Alaska, 2013Geologically speaking, a lot of Alaska is young; the rivers are pretty shallow as they haven't had a lot of time to form. Roads are limited, and usually in pretty rough shape from winter's destruction. Private aircraft rule the outer areas as they have the only access. Not a place to wander off, as the wilderness is deadly for the unprepared.
The ArrivalI had flown into Ted Stevens International Airport on a connection from Seattle, using Alaska Airlines. Work was paying for it, I have no status on Alaska, so I was in the back, and man... was that a cramped, tight, back of a 737 for 4 hours. Quite uncomfortable, but hey, I didn't pay for it.
You need a car, end of story.
AnchorageThe biggest city in Alaska, built by natural resource extraction, fish, crab, oil, etc. Quite a few 3-4 star hotels, and a lot of 2 and less. Home of the Solstice festival where you can party for 23 1/2 hours in sunlight. I was there in May, and sunlight at 2am was interesting... walking back to hotel from bars at 10:30 with bright sun was surreal.
Connected to the main highways in the state, Anchorage has a very decent mall as well as 4th street, a couple miles of bars all in a row.
The area experienced a devastating earthquake in 1964 where a good portion of the city fell into the bay, and as a result, 4th street is now the northern edge of the portion left on the plateau.
UpstateMost people do not come to Alaska just to stay in the city; the wilderness is stunning. The roads teem with moose, I saw many. They don't care if you're in a car, they will walk in front of you. You will be hurt. Keep aware.
I drove up highway 1 to Glacier Park, and went to view the awesome might of millions of tons of ice sliding down a slope at inches a year.
I was a mile from anything, and of course, no cell service. Even if I had it, the time delay waiting for help wasn't an acceptable risk. So I had to up my heart rate, keep blood going, and high tailed my ass back to the entry where I started my car, thawed my boots enough to take them off, and therefore, avoided frost bite.
Go Army extreme cold weather training.
DenaliSo while drying off in the car with the heater set to 95 degree max, I drove up to Talkneeta by backtracking to Highway 3. This is the entrance to the Denali range and the highest peak in North America. You can't bring O2 on the climb either (at 20,000 feet? Airplanes require it at 14,000), so it's a rough one that takes an average of 17-21 days round trip - temps go down to -40, and climbers need to be prepared for 100 mph winds, heavy snowfall, freezing rain, and blazing sun, since you never know what you're going to get there.
The town is a great place to just sit and drink and then maybe wander to another bar where you can sit and drink. It's also home to a thriving art community. If you're not climbing, these are my recommended activities.
The center of the climbing life is the Ranger Station. It was nice, and they keep track of registered climbers and teams who have attempted or succeeded in climbing Mount McKinley have left their banners. Very cool.