Alaska 2014 – Week 2

November 21st, 2015

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June 26, 2014 - Thursday morning and it is the day to go mountaineering at Davidson Glacier. Vicky is under the weather and determines that while going out to the glacier would be fun it would probably not be wise. She decides to stay at the hotel, drink tea and rest, while Chris and I go out to the glacier with David and Seph. This will be our first time camping in the Alaska wilderness and I am a bit nervous due to all of the, “Watch out for the bears!” comments. <br /><br /> As we leave the hotel, Dave stops at the local outfitter store to pick up a mosquito head net for Seph. I’m thinking, “If the guides think the mosquitoes are that bad, I probably want one, too.” So I grabbed nets for Chris and myself.<br /><br /> A zodiac rides gets us out to an area relatively near the glacier. As we are hiking through the Alder trees, it is obvious that we are in bear and moose country (watch your step, if you know what I mean). Anytime the conversation began to die down, one of the guides would yell out, \"Hey bear...\" I would jump when they did this expecting to see a bear, but they were just letting any bears in the area know that we were there. Bears really don\'t want much to do with people and will often turn in another direction if they sense people.<br /><br /> Moose scat is in the form of pellets the size of large marbles, and bears well they just let it all loose in a plop. This time of the year they are also mostly vegetarian having not yet gotten in on the run of salmon.<br /><br /> After finding a place for camp and getting our tents set up, we enjoy some sandwiches before another hike to the moraine. The moraine is the rock and soil accumulation at the base of the glacier. Chris finds a neat cave that is formed by a large boulder resting against the edge of the glacier hues of blue filter through the ice in the cave. This also affords us the opportunity to fill our water supply with fresh glacier water.<br /><br /> After the scramble over the rocks, we make our way back to camp where we have fried rice for dinner. It is probably for the best that Vicky didn\'t make the trip as these rocks can be tricky, even with good knees.<br /><br /> I am so glad that we got those mosquito nets… the bears have nothing on the mosquitoes. By the days end, Chris has 20 mosquito bites - on just one hand! Yes he passed on the DEET.<br /><br /> The view from the campsite is spectacular with a mountain range to the east and the glacier to the southwest. I try my hand at some panoramic photography as my lens is a little long on the short end.<br /><br /> Regarding the use of the facilities while at the glacier, Chris writes:<br /><blockquote> In terms of facilities for personal cleanliness, there was next to nothing aside for some scraggly flora, which could proffer some scant protection, and “The Groover.” Named, not by hippies that could be found in the 60’s era, but rather by the people who used it and were subject to having rather defined grooves imprinted on their behind. More or less, “The Groover” was a 5 gallon bucket with an inner lining of a black plastic trash bag to collect refuse. <br /><br /> Our “Groover” was special though. In addition to providing new features for our bodyscape, the Groover was significantly closer to the water than the camp, though still a good one or three hundred yards away from the water. As such, we had an excellent view of the Davidson Glacier as it sloped down the ice-carved valley and into the tideflats. These tideflats could be inhabited by all sorts of wildlife at any time. Off in the distance a flock of arctic terns would be fishing for lunch, or a fish would swim up and into the air, or an entourage of cruise ship passengers could follow their guides in zodiacs up onto the tideflats. As they meandered onto the flats you sincerely hoped that they wouldn\'t notice the campsite and especially not the small clearing below. Or maybe you hoped that they did look, it’s not like you would ever meet your counterparts. As for what came after, cleaning up was more or less the same, though the toilet paper was a bit flatter than usual and was contained in a plastic bag so it wouldn\'t get dirty before you wanted it to.</blockquote>


