Autumn) around the Northern hemisphere. The News channels and Media offer their own spins on the reality that they wish us to accept. And this remains our choice, at this point.

As you can see from above, I have personally experienced and fortunately enjoyed several happy, convenient diversions during the last six weeks. I recommend you similarly find a path for distractions.

And as for the News reported… keep questioning what is offered and try to look behind just some of the screens. 😊

Ian R. Mackintosh is the author of Empower Your Inner Manager Twitter@ianrmackintosh.