Alaska 2014 – Week 1

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June 19, 2014 - We finished packing our “suitcases” which consist of 1 hiking backpack each for the three of us. Careful thought went into what to bring and what to leave behind as we wanted to minimize weight and space taken in the backpack yet be prepared for the trip and the variety of weather and conditions that could arise. One of the biggest dilemmas I am facing is deciding what lens to put on the camera. I settled on my Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 that I used heavily when I was photographing in the rock climbing gym. I have a 1.4x converter that I can throw on there if I want a little more reach. <br /><br /> We opted to stay at the Hyatt at the airport to maximize convenience in the morning. We arrived at the hotel around 3:00 P.M. and unfortunately this led to confusion during the check in process as they weren\'t really sure which rooms had been cleaned and were available. We opted to take the “Deluxe King” upgrade that was offered giving us a view of the runway and more room space. However, when we got to our room it was just a regular room, although it did have a view of the runway. After calling down to the desk (twice) the manager came up and offered to move us, but explained that we’d not have the same view. We choose to stay put and enjoy the view. <br /><br /> We watched the remainder of the World Cup match between Uruguay and England before heading out for dinner. We roamed the airport scoping out exactly where the Alaska Air ticket counter was located before settling in for dinner at McCoy’s. Vicky opted for a steak while Chris and I each had a “Trio” which is a selection of 3 different samplers. A bottle of Chianti and 3 desserts later, it was time to head up to the room where we watched a little more World Cup action between Japan and Greece before hitting the sack. <br /><br /> But before we continue, let’s review the back-story… Last fall Jason said he was coming to the U.S. (St. Louis) to attend a wedding and thought it would be a good opportunity for a family vacation. This triggered Vicky to go into “play vacation” mode and she started exploring opportunities for summer vacation. After zeroing in on Alaska, I commented, “Yeah, that is on the way to St. Louis… hehehe”. As it turned out, Jason was burdened with responsibilities and was unfortunately not able to make the trip. <br /><br /> An odd twist of fate has 7 people from the office going to Alaska this summer for vacation – and the office is only about 100 people.


June 20, 2014 - Call me Eric. (OK, I’ve been reading Moby Dick – one of the few remaining free e-books remaining on my phone. It is kind of ironic as we will be whale watching later in our trip.) <br /><br /> This morning we awoke about 5:00 A.M. to get ready, have breakfast and catch our 8:00 A.M. flight. Not surprisingly, the bill for the room was wrong. They charged $50 for the “upgrade” and also charged an additional $50 more than the base rate which was advertised when I made the reservations online. The manager was quick to fix all this and threw in vouchers for a free breakfast buffet at Hemmingway’s; we feasted on pastries and breads, fruits and yogurt, and hot foods such as egg cups, smoked salmon with capers and sausage. <br /><br /> Check-in for the airline was not as simple as it should have been. The Alaska Air counter was devoid of people and electronic signage was now dark, curious as we were holding confirmations leaving MCO at 8:00am arriving in LAX at 10:00am on Alaska Airlines 1170, then leaving LAX at 1:40pm to arrive in SEA at 4:10pm on Alaska Airlines 541. It turns out that Alaska Air works in conjunction with American Air which was not obvious, but we hurried over to their auto checkin machines. When I asked the code for Seattle (SEA, I know...) the attendant said, “Oh, Seattle? You want U.S. Air.” I replied “No, we fly on Alaska Air to LAX and then to Seattle.” To which she replied, “Oh, put LAX.” Which I did and we have our boarding passes. When I asked, “Where are the boarding passes for LAX to SEA?” They tell me to get those at the gate in LAX. Baaaah! I should know better than this... but it was early and the confusion between Alaska Air and American Air was just a little too much. Our bags were only checked through to LAX and we had to go retrieve them and get them rechecked and then go through security again. Despite the setbacks with the hotel bill and airline check-process, our 2014 vacation to Alaska has officially begun. <br /><br /> Once we made our way to Seattle, we caught the Light Rail from the airport to downtown then found our way hiking through downtown Seattle up a very steep set of streets to the Hotel Renaissance. After settling in, we walked to the Kress IGA grocery store to stock up on snacks then on to a seafood restaurant recommended by the concierge at the hotel. While eating dinner at Shuckers we found out that Seattle is running a marathon tomorrow morning with the race track crossing our intended route to the train station twice; this could make navigating the way to the train station a bit tricky. 9:00 P.M. we are back at the hotel getting ready for bed and the sun is still shining through the windows. Thank goodness for those blackout sleeping masks we bought.


