I would like to dedicate this post to my friend Clare, who had to have her morning cuppa without my blog update for the past two days! Sorry Clare, no Wi-Fi on the ferry, but don’t fear, the latest blog update is here.
On Tuesday it was time for me to say goodbye to Juneau and jump on the car ferry to Whittier, which would take 42 hours, with a short stop in Yakutat. I had booked this ferry when the 2013 schedule first came out last October and this whole trip has been planned around it, as this particular ferry only runs twice a month. It starts in Bellingham and then goes to Ketchikan, Juneau, Yakutat, Whittier (which is where I got off), Chenega Bay, Kodiak and finished in Homer. It’s like any other car ferry really, there are cabins, restaurants, a shop, cinema, lounges etc.
Day one from Juneau was great, the rain had stopped and the sun finally made an appearance.
After exploring the offers of the ferry I settled in the forward lounge for a while to take in the scenery. A short while later I got a little bored listening to all the “ooh’s” and “aahhh’s” (don’t get me wrong, it’s great that people are appreciating the beautiful vistas, but really, not at every turn). So I went to my cabin, put my favourite tracks on and got comfy with some pillows and sat in the window to enjoy the world outside in peace and quiet. Whilst sat in said window I spotted a few humpbacks, some orcas, harbour seals, one lone sea otter and the most amount of crazy jumping salmon I had seen up till then. It seems that scientists haven’t worked out why salmon, and other fish, jump out of the water, most times more than just once. There are theories relating to smelling their way back to their original spawning grounds, ridding themselves of parasites, jumping obstacles and for the females to loosen their eggs. I’d like to think they do it because they can and seemingly enjoy doing it.
The evening of day one of this Ferry Tale ends with a very nice sunset, after which I lay my weary head down to sleep (or I tried at least).
Now, Juneau sits on the Inside Passage, the waters of which are nicely protected by lots of small islands. During the night we moved out of the Inside Passage and into the Gulf of Alaska, at which point our docile ferry turned into a rollercoaster ride. I woke during the night with the strange feeling of sliding off my bed. When I finally fully woke up, I realized that the ferry was rolling heavily from side to side, meaning that my sleepy form slid up and down the bed. No matter, I thought, the rolling motion will send me back to sleep – incorrect. For the first time in my life I got seasick and remained in that state until we reached calmer waters during the following night. I did make it into the shower, which in itself was dangerous. Have you ever tried to shower whilst ensuring not to be toppled over constantly? Trying to put shower gel or even lotion onto your legs in those circumstances gives you a new appreciation for the dangers of being on rough seas. The less said about that undertaking, the better.
Lunch was non-existent and non-desired by this not so seaworthy traveler. However, by dinner time I thought I needed some sort of sustenance and went to heat up some soup, which, I am happy to report, stayed down. Most of this day two was spent either in bed sleeping, or in bed reading. I mean, I had nothing to get for anyways, right? Lying horizontal seemed the best option in the circumstances, so I took advantage, who wouldn’t have? Thankfully halfway through the night we reached the calmer waters near the coast and life as I knew it could resume. In my defence, I feel it necessary to state that I have been on lots of ferry journeys in my life and have never been sick and additionally, most of the passengers were apparently in the same situation as me, under deck hiding out.
I was glad to reach land in Whittier at 0600hrs and could have kissed the ground I drove on (I didn’t, well, I couldn’t, I would have caused a traffic jam on the off ramp).
I had booked a glacier tour with a small local outfit called Lazy Otter Charters and met with the rest of the group that were also booked in. Now, yet again it was raining, which apparently is the norm for Alaska in the summer, something I am getting used to on this journey. Anyways, the first boat (yes, there was more than one), whilst we were about to make our way out of the harbour, suddenly developed a little smoke from the control panel. So a quick unscheduled stop at the marine fuel station was in order. After a little while we got moved to their second, larger boat to commence our trip to the glaciers. All was well, and we motored on. Our first stop was to see the large kittiwakes breeding grounds in that area. Kittiwakes are relatives of the seagulls and in this particular case it is the black-legged kittiwake we were looking at. These birds are coastal breeders and are one of the most numerous of seabirds. They form large, dense, noisy colonies during the summer reproductive period. They are also the only gull species that are exclusively cliff-nesting. The noise when you stepped out to the front of the boat was just deafening!
We then made our way down to two glaciers that sit side by side, the Blackstone and the Northland Glaciers. We had our lunch whilst anchored in the waters watching those amazing ice masses before moving on to our final glacier, the Beloit Glacier. At both locations we were lucky enough to watch some of the ice crash into the waters. The sound can only be likened to a mix of thunder and a gunshot, it was very surreal. As with the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau, these glaciers have and still are receding.
We didn’t see any whales on this trip, but had the company of a couple of harbour seals during lunch and on the way back we came across these two cute looking sea otters.
Now Whittier is not really a town you would spend the night in, it’s mainly a working harbour community from where a lot of the big cruise liners take their passengers on special glacier tours. Up until 2000 Whittier was reachable overland only by train. The existing train tunnel was modified to cater to both vehicles and trains. The 2.5 mile long Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is a 1 lane tunnel; cars and trains take turns in traveling through it. Every half hour, except during scheduled trains, in 15 minute slots each side lets vehicles through this tunnel, Tolls are only charged if you come from the North, going from the South will not incur a toll charge. Foot passengers are not permitted through the tunnel, except on Fathers Day, when the tunnel is opened for 2 hours for walkers only. The drive through this tunnel is like no other I have done so far. The rock is rough-hewn and thanks to all the rain lately it was a very wet affair.
Below is a photo of the south entrance.
Anchorage is now my temporary home for the next two nights before I start the long drive towards home.