Mount Mckinley has been on my to-do list ever since I picked up mountain climbing. This year, the mountain has been very kind to climbers, allowing over 83% of its mountaineers to reach the summit. Although I am out of shape due to lack of exercise and the time I’ve spent in preparation for my new startup, watching the mountain itself gives me inspiration for the future.
I had always wanted to visit Alaska, to enjoy its beauty and feel the untouched wilderness around me. Life finally gave me a chance to explore the wilds while at the same time catching up with my college friends - both my friend Hong and former co-founder Kash came with me on the trip. The tales of Alaska’s “midnight sun” had been just a story to us, but daylight at 2am truly shocked me into an understanding of the actual situation. It is very hard to fall asleep when the sun is out for pretty much the entire day.
There were many highlights on that trip to Alaska, but there are three amazing experiences that I will forever remember.
Denali National Park was one of the most impressing features of the trip. The bus system that travels through Eielson visitor center runs every hour or so, and at the visitor center you can see the north face of Mount Mckinley. Animals roam freely through the park, without any fear of human beings. It creates the feeling of humans being the visitors, and the animals being the hosts.
Another fantastic experience was interacting with the Native Alaskans. I've always been interested in different cultures, and learning about Native Alaskan culture was no exception. As there seem to be no restaurants that serve their food, finding a place to taste dishes like moose, whale, or seal meat (black meat as they call it) seems virtually impossible. In Fairbanks, we met a woman named Pixie Alexandar, who was the director of the Athabaskan cultural center. The visitor center was intrigued by our genuine interest about learning their culture, and also provided a very hearty home-cooked meal where we got a taste of moose soup as well as beluga whale. During the dinner we also learned the history of the Native Alaskans and were impressed by the way they can live off nothing but the land around them. In their hunter-gatherer culture, nothing is wasted, and everything goes back into the ecosystem. During the winter there isn't much transportation to the outside world, and so they must live off the land to survive.
I always enjoy visiting a port town, and Seward is exactly that. My friends were hoping to enjoy the fresh fish of Alaska: salmon, halibut, rockfish and many others. But I didn't care nearly as much about the food, mostly just enjoyed the experience. We also took a one-day guided tour to Kenai Fjord, where we got to see the glacier. Sea otters, whales, puffins and other animals roamed freely in the ocean. The glacier in this area isn't retreating nearly as fast due to global warming as some stories say, but each glacier seems to have its own personality and is affected differently.
There isn’t really a single take-away message from the trip. The only real challenge we had was finding Native Alaskan food, which we managed to acquire through the hospitality of the locals. I'll be going back next time to watch the aurora during the winter. For those who are seeking untouched nature and pristine wilderness, Alaska is definitely one of the best places to find it.