Archive for the ‘2009/07/08 Alaska’ Category

Cruising the Inside Passage

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009
Bon Voyage

Bon Voyage

The time spent exploring  Alaska by land (only a fraction) was a lot of fun.  We were, however, excited to give up our land legs for a trip down the inside passage. Much of Alaska is only accessible by sea or air and we planned the cruise specifically to be able to see some of this more remote land.  We rejoiced in the easy transfer from Anchorage (where we had to return the rental car) to Whittier (where the ship was docked) after the hotel fiasco from the day before.  We boarded mid day, spent some time exploring Whittier (which took all of about 20 minutes on foot), then made our way back to the ship to familiarize ourselves with our new home for the week.  Amazingly enough, the ship set sail about 10 PM, when this picture was taken.  Even after a week, the amount of daylight is still quite novel.

The first day’s intinerary called for cruising through Prince William Sound and College Fjords.  We woke up at 6 AM to watch the glaciers as we sailed by.  It was a good relaxing day.  We were anxious to meet our “dinner dates”, as we had requested flexible dining but were given a table for the late seating.  We were pleased when we met our “dates”, Sylvia and David from San Antonio, and discovered we had alot in common.  We enjoyed their company for dinner for the rest of the trip. 

Who goes all the way to Alaska to watch a movie???

Who goes all the way to Alaska to watch a movie???

After a restful day on the boat, we were looking forward to “hoofing it” around Sitka, our first port.  The plan was to check out the russian history and take a local hike around the National Historic site and peninsula.  The weather was less than cooperative.  As we sauntered through town we noticed that the new Harry Potter was playing at the local theater.  Go figure, it was just starting… Well, us losers actually went to see it. We had plenty of time to see the sights after and had a full day, regardless of the rain.  

Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier

After doing some research about what to do in Juneau, we were looking forward to visiting Mendenhall Glacier and hiking around the National Forest there.  Once again, the weather was uncooperative and we only lasted about an hour at the glacier.  Google had forcasted clear skies for the day so we left the ship without our rain gear, bad move.  Our sweatshirts were soaked through in no time and the fog made visibility limited.  We were able to capture the moment with a few pictures before heading back to the boat to get some more appropriate clothing.  Juneau was a quaint town, although bit on the touristy side, like most of the ports.  It is one of the towns only accessible by boat, plane, or snowmobile.  As an afternoon activity we opted for a “wet” hike to the top of Mt. Roberts (the tallest peak in Juneau), with views of the town below (only for a few seconds before it was fogged in again).  The locals in Alaska say “if you don’t like the weather just wait a minute and it will change”.  We are not quite sure what that means… More fog, rain, mist… an occasional blue cloud (blue sky breaking through the clouds)?

Heading to the White Pass

Heading to the White Pass

The itinerary for the week was a full one and Skagway was the next scheduled stop. The “must do” tour in this area is the White Pass Yukon Railroad that crosses into Canada and the Yukon territory. The rail system was created to transport gold miners in the early 1900’s. There are several stops and things to see along the way.  Of course we opted for a shorter train ride so we could hike to a glacier.  The Laughton Glacier was about 3 miles in from where the train let us off, but we only had 2 hours before the train returned to pick us up.  We hoofed pretty good to get to the glacier, however we were only able to see it from a distance. We had to book back to catch our train back to town.  If we only had another 1/2 hour… We had fun anyway.  The fire bush (the purple flowers in many of our pictures) really lights up the landscape.

Creek Street in Skagway

Creek Street in Ketichikan

The last stop of our busy itinerary was Ketchikan.  This was a very interesting little place. The town/city is built on pilings above the port and a creek that flows into it.  The old buildings and rich history made our walk around town interesting.  Unfortunately, the rain got the best of us once again.  After making our way through the whole town, we spent the afternoon chilling in our stateroom watching another movie. 

Typical view from our balcony

Typical view from our balcony

The last day was another “crusing day”.  Wouldn’t you know it, the sun finally came out.  We wished the weather was better while we were in ports but we managed to enjoy a relaxing day on board watching the sights as we cruised the inside passage. 

Exhausted, we made it back to the camper this morning.  Tomorrow it is off to Jasper and Banff in Canada.  We are looking forward to our next adventure and Kim’s dad’s visit.

 

Kenai Fjords National Park

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

We left Denali, the northernmost point of our travels and headed south to Seward, the most northern ice free port in North America.  The ride was great and the further we drove, the more blue the skies got.  The ride between Anchorage and Seward was very scenic.  We rode along the coast of the Turnagain Arm of the Pacific ocean with views of the Kenai peninsula as the backdrop.  This was the true Alaska we were looking for; water (both sea and lakes), high mountains with snow covered peaks, miles of greenery, and beautiful wildflowers. 

We enjoyed the ride, arriving in Seward a bit early to check into our B and B.  We made a stop at Exit Glacier, one of the only glaciers in the area you can walk up to.  We were hoping to actually walk on or hike up a glacier, but it wasn’t this one.  Due to the current melting conditions we could only get so close…  Hopefully we will have another opportunity along the way.  Bell in the Woods B and B was very nice, even better than we had anticipated. 

