Day 5 of our trip began beneath a bright, open sky in Hope, Alaska. The previous night, Andi and I slept in a tent near (but not with - ha!) our friends Kristina and Alex who graciously outfitted our camping adventure. The four of us enjoyed a simple breakfast of eggs, oatmeal and apples with almond butter seated around the outdoor picnic table, then packed up camp and drove to Girdwood, Alaska for a late-morning hike.
Girdwood holds a special place in Alex and Kristina's hearts as they were married there just one year prior. The four of us planned to go for a morning hike on the popular Winner's Creek Trail, then have lunch in Girdwood. But first, Andi needed to charge his camera battery (can't possibly vacation without a camera!), so we made a pit-stop at a quirky, local coffee shop in Girdwood to "borrow" some electricity and enjoy a cup of coffee.
Once our electronics were up and running, we ventured over to Winner's Creek. Many Girdwood visitors hike this trail as it begins (or ends?) at the biggest resort in the area, Alyeska. Kristina and Alex started us on the opposite end, which worked perfectly because we encountered less people that way. The constant jingle of bells attached to Kristina's backpack were a familiar sound as we hiked along with our friends. We never encountered bears or moose during our adventures, but Kristina noted their presence in the surrounding wooded area.
About a mile and a half into our hike, the four of us came to a hand tram used to slowly pull people over the thrashing Glacier Creek below. The metal cage and pulley system is completely safe, but definitely gave our hearts a workout! First, Alex worked to manually pull Andi and I across the flowing river below; then, we returned the favor and pulled Alex, Kristina and their dog Sam to the other side.
We continued to hike the trail until we reached the end, and then turned around and hiked back from where we came. The entire trek took about 4 hours and we were all famished by the end. Kristina and Alex led our car caravan into the town of Girdwood, and Andi choose a restaurant called the Girdwood Picnic Club for lunch. This place was unassuming from the outside, but surprisingly bright and beautiful indoors. The food was delicious, too, or maybe that was just our hungry bellies talking?
After lunch, Andi and I said good-bye to our friends. How lucky were we to have such amazing tour guides to show us all the best spots around the Kenai Peninsula? I loved our time together with Kristina and Alex ... and I definitely caught a hiking bug from them. It was so fun!
Andi and I stayed at the Alyeska Resort in Girdwood that evening for our final night of vacation. The resort was big and beautiful ... and so NOT our style. Alyeska was crawling with tourists and full of gift shops, coffee cafes and restaurants. A haven for some I'm sure, but Andi and I prefer quieter, more local spots. I will say the hotel rooms were nice and clean, and a hot shower felt awesome after 24-hours of camping and hiking. Andi and I cleaned up and chilled in the hotel room for a while, then decided to head off to see what else Girdwood had to offer.
First, Andi and I took the resort gondula up to the top of North Face Mountain. We walked around for a bit at the top, then decided to ditch the hotel scene for dinner at a local spot in Girdwood. We wanted to eat Jack Sprat's but didn't have a reservation, so we opted for outdoor seating on the restaurant's patio. It was perfect for the two of us as we like to keep things casual anyway. Neither Andi or I were very hungry since we'd had a late lunch, so we opted to split a steak dinner. Our food was delicious, and the ambiance was the perfect chill vibe to round out our evening.
After dinner, we called it a night and retired to our comfy, cozy bed at Alyeska. We both slept like babies after all the adventuring we'd be up to that day.
Andi and I decided to spend our final day of vacation sea kayaking in Prince William Sound. I'd never kayaked before and I'd been years since Andi had, so we thought this seemed like the perfect way to end our Alaskan adventure.
We checked out of our hotel early that morning and grabbed breakfast at a small grab + go cafe in Girdwood called Spoonline. This place was fantastic, though it's quite possibly my excitement for their coffee talking! This was the first time I'd tasted coffee blended with MCT oil and ohmygoodness, it was amazing. (As as aside- Andi and I have been on a mission since our trip to recreate this coffee goodness at home but like everything, it's doesn't taste quite as wonderful as it did on vacation).
With a hearty Paleo breakfast burrito and deliciously warm coffee in our bellies, we ventured back to the town of Whittier where our trip began a week prior. In Whittier, we met up with the crew from Alaskan Sea Kayakers. After fitting us with gear and a brief instruction, our group set out for a day on the sea.
This excursion was like nothing I'd ever seen or done before. We likely saw 10 bald eagles in the first 15 minutes of our trip. We were up close and personal with beautiful glaciers under a dense blanket of clouds. The view was incredible!
Half-way through our journey, two guides with us from Alaska Sea Kayakers led us to a sandy beach for a picnic lunch. They put together an impressive spread of hot soup, meats, cheese, crackers, raw veggies, cold salads and warm drinks to refuel our group for the day ahead. We perched ourselves on logs and rocks, and enjoyed our beautiful surroundings.
After lunch, the group of eight hopped back in our respective kayaks and ventured onward. We toured a small cave and waterfall, then continued onward. Half-way, our guides asks the group who wanted to take the short way back and who was interested in more exploring. Andi and I opted to end our kayaking trip early in an effort to catch the 4:00pm opening of the Whittier tunnel passage. (For reference, we had about 30 minutes to make it.) Our guide laughed and said we had tunnel fever. "We've all had it from time to time," she said. Our goal was to squeeze in a quick hike on another trail before heading to the airport in Anchorage later that evening, but to do so we needed to hit the road shortly. Andi and I paddled with all our might those last 30-minutes of kayaking. My arms were burning, but I couldn't stop now. We had a deadline to meet!
Finally, we made it back to shore and returned our items to the kayak shop. We thanked the owner and hurried on our way to the tunnel passage.
Wahoo! We made it just in time. Andi and I drove through the Whittier tunnel and emerged on the other side of the mountain range. Surprisingly, it was sunny and beautiful on this side. We parked our car at the trailhead of Byron Glacier Trail, and ventured onward. This hike was especially neat because it led you up to the actual glacier. As Andi and I walked along, we reflected on the amazing trip we'd just experienced. Alaska will forever hold a special place in our hearts.