Backpacking In Iceland: A GoSeeIt People Interview

ED. NOTE: We apologize for the missing photos in this interview…due to a technical glitch, our contributors photo format isn’t compatible with our site…we’ve asked Patrick to provide a different version of his fantastic photos! Coming soon!

I thought I would be a Viking hiker for a week

When he’s not playing piano gigs or teaching people how play piano, Patrick likes to travel. Another one of our friends who makes every trip a thrilling adventure, his latest trip, backpacking and camping in Iceland really delivered the thrills!

Here is our interview with Patrick…

GSIT: How did you decide on this destination? Why did you want to go? 

Patrick: At age 54 I decided I wanted a physical challenge, I love walking and I have always found Iceland very mysterious and alluring. I am also fascinated with the history of the Vikings. So I thought I would be a Viking hiker for a week.

 

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GSIT; How did you plan your trip? Did you use a travel agent or tour? 

Patrick: I did all my planning by reading books and researching everything on line, asking many questions. I booked my tour through mountainguides.is This was an amazing and very professional company to book my tour through!

ED. NOTE: We also used Icelandic Mountain Guides for a Golden Circle Trip during our January Trip. Not all of their trips are as adventurous as Patrick’s! To see our trip report CLICK HERE.

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GSIT: What did you do while you were on this trip? 

Patrick: I did a 40 mile backpacking / camping / hiking trip from Nupstaddarskogar to Skaftafell in Southern Iceland, through canyons, over mountains, across the Vatnajokull glacier (the largest in Europe) and alongside many beautiful waterfalls.

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GSIT: what surprised you about this place? Is there a "don't miss it" attraction? 

Patrick: The never ending beauty and mind boggling landscape of Iceland. I always wondered why they film so many Science-fiction movies out here, now I know. Also how brutal a 40 mile hike with a 60 pound backpack can really be at age 54. Don't miss hiking on a glacier.

 Glacier ice

Glacier ice

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GSIT: what tips would you give for someone who wants to visit? Anything special you should pack? 

Patrick: Iceland can be very expensive, Reykjavik is now the second most expensive city in the world. The average price for a draft beer is $9.00, plan your budget accordingly so you're not always worrying about money.  You should treat yourself to a Icelandic woolen sweater, they are beautiful and very warm.

ED. NOTE: Our trip was a college break “budget” trip, so we posted some tips about how to save some money in Iceland in our post here.

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GSIT: Is there anything else you'd like to tell us about your trip? 

Patrick: This was a solo trip to challenge myself and to be away from everything and everyone I know for a week. An epic trip of a life time. Everyone should experience a journey like this at least once in their life. There were five of us total in this tour and we didn't run into another human being during the five days and four nights, truly amazing.

 

Patrick Durkin, professional piano entertainer and teacher and lover of traveling and expensive Icelandic beer.

 

Alaska Ports A Day in Sitka/A Day in Haines

When the waitresses and bar tender were matching the patrons shot for shot, around 2 PM at Mean Queen in Sitka, we realized we were probably in an authentic (wild!) Western town!

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Most Southeast (Inside Passage) Alaska Cruises include a variety of ports. Some have ports we’ve visited have been developed by the cruise line companies themselves, filled with shops similar to those found anywhere. Things can seem a little “sanitized”, even on the historically bawdy Creek Street in Ketchican. Some ports have more corporate rather than independent shops. To handle the crush of daily cruisers in the summer, those communities need to hire people from out of town. Most of the elbows you’ll rub will be with fellow cruisers and often “local” guides and helpers all seem to be from somewhere else. That is not to say those places aren’t authentic; real people live and work there, but as a cruiser, you’d have to travel a little further afield to find them!

Some communities have rejected that kind of development in order to keep their own unique identities in their ports. Our days in Sitka and Haines during our UnCruise Safari Endeavor felt like the later.

Sitka

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We arrived in Sitka and after checking into our hotel, we immediately went out to source some lunch.

 Sitka

Sitka

Totem Square Hotel, was conveniently located within walking distance of everything in town. The rooms were simple, clean and comfortable. The service was excellent, with helpful folks at the front desk who pointed us in the right direction to find what we wanted to see. A “Fisherman’s Breakfast was offered early on the first floor restaurant, but we’d recommend heading over to the Highliner Coffee Company for homemade bagels and pastry instead.

