Keep Portland Weird

On our final day in the Mount Rainier region the weather was expected to near 100. So instead of hiking we drove out to Mount St. Helens. Mount St. Helens is an active volcano best known for it’s eruption on May 18th 1980. It’s in the same Cascade Volcanic Arc that has the mountains (volcanoes) Rainier, Baker, Adams, Hood, Lassen Peak amongst others.

The region around the mountain is now a National Volcanic Monument and there are a number of visitor centres with the Johnston Ridge Observatory being the main one. The observatory is named for David Johnston a USGS volcanologist who died during the eruption whilst manning a observation site within 6 miles on the eruption. The monument is actually managed by the U.S. Forest Service and it is really well done. It’s on par with the ones run by the National Parks Service.

Mount St. Helens
Mount St. Helens

So with our days in Washington state finished it was time to keep heading south with 2 nights in Portland to break up the parks road trip. Portland is the largest city in Oregon and has a popular slogan of ‘Keep Portland Weird’. For starters there’s a cult following of the airports original carpet design. So much so the Grand Marshal for the city’s 2015 Rose Festival Parade was the PDX Carpet itself. Yep a rolled up section of carpet, googly eyes and hat! There’s even a satirical comedy show called  Portlandia that’s set in Portland.

So along with cult followings of carpet, there’s an immense laid back vibe to the city. Microbreweries, good food, murals and an abundance of coffee shops that can make coffee! And competing doughnut stores, of which we tried both.

Pizza pyramid mural
Pizza pyramid mural
Did your childhood suck? Grilled cheese might make it better...
Did your childhood suck? Grilled cheese might make it better…
Voodoo doughnut
Voodoo doughnut
Streetcar track warning
Streetcar track warning
Street piano
Street piano
Put a bird on it
Put a bird on it – watch this if you don’t get it, Portlandia, Put a Bird on It

Mount Rainier National Park

Next National Park on the list is Mount Rainier National Park. The park is located in Washington a bit inland from the Olympic region. After about 6 hours of driving on Wednesday we arrived at Paradise where our accommodation for the next few nights is at the aptly named Paradise Inn. In the US parks systems a number of parks have accommodation inside the actual park and Paradise Inn is one of two in Mount Rainier. So instead of having to tent or RV you can stay in a historic lodge/hotel. They’re often in prime locations and the parks service have done a great job in maintaining them. Staying in one of them is like a look back in time (and a great way to escape the pace of normal life). There’s high open ceilings, a fireplace, a dining room and usually no TV, phones or Internet (or if they do have it the quality is bad).

Welcome to Paradise
Paradise Inn was built back in 1916 and it was restored/renovated back in 2006 to address things like fire safety, seismic structure strength amongst other things. They’ve managed to keep its look and feel though and the very rooms you stay in reflect that of those visitors many years ago would have stayed in. Think tiny room with a small sink in the corner. Each floor has two showers and a male and female restroom. Paradise Inn has the trifecta of no TV, phones or internet. There’s no mobile phone service either. Looking at the old photos up and about, the inn today looks very much like what it did back then. When you look out into the lodge foyer in the afternoon and evening you can see people reading books, playing board games and completing puzzles. Things we would’ve done regularly before the advent of technology. It’s kind of refreshing in a way.

But let’s get back to the park. Mount Rainier NP was the fifth designated National Park in the US parks system and apparently the first that had a master plan. So even the road driving into and through the park had thought and design put into it so that visitors would see views of the mountain as they made their way up. Today it’s roads and buildings are historical landmarks. The park like many others has a number of regions, and driving between them can be time consuming. So some pre-planning of hikes and checking of driving distances is helpful.

Mount Rainer in the background, John Muir quote in the front. Muir is a legend with relation to the preservation of wilderness in the US.
Mount Rainer in the background, John Muir quote in the front. Muir is a legend with relation to the preservation of wilderness in the US.       

Paradise where we hiked today is an alpine region and in summer once the snow melts it is a hikers heaven as the meadows are filled with a bright abundance of flowers blooming, bees and birds pollinating flowers and lush green alpine vegetation. Luckily for us all the flowers seem to be bloom right now, and the weather outside is blue skies with very little snow on trails and none in the immediate area around the inn. Which is actually not normal. This time of year there is still supposed to be like 6+ feet of snow around Paradise and most of the trails should’ve been snow covered still. Unfortunately the Pacific Northwest had a terrible snow season so the Skyline trail which we hiked was pretty much snow free minus for a few small areas up top.

The slopes of Paradise are colourful with all the different blooming flowers
Some wildflowers up close

As we’re staying in Paradise, this meant that we could be afforded a chance at sleeping in… except that with the lack of sound proofing and everyone else waking up I still woke up earlier than intended… That’s okay as a peek out the window showed not a cloud in the sky. Today’s hike was only 5.5 miles, considerably short in the scheme of things so we took a few side trails to check out other views. But because it was short it also gave us time to walk leisurely and turn around and take it all in. You ascend up a trail with Rainier looming in front of you, but behind you you’re climbing the valley filled with flowers and the Tatoosh Range in the distance. With the super clear morning weather you could even see Mount St Helens, Mount Hood and Mount Adams in the distance!

Just a view from the Skyline trail
If you look carefully you can see some of the other mountains in the background

The Skyline Trail is also the trail that the mountain climbers take to get up to Muir Camp, the first stop on their way to attempt an ascent of Mount Rainier. You can actually day hike out to Muir Camp and back if you’re well prepared for changing conditions and can navigate back down if the weather changes – unmarked trail and glaciers to fall off. We were actually quite surprised how close the mountain was to the Skyline trail. Along the way we saw many Hoary Marmots. Marmots are a member of the rodent family and they kind of look like giant guinea pigs to me. They basically spend summer fattening up as in winter they can reduce their heartbeat to 4-5 beats per second and live of their fat stores. The trail has a couple shortcuts that you can take back, but we kept going up to the High Skyline trail the back done. It was interesting to see that the other side of the mountain had a very different look. It was more rocky, and vegetation hadn’t had much of a chance to grow yet. Making it back down, it was time to eat a hot dog. Hot dogs somehow = post hike food for me.

Can you spot the trail of climbers making their way up to Camp Muir?

Oh something else cool was they have the nightly astronomy setup at Paradise as well. Excellent for us as all we had to do was wander out of the inn and cross the carpark. Beats having to drive like an hour! Last night we saw Jupiter and 3 of its moons, Saturn (with it’s rings) and a moon, the moon and a pair of stars (which I’ve forgotten the name of). And today the guy had his solar scope out so we got to see the sun. Very cool, especially Saturn and the moon!

I’m a sucker for parks with cute or interesting names in trails or areas of the park. It’s often the name that’s caught my attention first. Park names and trails that have caught my attention before: Delicate Arch (Arches NP), Island In The Sky (Canyonlands NP), Road’s End (Kings Canyon NP), Many Glacier (Glacier NP), Exit Glacier (Kenai Fjords NP). Rainer NP got me for a few things: a mountain (volcano actually), it has a trail called the Wonderland Trail. There’s a place called Summerland (not to mention Paradise!). Hook line and sinker, it had me.