June 21, 2014 - It is Saturday morning 6:00 am and we are packed up and ready to find the train station. We decide to hike it to the train station and find a coffee shop along the way. Many roads are closed in preparation for the marathon. Fortunately it has not started yet and it actually makes negotiating the streets easier as there is no traffic and several police officers to ask about the best place to find coffee. Tully\'s is recommended as iconic Seattle establishment that is near the King Street train station, but unfortunately it is not open this early on Saturday, fortunately there is a Starbuck\'s around the corner.<br /><br /> The checkin process was confusing as we were not really sure where to go; our e-ticket instructions just said to go to the loading platform. However there appeared to be a rather long line with a sign for the Cascades Route so after a failed attempt to go to the loading platform we joined it. A while later we hear a 5 minute last call for baggage check for the Cascades train, now what? We are not in the right line, but we do quickly find out where the baggage check office is located and scurry over to it, at least we had some coffee in our system by now. After checking our backpacks in just under the deadline we return to the original line we were in. It is now 7:40, the scheduled departure time, but they can\'t leave with all these people standing here in line, right? In the end, it was not that different from the airport, just a bit unfamiliar. Once aboard we settle in for a relaxing 3-hour ride to Bellingham, WA. The train ride is a scenic route along the coast all the way from Seattle to Vancouver Canada with views of the sound to the left, and yes they do have a snacks and beverage car, more coffee I say. A couple of bald eagles were spotted in the trees along the bank.<br /><br /> Arriving at the train station in Bellingham, we gather our bags for the short walk to the cruise terminal where the MV Kennicot is waiting. We have several hours until they start boarding at 3:00 P.M. and depart at 6:00 P.M. so we browse the displays and gift shop in the terminal building and enjoy a beautiful view over the harbour while we have a tasty lunch. The cafe at the terminal building had many options prepared from scratch and turned out to be a meeting place for local diners as well as travelers like ourselves. Chris enjoys a creme brulee before he joins the line now forming for boarding, his hope is to get aboard in the first group so he has optimal choices for his tent.<br /><br /> The MV Kennicot is not a cruise ship, but rather is a ferry as part of the Alaska Marine Highway System. The ferry takes much of the same route as the cruise ships, however does not have all the extra amenities like shopping, gambling, or entertainers. It does have a small gift shop, a small bar area, a cafeteria, and a theater for movies. Vicky and I have a very small stateroom with bunk beds, while Chris chose to set up a tent on the Solarium Deck - one of the unique experiences of the ferry.<br /><br /> We take a quick trip around the ship to orient ourselves where I identify 3 TVs that may offer the possibility of watching the World Cup match between the United States and Portugal tomorrow. We also learn that as soon as the ship leaves port, we set our watches back an hour to the Alaska time zone.<br /><br /> The cafe opens at 7:00 where I have a halibut burger and Vicky orders a Halibut Olympia. After dinner, Chris and I begin work on a 1,000 piece puzzle. The puzzle has become a community effort as others on board are chipping in and helping. We’ll see if we can get this completed before we depart on Tuesday. Vicky is watching the mountainous landscape drift by in the afternoon - err, evening sunlight. 10,781 foot Mount Baker loams in snowcovered whiteness in the Cascade range as we leave Bellingham.<br /><br /> Before we go to bed, we enjoy a bit of port wine and some dark chocolate that we had picked up in Seattle. It is still light out when we hit the bunk beds, but instantly dark as we close our port hole. The steady drone of the ships engines and the ever so gentle rolling of the ship quickly sends us off to sleep.


