Thoughts, ideas and memories of photography, cooking & the outdoors (not in that order!)

Destination Alaska

The last visit on my previous post was an ancient rainforest as we were leaving the Rockies.  A long day of driving brought us to lovely Tyhee Provincial Park, for unfortunately our last night of camping as a group 😞.  The weather was warm and much clearer at these lower elevations compared to the mountains.  I was eagerly checking out the clouds towards sunset… which looked promising at first but the the light stars to fade.

I saw some color in the distance and held up some hopes, but walked back towards camp.  Not 5 minutes later the color came back with fury and I rushed to find a good composition as it wasn’t in a direction I had expected.  Thankfully the 18 hour days this far north and near summer solstice means long sunsets.  I can’t imagine what it will be like trying to sleep while camping in Fairbanks and Denali.

The next day we checked out a museum for some native tribes which was very interesting to learn the local history of the people and how they survived.  Unfortunately no indoor pictures were allowed…  but we did build our own human totem pole!

We arrived at Prince Rupert in the late afternoon and got busy setting up our final dinner…  spaghetti!  We also found a cyclist who looked hungry and tired.  We had plenty of leftovers and more then welcome to share.  Imagine our surprise when we told us he also left from San Francisco!  Granted he has a 3 month head start but managed to make my recent 1st century and riding from south bay to SF and back seem less impressive.

The ferry schedule was changed this year and for some reason the departure time was at 3…  AM.  We got in line at midnight and thankfully got through customs easily and quickly…  I think despite the agent’s foreboding personality our converted bus with a huge group of passed out travellers laying together in sleeping bags on a platform took him off guard.  We departed on time and I couldn’t help but explore a bit before hitting the sack.

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Next morning was early as I didn’t want to miss any of the views.  The lack of sleep caught up with me in the afternoon though and a nap with a nice view as in order.

Approaching Ketchikan.

The previous days beautiful weather started to change to the more typical southeast Alaskan climate.

I heard bald eagles have quite a healthy population, but I didn’t expect them to be more common then pigeons.

After a 30 hour ride and several stops, we finally got to Juneau.  Quite a trip.  I was especially impressed with the scenery towards the end of the ride as it was more rugged.  You can easily see the Mendenhall Glacier as the boat approaches town.  I’ve heard our final leg tomorrow to Haines will be just as good, if not better.

Thankfully we got off the ferry first (at 5 am) and were able to do breakfast as a final group meal but with a pretty crummy view at Eagle Beach…

Group shot! 

But I think the late nights/early mornings made a lack of faith over the weather conditions disturbing for some…

Oh well.  I was happy to find lupine all over the place and tried not to fall to the dark side myself.  Our final day excursion as a collective group was to the Mendenhall Glacier to do some short day hiking.  I wanted to get up to the caves but knew it was a long hike and learned through research it’s not the simplest or safest hike due to unmarked trails, extremely loose scree slopes and falling rock & ice dangers in the caves themselves.  I instead booked a guided trip to visit the caves the following day.

And with a bit of exploring, I found lupine on the lake shore with a view!

That evening I checked into the Juneau Hostel which overall was nice, but a curfew and being shut down during the day made it a bit less then ideal.  The next day I split a room at the Alaskan with my new friend Noah which made it not that much more expensive then the hostel and way more convient as we had group plans most evenings at the next door Alaskan Bar.  I was up really early the next day to verify my spot on a canoe/glacier trek/ice cave tour with Liquid Alaska Tours (Juneau Mendenhall Glacier Ice Adventure Tour).  The guides Paul & Griffin did an excellent job on the trip.  We canoed 2.5 miles across the lake, donned crampons and did a short walk on the glacier itself, then swung through caves on the way out.

The glacier walk was short but fun, you can’t get too far on it before the safety level goes from “ok this isn’t too bad” to needing a quick change of underwear.  The glacier is extremely crevassed with the rapid melting of 1.5 feet/day! We didn’t rope up or anything and you could certainly get further with the right gear and experience.  Honestly I was more worried about being on the lake…  the guides said they’ve never had any issues or anyone go overboard, but if somehow the massive 16 person canoe managed to tip over it would be very serious as the water stays around 37-40 degrees year round and rescue would likely take way too long.  They take safety seriously though and have cancelled several trips if the water isn’t calm and conducive to being on.  As for the I’ve caves… I’ve seen pictures before but experiencing it in person was epic.  I can’t describe in words what the crazy lighting and patterns the interior of a glacier looks like.

We even got to see the business end of a moulin!

With my photography passion, I could have spent hours in it but we had a schedule to keep.  After seeing the logistics and getting GPS data for the trail I feel pretty confident I could handle it myself which I may do at some later point.  I would advise against going on your own unless you first do a guided tour, or are experienced with ice caves and glacier traversal.  Paul mentioned that several people a year are rescued due to trying this and being ill prepared.

Once I got back to town, I had a victory lunch and walked around town.

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I managed to find a small church with my favorite wildflower growing in the garden.  I’m used to needing to drive hours to the Sierras at the right time of year to find these blooming, not in some front yard!

Yesterday wrapped up with a final goodbye for all the people heading out and not staying on board for the second half of the trip.  We are now such a tight family in such a short period of time, I had to idea starting this journey and it caught me totally off guard.  It was a wonderful and life-changing experience and I’m happy that at least Jackie and Joe live close enough to feasibly plan weekend camping trips and whatnot.  I hope with the new people we get and a few of the existing crew sticking and around we can keep some of the energy and camaraderie but doubt it can match the level of what we had.  We also can’t forget the nearly perfect job that our driver Jake and guide Laurel both did.

Noah contemplating his existence before performing his love song at open mic night..

I think we lost a pint glass here and had to improvise.

Some other random things: the game of choice on our trip.  New to me and a word game I actually really enjoy!

This piece of my gear got more use during 2 weeks in Canadian Rockies and Alaska then 2 years of living in Cali and all my Oregon trips.  Hardshell ftw.  Think it needs a new DWR application though.

And unfortunately there was a casualty…  somehow the normally bulletproof Nalgenes didn’t survive a fall out of my backpack getting off the bus.

Changing of the guard ceremony and bidding adieu to my old faithful nalgene adorned with Patagonia memories.

Tomorrow starts the second leg of our journey.  I’ll miss everyone who had to go, but excited for a group a great people left, meeting new people and getting to see the Yukon and rest of our Alaska destinations!  Until next time!

One response

  1. Thanks for sharing some great photographs and notes. * Be careful when you leave Whitehorse and are heading to Fairbanks on my first run of the ALCAN it never got dark and I drove all the way into Fairbanks without stopping.

    June 17, 2017 at 2:49 pm

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