So as you can probably guess, today’s hike was out to Summerland. Summerland is about a 8.4 mile return with just over 2000 feet elevation change. The actual trail out to Summerland is part of the Wonderland trail. Wonderland is a 90 something mile trail (96 I think?) that circles Mount Rainier. The overall trail has elevation changes of over 20,000 feet (combined) and about 250 people hike the full loop each year. Many others hike sections hike portions of it. There’s also plenty of day hikes that follow the Wonderland trail for portions of it. The trailhead was on the way to Sunrise (yes another name that may have caught my attention), so we had to get an early start. Sunrise is about 2 hours driving from Paradise so we knew it would take a bit to get there. From what I’d read Summerland is a fairly popular trail in summer but has limited parking so an early start was called for. Funnily enough it isn’t listed in any of the visitor trail maps, which for some reason only list trails starting from the actual visitor centres. But I had my instructions on where it was so we were set.

The alarm was set for 6:00AM and we were on the road by 6:30AM. We arrived at the trailhead around 8:00AM, restocked our CamelBaks and hit the trail. The trail was under tree canopy for the majority of the journey uphill. A nice change as it was a lot cooler. The weather is in a bit of a heatwave at the moment so it’s 90+ fahrenheit which is mid 30’s celsius. It’s supposed to be getting close to 100 on Sunday! The trail gradually climbed and we reached a small meadow thing which had flowers which we weren’t sure whether was Summerland (no map). Basically my instructions said something along the line of crossing the creek and then there would be a steep 0.5 mile climb up to Summerland. We had a snack then debated whether we were there or not. The trail seemed to keep going uphill and the first bit didn’t seem particular alpine-ish. The portion after the creek to where we were wasn’t partially steep so the feeling was that it was probably actually 0.5 of a steep climb not 0.5 from the creek. So we started going uphill. Along the way a guy was coming up so we asked him if he knew whether the thing below us was Summerland. He’d done the trail before and he told us nope, Summerland was up all the switchbacks and that it was a huge meadow that was pretty with campsites and a pit toilet. So upwards we kept going. Soon we arrived at Summerland and yep it was a huge meadow. The flowers were in early bloom. July-August is when they really take off. We sat down on a rock for a rest surrounded by the meadow with Rainier in the background. The occasional marmot was scurrying around the place. A cute thing was the marmot we encountered on our way back down. We’d just left the toilet and wanted to take a track down to the main trail but a marmot decided it wanted to dig and play with the rocks on the track. It just sat there, then decided to go lie down on the side of the trail. Then it decided it wanted to eat again, ran up to a flower stalk grabbed it pulled it down and ate it. And ate more flowers. The hike back down was fairly uneventful, just very hot as the temperature had heated up since we left in the morning.

River crossing on the way to Summerland
Welcome to Summerland
Alpine meadows, a stream and great views
Panoroma of Summerland
Just one more Summerland pic


After Summerland we headed over to Sunrise as it wasn’t too far away. Sunrise visitor services and facilities don’t actually open till tomorrow (Saturday) but with the lack of snow season the area is open for hiking now. It’s the highest visitor centre point in the park and the mountain looms in it’s background. We didn’t do any hiking up there as it was super hot but it did offer different views of the park. Then on the way back down we stopped of at Grove of the Patriarchs Trail as it was only a 1.1 mile trail and went though old growth forest. It was an okay trail. It’s probably a trail more catered to day trippers, as you can definitely see the same/similar things in better forms doing a longer trail or visiting parks like Sequoia or the Redwoods. But it did have descriptive boards describing the various trees and how forest ecosystems worked which is great for education.

What the Forks?

We’ve spent the last few days in the Forks region. Forks being the place that the Twilight series is set in. We’re staying in a little town called La Push (population approx 350) that is actually the home of the Quileute Nation (Indian reservation). It’s a Sovereign Nation, so they have their own government – a Tribal Council. They run a oceanside resort and RV park that has a nice beachside holiday feel to it. There’s the RV park portion, cabins and a motel. We’re in a room in the motel and all rooms have a balcony looking out onto First Beach. In hindsight we probably could’ve based ourselves out of here as everything in Olympic is about a 1.5 – 2 hour drive from here. It would’ve been a fairly long drive from the airport though. The whole of La Push is in the Quileute Nation. There’s one restaurant and a small grocery store in terms of catering for tourists. Anything else is a drive back to Forks. Every room/cabin is self contained though. In fact tonight we’re going to eat in. Still minimal cooking but we have a roast chicken (already cooked), salad, potato and onion.

First Beach, La Push. This is where we’re staying.
Fires and fireworks permitted
Sunset over First Beach

So other than that, what’s been happening? Originally we’d planned on doing a longish hike on the day we moved over to Forks, but I did some shuffling, as it was going to be just over a 2 hour drive followed by a 9 mile hike. A hike which was dependent on the tide. So instead on driving day we drove on down to the Hoh Rainforest. It’s a rainforest climate and the token visitor walk is the Hall of Mosses trail. A short loop where you walk through the floor, with spruce and maple trees growing/hanging over tendrils of moss hanging down. Fungus growing on trunks and ferns all over. We also walked a bit up the Hoh River Trail. That whole trail goes for 17+ miles on way so we just said walk for 20 minutes and turn back. It was similar scenery but I can understand why people say to walk some of it at least. It’s definitely has less people through it so has a more untouched feeling to it.

Hoh Rainforest
Hoh Rainforest
Hoh Rainforest
Hoh Rainforest
Hoh Rainforest slug

Finishing up at the Hoh we headed on down the coast to Ruby Beach. The low tide had already happened a few hours ago but it was still down low enough for us to walk out to some rocks and look at starfishes and anenomes. Then we head on back towards La Push with a side trip by Rialto Beach. We couldn’t go out to Hole In The Wall as the tide was definitely on the way up by now. You’re probably wondering why I’ve mentioned the tide quite a bit. The tide change here is probably more so then we’re used to in Australia so you’ve got to make sure you don’t get trapped by the rising tide. As in some places you’ll be stuffed or you’ll have to wait it out. Along the coast at certain places there’s markers to mark where you can up if you’re caught by an incoming tide.

Starfish in tide pool, Ruby Beach.
Rialto Beach

Which brings us to todays hike. The Ozette Loop. A 9.2 mile loop hike that has 3.1 miles down on the beach between Cape Alava and Sand Point. You’ve got to time this hike around the low tide as otherwise it’s not accessible. Apparently there is a way to hike it overland if necessary (and we did see some of the markers), but that’s no fun. So with the high tide being at 5 something AM, we set our alarm clocks for 5:45AM. It was just under a 2 hour drive there and we we’re on the trail by a bit after 8AM. The ‘beach’ isn’t what we’re use to back home. It’s more rocks, pebbles, some sand and driftwood. So the 3.1 miles over that was slow going. As we got close to Sand Point we started seeing non human tracks in the sand. Bird maybe? Nah probably looks like a dog, nothing to worry about (even though dogs aren’t allowed on trails). Hmm what’s that? Ahh a deer. I’m not to freaked out about deer as they don’t have antlers or horns, but still nonetheless a safe distance was kept. Rounding Sand Point we had to start finding our way back onto the trail. We managed to find a marker which seemed to be in roughly the right location, so off we went. Yep correct trail.

The beach
If you stuff your tide timings up, a scramble up on of these will be necessary.
Driftwood, lots of it.