 Our comfortable room at Totem Square Hotel

Our comfortable room at Totem Square Hotel

 We decided to get some pizza at Mean Queen

We decided to get some pizza at Mean Queen

We wandered to the Mean Queen, which looks like a dive bar with a day job as a pizza joint. The pizza was excellent, and the local characters were entertaining. Our stone cold sober waitress kept downing shots with the bartender and fishermen at the bar but she didn’t miss an order! The fisherman taking shots eventually started getting profane and a local grandma, dining with her granddaughters, hollered across the bar "HAVE SOME RESPECT!” The fishermen were sufficiently cowed, and immediately took it down a notch. Then she turned to us to apologize to us for the whole scene. We were immediately enchanted with Sitka!

Without thousands of cruisers in port, we were able to wander around town, chatting with shopkeepers and artisans. We were able to walk from Totem Square and Russian Hill on one side of town, all the way to Totem Park/National Historical Park at the other end of town.

Things to do in Sitka:

Community House (Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall) and Prospector Statue in Totem Square

 Our hotel in Totem Square was in sight of the Prospector Statue and the Pioneer Home

Our hotel in Totem Square was in sight of the Prospector Statue and the Pioneer Home

St Michael’s Russian Orthodox Church

We toured the St Michael’s Russian Orthodox Cathedral before it closed for the day, leaving time to wander by the waterfront down to Totem Park in the bright late afternoon and evening sun.

 Churches, St Michael’s in rear, in Sitka

Churches, St Michael’s in rear, in Sitka

Castle Hill

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An interesting view point in Sitka, with a lot of history. Used by the Tlingit groups, a Russian fort and later became the place where the Russians “sold” Sitka to the US.

Shopping along Lincoln and Harbor Streets

Along Lincoln Street there are several unique galleries and shops, as well as places to buy tee shirts and shot glasses. There were several fur shops, which attract attention with fur bikinis and “mankinis” in their windows! We stopped in on of many very good outdoor gear stores to pick up a few things we forgot for our expedition.

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One of the things I loved about Sitka was that there was so much more to do other than shopping, all within walking distance. We followed the Lincoln Road headed towards the Bishops House, which is part of the National Historical Park.

Walk Along Crescent Harbor

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Russian Bishops House and Museum

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Sheldon Jackson Salmon Hatchery

Part of the Sitka Sound Science Center, the hatchery provides an opportunity to learn about salmon and depending on the time of year, watch salmon in a salmon ladder swimming up stream!

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 Piers and walkways along the coast allow for a nice walk from the center of town out to the Totem Park.

Piers and walkways along the coast allow for a nice walk from the center of town out to the Totem Park.

Sitka National Historical Park

The Sitka National Historical Park manages several buildings and parks in Sitka, including the Bishops House and there are also several National Historic Landmarks in Sitka. You can find a list of these at the visitors center or the Bishops House.

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 The visitor center features displays and films as well as studio space for working Tlingit artisits.

The visitor center features displays and films as well as studio space for working Tlingit artisits.

The visitor center is the trail head for several trails through Totem Park where we were able to use our phone to read about each totem displayed. We also visited an area where you could clearly see huge schools of salmon heading upstream to spawn.

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During our hike around Totem Park, we were treated to a dramatic mid air battle for territory by a pair of bald eagles!

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Alaska Raptor Center

The Alaska Raptor Center, just outside the town, is a rehabilitation center for raptors. Injured and abandoned birds are taken here with the goal of being released back into the wild. Many are treated, gain strength in an indoor open air flight training center where they have almost no contact with humans, and are released. There are also some resident birds that cant ever be released. They are named and come out on display occasionally for educational purposes.

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 Dozens of eagles live in the Flight Training Center for a short time after being treated to strengthen their wings and prepare for life outside again. The windows are all soundproof and one way glass so birds don’t get habituated to people. The roof is open allowing them to experience the elements and rehabilitators provide food in a way that allows them to hunt and seek food rather than being hand fed.

