Denali to Prince William Sound

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GEA president and founder, Tom Mullikin has been in Alaska the last several days as a “NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPERT” for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC’S ALASKA: DENALI TO PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND EXPEDITION.
Founded in 1888, National Geographic describes its National Geographic Expeditions as "spanning the globe” and “designed to reflect NG travelers' broad spectrum of interests."
Stay tuned for updates about National Geographic Expert Tom Mullikin’s expedition to Alaska.
@natgeotravel #natgeotravel #ngexpeditions!

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ALASKA: DENALI TO PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND EXPEDITION – DAY 2
[National Geographic Expert Tom Mullikin’s update, Sept. 4, 2016]
The weather today was exceptional; the best I have ever enjoyed in Alaska – barely a cloud in the blue sky and the temperature in the low 60s (Fahrenheit). We spent the day traveling into the Denali National Park. Along the way, we saw grizzly bears, caribou, moose, fox and eagles. The park was alive with the sun and clear-skies highlighting Denali, the highest summit in North America and looking regal in the distance.
Having made multiple ascents on the grand dame of North America, I can say it was one of the most fantastic views of Denali I’ve ever seen. The contrast between yellow, red and brown tundra serving as the foreground for the snow covered mountain only highlighted the beauty of the "Great One."
The weather combined with the excitement of the guests served to create a positive, truly palpable energy. Kate Batten, our expedition leader, shared her extensive knowledge of the park, and her eagle eyesight enabled her to spot many of the local fauna while explaining the particulars of it all. I enjoyed delivering my first presentation during our lunch break where I introduced some of the climate changes and the associated challenges for Alaska and the global community.
The day ended with our arrival at the Denali Backcountry Lodge – nearly 90-miles-deep into the 6.2-million-acre park – with a wonderful dinner and toast for anniversaries including the 100th anniversary of the National Parks and birthdays. A spectacular day for all.
– Tom Mullikin is in Alaska for the next several days as a “NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC EXPERT” for NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC’S “ALASKA: DENALI TO PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND EXPEDITION.” Founded in 1888, National Geographic describes its National Geographic Expeditions as "spanning the globe” and “designed to reflect NG travelers' broad spectrum of interests." Stay tuned for updates about National Geographic Expert Tom Mullikin’s expedition to Alaska. @natgeotravel #natgeotravel #ngexpeditions!

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ALASKA: DENALI TO PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND EXPEDITION – DAY 3
[National Geographic Expert Tom Mullikin’s update, Sept. 5, 2016]
“Day-three of our NatGeo expedition was outstanding. We enjoyed a four-mile-hike to the top of Eagle Point where we witnessed a magnificent view of Denali. Our group climbed strong through the thick alders, over the tundra and up the side of this beautiful peak to get an incredible view of the "High One." With more than 450 flowering plants that bloom in greater Denali [the National Park] there was a great deal to view and discuss.
“Several other guests enjoyed a flight over Denali where they could see climbers camped on the mountain. Weather at altitude on the mountain was going to be a bit brisk last night at minus-20-degrees Fahrenheit with 10-mph winds. The guests were treated to aerial views of some of the 40 named (and hundreds of unnamed) glaciers in Denali National Park. Glaciers cover approximately 4,000 square kilometers (1,544 square miles) of the park.
"Glaciers store a large portion of the world's freshwater, an estimated 69 percent, and if melted would result in significant sea level rise. The temperature in Alaska has increased by three degrees Fahrenheit over the last 60 years and the area of Denali glaciers has decreased by eight percent from 1950 to 2010.
"Many of us spent the afternoon with either a history tour of the area or a botany tour with one of the resident experts. Kate Batten again proved to be an excellent tour leader keeping all of our guests engaged, involved and the informative tours and hikes running on time.
"After a wonderful reception and dinner, I enjoyed delivering a talk on a changing climate in Alaska as the "Canary in the Coal Mine." Many of our guests remained to discuss particular questions and issues. The presentation was opened-up to other guests staying in Denali National Park.
"It was a wonderful day in the Park combining the very best hiking, tours and meals and sharing our passion for this beautiful environment. Today was a reminder why National Geographic is the world leader in exciting and informative tours in Alaska and around the world."