Tonight I’m going to see if my fire starting skills work – you’re allowed to have fires on the beach here. Also let of fireworks. We’ve decided to skip the firework portion and just go for fire. Tomorrow we’re on the road again as we’re heading over to Mt Rainier. Apparently the weather is supposed to be somewhat crazy with like 35+ temperatures! Might also be internetless for the next 5 days unless there’s free Wi-Fi. Definitely no internet for the first 3 nights in Mt Rainier.

Back in the lower 48

Well our time in Alaska is up and we’ve been back in the lower 48 for a few days now. With that it means we’re somewhere around our halfway holiday point and are now going to be making our way south back towards LA. But that’s okay, there’s still 6 national parks to visit along the way. Leaving Alaska on Friday we flew to Seattle where we picked up the car and hit the road to Port Angeles. The traffic on the I-5 was a bit of a mess, but we got to the KOA by 6PM so it wasn’t too bad.

We’re spending a bit of time in the Pacific Northwest region, and our first park was Olympic National Park. Olympic is in the north east of Washington and consists of a number of different regions – the coast, mountains, rivers and lakes and forests. As a result there’s about half a dozen different areas of the park and it takes a while to drive between them. So we’ve split our stay into two blocks so that we can avoid having to drive so far – it would take just over 2 hours one way to drive to the rainforest side of the park from where we are now.

The first day we spent in the Hurricane Ridge area. The hillsides look really dry as unfortunately the Pacific Northwest had a really terrible snow season this year. The area got a normal amount of precipitation but as temperatures were warmer than normal it didn’t fall as snow. According to the park newspaper there is usually snow still around on trails this time of year, but in February trails we’re pretty much snow free already. On this day we’d planned to hike out Klahhane Ridge but our hike was to be thwarted close to the end by a mountain goat. Yep you heard right. We got up to the last few switchbacks to be greeted with by a nanny and her kid. Righto let’s back away. So we backed out of sight waited a bit then slowly walked forward to try and see around the corner. Nope goats still there right in the middle of the trail. And ahh crap it knows we’re here, with the mother getting up and oh, walking down the trail. Okay let’s back away again. Hmmm what are you meant to do with goats? Turns out we didn’t know. Bears and cougars yep, know what to do there, but zilch don’t know about goats. So some more waiting another sneak around, and another oh crap. So a scramble up a rock in case it came down the trail and a wait out began. After 5 mins or so, it decided we weren’t harmful and decided to potter on back up the trail where in prompt decided to sit down (again!). Well we’d already known that when animals like goats or bison decided to sit, be prepared to wait a long time. So after a bit we decided we’d just turn around. On the way back we saw that a group did make it pass the area we got stuck in – don’t know if the goat had moved on by then. We possibly could’ve scrambled up the hillside, but after having the goat turn and walk towards us three times we’d had enough.

By the time we’d hiked back to the main Hurricane Ridge area the visitor centre was now open so we went in. Oh look warnings about mountain goats, and what to do when one follows. Apparently stay half a football field away, and be prepared to throw rocks if it starts following you. Hmm good to know after the fact. Had a quick chat to the ranger talking about goats and he’s like “Klahhane Ridge? I think I know which goat you’re talking about, I’ve thrown rocks at it”. Interestingly enough mountain goats are not native to the Olympic Peninsula and the goats here are starting to get a bit habituated which is not a good thing. A Google search soon told me that in 2010 a man was killed by an aggressive goat at Olympic NP on Klahhane Ridge. An interesting thing is that mountain goats crave salt, and the Olympics aren’t known for being particularly rich in salt. But what is? Human pee and the smell of sweat. The parks service here are now recommending people pee at least 50 feet off trail and on a rock so the trails don’t become one big salt lick for the goats. On the upnote, I had my first parks hotdog. Yummy. But damn is it about 3 times more expensive than our first U.S. trip ever.

View from Hurricane Ridge area
View from Hurricane Ridge area

As for today we headed over to the Sol Duc area which has old growth forest and a river running though. Headed off reasonably early as it was a 1 hour drive, The hike was nice, a loop through the forest, and as such it was actually cool to walk. The loop went through the hot springs resort, so when it said hotdog on the menu a hotdog was halved and shared. Then it was another 2 and a bit mile hike back.

Sol Duc Falls
Sol Duc Falls
Sol Duc region

Animal count for the last 2 days: Many deer, many mountain goats, squirrels and a lone bear.

Tomorrow we’re off to the Forks region. Not because I’m a fan of Twilight, but it’s time to explore the coast and rainforest areas.

Hmm I’ll have to add the other 1 pic from the Sol Duc area later. Internet is very slow this evening (edit: now added).

Kenai Fjords National Park

We’ve spent the last few days down in Seward, as wait you guessed it right – there’s another national park. Kenai Fjords National Park is in the south-ish part of Alaska and has a more temperate climate. That said it still rains a lot here. Luckily Alaska is having a nice warm stretch right now so it’s blue skies all round. Excellent as we did a day boat cruise which usually is more choppy. With the fine weather the gulf of Alaska looked and felt more like a lake.

Seward is another small Alaskan town, named after William H, Seward a former US Secretary of State who was instrumental in the purchase of Alaska from the Russians. It’s also the other Anchorage area port for cruise ships as it’s only about 2 hours to Anchorage. As the the national park is the fjord, the major tourist activity is getting out on a boat into Resurrection Bay and the other bay/inlets that make up the area. Many of the glaciers that are see in the fjord are glaciers coming off the Harding Icefield. The Harding Icefield is remnants of the Little Ice Age. The area is also excellent for wildlife spotting.

On our driving day here, we arrived late morning, so we headed of to Exit Glacier. Exit Glacier is actually part of Kenai Fjords NP. It too is a glacier from the Harding Icefield. It’s the only part of this national park that you can access by vehicle – everything else is by boat. Exit Glacier is a retreating glacier and as you drive in they have markers of where the glacier reached to at particular points in time. As you walk around the trails in the area it becomes more apparent as the trails were clearly built back when the glacier extended further. There’s not many trails in this area and it is easily accessible for most people. There is one longish trail though – the Harding Icefield Trail. 8.3 miles return, that takes you to the top where you can look out over the icefield. There was a sign at the visitor centre saying there was an avalanche danger pass a certain point, but we’ll see what the conditions are like on the day we attempt it.

Exit Glacier
Exit Glacier outwash area. Me trying to do one of those jump poses and looking rather awkward.

First full day we did a day boat trip out into the Northwestern Fjord. After being on a cruise for 1 week I was slightly hesitant about spending 9 hours on a boat. Not because the cruise was bad, but because I wasn’t sure what I’d see that I hadn’t seen on the cruise. Well it turns out we saw a lot of animals. Humpback whales – one with a calf, many Dall’s porpoise, harbour seals, a sea lion rookery, puffins, nesting gulls, sea otters (one with a baby), coastal goat with baby. As well as various birds who’s names I vaguely remember – murre’s, some rhinoceros bird (you can tell I’m not exactly a birdwatcher). We also saw more glaciers and probably the biggest glacier calving I’ve seen. The wave created spread out ice and soon there were many seals resting on the ice.