June 22, 2014 - It is Sunday morning and I awoke at 4:30 A.M. to find that it is already light outside. By 5:30, I am out of bed, showered, and topside only to find that the sun is already up although it is raining and overcast.<br /><br /> The cafe opens at 7:00 where we all order the hash browns. I was delighted to find out that we get free refills on the coffee if we keep our receipt. I was heartbroken when they took the receipt away after just the first refill. Sigh. <br /><br /> Throughout the day we see many misty mountains, a few bald eagles, the town of Bella Bella, British Columbia, a lighthouse, and a barge with cargo. What is interesting about the barge is that the size is deceiving from the ferry. Each of the “boxes” are semi-truck freight containers. What really strikes it home is looking at the cement mixer, U-Haul trucks and earthmover that are also on the barge. However, I am finding it difficult to take steady pictures with the vibration of the boat and wind blowing.<br /><br /> Much of the day is spent relaxing with the steady hum of the boat sinking us further into a quiet and peaceful mood. Chris and I continue to work on the puzzle while Vicky reads her novel. On board are several Morris Folk Dance groups that were practicing and doing demonstrations, filling the air with Renaissance music. Chris has made some acquaintances on board and got caught up in a game of Monopoly. There was also a young man from Australia who was really into photography. Misty rain on the deck did not deter him from full scale recording, video and sound, of the progress through the Inside Passage. Is he listening for whale sounds? It would seem that all his fancy microphone would pick up would be the engines. <br /><br /> For lunch I had the fish & chips while at dinner I had a soup & salad. I have yet to see any of the TVs on so far and hopes of watching the World Cup match the U.S. and Portugal are rapidly diminishing.<br /><br /> We hit the bunks early as we are still adjusting to the time change and Vicky is feeling a bit under the weather (a bit of sore throat and runny nose).


June 23, 2014 - Monday morning I awoke early (4:00 A.M.)... That’s what happens when I go to bed early. The skies are completely grey and it is raining. We are supposed to dock in a few hours at Ketchikan. We should be docked long enough to get off the ship and walk about town. But with this rain I think we will be staying on board. Hopefully I can find out who won the soccer match.<br /><br /> I took a short nap after lunch, full belly and the gentle vibrations of the boat underway again played their magic upon me again. I awoke later only to find it is still raining, I guess this is what they mean when they say southeast Alaska is a temperate rain forest. 5:00 P.M and it has been raining all day. Chris and I finished the 992 piece puzzle (8 pieces were missing). Unfortunately I did not get a picture before someone took possession of the table and set their laptop up on top of the puzzle. Going topside I spotted several Harbor Porpoises and more misty mountains.<br /><br /> I am sitting in the enclosed observation deck while Vicky and Chris are reading. Behind us the “Rant & Raven Morris Group” are playing english folk music. They are playing violins, accordions, music boxes (small accordion like thingy), flute like instruments, and the harmonica. It is actually a very peaceful backdrop to the passing scenery all dressed in hues of gray with the mists and rising fog banks.<br /><br /> We did spot a whale in the distance before the day was done. No idea what kind it was as it was too far away.<br /><br /> Vicky and I split a grilled salmon for dinner. I hit the lounge on board for a couple of Alaskan Ambers before we retired to the room where Vicky enjoyed a bit of the port.<br /><br /> All-in-all a relaxing day, but miserable for pictures due to the weather.