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ALASKA: DENALI TO PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND EXPEDITION – DAY 4
[National Geographic Expert Tom Mullikin’s update, Sept. 6, 2016]
“Our Alaska expedition was greeted with plenty of liquid sunshine today providing a marvelous contrast in which to view the various plants of Denali on our hikes. The NatGeo expedition guests participated in a wide variety of activities today while admiring the flora on the hillsides of Denali.
“The day ended with my second presentation on the significance of Denali in the broader consideration of global climate change. Several other guests of the National Park joined our talk and stayed for questions and answers following the presentation. We had guests from South Africa and Australia as well as two young physicians from Chicago. The ‘surgical’ examination began with a review of the measured receding activity of the glaciers of Denali and ended with a discussion of the relevance of these activities on the everyday life of our guests.
“Several guests were interested in some of our climbs and dives around the world. The photo below was taken during one of our dives under the ice in Antarctica where we discussed briefly the challenges and unique opportunities of ice diving.
“Many retired early following the talk to prepare for our early wake-up (5:00 a.m.) and departure from the Park for Talkeetna."

 

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ALASKA: DENALI TO PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND EXPEDITION – DAY FIVE
[National Geographic Expert Tom Mullikin’s update, Sept. 7, 2016]
“We began the day early with a drive back through the Denali National Park. Along the way, we saw moose, grizzly bear, ptarmigan and a golden eagle. The ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus) is Alaska’s state bird. Chosen by Alaska schoolchildren as a symbol of ‘the Great Land,’ the ptarmigan became the official state bird when Alaska became the 49th state in 1959. The willow ptarmigan is the largest of three ‘Arctic grouse’ found in Alaska, also including the rock and the white-tailed ptarmigan. Unlike other grouse, the male willow ptarmigan often assumes responsibility for the young, defending them against predators. The golden eagle is a very large raptor with broad wings, ranging from 26-to-40 inches in length and from five-feet-11-inches to seven-feet-eight-inches in wingspan.
“Following our ride out of the Denali, we boarded the Alaska Railroad for an incredible trip down to Talkeetna passing along beautiful rivers, seeing swans and the Alaska mountain range. Talkeetna, a beautiful climbing town, has become a summer stop for my son, Thomas, Jr., and me as we have prepared to ascend Denali. The folks in the town are very friendly and have a great deal of knowledge about the mountain and related activities.
“We finished our day with a wonderful meal in Talkeetna and great conversations about the beautiful environment in Alaska.”
[The photo is of Hurricane Gulch, a tributary of Alaska’s Chulitna River, enroute to Talkeetna.]

 

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ALASKA: DENALI TO PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND EXPEDITION – DAY SIX
[National Geographic Expert Tom Mullikin’s update, Sept. 8, 2016]

“We began today with a hot breakfast at the lodge looking toward the majestic Denali. The clouds kept most of the mountain from full view, so we said goodbye to the ‘High One,’ and soon thereafter began our trek toward the Chugach Mountains and over to Girdwood.

“The Chugach Mountains are the northernmost of the several mountain ranges that make up the Pacific Coast Ranges. The range is about 250-miles-long and 60-miles-wide. The highest point of the Chugach Mountains is Mt. Marcus Baker at 13,094 feet.
As we approached Anchorage we visited the Iditarod Race Headquarters in Wasilla and met some of the beautiful Alaskan sled dogs [see photograph].

“We stopped at the Eagle River Nature Center for a picnic lunch and a visit to the State Park viewing center. While there I spoke with the Alaska Mountain Search and Rescue Company that was preparing to deploy to find an injured hiker in the mountains: A wonderful conversation with true patriots.

“We continued down the Seward Highway following ‘Turn Again Arm.’ The Seward Highway has been named one of America’s ‘Top 10 most picturesque country drives’ and one of the country’s ‘most unforgettable, must-see roads.’

