During the peak of summer in Alaska, the sun never really sets. Our recent trip to the south-central part of the union’s largest state coincided with the summer solstice, a “night” that’s bright as day until well after midnight. Around 1AM the sun disappears beyond a range of mountains in the distance and for a few hours, broad daylight melts into a warm twilight glow. It never gets totally dark. Then, sometime around 4AM, the sun rises again, and a new Alaskan summer day begins.
For some, having nearly 24 hours of daylight can prove disorienting. Even with blackout curtains, sleep doesn’t feel quite as restful and that can result in something akin to a faint sense of jet lag. But for others, having so much daylight isn’t a problem. It’s a prospect, in fact: a challenge to have days that are that much fuller and even more action-packed.
It’s the latter that find themselves drawn to Tordrillo Mountain Lodge (TML), an all-season backcountry destination located 90 miles from Anchorage into the Alaskan bush. During the winters, TML is one of Alaska’s premier heli-skiing lodges. There’s plenty of magic in summertime though. For a few weeks in June and July, Tordrillo offers a five-day “Kings and Corn” packages, named after a unique dual offering: both king salmon fishing and summer heli-skiing (this time of year, sunlight melts and refreezes glacial snow, resulting in a coarse, corn-like texture).
TML is the only lodge in the world to offer both of these activities simultaneously. It’s common to find heli-skiing lodges that re-invent themselves as heli-hiking or heli-biking lodges during the summer months (British Columbia that a few properties that come to mind), but TML stands alone in the breadth and octane of its offering. This is where adrenaline enthusiasts come to play.
There’s no road access to Tordrillo, so the journey begins at Anchorage’s Lake Hood Seaplane Base, where each week’s guests meet on the pier, shaking hands before boarding an old-timey de Havilland float plane. The 45-minute ride is spectacular. As you leave Anchorage, the city’s squat industrial skyline disappears as the plane glides north-west, cruising over flood plains, glacial rivers and rolling hills. It’s not uncommon to spot a grizzly bear or moose along the way. After soaring over this vast green expanse, a range of craggy, glacier-topped mountains unfurl in the distance, and just as you begin to grasp their scale and magnitude, the float plane makes an abrupt circle downward for a thrilling landing atop Judd Lake.
The setting is Alaska at its best. Tordrillo Mountain Lodge is nestled on a mostly private lake in the foothills of the Tordrillo Mountains, a chain which connects Denali National Park to the north and Lake Clark National Park to the south. Because of the remote location, there are very few adventure operators in this area (even fewer lodges) and definitely none that can compare. Renovated in 2017, it features a range of amenities that, due to the lack of road access, beg the question, “How did they get that out here?” There is a gym, yoga room, sauna, copper hot tub, spacious guest rooms, a bar, and a living room outfitted with long leather couches and plenty of cozy blankets perfect for post-adventure naps.
There is, after all, adventure to be had in spades. Each day during Kings & Corn is different. Based on the salmon migrations or the ski conditions, you might begin with a fishing excursion, or a morning of heli-skiing on a glacier, or vice-versa. That said, skiing is usually reserved for early morning or even after dinner, when the sun is a little less direct. “When you’re up on the glaciers, the sun can be out of control,” said Tommy Moe, Tordrillo Mountain Lodge co-owner and Olympic gold medalist. “If you aren’t protecting your skin, your face will start to blister.”
Should you tire of being deposited on glaciers for a morning on the slopes, or of being dropped off on remote riverbeds to catch king salmon swimming upstream, there are plenty of other activities to pass the time. Guests can stand-up paddle board or kayak across Judd Lake, where you won’t encounter a single other soul. There’s also shooting clays behind the lodge and climbing the new via ferrata course. Even a simple walk around the property can be dazzling—just don’t stray too far into the woods, because this is grizzly country. There really is that much adventure to be had. Maybe that nonstop adrenaline rush is what Alaskan summer is all about.
Images courtesy of Tordrillo Mountain Lodge