June 24, 2014 - Tuesday morning and the rain has begun to slacken off. Things are still very wet and the skies are heavy and gray. The trip from Bellingham to Juneau is about 1,000 miles. And did you know that Juneau does not have any roads in or out of town? As is typical with many Alaska towns, it is only accessible by boat or plane.<br /><br /> This morning we will need to get packed up as we disembark at Juneau. I’ll need to rearrange my pack and ensure my rain gear is accessible. We’ll have several hours in town before we catch a flight to Haines. We may take opportunity to do a load of laundry today as the real adventure begins tomorrow.<br /><br /> After getting the room packed up, we head down to the cafe for a huge breakfast. Vicky tries to ask for a Kenny sandwich as that was what the kitchen staff had been calling an Egg McMuffin look alike, but it appears that the kitchen staff has traded out and they don\'t know what a \"kidney sandwich\" is. As we leave the ship, we ask about transportation into Juneau. It turns out that a taxi is very expensive and the buses don’t run to the terminal; it must be the work of the taxi union. We begin our hike down the highway into Auke Bay which is about one mile away and has a laundromat.<br /><br /> I noticed quite a few wild flowers along the highway and Vicky spotted an eagle up in the trees. We were probably a third of the way when a lady stopped and asked if we wanted a ride into town. She dropped us off right at the laundromat in Juneau very close to the airport. Woot!<br /><br /> Laundry done. About a 20 minute hike over to the airport gets us there early enough that we can catch an earlier flight to Haines. But, alas, the flight is already full and it looks like we’ll have to wait until our 4:45 P.M. flight… and it is only 11:00 A.M. Hum, I am still stuffed from breakfast, I guess I will go check out the gift shop.<br /><br /> Much of the afternoon was spent hanging around the airport which was roughly the same size as the Melbourne Airport. But there appeared to be a lot more business due to the heavy reliance on transporting goods via small plane.<br /><br /> Our flight to Haines was aboard a small 6-seater Cessna. It has been a long time since I’ve been in a plane that small. Looking outside my window was the landing gear. I felt I could reach out and touch it. While it was still overcast and raining, it did make for some nice views of the surrounding area. The rain created a nice rainbow from the airplane. Both Vicky and I noticed the change in water color due to the confluence of where the glacier runoff met the river. It turns out that while the glacier runoff is indeed colder and should sink, the salty ocean water is more dense, so the silty glacier water flows on top for a while until it mixes in. Apparently the fish like this influx of nutrients as there was quite a cluster of fishing vessels in this area. As we approached Haines, we had a nice view of the Davidson Glacier. <br /><br /> The airport in Haines is really not much more than an airstrip where Dave and Seph from Alaska Mountain Guides picked us up. After a quick trip to the warehouse, we went over the plan and gear. The plan is to spend a couple of days mountaineering at Flower Mountain followed by a half-day rafting trip. As it turned out, one of the roads we were to take to Flower Mountain is in rough shape which would make it a very difficult hike - especially difficult for Vicky due to recent knee surgery. This led to some last minute change in plans in which we would do the half day rafting trip Wednesday afternoon and then a three day mountaineering trip on the Davidson Glacier. The guides seemed excited about this prospect as they seemed to like the area around Davidson and the views across the Lynn Canal, which is really a fjord not a canal.<br /><br /> Dave and Seph gave us a quick tour of the town and dropped us off at our rooms. From here we made sure of the essentials - where can we get dinner and where is coffee for in the morning. We walked to the Fireweed Restaurant which was very busy. It is one of the few places open Tuesday evenings. The food was really good, but we ordered too much having missed lunch and it being late now. We ended up taking half a pizza back to the room, good thing Chris didn\'t order that calzone too.<br /><br />


June 25, 2014 - Wednesday morning we enjoy a breakfast and coffee and SarahJ’s which came highly recommended and I would pass those recommendations along. Vicky’s cold started on the ferry and while the sore throat is gone she still has congestion. She decides to stay at the room to get some sleep while I walk about town and get some pictures of the surrounding area. While not exactly the Hyatt, the Mountain View Motel is more of a base camp for the mountaineers which did offer hot and cold water, small fridge, coffee maker, etc.<br /><br /> Haines does not have any traffic lights but does have have one 4-way stop sign which they are very proud of. A small cruise ship happened to be in port as I strolled the grounds around the old historic Fort Seward - a military post established during the Alaska gold rush era. Few antique cars and old buildings offered some photographic opportunities.<br /><br /> Later in the day, we went on a 4-hour rafting trip through the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. While not at peak season which is in November, there were still a countless (well, I stopped counting anyway) number of eagles. One thing I quickly discovered is that getting pictures from a moving river raft is not as easy as it would seem. However, I did still manage to get a couple of keepers.<br /><br /> Our guide, Bryce, did a great job explaining the history of the area, the salmon runs, and pointing out the wildlife. While John Muir is known as the “Father of the National Parks Movement”, he was also one of the co-founders of the town of Haines.<br /><br />

Continue to week 2

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