Aug 13, 2017

Spencer Glacier via the Alaska Railroad

In late July the wife & I celebrated our 18th anniversary. Months earlier I had started saving money for an Alaskan adventure that I had wanted to do for a long time.

The Alaska Railroad's Chugach Explorer Train
You see, it's not just the tourist that enjoy Alaska. Us locals like to get out and explore our home too. The Alaska Railroad offers Glacier Discovery Train takes you to the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop. Departing from Anchorage in the morning, it makes a stop at Portage and then onto Whittier and then back to Portage. From there it heads into the Chugach National Forest and stops at the Spencer Glacier Trailhead. From there it continues onto the Grandview area and then heads back, stopping again at Spencer Glacier and then along side the Placer River to pick up those who have traveled downstream by raft. Then back to Portage, Whittier, Girdwood and finally Anchorage.

Because of the multiple stops, people use this train for multiple reasons. Cruises headed to Whittier can use this train to get to their ship. Or you can do a Prince William Sound glacier cruise. We caught the train at Portage when it stopped there the first time and road along as it went to Whittier and back. We could've caught the train when it stopped in Portage the 2nd time, but it was nice to just relax as the train rolled along. And while we were stopped in Whittier, we had enough time to bag a geocache.

Yesterday's rafts being pick up for today's rafters.
At our 2nd stop at Portage, we picked up the bulk of the passengers. Most were part of a tour group. From Portage to Spencer Glacier is a quick trip of about 30 minutes. This includes a few moments alongside the Placer River to pick up the rafts that had been left there yesterday to be used today. These rafts are surrounded with an electric fence to keep curious bears from damaging them.
Then it was onto the the Spencer Glacier stop where most of us got off. A few people stayed on for the trip to the Grandview area. This trip is suppose to be beautiful and someday I hope to do that too. In additional to the Spencer Glacier stop, the US Forest Service and the Alaska Railroad plan to develop several more stops in the future.

The level, easy 1 mile trail at the Spencer Glacier
At the Spencer Glacier stop you disembark at the head of a one mile gravel path. There's a couple of covered pavilions with interpretive panels and outhouses here. Those going rafting were met by their guides and loaded on a bus. They made a short trip up to the lake formed and fed by the Spencer Glacier that serves as the headwaters to the Placer River. After rafting among the ice bergs born of the glacier, they float down the Placer River to be picked up by the train on the way back. This looks like a fun trip too.

Always good advice...

This bridge over the Placer River connects to what will be additional trails
Most of those not rafting rallied around the Forest Service ranger for a ranger guided walk to the lake. I'm sure this was informative, but we had a different agenda. We have been geocaching for 12 years and were just a few caches away from having found 1,200 caches. There was a string of caches along the trail that would get us over the mark, so after the crowd (and by crowd there was maybe a dozen people...) moved on, we started our hunt along the trail. The walk was Alaska at its finest with mountain views, lush greenery, and the river humming by. And bugs. Not mosquitoes, but these little black flies. They didn't seem to bite, but having a cloud of these things around your head would almost drive a person nuts.

Spencer Lake and Spencer Glacier
After a mile on the gravel path and 5 caches, we came to the lake. The view across to the glacier was majestic. Ice bergs serenely floated on the lake. Our fellow travelers spoke among themselves quietly, almost as if they were in a cathedral and respecting the sacredness of the surroundings. At the lake edge we found geocaching number 1,200 and soaked in the views.

A few people brought mountain bikes to explore on. The trail continues past the lake to a public use cabin. Nearby is a camping area for those who wish to spend a few days here. But alas, our time was short, almost too short. We walked back do the trail and waited just a few moments for the train to arrive. We loaded up and found our seats. The train continued on, pick up the rafters and then arrived at the Portage stop. We got off here where our car was parked. There was a motor coach waiting to take other travelers to Girdwood and Anchorage while the train would continue on to Whittier again to pick up those who had done a day cruise or were coming off a cruise ship. You can stay on the train if you don't mind a late return to Anchorage.

We hopped into the car and headed to Girdwood to overnight in the Alyeska East 210 condo offered by Alyeska Accommodations. It was a nice place with a great view of the mountains and very affordable for Alaska in the summer. We enjoyed dinner at Silver Tip Grill and walked around the Alyeska Resort area at the base of the ski hill. Then it was off to bed.We had more adventure planned for the next day, which you can read about here...

Byron Glacier Trail

For our 18th anniversary in late July we decided to have an Alaskan experience. For the first half of our weekend, we did the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop trip on the Alaska Railroad and overnighted in Girdwood. You can read about that here...