After a good nights sleep and a yummy breakfast we hoped to either kayak near a glacier or hike up to the Harding Ice Field.  Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate.  It was very cool, foggy, and damp.  We opted for a wildlife cruise through the Kenai Fjords National Park (most of which is only accessible by water or through extensive wilderness trails).  We saw a great deal of sealife; humpback whales, orcas, bald eagles, steller sea lions, puffins, dall porpoises and a variety of other sea birds.  The tour brought us up close to the Holgate Glacier where we actually saw and heard ice breaking off.  We had a good day chatting with fellow tourists on the boat.

Our last day started off much the same weather wise, it felt like we were back on the Oregon coast.  We decided to “auto tour” the Kenai and hope for the sun to break through.  As much as we wanted to see the Harding ice field, it will have to wait until our next Alaska trip.  The ride to the town of Kenai was beautiful and once again the sun made an appearance as the day wore on.   We made many stops for pictures and enjoyed the views.  We opted for a nice hike on the Fuller Lakes trail (5 miles, pretty steep).  After the hike, we made our way toward Anchorage where we hoped to find a decent hotel for our last night. After a lot of effort, we found a place for the night.  Seems like everybody in the world was staying in Anchorage that night. 

Rested and ready, we set off for our cruise today!  Looking forward to the inside passage.

 

Denali

Friday, July 10th, 2009

We left the North Cascades on Tuesday morning, heading for the Washington “border town” where we were storing our home for the next few weeks.  After getting the camper settled, we set out for Vancouver, the first leg of our Alaska Adventure.  It was a long day by the time we checked into our hotel and the weather was less than cooperative, so we opted to grab a pizza and chill in the hotel room instead of walking the town.  We know, we are lame 🙂

It was an easy day of air travel from Vancouver to Anchorage and we were in our rental car by 2:15.  We still had to decide if we were spending our first night in Anchorage or further up the road. After a quick loop around the city, we decided to start making our way to Denali, a 4½ hour drive north.  Not knowing where we were spending our first night in Alaska, we hadn’t made room reservations so once again, we were flying by the seat of our pants. On the drive north, Kim put in a call to Kathy at the Meandering Moose B and B and Cabins in Talkeetna, hoping she still had a cabin.  Luck was with us and she had one left.  Talkeetna started as a mining town, became a riverboat landing for gold miners, and then played an active part in the construction of the Alaska railroad.  Today it is on the National Register of Historic Places and is known for being the “flight” town for Mt. McKinley climbers.  Climbers set out from Talkeetna by plane, landing about 7,000 to 8,000 feet up to start their assent up the 20,000 mountain, tallest in North America.

Famous Talkeetna sign....not sure why

Famous Talkeetna sign....not sure why

Summer in Alaska brings more daylight than us “Outsiders” are used too.  We got a kick out of doing “tourist” research on our porch at 11 PM in full sunlight… Our first night in Alaska (Talkeetna) was a good one.  Kathy was more than friendly, the accommodations were very comfortable, and the town offered some nice choices for a walk and dinner.

From Talkeetna it was off to Denali National Park.  We were less than impressed by the drive, expecting it to be much more picturesque.  Smoke from active wildfires, combined with some cloudy weather, obscured most of the impressive landscape. Numerous viewpoints along the road had signs about Mt McKinley in the distance, but we never did see it. When we arrived at Denali, we were a bit concerned with the “smoke” situation and its probable negative effects on seeing what we came to see.  We booked a shuttle trip into the park for the next day nonetheless, as the weather report was promising. 

Grizzly in Denali

Grizzly in Denali

The shuttle system, although a bit pricey, is a great way (and the only way) to get into the park to see the “mountain” (Mt. McKinley, know by locals as Denali) and many of its friends. Personal cars are only allowed 15 miles into the park, while the shuttles go up to 93.  The drivers were great and actually provide more of a tour than a shuttle.  Anytime wildlife is spotted en route, passengers shout “STOP” and the bus will screech to a stop and everybody whips out the cameras. We stopped to capture images of a variety of wildlife along the way.  We actually saw the “big 5” of Denali; Grizzlies, Moose, Wolves, Caribou, and Dall Sheep- plus a few bonus animals like a little Red Fox and many Artic Squirrels (one even posed for us in front of the mountain).

Our first view of Mt McKinley

Our first view of Mt McKinley

The elusive Mt. McKinley didn’t disappoint.  According to the park information, only 30% of the visitors to the park actually get to see it.  Due to the location and height it is usually clouded in, having its own weather system. Well, we got lucky once again… Today the skies were blue and the mountain was visible for much of our day.  Our shuttle turnaround spot was the Eielson visitor center. We took the opportunity to hike one of the few hiking trails in the park, with 1000 ft elevation gain (felt like straight up). It was rewarding as it gave an even more incredible view of the mountain. We returned to the park entrance after a 10 hour day, 8 of it inside a bus. Once again we were beat and finished our evening with dinner in our cabin. 

Are we really going up there?

Are we really going up there?

Our last day in Denali brought a bit of haze.  We were very happy that we chose to do the shuttle tour the day before, as “the mountain” would be hard to see today.  We opted for one of the strenuous yet established hikes in the park.  The Mt. Healy overlook was a 2.3 mile quick assent.  We had fun complaining on the way up. 

We Made It

We Made It

Although it was a bit hazy, we still enjoyed the views from the summit. It was hard to capture the grandure in a photo.  Tomorrow it is off to Seward and Kenai Fiords National Park.