Dozens of eagles live in the Flight Training Center for a short time after being treated to strengthen their wings and prepare for life outside again. The windows are all soundproof and one way glass so birds don’t get habituated to people. The roof is open allowing them to experience the elements and rehabilitators provide food in a way that allows them to hunt and seek food rather than being hand fed.

Some raptors, including owls, are permanently injured and unable to be released. These residents birds are used for educational programs and live out their lives at the Raptor Center.

Further Afield:

Fortress of the Bear

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See our post about the bears we visited at Fortress of the Bear with photos and videos HERE: Bears Of Southeast Alaska

Fishing Charters and Kayaking

Stop at the Sitka Visitors Information Center at 303 Lincoln St to find fishing charters and kayaking guides.

Hiking and Biking Trails

There are several hiking and biking trails around Sitka. A free guide from www.travelsitka.com offered in many shops and restaurants and online, shows many trails. Locals also use bicycles as transportation around town.


Haines

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Things to do in Haines

 Ft Seward

Ft Seward

Ft Seward

This former US Army Fort was sold after WW2 to a group of veterans who established an art colony. We enjoyed seeing the interesting architecture of the former officers homes and reading interpretive plaques on the old barracks building up on the hill and visiting the Alaska Indian Arts.

 Officers Housing converted to private homes and galleries

Officers Housing converted to private homes and galleries

Alaskan Indian Arts

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Alaska Indian Arts is a non profit dedicated to preserving Northwest Indian art forms located in the old hospital in Ft Seward. During our visit, we were able to meet and cat with Lee, one of the original founders of the world famous Chilkat Dancers, and see a totem laid out for preservation.

Visit DownTown Shops and Museums

See the Haines Visitors Center for a walking tour or wander this small western town on your own. We wandered a bit on our own, exploring the local grocery store to get an idea of the high cost importing food into remote areas. (the “road” to the lower 48 is a 7 hour detour through Canada, so most goods arrive via boat or plane)

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We also enjoyed that “town” was set up more for local use than cruise ship passengers, including this fellow getting “stocked up”!

 A local “resident” gets stocked up on food while in town

A local “resident” gets stocked up on food while in town

Haines was very concerned about salmon, the life blood of the town, fishing, touring, all of it revolves around the salmon.

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Hammer Museum

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Hammers from all over the world, including, according to our guide, some the Smithsonian sent to AK!

Haines Brewing Company

 There are plenty of places to relax with a local brew in Haines

There are plenty of places to relax with a local brew in Haines

Some of our fellow passengers decided to while away a few hours here, enjoying local brews and spirits here.

Bike or Hike Out along Front St to the Ferry Terminal, Portage Cove Wayside

 A view back to the cruise port and Fort Seward from a view point along Lutak Road

A view back to the cruise port and Fort Seward from a view point along Lutak Road

We were comped bicycle rentals at Sockeye Cycle, by UnCruise. The shop is just a few steps from the cruise ship dock, and within minutes we were outfitted with bikes, helmets and locks so we could explore the down town and areas around on 2 wheels.

Watch for Bears On Chilkoot River Bank

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Taking care to follow the important local rules about living in bear country, including not bringing food or fishing on the “bear side” of the river bank, late summer when the salmon are running is the best time to try to spot bear on the shore. Ask about this at the Visitors Center or engage a professional guide to stay safe! To see more about the bears we saw during our AK trip Click Here

Hike Battery Point Trail or Mt Ripinsky

The Haines Visitor Center can provide directions to trail heads within easy walking distance of town.


Further Afield

Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

A pair of eagles with a huge nest in the Bald Eagle Preserve

We had an excursion from Haines, driven by mini bus to the put in, we were treated to river float on the Chilkat River through the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

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This section of the river stays warmer and attracts thousands of breeding eagles every spring. During our late summer visit we were able to see enormous eagles nests and many birds that inhabit the area surrounded by dramatic peaks and glaciers.

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Chilkat Pass

 A drive along the Chilkat Pass, despite ongoing construction, allows alluring views of mountains, eluvial river, and glaciers that define Southeast Alaska.

A drive along the Chilkat Pass, despite ongoing construction, allows alluring views of mountains, eluvial river, and glaciers that define Southeast Alaska.

Renting a car (recent construction work on a controversial new highway here makes biking a little more risky) you could drive the pass, stopping along the way to enjoy scenic views of the area.