Prepare yourself for a pics onslaught of the boat trip (in no particular order):

Humpback whale
Humpback whale
Dall's Porpoise
Dall’s porpoise
More seals (I think?, if not they’re sea lions)
Sea lion rookery
Sea otter. These guys look super cute, look at this paws and face!
Sea otter. These guys look super cute, look at this paws and face!
Puffin taking off
Puffin taking off
Seals on ice
Seals on ice
Nesting gulls
Nesting gulls
There is a coastal mountain goat in this pic – look about a third of the way up, a third from the right. Looks like a white blob.
View in the fjord
View in the fjord
Waterfall the boat got close to
Waterfall the boat got close to
Glacier in the Northwestern Fjord calving
Glacier in the Northwestern Fjord calving
Glacier upclose

The next day (today) we went and hiked the Harding Icefield Trail. A 8.2 mile return hike that takes you up high where you end up looking out on the icefield such that it almost looks endless. The hike up pretty much is uphill al the way, about 1000 feet climb per 1 mile. As mentioned before it was posted for avalanche danger 2 days ago, but as of yesterday it no longer has been. That said there was still a fair amount of snow, with the last 1.6 miles to end of trail pretty much being a snowfield. We actually turned around at one point as we thought there was still a lot to go and M was pushing his comfort levels re: snow hiking. It was somewhat slippery and you occasionally did post hole which wasn’t fun.

Top of the Cliffs view of the Harding Icefield
Harding Icefield, feeding the Exit Glacier

But on our way back down we noticed a pair coming back so we asked them if they made it to the end, and yes they had. Next question was how far was it. You’ve made it past the hard part, and are about 2/3 of the way to the end they said. Well knowing we were that close we did an about turn and kept on hiking. Luckily we hadn’t made it down the steepest snow section yet, otherwise it would have been no returns. So we pushed back up the hill we had just come down and went up the next rise. Hey, what’s out there it’s the emergency hut in the distance. We were really almost there.

There was quite a bit of snow around!

More trudging across snow and up one final hill, we were at the shelter. The Harding Icefield Sheleter isn’t for overnight stays, but rather for emergency shelter. We weren’t going to need that today. Continuing pass that took us out to the end of trail area where you can look out upon the icefield. It’s pretty impressive. From where you are the icefield is endless. And having seen the many glaciers it feeds makes it ever more so impressive.

Harding Icefield emergency shelter
Made it. Looking out upon the icefield created in the last ice age!

After a break and some snacks it was time to turn back around and re-make our way through the snow. I may have fallen over a few times but the snow was soft enough. All in all, the hike itself was somewhat strenuous as the lower half of the climb had very hot weather with no breeze. We had to check our water along the way to make sure we had enough to get back. The later half was a lot cooler due to the snow and the breeze of the ice field. At least on the way down there was a slight breeze, but it was still warm nonetheless.

Finally, some hiking

After the snow thwarted hiking day, we had one last day to get in a walk. As we didn’t have any bus tickets booked (and I wasn’t going to go on another 4 hour bus trip to be greeted with snow again) we had to stay within the first 15 miles of the road. So it was off to the Savage River.

Unlike other National Parks there’s very few marked trails in Denali. In fact they encourage you to find your own trail – follow a water course, hike up a ridge. As long as you can see and make it back to the park road you’ll be fine. Savage River however has a few marked out trails and we decided to do one of these ones instead of finding our own way. So off on the Savage Alpine Trail we went.

The trail started with a climb and as we got higher it soon became clear that yes, we were heading into snow again. We could make out the trail through the snow from a distance away, so it looked okay weather wise, a look through binoculars confirmed so.

So we pushed on. Seemingly all the elevation gain was at the start which worked up a sweat, I had to shed my beanie because I was too warm and couldn’t be bothered removing my rain jacket so decided to shed heat via my head instead. Getting into the snow area though I had to put it on again as it got cold. Clouds were blowing through the pass bringing with it falling snow.

Savage Alpine Trail
Argh, snow. Can you spot the trail?

Walking along the pass M tells me to come over and look at something. So I catch up and look… a bear print. Wait multiple bear prints. It looks like a mother bear and her cubs has been through the area recently. The prints were still clearly visible so we reckon the bears must have been through in the last few hours. So it was time to talk loudly as there was no knowing where they were. On the up note, looking at the prints they seemed to have gone off down hill.

There’s a bear or two somewhere…

We hit a peak and it was time for a couple of quick photos before we quickly kept walking. Mainly because it was very cold. I wasn’t wearing any gloves either so my hands were going red from the wind and cold. Dropping over the side of the pass was a lot warmer, with no wind. It was nice seeing the spring flowers flowering in the snow. Plants must have a hard life up in the harsh weather climate.

I think this is a Pink Plume?

Finishing off at the Savage River campground we walked the 2 miles back following the road. There was a shuttle but it only came every 2 hours. Plus we needed to get up our miles. We haven’t done much walking so far and we’re heading to Kenai Fjords in a few days where I want to hike the Harding Icefield Trail.

Right now we’re back in Anchorage for the night before heading to Seward tomorrow. On the way back though we made a bit of a detour to head to Talkeetna for lunch. Had to get the last Denali stamp from the ranger station there. After the snow and freezing weather here, we’re now in a bit of a hot streak. Blue skies, mid twenties the mountains were out and visible today. Got some nice views of the mountain from the Talkeetna River and from a viewpoint near town.

Denali view from Talkeetna River
Denali from roadside viewpoint

Off Into The Wild

So there has been a lack of posts for the last few days because of two main things: no time and the internet is a bit hit or miss. In fact the Internet is dead right now for miles on end with no estimated time of when it’s coming back. So I’m using the time to write this post in advance. As for the lack of time, I seemed to have booked activities that had a start or pickup time before 7:45AM which has meant a lot of early starts every single day. Yesterday we had to make a 7:20AM bus, today a 7:45AM pickup and tomorrow a 6:00AM bus. Last night we had to crash 9:30PM. It’s the most sleep I’ve had probably since we left Australia!

First let’s have the pics from College Fjord that I didn’t have ready last time:

College Fjord has many tidewater glaciers, here's 2 of them
College Fjord has many tidewater glaciers, here’s 2 of them
Floating ice, nothing Titanic style
Floating ice, nothing Titanic style

But now let’s go back a few days to Anchorage. Anchorage is the most populated city in Alaska (but it’s not the capital). In fact it use to be the busiest air cargo airport in the world, back when planes were tiny and they had to make a stop between Asia and the lower 48. In Anchorage we stayed at a B&B – 11th Avenue Bed and Breakfast. It was our first stay at a B&B, and it left us impressed. I have a feeling most other B&B’s aren’t as nice. 11th Avenue had different rooms all with their own private bathroom – we booked the cheapest room so our’s was just across a hall. There was even a friendly daschund. In the morning the host Marilyn put on a feast for breakfast – there was fresh fruit, yoghurt, muesli and the home made halibut quesadillas with a side of scrambled eggs. Juices, tea and coffee as well. On the day we were driving to Denali we were leaving before breakfast time so Marilyn put together a breakfast to go bag for us – hard boiled eggs, apple, cheese, trail mix, muesli slice and water. We were impressed. If anyone’s ever in Anchorage definitely check out 11th Avenue Bed and Breakfast.