After waking up we left Girdwood and headed to the Portage Glacier Valley in the Chugach National Forest. This is one of my favorite areas and we've spent time here in the past. ( Hiking Portage Pass, the Portage Glacier cruise, gulls trying to kill us.... ) But one thing we've never done was the Byron Glacier Trail hike. The Byron Glacier Trail begins as a 1 mile gravel trail over flat terrain. It's easy walking and on the weekend we went it was well traveled. As with anywhere in Alaska, you want to be "bear aware" and use all the proper precautions.

Byron Creek looking towards Bear Valley
The trail officially ends on the creek bed of Byron Creek. But really, that's where the fun begins. You can get some great views here and if your mobility is limited or you are short on time, just walking this far is worth it. But if you can and you've got the time, keep going. The glacier is another couple of miles up the valley. If you had the skills, I bet getting up to it is amazing. We just went another mile and every step we took the view got better and better.

You could see evidence of last winter's snow coming down into the valley in an avalanche. Many people were running around on the snow. Many tourist that come to Alaska are coming from locales where snow is non-existent, so this is a treat for them. But do use caution. The creek is running under that snow and I don't think it would be impossible to break through under the right conditions.

Waterfalls coming down from the glacier
Directly in front of us was a small mound of shale pushed up by the glacier. A well worn path led to the top and I figured that would be a great place for a photo. From there I could see beyond that was a large mound of rocks and boulders that over the years had cascaded down from the mountains on both sides. It looked like it could be a tough scramble for two chubby people, but I knew I had to go further. So onwards we went. Most people were staying within a hundred yards of the end  of the trail, but there was few going further; including families with young children. So I knew that it wasn't impossible.

We made our way up and over the mound, pick our way through large chunks of rock. The creek flowed around the mass to the east and I could see one person making their way alongside it. There was no real path; you simply went whatever way you could.

We pushed onto another snow field, crossing the creek to get to it. At that point the terrain began to get increasingly steeper. We had already gone much further than originally planned and knew that it was probably time to turn around. This time we went around the mound along the creek. It certainly wasn't any easier, but being right next to the roaring water was a great experience.

As we got back to the trail, I wanted to shout to those there" hey, go up just a little further! It's worth it!". But I figured each person explores in their own way and left it at that. We got on the trail and made our way back to the car. Our incredible weekend  was coming to close. It was a great way to celebrate a milestone and I'm looking forward to many more adventures with the wonderful gift that is my wife.

A few tips for Byron Glacier: the parking area can fill up. You can find more parking at the end of the road where the Portage Glacier Lake cruise departs or at the Begich-Boggs visitor center. Or wait a little bit. It seemed like there was a lot of turnover. There was no cell service in the area. The only food in Portage Valley is at the Portage Glacier Lodge. It's soups and sandwiches. I haven't eaten there in years, but in the past they've had great food.

May 21, 2017

4 years...

Four years ago today I had this post on Facebook: Spent the day in jail... But then they made me leave.... Probably 'fraid I'd take the place over...
But hey, if you are a church, ministry or Christian in Southcentral Alaska, there is plenty of ministry opportunities at Goose Creek. And the guys I met today in the Faith Wing are some of the most solid believers I've ever met...

 And here's the update for today:
Four years ago today I stepped into Goose Creek Correctional Center for the very first time. Since then I have led 10 rounds of Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University attended by almost 200 men total. I also was part of the launch and now lead the God Behind Bars ministry with 150 - 170 (we've broke the 200 mark a couple of times) men coming out each week for service. James Saxon comes out with me on Friday and then goes back into the Special Management Unit (SMU) on Saturday to share the service with another 35-45 men. The highlight of our GBB ministry was last February when Central Church sent Drew Bodine, G-BLEST and the rest of the Central Live worship team and over 400 people packed out the gym for a worship service.
I've also led a couple of rounds of John Bevere's Bait of Satan bible study but had to drop it due to time constraints. Additionally I've attended multiple baptism services (we've seen almost 200 men take the dunk) and preached a couple of Sundays services.
I've had some incredibly high times and a few low times, just like any other endeavor; but it's been worth it.
I would like to see the churches of the MatSu Valley support and participate in ministry to these 1,500 inmates more. While we have some incredibly dedicated volunteers, there's still so many more opportunities to have an impact. But I suppose every para-church leader and missionary has that same thought about whatever it is they are doing. And most churches and Pastors already feel pulled a hundred different directions...
The administration and staff of the Alaska Department of Corrections at GCCC are incredibly accommodating when they can be and I always appreciate their hospitality.
Because we all come and go at different times, I rarely see the other volunteers that also come in through out the week. But I'm thankful for their dedication and service. All of us who minister at GCCC do so as volunteers, including our facility chaplains who are out there almost full time. And of course there's our Statewide Chaplaincy Coordinator JD Duncan who tirelessly works behind the scenes to make it all happen.