The Answer To Life, The Universe, and Everything

Wrangell St. Elias National Park is the biggest park in the U.S.  Denali National Park is 6 million acres, approximately the same size as Massachusetts -pretty big.  Wrangell, at 13.2 million acres, is well over twice as big.  As big as Vermont and Connecticut put together.  Bigger than Switzerland.  In a big state with lots of space, it’s overwhelmingly huge.

As is most everything in it.  The Bagley ice field is 127 miles long and 6 miles wide.  The Malaspina Glacier is bigger than Rhode Island (a tiny state, true, but still!).  Mount St. Elias at 18,008 ft is the 3rd tallest peak in North America, and is tallest coastal mountain in the world.

Yadda yadda yadda.

How about some pretty pictures?

I left after work on Wednesday night, and drove for 4 hours until I was too tired to go on.  I slept in my car on the side of the Richardson Highway.  But while I was drifting off to sleep, the aurora made a grand entrance.  For an hour I shot images, and the scene was different literally every minute.

Happy Birthday to me, indeed!  Thank you, Alaska!  That was my best northern lights show in 2 seasons here.

In the morning I continued on, but not without an adventure of a different kind first.  I discovered that I had somehow missed grabbing a stuff sack with socks & underwear.  Three nights of no change of underwear and socks was not an option.   The tiny town of Glenallen however saved me – I found socks at the general store, and underwear at the Napa Auto Parts store.

Yes, you read that right.

It’s probably best not to ask why an auto parts store carries Hanes underwear.

After stopping at the visitor center and flirting with the cute ranger there – itwasmybirthdaysoIwasallowedtoandshestarteditdammit – I continued to the park.

Access to the park is challenging at best.  The 52 mile main access road is surrounded by private land, which means you’re driving in a national park that you can’t explore.  The road ends at the town of McCarthy, which means you pay private citizens to park and camp IN a national park.  And they take full advantage!

I think the park service pissed him off at some point. Just a guess.

Ahh yes, the “Glacier View Campground.” $24/night. A very fragrant pit toilet. Not a glacier to be seen. And this is what he calls a campsite. Uneven ground, lots of plants.

While the campground didn’t offer up glacier views, it did have this view, which is nothing to sneeze at.

The town of McCarthy is certainly different if nothing else.  Only about 50 people live there, and it’s fully dependent on tourists.  Two tiny hotels, two small restaurants, two flightseeing businesses, one guiding business.  That’s about it.  It’s a little bit 3rd world.  On the plus side, people there are VERY friendly.

I never tire of randomness like this.

I tried to get on a flightseeing tour.  No luck.  One company was booked for the night, the other didn’t have any other paying guests until the next morning.

Score?  Park 1.  Kevin 0.  Not a good start to the birthday!

I had heard about ice caves in the Root Glacier, and that sounded pretty cool.  I also know that I’m not interested in exploring a glacier on my own, so I made my way to St. Elias Guides and booked a guide for a 4 hour trip the next day.

Park 1.  Kevin 1.

In the morning I tried again with flightseeing.  Another tourist was trying to convince them to fly, but they needed at least 2 guests to make money.  SCORE!  An hour later we were in the air.  Here’s a quick 1 minute best-of from the 90 minute flights.  Glaciers, glaciers, and more glaciers.  A fantastic flight with great scenery.

After the flight I immediately met the guide for my glacier adventure.  If you ever have the opportunity to check out ice caves in a glacier, DO IT!  Ridiculously beautiful, and just… cool.  Very cool (and I’m not trying to be coy with the words).

Yeah, this may qualify as the coolest thing I did summer 2012.

The next day brought rain, so I skipped a planned hike and began my 7 hour drive.  Stopping of course, for pretty pictures along the way.

To conclude.  Why the title, you ask?  Since I turned 42 on this trip, it was very fitting.  If you don’t get that, read the book The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy!!!