Stillpoint Lodge opens to adventure
[by Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan]
As the helicopter pilot angles the chopper for a closer look at a glacial crevasse, I think how much Stillpoint Lodge has changed since it opened in 2003. Once a contemplative-retreat center, Stillpoint recently transitioned to a high-end adventure resort. Third-generation Alaskan JT Thurston is taking the helm and invites guests from around the world to “disconnect to reconnect.”
We land on Grewingk Glacier and climb out of the helicopter. Standing on a vast sheet of ice, we are elated by the up-close view of crevasses and blue ice that formed from snow that may have fallen sometime during the Middle Ages. I have come here with my husband and mother to celebrate her birthday and check in with JT’s parents, Jim and Jan Thurston. This is my third visit to the lodge—the first when Jim and Jan first opened the doors and now to bear witness to Stillpoint’s season of change.
JT picks us up in The Far Side at the dock in Homer, and we climb aboard and motor seven miles across Kachemak Bay to Halibut Cove, the name of the inlet and small community of fishermen and artists.
Lucas Thoning greets us at the dock and invites us to a tour of the lodge. Large copper doors open to a vaulted room where a wooden bridge arches over an indoor stream of running water. Huge glass windows frame the view of nearby mountains.
JT asks first thing if we are interested in seeing a nearby glacier. Mom has never been in a helicopter much less walked on a glacier so JT calls for our ride, while Lucas continues our tour of the grounds. Lucas maintains the facility and also is JT’s assistant and tour guide. Lucas’s wife, Beka, is the main chef and manages the lodge. The couple is excited about Stillpoint’s new focus. They led the lodge’s first wilderness retreat in Kachemak Bay State Park and say that while visitors embrace the contemplative setting, many also are thrilled about an active Alaskan adventure.
Before long, a helicopter lands on a small pad near the lodge. Ten minutes later we are marveling at deep blue fissures in the ancient ice. Our pilot explains how much the glacier has receded in the past few years, a reminder of the many ways Alaska is experiencing climate change. (Stillpoint prides itself on being a 5-Star Green operation.)
Back at the lodge, we return to cozy cabins to prepare for dinner. Jan’s artistry is apparent in every detail. Her watercolor paintings are signatures of every thoughtfully-crafted space.
We meet Jan and Jim for dinner and they tell us stories of Jan’s father, Alaska homesteader Chester Paul Lampert, who just happened to set down stakes on what would someday become Anchorage’s busiest commercial district. It was Jan’s inheritance, the craftsmanship of local artists, and the work of family and friends that helped build this lodge.
Beka serves a meal that features stuffed fresh cod, Alaska king crab, and noodles made from zucchini picked fresh from the garden. After dinner Lucas invites us to an evening hike up a trail that overlooks Halibut Cove. Following a day of fresh ocean air, a walk on blue ice, and a moonlit hike, we climb under thick quilts and fall asleep to the sound of rain pattering on the cabin roof.
After a gourmet breakfast, Bill and I head out for a morning of sea kayaking. Mom opts to stay for a relaxing massage and some quiet reading. The rain has stopped, leaving freshwashed air and calm waters in the cove. A lone heron perches on the deck of one of the cabins overlooking the bay. We circumnavigate Ismailof Island arriving back in time for lunch.
Each member of the Stillpoint staff has multiple roles. The baker also helps serve up meals and is the resident birder. The yoga instructor is also a nanny for Lucas and Beka. We’ve been here less than 24 hours and the staff and Thurston’s feel like family.
During the evening cocktail hour, we gather around the fireplace and watch a pair of eagles preen themselves on a nearby spruce. Later at dinner, Jan and Jim enthrall us with stories of bear encounters, river rafting, and flying in Jim’s airplane at minus 50 degrees. Whatever changes the lodge is undertaking, JT says his parents will always remain Stillpoint’s most colorful and distinguished dinner guests.
Adventure activities at Stillpoint include paddle-boarding, whale watching, fishing, or just about any other wilderness outing someone might dream up. The lodge customizes activities to match clients’ interests. Mom and I view the gardens and walk a labyrinth drawn on the ground with hawser, a thick nautical rope. We find a bench that overlooks the calm waters of the cove and take in the view.
Later in the afternoon, new guests arrive in a flurry of enthusiasm. Lucas starts their tour and we smile knowing they are in for a treat.
At the evening meal, Beka presents my mother a slice of cheesecake with a lighted candle on top. The entire staff and guests offer rousing birthday wishes.
The sun is setting as we load onto the boat for Homer. As JT idles The Far Side out of the cove, a stiff breeze picks up. The weather is changing and so are the seasons as we bid farewell to this our most memorable visit.
Kaylene Johnson-Sullivan is an author from Eagle River. Her most recent book Our Perfect Wild was published by the University of Alaska Press (2016). For more information, visit www.kaylene.us.