We spent our full day in Anchorage not actually in town though. We we didn’t do any actual glacier activities whilst on the cruise – helicopter rides onto a glacier cost a lot of $ – so we made a drive out to Glacier View where there is the Matanuska Glacier. This glacier is on state land but the only way you can actually access the glacier is over private land. So there’s a $20 glacier access fee per person. You can drive down yourself but we chose to go with a glacier hike operator. Firstly the drive down is really crappy pot-holed dirt track and you’re not supposed to take hire cars down them. Secondly, hiking on a glacier that you don’t know isn’t exactly a smart thing to do. There’s ice to slip on and holes to fall in, no natural selection happening here. After checking in, getting gear allocated it was time for u to get over to the glacier. Down the bumpy road we went, spotting a moose and her two calves along the way. I’ve been to Yellowstone and Glacier NPs and never spotted a moose, so I was very happy to see moose in the wild. It’s the only ‘big’ animal from the US parks that I had not seen.

Moose and 2 calves
Moose and 2 calves

After parking and helmet-ing up we walked out the first bit till it started getting icy. Then it was time to crampon up. Crampons are things you wear under your boots that have sharp edges so you can dig into the ice. We did see a few people out there without them, but it probably wasn’t a smart move. A slip on the ice and your head was probably going to get sliced open on rock. We made our way over to the ice fall part of the glacier which was really pretty. The tap water I’d filled our water bladders up with tasted very chlorinated so the chance to drink melting glacial water was really nice and refreshing. Then after hacking out a place to stand with his ice axe our guide took us to a spot to look into a crevasse. Don’t want to fall into one of those!

Matanuska Glacier
Had to walk on grates over the mud. Sort of like quicksand it wobbles and can re-liquify
Making our way across
Drinking water off the glacier
Ice fall area of glacier
Looking in to a crevasse

Driving back into Anchorage we were feeling tired, it was a 2 hour drive each way and the next day we had a 5-ish hour drive up to Denali. It was basically dinner, shower, pack, sleep. Normally we try to be on the road before 7AM for long drives, but this time we decided to sleep in till 6:45AM. If you can even call that a sleep in – that’s the time I usually wake up on a work day. Oh speaking of sleep, because we’re so far north the days are almost endless – we had to sleep with eye masks because there were no blackout curtains.

Denali drive day
So the 4-5 hour drive turned out to be more like 6 hours. As the summer season is really short up here now is the time to get all the road maintenance/work done. It can take multiple seasons before a particular piece of roadwork can be completed. It’s been similar in various other parks we’ve visited in places that get snowed in come September-October. The first half of the trip has pretty much no road work, but the later half had quite a lot. There’s pretty much nothing on the drive up. Just a few very small towns where there’s a gas station to refuel and take a break.

We arrived at Denali in the afternoon. First stop the visitor centre to get an interagency annual pass. I’d worked out we could make a saving as the annual pass is $80 and all up we’d have to pay $75 for individual parks in the lower 48. As we had bus tickets booked for Denali we could then get a $10 refund per ticket. So after getting the annual pass it was time to pick up our bus tickets from the Wilderness Access Centre and get a $40 refund. What’s this bus ticket thing though? Denali has one road through the park – the park road that goes out 92 miles to Kantishna, a former gold mining town. In order to help preserve the park after about mid May to end of the season (some time in Sept), if you want to venture pass mile 15 you need to catch a park bus. Unlike some other parks that have mandated shuttle/bus transport (e.g. Zion), the buses here aren’t free. You buy a ticket and the ticket includes park access. Since most people will catch a bus there’s no actual gate to the park. Along with the park buses, there’s also a few of tours you can book. They’re a bit different to the buses as they’re narrated. We had one tour and one park bus ride booked.

Then it was back up the highway to check-in at our accomodation. Travelling for this many weeks gets costly, especially with car hire, so where we can we’ll try and save some $. Often this will be in the form of staying in RV parks but instead of lugging tents and all we’ll stay in the cheapest cabin and used shared facilities. The cheap/smallest cabin this time was Cabin T, a cute little cabin with a sod roof:

Kantishna Experience – the 12 hour bus tour
Our first full day in Denali was spent on the 12 hour Kantishna Experience tour. 12 hours on a bus. Yes it really does take a long time to get further into the park. The KE tour went all the way to the end of the road, and we made stops at a few key places. Riding the bus you can understand why there’s no cars allowed. It’s dirt track on windy road with barely any passing room on some corners. There’s also the stopping for wildlife watching. If visitors could drive their cars in the road would get damaged a lot quicker and there would be ‘animal’ jams. We did get to see quite a lot of animals – 8 grizzly bears, multiple moose, too many caribou, dall sheep, various birds. There were a group on our bus who we’re like lecturers (or researchers?) in animal sciences who were really good at animal spotting and one guy in particular seemed an avid bird person so we got to see quiet a number of birds actually identified. Not many animal pics though as my zoom lens doesn’t zoom that far. Cute animal spotting of the day – mother grizzly with 2 cubs sleeping in a field.

An also awesome thing about the day was that it was sunny enough for Denali (Mt McKinley) to make an appearance. Apparently it’s only visible 2 out of 10 days in the summer whilst in winter it is almost always visible.

Grizzly bear
Grizzly bear
View from Polychrome Pass
View from Eielson. That’s Denali (Mount McKinley)
View from Eielson
View of Denali from Wonder Lake reflection pond
The end of the road

After we got back from the epic day, we bought Subway for dinner drove back and ate, showered and went to bed at 9:30AM. Another early start for the next day as we we’re going ATV-ing.

ATV day was meant to be a ‘rest’ day except I forgot I’d booked it for a 7:45AM pickup. We got to sleep till 6:30AM at least. ATV-ing was fun. We’d decided to go single rider ATV, because why share driving when you can both ride yourself? For the first half we rode a bit more slowly. I’d never been ATV-ing before and as it was more a 4wd style track I was handling the embankments more carefully. Nothing like rolling an ATV to break a leg or kill yourself. The trails and river bed we rode on are just outside the park boundaries as it’s not allowed within the park. Whilst it was super fun, I can understand why – it kind of destroys the paths as the wheels cut out tracks in the trail. By the end of I was covered in a dirt all over. The last time I was covered in this much dirt was crammed in the back of a ute in Cambodia.

Post ATV-ing it was a food stop then we headed back into the park to properly check out the visitor centre and walk a short trail.

Hike Day
Today we were catching a bus back to Eielson to go hiking. Or at least that’s what we had planned to do. We had a 6:00AM bus booked as it takes about 4 hours to get out there so we had picked the early bus to make the most of it. When we woke in the morning it was quite cold and socked in. It looked like it had been raining since some time the evening before. That’s okay we thought, we’ve got rain jackets and pants. Ain’t nothing going to stop us. Except as the bus made it’s journey through the park road it became clear that more than just rain had fallen overnight. All the mountains and plains we had seen just 2 days earlier we’re now covered in snow! And as the bus made it’s way further in it started snowing. And kept snowing. By the time we got to Eielson everything there was covered in a good 2-3 inches of snow. The flags were even out for the start of some trails. So our original plan was kind of scuttled as we had planned to just hike uphill to wherever we wanted to. With all the snow it wasn’t really possible. So we had a quick walk about the Tundra Spur Trail, checked out the visitor centre then headed on the bus back. Whilst there was no hiking done, it was cool to get to see everything covered in snow. The weather here varies quite a lot – rainy on one side, sunny on another, very windy elsewhere.

