The Kaleberg Journal - September 2017

09/23 - Our Ultimate Day at Ultima Thule - Part 4

We had one more stop before McCarthy. We had flown far through the hills. Our pilot circled, testing the winds. Then we landed on a high ridge. It was wide open. We were scared to get too close to the edge. For some reason, flying what seemed inches from a mountainside thousands of feet above an active glacier wasn't a problem, but walking across a meadow towards the edge of a cliff turned our legs to jelly. Go figure. Then again, our pilots seemed to be more competent in the air than we are on the ground.

It was icy up on the ledge. We broke into our bags and brought out another layer. Ultima Thule suggests packing layer after layer and bringing the whole kit with one every day. With landings like this, it only seems sensible.

Then we took off again, leaping over the edge of the cliff and into the sky. Off to McCarthy. Our bags were waiting for us. Our connecting flight had not arrived. Our pilots departed after assuring us that there was a plane heading out our way. We waited patiently. Our plane arrived. Amazingly, though, the incoming flight was carrying take out pizza for the staff at Ultima Thule. Luckily, McCarthy has good Verizon coverage, so we made a quick call to the lodge. They would send a plane for it ASAP.

We left the pizza in what we hoped was a safe place and headed off for Alaska. Apparently ordering take out pizza is different in Alaska.


Alaskan hills

Dall sheep

The sheep again

The view from one of the landing strips

High country - It was cold.

Seen on the ground

Seen en route to McCarthy

Goodbye to the glaciers

More glacial melt

Another glacial pond

Keywords: alaska

09/23 - Our Ultimate Day at Ultima Thule - Part 3

We explored some more and found some wolverine tracks. Then, it was getting on. We had a four o'clock flight back to Anchorage, so we started making our way back to McCarthy.

Wolverine tracks

Yup, wolverine tracks

Clear water meets milky water

A glacial melt water channel

Cracked rock

Autumn color - There was a lot of that.

Over the river

Over the river bed

Another river

The painted hills

Yet another river

Keywords: alaska

09/23 - Our Ultimate Day at Ultima Thule - Part 2

Then we flew downriver and landed to explore clear water pools, almost amazingly blue, and brown milky river channels. We were regretting that this was our last day by the Chitina.

Clear water meets milky glacier water

Along the channel

Wonderful color

Autumn again

Cracked ground

Melting ice covered with soil

Our airplane at the terminal

More autumn color


Another bit of clear water

Another reflection

Keywords: alaska

09/22 - Our Ultimate Day at Ultima Thule - Part 1

Ultima Thule is extremely organized. On the last day, we packed all our goods and chattels and went out on a final adventure. Our bags would be waiting for us in McCarthy where we would get the plane to Anchorage.

Our goodbye tour took us over one of the great glaciers and into the connecting canyons where other glaciers flowed down mountain sides to join it. There were a lot of glaciers and a lot of canyons, so our pilot took us about past steep rock walls and over the rivers of ice.

We landed on the river bed, and stretched our legs. There was a little waterfall in a side canyon, and then the wide open river bed.

The view from the lodge

Bison as seen from above

A glacier view

Another glacier view

Yet another glacier view

Seen awfully close to our plane

Down to the glacier

Ice covered with soil


A little waterfall

Back to the river bed

Keywords: alaska

09/21 - Our Third Day at Ultima Thule - Part 4

This wasn't an eventful hike. So much of it was about being out there in an impossible place and taking in both the broad expanse and the little details. Details like the silverberry plants or the shattered rocks that looks as if they were sliced at a deli. There was the feel of the air and the sense of wide open space. We were rewarded for looking up and afar as much as for looking down and up close.

We spent the entire day walking the river bed, but we have no idea of how far we had traveled. We could only note our progress in terms of the unfamiliar ground or distant landmarks which barely seemed to change as we walked and wandered. Gibraltar, that island to the east, grew only slightly smaller as we headed west, and the great mountains seemed as distant as ever.

Then came our ride. A Piper Super Cub appeared from nowhere and found a landing strip. There were lots of landing strips. Then we were airborne. The river looked different from the sky.

Color on the mountain

We took a lot of pictures of those mountains.

Silverberry plant with berries

A worn and broken rock

More color

Dried flowers

Seen on the river bed

Our ride back to the lodge

A view from above

It looks different from the sky.

Complex channels

Keywords: alaska

09/21 - Our Third Day at Ultima Thule - Part 3

As we wandered east along the river bed, we paid attention to the ground. There were signs of running water everywhere. At the base of one small plant we saw small marks on the soil. We thought they might be small animal tracks, but they were drip marks from a recent rain.

The sand in the river bed is extremely fine. Glacial rivers carry very fine sand as we noted earlier. A light kick could send up a cloud of dust. In the spring, the river bed spawns dust devils, whirling clouds of fine dust. As the winds get more powerful, the entire river bed is almost hidden by the clouds of fine dust, the same dust that gives the river its milkiness.

River bed plants, either that or from Mars

Local color

Gibraltar and the mountains

The ridge we had followed the day before

Another look at Gibraltar as we headed away

The far bank

Water drops

Nature's harvest season

Another set of prints

A dry river bed, almost like the ones on Mars

Another pretty view

Keywords: alaska

09/21 - Our Third Day at Ultima Thule - Part 2

We hadn't expected autumn foliage in Alaska. I suppose we imagined that the trees would go from green to barren in one single powerful blast of cold air coming off the slopes of the Brooks Range if not from the Arctic. We seem to have arrived at its peak. The forest were golden in contrast to the pale blue color scheme of the distant mountains.

One of the more interesting plants we found was the silverberry. It had white berries, the size of olives. They almost looked as if they were made of plastic. The outer skin almost dissolved in one's hand, but the inner green berry was hard. These were popular with the local bears.

Wide open country

We saw a squirrel, but no moose

More autumn color

Silverberries - bears love them

Mountains and autumn


Down on the river bed

More signs of autumn

That island is Gibraltar

River bed


Keywords: alaska

09/20 - Our Third Day at Ultima Thule - Part 1

On our third day, we explored the river bed. We flew upstream a way and found a landing strip on one of the banks. Our guide was waiting for us. We started exploring the low bank forested area, then made our way towards the river channel proper.

We were looking for bison. There was a herd of them nearby. We could even see their hoof prints, so we explored some of their likely hangouts. We didn't find any.

As we approached the river bed proper we got a real sense of just how big the river valley was. It was miles across and seemed to run forever in either direction.

The river

Autumn color

A close look at the ground

A broader view

Heading towards the river

Bison tracks

Approaching the river bed

Mountains in view

Another close up

More tracks

Green life

Keywords: alaska

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