Sunday, 18 December 2011

Final Day

Final Day
The Inside Passage through SE Alaska is a maze of islands, channels, straits, sounds and narrows. We had left Ketchikan at 7.34pm the previous day and spent the whole of this day cruising southwards towards Vancouver. We were blessed with a gentle breeze, clear skies, slight seas and a noon temperature of 15 degrees C. Relaxing on deck, occasionally moving to sample food and drink in plenty, we lazed the day away watching the scenery pass by.
There was little evidence of work being done anywhere but I expect that this purse seiner had had a busy morning.
Later we stood at the stern rail watching the sun go down, not only on the day but on another wonderful experience in the American west.
At about 7.00am next morning we docked in Vancouver. We made the most of our final breakfast and left the ship at 9.00am for the trip to the airport and home. We had sailed nearly 2,000 miles from Seward which has to be added to our 400 miles overland trip from Fairbanks via Nenana, Denali and Anchorage.

Day 12 Ketchikan, Alaska

Day 12
We were safely docked at Ketchikan, port side at 12.31pm. 

Ketchikan is the 4th wettest place in the world. It can rain for a whole month, 31 days straight. We had arrived on a good day - it was not raining hard.
The city guards the Tongass Narrows and is neatly laid out as a strip along the coast, at the base of Deer Mountain 3,100ft on Revillagigedo Island. The first inhabitants were Tlingit tribes who set up a fishing camp at Ketchikan Creek. It grew to become the 'Salmon Capital of the World'. The shortage of land for building encouraged the creation of artficial flat surfaces by using stilts on the sloping hillside or piers and pilings out into the water.
We had opted to use our afternoon here to explore one of Alaska's least known but a most spectacular creations - Misty Fjords. Using a jet boat to reach this distant landscape we powered through the rain and cloud in relative comfort, firstly SE along the Revillagigedo Channel and then NE into the Behm Canal. We paused to view a bald eagle's nest and an indian pictograph, neither of which were readily distinguishable but one thing you could not miss was New Eddystone Rock.
Named by Cpt George Vancouver in 1793 this rock loomed up out of the fog. It consists of basalt that rose from a volcanic vent in the floor of the Behm Canal about 5m years ago. Glaciers have since scoured away most of the flow leaving behind this rock. Almost as if using the rock as a marker we turned right into Rudyerd Bay.

To our amazement we entered a fascinating and ethereal series of inlets and fjords.

The rain stopped and the wind became calm as we quietly glided across the water.

Whispy clouds draped the precipitous mountain sides providing an almost fairyland atmosphere.
The bay once belonged to the Nex'adi who would hike 5 days up the river flowing into the bay to set traps and deadfalls. The mountain called "Gweka'h" is one site where survivors of the Tlingit flood legend were saved.

Punchbowl wall in Punchbowl Cove between rain showers - above.
We paused for a while to await the arrival of a float plane joining us to exchange passengers.
But from this place where you experienced a halting feeling that could have persuaded one to linger longer for an inevitable Sirens embrace, we had to return to windy and rainswept Ketchikan.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Day 11 Juneau, Alaska

Day 11
Cosmopolitan Juneau straddles the Gastineau Channel with the main part of the city along a narrow strip on the eastern shore and the western suburbs on Douglas Island. It is the capital of Alaska but is only reached by sea or plane. There are roads but they do not connect to any other settlement. Joe Juneau and Dick Harris' 1880 discovery of gold in Gold Creek established its importance on the route to the Klondike and it took over the role of capital from Sitka in 1900. We arrived at Juneau at 7.00am and were due to leave at 5.30pm.

In the morning we headed out to a Musher's Camp deep in the beautiful temperate rain forest of Douglas Island. Spruce and hemlock trees drapped in thick layers of moss dripping in the mists of the sunrise greeted us.

We learned about the life of sled dogs and their musher, getting very close up and personal.

At least one dog had different coloured eyes.
We enjoyed a trip along a wooded trail being whisked through the trees on a wheeled sled pulled by very enthusiastic huskies.

When the ride was over we had a presentation by an Iditarod veteran followed by a cuddle with some adorable puppies.

In the afternoon we embarked upon what promised to be an exciting trip but in the event turned out to be somewhat disappointing. The Whale Watching and Wildlife Quest took us out into the Favorite Channel a branch of the Lynn Canal. We did see whales but only at considerable distance like this humpback caught just after surfacing and before diving again.
 Then, of course there was the occsional Stellar Sea Lion draped rock but not much else.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Day 10 Haines, Alaska

Day 10
We arrived at Haines at 6.30am and after our usual hearty breakfast made our way at 9.00am for an adventure to Skagway and then onto the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway. We had little time to appreciate the beautiful mining supply and fishing port associated with the Klondike Gold Rush before boarding a high-speed catamaran for a trip up the Lynn Canal to Skagway.
When gold was discovered in the Klondike in the late 1890s, steamboat captain William Moore founded Skagway as a gateway to the goldfields. Over 30,000 prospectors passed through in the first year, seeking supplies and entertainment. Now looking down Broadway towards a cruise ship at Broadway Dock the street is lined with shops dependent on the passing tourist trade.
The Red Onion Saloon on the left built in 1898 still has its bar from when it served as a saloon and brothel. You can have a  Brothel Tour guided by young ladies in dubious attire.