Just a light dusting of snow. That’s still hike-able right?
What greeted us at Eielson…
Don’t think there’s much hiking going to happen. The flags were out for the spur trail though.

So since we made it back earlier than we thought – it was still 2PM though – we made it over to the sled dog kennels for the 4:00PM talk. Denali has kennels, and the dogs here are actively used as a canine ranger unit. Summer is the dogs holiday time though, as in winter they go out on trails patrolling the park, as well as so maintenance work can be performed. These dogs are workhorses – larger and very lean. When the 5 dogs were getting brought out for the sled demo all the other dogs suddenly became very active, as if they were saying ‘pick me, pick me’.

Cruising Alaska

So we’ve finished the Alaska cruise portion of our trip onboard the Star Princess. Since we had no internet for the 7 days (I think that’s the longest I’ve ever been without internet), I wrote down the days happenings to post when we finally hit Anchorage. Post is in chronological order from embarkation day.

Day 1, Embarkation Day
So I’d read on the internet to ignore the staggered boarding times and turn up early to Canada Place. Knowing there were going to be 3 cruise ships boarding on this day we left our hotel at 10:15AM. The internet was right, there as no enforcement of the boarding times so we dropped our bags off and went of inside to join queue after queue. Since we turned up early the queues weren’t actually bad. They didn’t start letting people board the actual ship until noon and we got on around 12:30PM. An observation whilst waiting in the immigration queue (you clear U.S. customs in Vancouver) was that there were many Australians. I think that whole retirement cruising holidays thing that my parents have started doing is a thing.

Canada Place

After getting on and dumping our bags in our room it was off to find some food. I’d heard that the main dining room is usually open on boarding day as well, but this proved false so we were off to the Horizon buffet for lunch – if we could find it. I’d been on a P&O cruise before, but I think the ship we’re on the Star Princess is bigger. Back to lunch though, the plates we were given were huge! And then there was dessert as well. As I’d bee on a cruise before I was kind of prepared about the non stop abundance of food, but I don’t recall ever having plates that big. The only annoying thing is being Day 1, all the crew were trying to sell the beverage packages all afternoon/evening. We didn’t think they were worthwhile. E.g. $49USD per day for unlimited cocktails, beer, juice, soft drink etc. You’d have to drink at least 5 drinks a day to break even! Declining the alcoholic package then meant they’d try to sell you the non alcoholic package, which whilst cheaper still meant you had to drink a lot of sugary beverages. Lucky for us when we’re in the U.S. our  drinks of choice are lemonade (in the U.S. lemonade is basically lemon cordial) and ice tea and these were included, so no extra $ spent for us. We did buy the coffee card though, as we had to feed our coffee habit and the brewed stuff from a pot doesn’t cut it. Plus the card gives you unlimited looseleaf tea as well and can be shared so we only need 1 card between us.

After lunch it was time for a wander around the ship to see what was around. Also to gauge what decks/areas would be good to be on when we’re in Glacier Bay National Park. As we’d booked an internal room as it was the cheapest we’d knew we have to find a good spot for glacier day. We did get a cabin upgrade to an obstructed window room, but it’s more or less obstructed by the lifeboats so we’ll still need to be up outside to view the park. The room is better than no windows though as now we do get some natural light inside.

Since we’re on a cruise, we had to go up on top for our sail off from Vancouver. We stayed up on top till we went under the Lions Gate bridge.

Lions Gate Bridge
Lions Gate Bridge

For dinner we’d picked Anytime Dining over Traditional. Traditional means you dine at the same time every evening with the same table mates, whereas with Anytime you turn up whenever and can share or have your own table if you want. The only crappy thing is they let you make reservations for Anytime, so since we didn’t make any we still had to wait. But it wasn’t that bad, as we’d decided we’re up for sharing tables. The good thing about Anytime and sharing is you’ll have different table mates each day, so there’s always at least something to talk about. For this first evening we dined with another younger couple who were on their honeymoon. I didn’t get any pictures of the food, but I’ll just say yum and way too much food.

It was about 9PM when we finished dinner so we headed up outside as the Captain had told us at around 9:15PM it’d be ‘scenic cruising’. The sun was setting in the horizon behind some island things and it was quite nice. Then we headed off to the theatre to see the night show. The show was okay, the main act was a comedian. We’ll try to catch one other show during our time on board but I think we’ll be okay if we miss them. Seeing as from tomorrow our days are going to be busy with port activities planned.


Day 2, At Sea
Woke up at 6:45AM today so we could have breakfast at 7AM and be up on deck by 8AM as there was scenic cruising again. We tried the main dining room and were on a table of 6 this time. I think from now on we’ll do the buffet breakfast. It wasn’t bad, but with the dining room meals you have to wait around a bit for the waiters to serve and everyone to finish, so if you’ve got things planned it’s probably not the best idea. We made it to the deck though and had to make a detour back to our room to get more clothes. It was cold. Like pants under my pants, beanies, neck thing, fleece jacket and gloves.

It’s cold
Some town we cruised by the morning of Day 2

As it was a sea day we basically spent the day walking round the ship inside and out, watched an Alaska documentary and played trivia. We did see some animals but we don’t actually know what they were. Some people reckoned whales, but they kinda moved like dolphins to me. I’ll have to Google if dolphins exist this far North. In the evening it was the first formal night so we had to get all dressed up. I’ve had a cold of sorts since we’ve boarded the cruise so we were debating asking for a table for 2 as my nose decided to go wild yesterday. But after waiting in the queue we opted for shared as the wait seemed quicker. I just had to pre-empt my nose deciding to run. Don’t know where I picked up the cold, probably on the way over as the person seated next to me sniffled and coughed the 14 hours to LAX.

Day 3, Ketchikan
Overnight we sailed into Alaskan waters and went back an hour in time. We set our alarm for 6AM as we wanted to grab breakfast and food before our kayaking trip. Funnily enough, standing at the breakfast buffet we decided we weren’t really that hungry. I managed a mouthful of mushrooms and a pikelet. Probably also partly due to being a bit under the weather due to the cold I have. After breakfast we walked around the deck to get a look of the town. Look’s pretty, wooden buildings along the cliffside. Soon after we disembarked the boat and waited around for our trip pickup.


With cruises you can book your port activities through the cruise line but you can save a bit of money if you book them yourself, which is what we did. So today we went out kayaking with Ketchikan Kayak Co. There was 8 of us in total and we went about 15 miles out of town to a bay on the ocean. There we hopped into waterproof pants and into the sea kayaks. And off we went paddling, dripping water all over ourselves. In Australia you don’t think of it much as you’re usually kayaking in summer in swimmers/boardies, whereas here we were fully clothed so our jackets were getting soaked. In was nice and serene out on the water. It was actually the ocean, but was sheltered by a number of islands so it wasn’t too choppy. We kayaked around this cliff and since it wasn’t high tide yet we were able to see starfishes around the waterline. The guide guy who’s name I can’t remember pulled some off so we could hold them.

Kayaking in the ocean, it’s sheltered by a few islands so not to choppy.
Following the shoreline, checking out starfishes
Underside of the starfish

Then we paddled across to one of the islands where there was a massive eagles nest. Apparently these pair of eagles have been there for years but are nearing the end of their lifespan, so the nest will one be around for another 5 years or so. We actually saw quite a few eagles on the paddle.

