Contiki Grand Alaska Tour – Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Valdez (Days 7-12)

Well rested, we departed from the Maclaren River Lodge on 29 June and headed for McCarthy in Wrangell-St. Alias National Park and Preserve 240 miles away – one of the longest drives of the trip.

Our tour guide, Chris warned us that we would be ‘wild camping’ for the next three nights, meaning no showers and very basic toilet facilities again.

Along the way, we stopped off at the Alpine Creek Lodge on the Denali Highway where they had nine-week old puppies. This went down especially well with the girls. You could also go on dog mushing and gold panning tours.

After more than four hours driving, we reached the tiny 60 resident Copper River community of Chitina. By now, we were really out in the wild. This was the starting point of the 62-mile drive to the Root Base Camp we were staying at.

As we progressed, we took in the sensational landscapes and saw bald eagles soaring in the sky.

Eventually, we reached the campground and set up our camp in arguably an even more idyllic location than the previous spot we had on the Maclaren River.

If you would like to read about our first six days on Contiki’s Grand Alaska Camping Tour, click here.

Day Eight – Mill Tour (Alec) Ice Climbing on Root Glacier (Emily) – Kennicott

This was the busiest and most energetic day of the tour for Emily and one the most chilled for myself.

Chris, Danielle, Emily, Melissa and Simon all went on a Free Time Add On full-day Ice Climbing experience on the Root Glacier costing $165 p/p. Unfortunately, because of my left-sided weakness, I didn’t feel like I would be able to do this. Em admitted later that I would have struggled.

They were kitted out with special ice boots with crampons as well as ice pickers before then hiking to the Root Glacier 2.5 miles away from the town of Kennicott.

Whilst Em was enjoying herself ice climbing, I was on what the group called a ‘date’ with Daniella – one of the lovely Aussie girls on the tour.

We went on the two-hour Kennicott Mill Town Tour, where we explored the 14-story concentration mill and several other historic mining buildings before finishing our day with an ice-cream in McCarthy.

Later on I took a nap, wrote my first blog post of our time in Alaska and then met the rest of the group with Daniella at The Potato in McCarthy for tea. Em was absolutely exhausted having walked 27,000 steps.

Day Nine – Half-day Glacier Hike & jumping into a Glacier Pool (including injury)!

Myself, Daniella, Emily and Simon all went on a Half-Day hike on Root Glacier costing $105 p/p. I was happy to do this on my own, but Em really wanted to go on the Glacier again. Crazy if you ask me!

Eventually, after hiking for just under an hour, we reached the foot of the Glacier. Our guide then took us up onto the ice where we took in the views and bottled up fresh, free flowing water.

Collectively, we indicated to our hiking tour guide that we all would have liked the opportunity of jumping into a Glacier pool, if given the opportunity.

After 45 minutes, we eventually came across one. As we prepared ourselves, onlookers looked down on us like we were crazy, as if to say “Are they really going to jump into that”?!

Daniella went first, followed by Simon, who both came out shivering but said they felt much, much fresher after plunging into the ice cold water.

I went next, stripped down to my boxer shorts and then took a big leap. However, as soon as I landed, I knew something wasn’t right. It was a flight or freight situation.

I felt my knee knock against the sharp ice and then it dig into my stomach. I swam back to the side, hauled myself out using the rope as quick as I could and then immediately went into panic.

I couldn’t move my body and I wasn’t able to speak – it was as if I had brain freeze!

Emily and our guide, who was already on hand supervising rushed over to check I was okay. Thankfully, after a couple of minutes the shock eased and I was fine.

After being bandaged up, I too felt much fresher, but I took a nasty hit for my troubles. At least I now have the battle scars to prove it!

Despite seeing my injuries, Emily bravely jumped last. Like the rest of us, she really enjoyed the feeling once the initial cold shock had warn off.

Afterwards, we all posed for a group selfie including one doing the YMCA – I’m not sure why we decided to do this.

Soon after, we started the hike back to Kennicott. My knee was sore, but it was manageable. We both slept like logs tonight.

Day Ten – Worthington Glacier and drive to Valdez

The next morning, we packed up our tents and headed for Valdez – a small city with a population of 3,865 in Prince William Sound, 181 miles from Wrangell-St. Elias National Park.

Along the way, we stopped off at several lookout points for views of some beautiful landscapes and then went on a short 2.3 mile hike of the Worthington Glacier Loop before arriving in Valdez in the afternoon.

When we arrived, we pitched our tents at the Bear Paw Campground – our home for the next two nights and then went to explore. FYI: There’s not much to do in Valdez!

Day 11 – Meares Glacier Boat Tour

Whilst the rest of the group went on a 10-hour boat and kayaking trip to the Columbia Glacier costing $329 p/p, Chris, Emily and I took the more relaxing option by going on an eight hour boat tour to Meares Glacier with Stan Stephens Cruises costing $180 p/p.

The landscapes from the boat throughout the journey were amazing. Before getting to Meares Glacier at the head of Unakwik Inlet in Chugach National Forest, we saw a humpback whale, otters, puffins and seals, as well as birds including several bald eagles.

The captain had to manoeuvre the boat through icebergs in order to reach the Glacier. We then witnessed large blocks of ice fall from high up on the Glacier causing a loud thunderous sound as it hit the water.

Thankfully, Meares Glacier is a calving glacier that is advancing and increasing in volume, so global warming wasn’t literally happening right before our eyes.

On the way back to Valdez, we all slept.

Later in the evening, we sat on the stoned beach outside our campground sharing our best moments from the tour, before having a rather competitive stone skimming competition on the beach, which Mohammed won.

Day 12 – Drive back to Anchorage

All good things must come to an end, so the proverb says. Not something I necessarily agree with, but it was the case on this occasion.

Unfortunately, our longest drive came on our last day, as we made the 296-mile trip back to the capital of Alaska, Anchorage.

Later in the evening, we all met up for a bite to eat at Flattop Pizza to celebrate America’s Independence Day on 4 July.

I shed a tear when saying goodbye to everyone, especially with Chris, who reminded me greatly of my Dad. Hopefully, we’ll all cross paths again in the future.

It’s been an incredible journey over the last 12 days spanning 1263 miles across Alaska and a trip I will remember for the rest of my life.

Physically exhausted, Contiki’s Grand Alaska tour has pushed me to my limits but I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

And that now brings an end to our 78 days travelling in North America.

Next stop, Island Hopping in Fiji and the Yasawa Islands.

If you’d like to keep up-to-date with our travels, then you can enter your email to receive notifications of blog updates at the bottom of this article; follow my blog by clicking the link, or drop me a follow on Twitter at @AlecW95 or on Instagram at @AlecW95 or @alatw95.

Alternatively, you can follow Emily on her travelling TikTok account at @emstraveladventure.

Thanks for stopping by, until the next time…


2 thoughts on “Contiki Grand Alaska Tour – Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Valdez (Days 7-12)

  1. Just reading now. Fallen behind a bit.
    Wow what an experience. Blog, Photos and videos all amazing. So hope your knee ok now.
    Not sure we will be quite so adventurous as you when we go to Banff, Rocky Mountaineer Train , Vancouver, Alaska Cruise in late August. Have booked a few adventurous trips so watch out for them.
    Looking forward to reading next leg of your trip. Xxx

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