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Well, it seems like we are going to Alaska this summer since…

We Won the Bear Lottery!

Two grizzly bears in Alaska

Two young grizzly bears in McNeil River

Last November I entered the McNeil River State Game Sanctuary permit lottery system. For those not familiar with McNeil, it is one of the best places for grizzly watching. The sanctuary is very strict and only allows a few people (8-10) into the park during each 4-day time slot. So winning this was a big deal!

I got the tickets last November as a Christmas present for Hal. When you apply, you have to choose a time slot. The chances for getting a permit vary depending on the slot you choose. The highest number of bears visit during the peak of the salmon run, which makes those time slots the most difficult to get. This year it was a 3% chance! The system allows you to make a first choice and second choice, so I chose one week before the peak in early June and another week past the peak in late August. We got the permit for late August! The salmon run might be over but there will be plenty of opportunity to see the bears clamming along beaches.

We still can’t believe we won!

But we can’t go all the way to Alaska and just visit one place! So we started to come up with other locations we’d really like to visit.

Looks like we are going to go on an Alaska road trip!

Caribou sign on Alaska

Alaska road trip anyone?

 

Back Country Camping at Denali

Denali is wild. Six million acres of wilderness, only traversed by a lonely road. When you get a back country permit, you are given an area of the park where no other campers will be. Also a bear proof food container. You take a bus into the wild (no cars allowed) and you are dropped at the area where you have been allocated. There you go. Camp wherever you like. Anywhere. Denali is yours.

At first this may seem like an irresponsible thing to do. Hey, go wherever you want, put your tent anywhere. But there is a sound reason behind it. To keep Denali wild. For example, visitors are discouraged from walking in single file lines so as not create paths and trails. Walking in a dispersed manner insures that no vegetation is destroyed and human impact is minimal.

Backcountry camping in Denali

Back country camping in Denali

Wouldn’t you want to be the only person in a whole valley and not see another human for days? Go to Denali.

Plus, Denali is home to North America’s tallest peak, 20,320 feet  (6,193m) Mount McKinley! I can just imagine the views!

Visit the Walruses at Round Island

Every summer, thousands of walruses congregate on the beaches of Round Island, just off Togiak National Wildlife Refuge. The island has only two biologists living on it for a few months each year. They are the only inhabitants on the whole island. Hal was lucky enough to visit 9 years ago and I kept hearing his tales of walruses chiming at night, red foxes stealing bird eggs, and horned puffins frolicking around.

Walruses on Round Island, Alaska

Walruses on Round Island, Alaska

The real reason why I’d love to visit is that the first pic I ever saw of Hal (before I even met him) was one of him atop a cliff in Round Island. Behind him, a bunch of walruses rested on a rocky beach. Going there would be like going to where every thing started.

The trip to Round Island is insanely expensive, so not sure we’ll make it. But we are going to try.

But even if we do have the money we might not be able to go. No one knows if Round Island will be open to the public this year. Government cuts meant that there is no money allocated for the two researchers and the island is now closed. We didn’t know until two days ago when we were trying to figure out some logistics. Hal contacted a state game sanctuary manager and he was told they are still trying to find some funding, but we should still apply for a permit and if they open we can go. So this one is up in the air.

A horned puffin in Round Island, Alaska

A horned puffin in Round Island, Alaska

The Ultimate Alaskan Treat

While looking at some maps, Hal said we should drive to the very top of Alaska. That’s a 20h drive from Anchorage and most of the drive is through a lonely tundra road, the Dalton Highway. It contains the longest stretch of road in the United States with no services at all: 240 miles! This is a serious wilderness road. The reason he wants to drive up there is that “Seeing musk ox in the wild is one of my dreams!”  I couldn’t say no to that, especially since he made my lifelong dream come true, to see wolves in the wild.

Musk ox

Musk ox are cool!

 

So I guess we are doing this! It took me a while to get on board, but right now I am very excited to see musk ox. After all, one of the wildest scenes I can imagine is musk ox and wolves on the tundra!

Plus we’ll be crossing the Arctic Circle!