Eagles nest

Circling around the island the guide picked up some seaweed – I don’t remember it’s name but it was a type of seaweed that has it’s stem thing filled with gas so a bulb forms at the end. Anyway the reason he grabbed the seaweed was so we could give it a taste. Yep, ate seaweed fresh from the water. Tasted salty like crunchy lettuce. On the paddle back we saw a few seals. I did’t manage to get a photo of them though as by the time I got the camera out the seal went on a dive. It was pretty cool tough that one of the seals even made the noise that seals make.

After finishing kayaking we got dropped off back at the ship and had about 1.5 hours to spare before we had to be on board. I managed to walk to the start of town then was going to turn round ‘cos I was feeling really light headed and wheezy, but after turning back and seeing how close everything was I decided to push on (and hopefully not regret it later). We wandered up to Creek Street which was kind of cute, then did a loop and headed back to the ship. On board it was dump our bags and go for lunch. After eating I felt slightly better, so I think it was a combo of lack of food and the cold/asthma that was making me feel unwell. Hopefully I’ve recovered from the cold by the end of the cruise. It’s not too bad as I can still do things, but it makes me tired and my asthma kicks in when I’m unwell. So it’s been Ventolin every 4 hours for the last few days.

Town sign
Town sign
Creek St

Whilst on the deck waiting to sail off we got to watch lots of sea planes landing and taking off. In the evening whilst having a drink before dinner we managed to see some whales and seals. The binoculars we bought got a use this evening so that was good as we wouldn’t have spotted the seals on the buoy otherwise. Tomorrow we’ll be in Juneau (pronounced Juno), the capital of Alaska.

Ketchikan Port
Ketchikan Port
Lots of sea planes
Lots of sea planes

Day 4, Juneau
Today we were in Alaska’s capital city, Juneau. A capital city that has no roads into the city so the only way to get here is via plane, cruise ship or the Alaska Marine Highway. There were 4 cruise ships in Juneau today, but at any given time there were only 3 in port. I managed to get a shot of one of the Norwegian Star boats waiting for another of their boats to leave to it could dock. Because the distance between Juneau and Skagway is not that far we had lots of time to stay in town if we wanted to – 7:30AM to 8:30PM. I hadn’t organised any activities for today as originally I had wanted to do a hike out onto the Mendenhall Glacier from the westside but it was a little pricey – 250+ USD per person. So we deferred our glacier hike to when we’re in Anchorage. Instead we caught the bus out to the glacier visitor centre area and did the Nugget Falls trail. The bus ride out was a bit dramatic. First we missed the 8:00AM bus by about 1 minute, then the 8:30AM bus we got on broke down and we had to wait for the 9:00AM bus. That and it was a bit unorganised – at least when the replacement bus came they made sure us broken down bus people got on first. It’s a bit unorganised because there’s about a dozen stand selling various glacier buses, whale watching tours, helicopter rides etc but they’re all the same price and all. It’s because at the end of the day there’s only a handful of companies that actually provide the service. So imagine like 12 stands selling tickets for the same bus then all those people trying to catch the bus. For any future visitors, buy a ticket for the white bus if you can. Or if there’s 4 of you split a cab. In the end though it all worked out and it was better than doing an organised excursion as we had as long as we liked at the glacier.

The glacier itself was quite pretty. Quite different to the glaciers I saw when we visited Glacier National Park a few years ago. This one was by far larger, but unfortunately it too is receding. We also spotted the canoe trip in front of the glacier. I’d considered this activity as well, but thought we’d save some money and give in a miss. Most glacier based activities cost a bit of $ here, I’m assuming because the summer season is short, and also because it’s maybe more an ‘adventure’ activity.

Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier close up
Mendenhall Glacier sea canoe trip

Getting back to town we first stopped of at Tracy’s King Crab Shack. It does get lots of tourists but I’d heard this was the place to try king crab, so we ordered a combo to share. I don’t usually eat crab at home because I don’t think it’s worth the effort, but a king crab leg is slightly different. You actually get decent size chunks of meat when you peel/crack off the shell. The crab meat was very sweet tasting.


After eating we headed off to find the post office. The Juneau Post Office is this cute little arty store that also serves as the USPS front. The most un-post office I’ve ever seen. The ‘mailbox’ to post your letters was this:

Coolest post office ever
Coolest post office ever

Then it was time to catch the Mount Roberts Tramway up the mountain to have a walk around. We walked one of the loop trails and took a side track up to the cross on the hill to get a look back down over the city on one side and the channel on the other. Perfect weather and view.

Mount Roberts Tramway
Walking up the trail
View back out the channel

After that we strolled around town for a bit then headed back to the ship. We spotted for bit to check out some eagles then re-boarded around 4PM as we didn’t have anything else we wanted to do in town. A thing about the towns cruise ships stop in is that there are lots of gift stores and jewellery stores. Most of these towns have most of their income coming from cruise ship passengers which is only between May – September. Oh but we did buy some salmon jerky to try.

Day 5, Skagway
The ship docked in Skagway sometime around 5am, but we woke up at 6am as we have been doing so for since Ketchikan. We’re on holidays but with the exception of our second day in Vancouver we’ve woken up at our usual time or even earlier. It’s not because we’re jet lagged, but more because adventure is out there. A lot of our activities had early pickup times which meant we’ve had to be dressed, packed, fed and outside by about 7:30AM. We pretty much pack for a whole day out – you can come back onto the ship to have lunch if you want but we don’t bother doing that.

Skagway is a town of about 900 people. In the cruise ship season there can be about 15,000 visitors a day (passengers and crew). The day we visited there were 4 cruise ships in town, but it still didn’t seem that crowded/busy. Skagway exists from the Klondike Gold Rush when many people came to try there luck. The early men had to to hike in on trails but eventually a railroad was built – the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad. It was this railroad that we were going to spend part of the day riding as we caught the train up into the Yukon. The train company is still the same company from back in the gold rush – WP&YR. They even still use the oldest car, built in 1883 on the line each day.

WP&YR train
WP&YR train

The summer weather of the last few days had been replaced with rain and clouds, so the first part of the journey was shrouded in clouds. It still was very scenic as we drifted in an out of the bad weather. On the train ride, we crossed back into Canada at Fraser. We had to stop briefly so the Canadian immigration agents could hop on the train and check our passports. Then it was onwards to Bennett Lake where we stopped for a meal. We had about 1.5 hours here including eating time, so after chowing down our food it was time for a quick walk around. Since the gold rush came and went, Bennett Lake doesn’t really exist as a town anymore. There’s one person who has a property their but she doesn’t even live there full time. The church though which has been preserved still exists and there is remnants of the gold rush era around the place – old cans, metal scraps where buildings use to stand. A quick short hike up the Chilkoot Trail took us out to a nice overlook.

Back in BC
Chilkoot Trail
Old church at Bennett Lake
View from the Chilkoot Trail, Bennett Lake, BC

Getting back on the train we made our way towards Carcross. Carcross is a really tiny town with a dozen or so shops set up for the train passengers. They’re mainly run by first nations (Canadian natives). A lot of these towns make their income in the very short cruising season. I’m not sure what happens in winter. It was then time to hop into the mini-bus for the ride back to Skagway. We stopped of at a few spots along the way. Surprisingly at the US checkpoint they trusted our drivers story and didn’t bother checking our passports. I guess their probably use to the cruise ship passengers crossing into Canada then coming back.