A somewhat more sober town today, Skagway works hard to extract gold from the pockets of cruise ship customers that consist to a large degree of wealthy pensioners.
Skagway's origins date to June 1887 when Captain William Moore and his Native Guide, Skookum Jim Mason, scouted the relatively unknown Tlingit route through the coastal mountains to what became known as White Pass. By 1888 the Moore's had built this log cabin, cleared 8 acres and began the construction of a dock and trail.

The Moore's maintained an early hold on the settlement they called Mooresville but it quickly grew beyond their ability to keep that control. Lawsuits followed that reduced the size of Moore's land claim as a proper grid plan was set out for the town which was now called Skagway. However by 1897 Ben Moore had completed the construction of a more suitable home. Although it included the original cabin this was later moved to its present site in 1900.
William Moore had always forecast that there would be a railway through to the lakes beyond White Pass. Some prospectors chose the shorter steeper route over the Chilkoot Trail via the famous "Golden Stairs", others the longer but less steep White Pass trail.
The White Pass & Yukon Railroad Company was a joint venture between Thomas Tancrede and Michael J Heney. They purchased the right of way on an old toll road and began construction in 1898 of a narrow gauge railway. Today the route runs from Skagway past vertical cliffs, over old trestle bridges and through tunnels for 20 miles to reach the summit of the pass. The railway runs for a further 20 miles to Lake Bennett where the lakes and rivers route to the Yukon begins.
This was WP&YR's first loco. Acquired in 1898 it operated as #2 within the Skagway Valley and later along the shore of Lake Bennett. Retired from service in 1936, damaged by a shed fire in 1969, it now rusts away awaiting finance for restoration.
 Many of the curves are very tight enabling photos like this showing the progress of our train as it ascends the mountainside into a blanket of cloud.
It was a great pity that the visibilty was so poor. There was little to see at the summit of White Pass, 2,865ft. After crossing the Canadian Border we descended to Fraser but even here we could see little of the beautiful alpine valley surroundings.
 At Fraser we transfered to a coach for the return along the Klondike Highway. On the other side of the Skagway River we could catch glimpses of a WP&YR train making its way down to Skagway.
After a high speed catamaran return our ship at Haines we found that our steward had been playing towel monkeys again. This time it was an elephant.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Day 9 Glacier Bay

Day 9
It was about lunchtime when we found ourselves sailing through the fjord known as Glacier Bay. Once a large single glacier until the early C18th kown as the Grand Pacific Glacier and 4,000ft thick and 20 miles wide. Since then it has retreated 70 miles to the head of the bay at Tarr Inlet leaving some 20 tributary glaciers reaching down towards the bay.
The sides of the fjord were steep and rocky. To the left as we sailed was the Fairweather Range from which many of the glaciers originated. Covered in low cloud was Mount Cooper 6,780ft.
The Margerie Glacier lies close to the head of the fjord. Once it was a tributary of the Grand Pacific Glacier. It is about a mile wide and extends back 20 miles to the Canadian border. It is named after the French geographer Emmanuel de Margerie who visited Glacier Bay in 1913.
A close up of the snout reveals the thin layers of morainic debris embedded in the ice.

At the side lateral moraine is clearly visible.
We had hoped to see calving but once again the ice was not obliging.
 After standing on deck while the ship slowly turned round to give everybody the best view, we started to return down the fjord pausing to investigate Johns Hopkins Inlet.

Johns Hopkins Glacier rises from the Fairweather Range. It was named in 1893 after the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, which sponsored an expedition here. The ice is a mile wide and 250ft thick. It is advancing and calving is sufficiently vigorous for a two miles exclusion zone to be placed around the snout.

Leaving the inlet we rounded Jaw Point .........

...... to find yet another glacier - Lamplugh Glacier.
There was a  large ice cave in the snout probably carved by a melt water stream running through the base of the ice. This 8 mile long glacier was named in 1912 after the English geologist George Lamplugh who came to Glacier Bay in 1884.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Day 8 College Fjord, Alaska

Day 8
After leaving Seward the previous evening we sailed thoughout the night across Prince William Sound to reach College Fjord. We were expected to be there by 6.00am but neither of us really wanted to set the alarm for that time so we left it to chance. As it happened we awoke at 7.00am and looked out of the window to see the following sight.
The ship had come to an halt and was slowly turning. we had arrived at the head of College Fjord and straight ahead of us was Harvard Glacier. It is 1.5 miles across where it enters the tidal waters of College Fjord and is the second largest glacier in Prince William Sound after the Columbia Glacier and is one of the few glaciers in the world that is still advancing.

The fjord contains 5 tidewater glaciers and many smaller ones named after East Coast Colleges. Womens colleges are on the left as you entre the fjord and mens on the right. The fjord was discovered in 1899 during the Harriman Expedition at which time the glaciers were named by some of the professors on the expedition.
Yale Glacier is to the right of Harvard and is one of the longest at 20 miles.
Within about 5 minutes of waking up we had rushed up on deck to witness the scene just before the sun came up, Bryn Mawr, Smith and a slice of Harvard.
Bryn Mawr like many of the glaciers is about 4.5 miles long.
Suprisingly we were just about the only people on the bow taking in the incredible scene. Here June stands with Wellesley Glacier behind. 
Wellesley Glacier.
Vassar Glacier 4.3 miles long is in retreat and now barely reaches the water of the fjord.
Slowly the ship began to slip back out of the fjord.
And the sun rose over the mountain rim.