I returned from Alaska just about a week ago and can now start to comprehend and process all that I saw and shot on this trip. Leading up to it, I had high hopes that it would be a trip of a lifetime, and now after completing it, I can say it was that and more. Throughout the trip I tried to take quick notes of each day so I could remember and write about the experience. There is limited cell service (ATT only) and limited internet, so I started a diary on my computer to transfer to my blog upon my return. In this first part I’ll describe the travel to get there and a bit about the lodge we stayed at. Look for more installments on the blog describing the rest of the trip.
In booking our flights, the limiting factor was that we needed to catch the 3pm air taxi flight out of Anchorage, so we flew early in the morning in order to have enough time to handle any delays as well as find our way. Two of us flew out of Portland OR and two flew out of Seattle WA.
on final approach in to Anchorage
We met up in Anchorage at the baggage claim. After greetings and then a quick bite to eat we had to figure out how to get to the Iliamna Air Taxi service which is on the other side of the airport. Not sure if it was close or far, we hailed a taxi and hopped in. Our driver was from Somalia of all places, spoke broken English and was one of the happiest guys I’ve met. We wedged all of our bags and ourselves in to the small cab “no problem”. As we sped away from the curb, he cranked the stereo so loud blasting 70’s rock, we thought our ears would bleed! We were all in great moods starting our adventure, so we didn’t mind that much. After a short 15 minute ride to the other side of the airport, we eventually found a nondescript building housing the air taxi service.
As I learned throughout the trip, things in Alaska are a little bit different than in the lower 48. Less polish and commercialism, more function and just getting the job done. Never having flown an air taxi service before, I didn’t know what to expect as I walked in the door. What I saw was a rustic office area with a log cabin feel, animal pelts on the walls and some of the friendliest people. As we strolled in, the lady behind the desk said “you must be John, Jack, Neil and Bill”, like we were expected (we were but still it was a bit surprising to be greeted so well). Most interesting is that we didn’t have to show any ID for this flight. I guess the rules are different for this flight, or it’s just Alaska!
Reception area of Iliamna Air Taxi
Bear on a wall
Flying on the air taxi, it’s a small 12 passenger plane with limited cargo capacity, so each of us was restricted to 70lbs of luggage per person. We had to weigh each of our bags and hand them over to the staff for loading in to the plane. Thankfully my camera gear and everything else I packed came out to just over 60lbs.
After a brief wait, it was time to board the plane
this shot is from when we arrived, but shows the plane we travelled in
The plane was full with passengers, most were locals traveling back and forth. We appeared to be the only tourists on this flight. We all settled in to our seats for the 50 minute flight. Our pilot boarded the plane in jeans and a t-shirt and gave us a very brief pre-flight.
The flight out of Anchorage to Iliamna was a wonderful sightseeing flight for me. We flew over tall mountains. Saw glaciers flowing down channels into turquoise waters. Everything you can imagine Alaska might be. We flew close to Mt Redoubt which is an active volcano. Great to see that too!
flying over the glaciers
After our wonderful flight, we landed at the Iliamna airport, deplaned and headed to the office. Iliamna is a small town/village and the airport is just like other small town airfields. One basic office, hangers for private planes and that’s about it. Entering the office we were met with a lot of similarity to the office in Anchorage, just more animals on the walls!
Because this wasn’t a normal type of experience, we didn’t know how to retrieve our luggage. After about 10 minutes I look out the window and see a forklift rolling past with a large wooden open box on the forks….with our luggage in it! We go outside to follow the forklift and found that the baggage claim is a covered shed where the forklift drops the box and passengers pick up their luggage.
After a short wait, the outfitter we were staying with drove in to pick us up and take us to the lodge. In Alaska, if you want to get off the beaten path to see different things, you need to work with an outfitter who has the ability to get you where you need to be; whether it’s by floatplane, boat, or off-road vehicle.
Our guide for the week has been in Alaska for over 30 years and has guided all manner of trips….mainly focused on fishing and photography related groups. He’s got 4 airplanes (2 float planes, one tundra plane and one regular plane) along with numerous boats on property or staged around the peninsula.
We drove a short distance to his lodge located on Lake Iliamna. The lodge property consists of a main house that serves as a central location for all meals, gatherings and just hanging out. Outfitted with all sorts of memorabilia collected over the years, such as mammoth walrus tusks and glass floats, it also is decorated with amazing images from various photographers who have visited there. A pool table and various other working spaces make for a very relaxing environment to hang out after a day in the field.
On the property are 5 guest cabins with two beds a piece. Our group of 4 decided on sleeping arrangements and went to our cabins to unpack and settle in. Once we were settled we regrouped in the main lodge and went through paperwork and a safety talk. Most of the safety talk was centered around being around airplanes as well as the bear spray we’d be traveling with. Strong emphasis on not bringing bear spray in to the plane cabin because if it happens to discharge, the pilot will surely be blinded and we most likely wouldn’t walk away from an uncontrolled landing in to the tundra.
After the talk, we went to one of the gear shed on the property and were given a pair of waders and wading boots….both would be our best friends throughout the week.
After we were outfitted, we headed to the lodge for a fantastic home cooked meal of beef, potatoes, salad and all the fixings. I gotta say, all week the meals were simply outstanding! They really fed us well on this trip.
After dinner, we relaxed around the lodge, all of us excited for the coming days ahead. I knew that once we started this trip, it would go so fast, filled with many new experiences, amazing landscapes and wildlife and great friends. I wanted to savor each and every moment of it along the way to make sure that it was truly a trip of a lifetime. With high excitement and a bit of nervousness for the unexpected, we headed to bed. This time of year, the sun sets around 1130pm and rises again around 3am, so I never really saw the darkness or a sunset. It was a bit weird going to bed when it was still light out. Light, coupled with excitement, meant that sleep was challenging, but eventually I got there.
Click HERE to read Part 2