Had to grab a picture of the Yukon sign
Emerald Lake

With the on-board time not till 8:00PM we had heaps of time to checkout the town but we ended up hopping back onboard around 4:30PM. Skagway is like one of those ye-olde towns, but as it exists/lives for the cruise season, most of the shops are the typical tourist/jewelry stores that exist in every port. We did check out a National Historic site related to the Klondike Gold Rush though.

Downtown Skagway
Klondike Gold Rush National Historial Park


Day 6, Glacier Bay National Park
Today was the reason we were on a cruise ship. Glacier Bay National Park can only really be experienced by boat. For many visitors the way to get there is on an Alaskan cruise. You technically can visit it yourself but it isn’t easy/cost effective. The nearest town is Gustavas and since there’s no roads in you have to fly in, some how make it down to Bartlett Cove and get on a boat. So a fleeting visit on a cruise ship was going to have to suffice. As it’s a National Park and cruise ships aren’t exactly small things, the parks service has a limit of 2 ships per day. Additionally only 2 cruise lines can offer Glacier Bay visits – a company has a permit of a few years and then it goes to another company. I was also excited to visit the bay as I’d studied earth sciences as an elective in Years 11 & 12 and part of the course was dedicated to glaciers and geology related things. It was pretty cool to get to see glaciers up close in this remote area and see how they have shaped and are still shaping the landscape.

A cool thing about visiting on a cruise is that the National Parks service send out some rangers who board the ship for the duration of the Glacier Bay cruising. Our ship was going to be in Glacier Bay from around 6:00AM to 3:00PM so we got up early at 5:30AM to make sure we were up and about for the duration of visit. Whilst drinking our morning tea we got to see the National Parks boat come up alongside the ship and rangers leave their boat. I heard later that they have to climb a rope ladder to make it up! As well as the parks desk, there was also the Alaska Geographic stand selling stuff. All profits from the store go back to the parks, so I don’t mind spending money at them. I’d already picked up my Glacier Bay patch at the Alaska Geographic store in Skagway as I didn’t want to find out on the ship they didn’t have any (I’ve made that mistake before). The Skagway store didn’t have magnets so we bought one on-board today. There’s a few standard things we pick up on every National Parks trip – I collect a patch from each park, and we also grab a magnet and one of the retro postcard prints. Something else we did buy today, that I have somewhat regret not doing many years ago (great regret even maybe?) is the National Parks Passport book. It’s basically a book that you can stamp in the cancellation stamps from each park when you visit them. The stamps have the date you visited and usually have a picture that depicts the park. I think every time we’ve been out, we’ve been like nah we don’t need that we’re already going to be missing stamps. But we broke that today and got it. No regrets, if we visit again we’ll have it and can go stamp happy. Whilst we’ll get 8 stamps in this trip, we’re unfortunately going to be missing 11 stamps from the other parks we’ve visited. Apparently if we mail it to each park they’ll stamp it for us. I don’t think we’ll be doing that though. I guess I’ll have to visit them again!

Back to the day… The weather was rainy and cold, but we were all set. I wasn’t going to let the rain stop me from getting out on the deck. We’d already known it was going to be cold, so were dressed for the occasion. I was wearing: thermal pants and shirt, long pants, shirt, fleece jacket, rain pants and jacket, neck buff, beanie, hiking socks. I will say my torso was reasonably warm but my face and fingers kind of froze. My gloves aren’t water resistant and you can’t easily operate a camera with gloves anyway. Being dressed properly was an advantage though as it meant we could be outside for a lot of the time. The majority of people had to stay inside behind windows, or wait till we were up in front of the glaciers before running out. Keeping the camera dry though was next to impossible.

We saw quite a few glaciers on the scenic cruise with the highlight being the Lamplugh and Margerie tidewater glaciers. It got quite a lot colder when we were up near these as the coolness of the ice lowered the temps further. These glaciers are huge, the Margerie glacier is over 25 stories above the water alone. We even got to see the glaciers calve multiple times! Calving is when chunks of ice break off the end of the glacier fall down. The sound of it happening can be likened to thunder and it was awesome! Next to the Margerie glacier is the Grand Pacific glacier. It’s not photographed as much as it’s often described as the ‘dirty’ glacier. It’s not really dirty, it’s just that this glacier has picked up lots of silt/dirt etc as it’s been moving towards the sea.

We spent maybe about 45 min as the Lamplugh glacier and 1 hour at the Margerie then it was time for the ship to make it’s reverse trip back out of the bay. In the bay we also saw an otter, seal and whale. No pics though, by the time you can get your camera out the animal is gone. We’ve actually seen quite a few animals on the cruise, mainly whales. It’s not quite like those impressive pics you see off whales flipping their tails though. You do have to spend your time outside actively scanning. But if you do so, you’re pretty much guaranteed to see something. Oh and binoculars help.

Verdict: Well worth the cruise to get to visit this remote National Park.

Sorry about the not so great pics – the weather was really wet and cold, and keeping cameras dry was hard. It looked way more awesome with the human eye.

Approaching the Lamplugh
Close to the front of the Lamplugh
Approaching the Margerie glacier. Grand Pacific glacier is the black glacier from the middle to the right hand side.
It’s cold.
Margerie glacier
Margerie glacier calving

Day 7, At Sea with a visit to College Fjord
I’ll have to start Day 7 at the evening of Day 6… So as this cruise was a 7 day cruise there was 2 formal nights, with the evening of Glacier Bay day being the final formal night. I’d checked out the menu in the afternoon and knew what I was going to get – they had lobster tail as a main. Except I never made it to dinner. After leaving the bay, we were out in open ocean as the ship was making it’s way towards College Fjord. Mid evening the captain made an announcement that we we’re going to hit some bad weather, and it was with it that the rolling and swaying started happening. I downed some Kwells but they didn’t make a difference. I made two attempts at getting to the room door before deciding I’d probably end up taking a yak at the table if I even made it. So it was the bed I spent the evening lying in as I at least could handle the swaying lying down. Turns out lots of people must have felt the same. M said the dining room was very empty and at the table he was seated at quite a number of people had come by themselves as their partner/travelling buddy decided to stay in the room as they weren’t feeling well. One couple even left midway. I ordered some room service. Not quite lobster tail but I managed to eat about half of it at least.

The morning was better though. According to the weather report, the swell was actually double the night before but it didn’t feel like it. Turns out we had left the bad weather around 3:00AM this morning, so it was business as usual. Just the usual swaying that I can handle. As we weren’t going to be in the fjord till the evening, it meant there was a day to fill. How do you fill a day on a cruise ship? Well there is a lot off food and meals so you can plan your day around that. So the day kind of went like – breakfast, coffee, cooking show, video presentation, lunch, packing, snack…

In the early evening we cruised into College Fjord. As we had to have our bags packed and outside our room before dinner, we weren’t wearing any thermals. College Fjord has 5 tidewater glaciers alone, not to mention many other glaciers so it was very cold. Had to go inside occasionally as we weren’t wearing gloves so our hands would get cold very quickly.

I’ll have to edit this post though and add in the photos later as I haven’t copied them to my laptop yet…

And so at about midnight we sailed into Whittier where we disembarked in the morning.

Next stop glacier hiking tomorrow on the Matanuska Glacier.