“We arrived at the beautiful Alyeska Lodge. The Alyeska Ski Corporation was founded in 1954, and the first chairlift and day-lodge were opened in 1959 (the year Alaska became a state). The Roundhouse ski lodge and ski patrol station at the top of the mountain began construction in 1960. Still standing, the lodge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2003. As soon as we checked into our rooms, we went for a hike through the Chugach Mountain Range. The Chugach is a temperate rainforest in the pacific temperate rainforest regions, and it is inhabited by numerous bird, mammal and marine species, including a bald eagle population larger than that of the continental 48 states combined.

“Our day ended with a wonderful dinner overlooking the mountain.”

 

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ALASKA: DENALI TO PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND EXPEDITION – DAY SEVEN
[National Geographic Expert Tom Mullikin’s update, Sept. 9, 2016]

“After a wonderful breakfast at the Alyeska Resort, we boarded our vans and made our way toward the Prince William Sound for a cruise. We passed Portage Glacier and drove through the tunnel enroute to Whittier, Alaska, where we would join a tour.

“Whittier was once part of the portage route of the Chugach people native to the area. The nearby Whittier glacier – and ultimately the town – was named for American poet John Greenleaf Whittier in 1915.

“In 1943, during the height of World War II, the United States Army constructed a military facility with a port – Camp Sullivan – which continued as an Army post through the early years of the Cold War until 1960. On March 28, 1964, Whittier was devastated by an earthquake which remains the largest U.S. earthquake, measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale, and caused tsunamis along the West Coast of the U.S.

“The tsunami that struck Whittier reached a height of 43 feet.

“In Whittier we boarded our cruise ship for a tour of Prince William Sound (also known as Prince William's Sound). Located on the South Coast of Alaska, Prince William Sound is on the east side of the Kenai Peninsula of the Gulf of Alaska. Chugach National Forest and Chugach Mountains surround Prince William Sound. We viewed several glaciers during our tour including the Surprise Glacier (see photo).

“Also near Prince William Sounds is Columbia Glacier, one of the largest glaciers along the Alaska coast. The Columbia Glacier descends 10,000 feet above sea level, and is considered the world’s fastest-moving glacier retreating 80-to-115 feet per day. The receding Columbia Glacier accounts for almost 50 percent of the ice loss in the Chugach Mountains.

“Enroute back to Whittier in Prince William Sound we were treated to the sight of a Humpback Whale, as well as bald eagles and the various other beautiful vistas and sounds of the area. Returning to the Alyeska Resort, we dressed for dinner; our final dinner together. During dinner our guests discussed the parts of the incredible experience they most liked. It has been another incredible – once in a lifetime – National Geographic expedition from Denali to the Prince William Sound.”

 

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ALASKA: DENALI TO PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND EXPEDITION – FINAL DAY
[National Geographic Expert Tom Mullikin’s update, Sept. 9, 2016]

The final day of our National Geographic expedition in Alaska was
another beautiful day. We departed early from Alyeska Resort for the Alaska Wildlife and Conservation Center and a close up view of
porcupine, moose, elk, caribou, brown and black bear, wolves, foxes, muskoxen and wood bison. The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center is a non-profit organization dedicated to conservation, education, and quality animal care. The center is located on about 700 acres at the southern edge of Turnagain Arm and the entrance to Portage Valley.

Our tour ended with another incredible picnic on the shores of
Turnagain Arm. We enjoyed the views of the clear water and the
Chugach mountains. The expedition leaders for our National Geographic Expedition again proved why they are the best in the world: Kate Batten, Cassie Schneider and Cameron Breslin were the best I have ever seen. No detail was too small and no issue too large - they accommodated all requests. (See the photo below curtesy of Rebecca Simor.)

From the majestic heights of Denali to the cool waters and glacier
views of Prince William Sound, the National Geographic expedition was organized, educational, and offered truly phenomenal views of some of the most amazing landscape in the world. I will miss the warm and interesting participants of an incredible trip. Until the next time, I leave you with this rainbow over Prince William's Sound and the beautiful Chugach Mountains.

I am now ready and eager to catch my red-eye flight back to South
Carolina so I can participate in the historic South Carolina State
Guard Hurricane Hike on Saturday morning.