That Time I Won a Week Long Trip to Alaska

“Hello, is this Ryan Wright?”

“Yes, who is this?”

“Ryan, this is Carl Donohue and I’m calling to say that you’ve won”

“I’ve won what?”

“The Wrangell-St. Elias National Park trip in Alaska”

So I’m blogging about this trip very late but I find it only appropriate to give an account of this awesome trip and all of the shenanigans that took place. I had entered a contest through Carl Donahue's blog via his website and knew he had already picked the winners of the trip, and I was not among the winners. So the last person I was expecting to call me was Carl, but he explained that a number of people couldn’t make it either due to the close proximity of the trip or other reasons and he had drawn my name. He asked if I would be able to swing the trip and I told him a tentative yes and I’d confirm the next day.

“Oh snap, I’m going to Alaska!”

Meeting in Anchorage

I confirmed and made plans to get up to Anchorage, AK where I would meet up with Carl and the three other winners on March 18th, 2012. I was eagerly anticipating getting back up to Alaska, I had been two previous times and during the summer of 2008 I lived and worked in Eagle River, AK as a packraft guide. I called a few people that I met when I lived there and made arrangements to stay with their family for a few days so I could save some money on the flight (and I’d get to stay up in Alaska for a few more days!). I got into Anchorage on March 15th and grabbed a burger with Jon Crow who told was a senior in high school at the time, I had met him and his family when I lived there in 2008. I had gotten to know his father, Danny Crow, pretty well that summer and looked forward to seeing him again. Danny is one of the most calculated insane people I have ever yet, a true weekend warrior! He is a very good kayaker and back in the 90′s, he pioneered a lot of first descents on Class V rivers and creeks around Anchorage and the Mat-Su valleys. Typical Alaskan!

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I got to enjoy spending a few days with the Crows, and got to see the Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) for the first time on my first night! Jon and I went to a overlook outside of Eagle River to see the Auroras and it was easily one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen! Even though it wasn’t anything too special by Alaskan standards, we very rarely get to see them as far south as Boulder.

Going to Wrangell - St. Elias National Park

A few days later it was time to head out to Wrangell – St. Elias National Park with Carl and the three other winners, Jim, Paul, and Doug. I was last to be picked up outside of Eagle River and we embarked on the 6 hour drive to the backcountry cabin we were using in the park. We arrived in at the “parking lot” to the backcountry cabin except the cabin was about a 5 minute walk down the snowpacked trail! Once we got everything from the van to the cabin, it was time to build a fire and start making drinking water. Since its a backcountry cabin, there was no running water or electricity which provided a nice perspective on the things we take for granted everyday. We boiled snow for drinking water, used the outhouse, and got spoiled by the portable stoves that Carl had packed. While we didn’t rough it by any means, the cabin had an awesome wood burning stove in the middle of the cabin, it still took a little getting used to.

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Getting to know the other guys on the trip was experience for sure, take 5 strangers and throw them into a backcountry cabin for a week and you’re bound to have an experience! For the most part, we got along with each other and it certainly didn’t hurt that we were in such a beautiful and foreign place as none of the winners had been to Wrangell-St. Elias before. I could definitely write more about the idiosyncrasies of the group and maybe I will on another blog but it was a very enjoyable week getting to know the other guys. Specifically Carl, who provided lots of laughs and incited many debates about topics such as education reform during dinner and his local knowledge is very helpful as well. He is an excellent cook too, we ate very well on the trip! His pre-made salmon patties were amazing.

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Wrangell-St. Elias National Park is a vast and beautiful park that is around 11,000,000 acres in size which makes it the largest national park by far! I’ll be honest, I didn’t get the photos that I was hoping for but the photos that I came away with are still one of my favorites. The first morning I went back down the “parking lot” at Rock Lake and photographed Mt. Sanford ( 16,237′ft. / 4,949 m) and the alpenglow on the mountain was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. With the sun angle during that time of year, the alpenglow from the sunrise lasted forever. I was freezing my butt off in the snow for 45 minutes and it still wasn’t even halfway finished. Sanford was a beautiful mountain to photograph and I’m always blown away by the size of the mountains in Alaska. We were at around 2,300′ in elevation and we were staring at a mountain with almost 14,000ft. of elevation gain! It’s a big mountain in Colorado if a mountain has 4,000ft. of elevation gain.

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 What happens when a whole bunch of photographers get together

What happens when a whole bunch of photographers get together

Carl also took us to the other side of the park on the road to McCarthy and we had to turn down about 20 miles down the road because of the amount of ice covering the road. On the way back, we decided to head down to Thompson Pass and then he continued onto the town of Valdez where we had an amazing dinner at the T.H.C Off the Hook Bar and were pleasantly surprised with the quality of the food; it was exceptional!

Coming back to Anchorage

On March 23rd, we packed up and piled back into the van that we had now affectionately began calling the Sherpa Mobile and headed back to Anchorage. It was nice to see civilization again for the most part, and it was very nice to be able to take a shower! Jim was nice enough to allow me to use the shower in his hotel room before I headed to the airport for my midnight flight back to Seattle and then onto Denver. Overall, I loved the experience and I would go on a trip with Carl again in a heartbeat. Be sure to check his company, Expeditions Alaska out and go over to his facebook page as well.

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 Roads in alaska - they go on forever. Also notice the snowmachine tracks on the side of the roads. 

Roads in alaska - they go on forever. Also notice the snowmachine tracks on the side of the roads.