Our Vie Adventures consists of Cees, Madison, Vladimir the Kitten, and a 1989 Toyota Motorhome named Vie. Cees and Madison are on the road, living the dream of every outdoor-minded couple by visiting each national park in the country over the course of the year. In celebration of our National Parks Centennial, we’ve partnered with Cees and Madison to bring you stories and photos of their yearlong quest (and of course, plenty of #vladimirkitten along the way).
Keep scrolling to see Cees, Madison, and Vladimir’s visit to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, AK. Stay tuned to Downstream for updates on their adventures and follow them on Instagram (@ourvieadventures) for more frequent updates from the road.
In a place as rugged as Alaska, it seemed a real luxury to be able to drive our RV to Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. We were excited for a nice “easy” ride all the way into the park.
However, it turns out that just because there were roads leading to the park, it didn’t mean it was easy to get there. The McCarthy Road was long, slow, and a rough ride.
We only made it about halfway to McCarthy our first night. We were able to stop just over a bridge. We turned into what we thought was just a pull out, but there was a little road that lead to a secluded little spot. Primitive camping is allowed along the McCarthy Road. We enjoyed the evening with the kitty and watched the sun set at our secret spot.
That night, I woke up at about midnight. I needed a drink, so I walked over to the sink for a glass of water. As I started to get back into bed, I noticed the sky looked “funny”. I opened the window for a better look and couldn’t believe what I saw. The whole sky was lit up like a plasma ball from the 80’s! I couldn’t believe it! I woke Madison up and we both hurried outside to catch the show.
We made it to the end of the drivable road the next morning. Instead of jumping on the shuttle and paying 20 dollars, we figured we could use the exercise and rode the 7 miles to the Root Glacier trailhead. We wanted to bring Vladimir on the outing, since Wrangell – St. Elias NP is one of the only parks that allow animals on the trails.
It was his first “long distance”, “fairly aggressive” mountain bike ride. He did great! He seemed to LOVE the wind on his whiskers and watched all of the birds and other animals we spotted from my shoulders. Someone along the road said, as we rode by, that Vladimir was the only cat they had ever seen in Kennecott! I replied, “I guess we will have to call him Kenne-cat from now on!”
We road as far as we could on the Root Glacier trail. We ditched our bikes near the falls and hiked on. Once off the bikes, the kitty hiked on his own for most of the way. It wasn’t until we got to the glacier itself that we put him back up on the backpack to ride for a bit. It was fun hiking with him; normally we only get to hike with him outside of the parks.
He was having a hard time seeing because of the intense reflection of the ice. I tried to share my glasses but he didn’t go for it.
We got a lot of funny looks from people on the glacier. This probably had to do with the fact that most people were with glacier guides and in crampons and micro spikes. We had a kitty on our back and were in our Chacos!
We eventually let the kitty down to see if he would like exploring on the ice. He was curious for about two minutes. He nosed around in a few icy puddles, realized that his feet were cold, and jumped right back up to my backpack.
We had a good time on the glacier for sure, but I think Vladimir enjoyed the bike ride the most. On the way back we really got to fly. We took the “scenic trail” on the way down. I was going pretty fast and it never seemed to phase the kitty! He seemed to love the wind in his whiskers!
We stopped for a quick walk around the Kennecott Cemetery. It was a little scary – mainly because some of the headstones were blank and the place wasn’t really cared for at all.
That night, I had one of the most breathtaking experiences of my life. Since the night before there was so much solar activity, we banked on seeing another northern light show this night as well. In the middle of the night, we left the RV and hiked out into the freezing dark. We were really hoping to see the lights peek over the mountain. We made it to a little hill next to the shore of the glacier-fed lake. We set up our tent and waited for the show to start.
What happened next was one of those magical moments that only happens a few times in a person’s life. It is one of those times when you come to a very concrete realization that there is no where else that you would rather be. I was sitting on the edge of a glacial lake with the woman I love (which in and of itself is a thing to count as miracle – love doesn’t come easy). On top of this, I was watching one of the most spectacular shows that the heavens ever surrender. But the splendor of the evening doesn’t end there! As we sat there watching the lights dance, we could hear rocks and ice fall into the lake as the glacier creeped and shifted its way down the mountain. For me, it was the ultimate date night.
Seeing, hearing, and experiencing these beautiful places is spectacular, but I know that I would not cherish them nearly as much if I were exploring on my own. I can’t express how much better it is to travel with the love of my life. I thoroughly believe that these experiences become all the more sweet when they are shared with someone you love.
After our all night light show, we decided it was okay to sleep in the next day. We rode into town again, just a little later in the day this time. We wanted to take a tour of all the mining buildings, and the only way to do that is to go with a guide.
We got on the 3 o’clock tour and got to walk through and learn about all of the various buildings. It was quite the operation back in the day! My favorite part was wearing the hard hats – I could run into anything I wanted with that thing on.
It was fun to be at the top of the 14-story concentration mill. We could see out over the whole town. And as we walked down through the different levels, we were able to see how they extracted as much ore as they could from the rock. It was really neat!
We got to see other buildings like the general store (now converted to the NPS visitors center). They had lists of items you could have purchased back in the day and how much it would have cost you. It was an interesting window into the lives of the men and women who lived in this town that was so abruptly abandoned.
The power house was my favorite building in the tour. The massive furnaces that they used to power the town were still there. The system is so intricate and everything was thought out. I just imagined being in the room when they were all roaring. What a crazy world.
Vlads got a lot of playtime in this park. He is always SO happy to be outside.
Wrangell-St. Elias is one of my favorite parks now. It may have to do with the spectacular light show we were able to catch. However, there was something special about the mountains that we traveled alongside our whole way out of Alaska that seemed to linger in my mind. These peaks are the gateway to the rest of Alaska. I think it is fitting that they are named after Baron Ferdinand Petrovich von Wrangel. He, and Vitus Bering who named Mt. St. Elias, were some of the first Russian explorers in the area. By giving these mountains names, they put something on the map for people to see and to conquer. I wouldn’t say we conquered these mountains, but we were able to thoroughly enjoy being in their presence.