OnSafari: Talkeetna

OnSafari: Talkeetna

talkeetnaBPTalkeetna is known by its bumper sticker, “A Drinking Village with a Climbing Problem.”

This is where all the serious climbers of Denali begin, although the climbing season is already over. It’s growing shorter and shorter as Alaska heats up. Denali moves into the summer season by shedding billions of tons of snow in catastrophic avalanches: not a situation a climber likes.

Because I feel that the flightseeing around Denali is so spectacular, and because the thought of taking that 8-hour bus ride back from our west side lodge to the train station is so depressing, we’ve got to pad out the trip at this point. I’ve got to anticipate Denali’s fickle weather, which close down small aircraft nearly half the time.

Fortunately, we went on schedule and that meant two nights followed in Talkeetna, which frankly isn’t so bad at all. But I needed that in case we were delayed by the weather.
Talkeetna is a hoot of a town, very touristy on the one hand, but rip-roaring on the other. I got a superb organic roast latte and listened to two old-timers tell me about their 46 years up here. One was a government worker and one was a painter, and they both looked like they’d been here far too long! But the stories rival anything Robert Service has come up with, and it’s this type of interaction you get at every corner of Talkeetna.

The McKenzies, Gross’ and Christine Godfrey went river rafting; Conor & Bill Godfrey and Mica Bumpus went hiking; and my daughter, son-in-law and I went salmon fishing.

With two-thirds of Alaska’s tourists cruise customers, almost all the activities offered anywhere in the State on a day basis are designed for cruisers, and their demographics aren’t quite as adventuresome and their bodies not quite as fit usually as my clients!

So the rafting and hiking left something to be desired, but Rob, Liz & I were fishermen, and that’s a demographic all to itself! Most people who travel to Alaska to fish don’t do anything else!

Every time I’m in Talkeetna I try to go king salmon fishing, and did so, again. I got a 35-pounder. Rob got a pink salmon and I also got a silver and a rainbow trout. We couldn’t keep anything but the silver. The king season is quite short and I missed it this year; the trout was too small; and the pink didn’t meet the guide’s standards for good eating!

The story of salmon is a remarkable one. After the spring hatching in 2 or 3 inches of crystal clear frigid water high in some mountain stream, they wiggle ultimately out to sea, where depending upon the species, they stay for 2 – 5 years.

When they return to spawn they return to the exact place from which they hatched! But in our case at Talkeetna that means they have to navigate 75 miles of silt heavy glacial rivers (the Susitna and Talkeetna) before meeting their crystal clear stream (in our case) where another 10-20 miles brings them to their gravel spawning grounds very near the origin of the stream.

That takes anywhere from 1-3 weeks. When they leave the sea, they stop eating. Their body changes and the king morph into this fighting animal with a giant hooked nose. They grow colorful as they lose their fat. So those that take a long time lose all edibility. That was the assessment by our guide of Rob’s pink.

But the silver was deemed OK, so Rob bought charcoal, spices, cheese and fantastic Roadhouse bread and even prepared the fish’s caviar! We got a bottle of cheap champagne and had a wonderful cocktail evening with the group on the banks of the roaring Talkeetna river!

Now, on to absolutely magnificent Prince William Sound! Stay tuned! I’ll post whenever I can.