June 27, 2014 - Friday morning and we are already a week into our vacation… Time flies when you are having fun.<br /><br /> After breakfast burritos and coffee, we hike out to the glacier to take a closer look. As we approach the edge of the glacier, we swap out our boots and attach the crampons (metal spikey attachments) so we can walk around on the ice.<br /><br /> Dave and Seph find a feature in the ice suitable for climbing. This is essentially a 30 foot wall that has an alternative route where we can walk to the top. After setting some anchors in the ice, we return to the bottom of the wall. After getting tied in, we grab our picks, dig our toes into the ice, and begin climbing. Just like rock climbing, you need to trust your feet and use your legs - easier said than done, I know.<br /><br /> After another short hike, we find another feature called a moulin. Wikipedia defines it as, “is a roughly circular, vertical to nearly vertical well-like shaft within a glacier through which water enters from the surface.” What Chris and I saw was a hole in the ice that water flowed into some unknown abyss. Dave setup some anchors and lowered Chris down into the moulin. Chris comments that the view is amazing down there. The only way out is to climb back out. Chris is exhausted, but excited and all smiles as he makes his way back to the top.<br /><br /> Not to be outdone, I find myself being lowered in the moulin, wondering if I have a clean change of underwear back at the tent. I find the imagery at the bottom of the moulin spectacular. While I wish I had my camera, Chris has it up top taking pictures of me (we have to have evidence that I did this.) As the water flows beneath me, I watch it disappear into a hole in the ice to my left. While we are probably 30 ft from the top, there is enough light entering the opening and through the ice to illuminate numerous shades of blue in the glacier. It truly is spectacular. The whole way up, I am thinking, “Don’t hit the rope with the pick. Don’t hit the rope with the pick…” After making it to the top, I am totally exhausted. Elated - but exhausted.<br /><br /> Chris and I managed to get a bit of sun/snow/wind burn on our cheeks. Most everything else was covered up. While we had sunscreen with us, the cool temperatures and the abundance of clothing did not remind us to actually put the sunscreen on.<br /><br /> It is late in the day and we make our way back to camp where we have Buffalo Chicken Wraps for a late lunch. During the afternoon the Katabatic winds kicked up and were probably blowing 25-30 M.P.H. We are all tired and now have full bellies. One-by-one, we all drift off to sleep for a late afternoon nap. <br /><br /> For dinner we have Smoked Salmon Alfredo - although none of us are terribly hungry since we had such a late lunch.<br /><br />


June 28, 2014 - Saturday morning brings to a close our mountaineering adventure. Having had biscuits and gravy for breakfast, we pack up came and begin the hike out to the pick up point. We had to wait a bit at the beach for the zodiacs to arrive. Chris and I spent the time skipping rocks on the water and building cairns to mark the tide level. We learned that the water level will fluctuate 15-20 feet between low and high tide. On the low grade beach, I find that as I am building a cairn at the water level, my feet are already in the water by time I have built it up to 5 or 6 rocks high. We have some pizza wraps while continuing our wait on the zodiacs.<br /><br /> After we get back to town, we return to the hotel. Vicky has laid out quarters and detergent so we can quickly run a load of laundry and get everything repacked. Dave gives a lift over to the airport, err, I mean airstrip, where we meet Drake who will take us to Gustavus. Drake asks if we would like the scenic tour and it doesn’t take us very long to agree. Drake is an entertaining character who was a race car driver in an earlier career. He takes us up in another Cessna where we have the opportunity to see the Davidson Glacier and many of the glaciers of Glacier Bay from the air. There was a herd of mountain goats at what must have been close to 8,000 feet, Drake was excited to do another close flyby. Unfortunately, the pictures of the goats did not amount to much.<br /><br /> It was interesting to see the joining of several glaciers in the highlands all splitting off taking different directions and names as they pushed seaward. Our first view of Glacier Bay showed clear blue waters and chunks of ice flowing from the glaciers, awesome. This was well worth the extra money given that the weather was very cooperative.<br /><br /> We spent the night at the Blue Heron Bed and Breakfast in Gustavos. Due to the lateness of our arrival, and our pending meeting with Kyle, we did not have much in the way of options for dinner. Fortunately, Vicky planned ahead and had purchased some smoked salmon, crackers, cheese and sun-dried tomatoes to tide us over until breakfast.<br /><br /> After meeting with Kyle, we find that he will be back at 5:45 in the morning to pick us up. Yikes! When’s breakfast?!<br /><br />


June 29, 2014 - Debbie at the Blue Heron managed to have breakfast ready at 5:00 and we scarfed it down as fast as we could before Kyle arrived. Thank goodness for the coffee, \"Oh a to go cup? Awesome!\". After getting all of our gear into the van, we had a short drive to pick up another group of Wilderness Adventures who would soon become our friends, then over to the docks at the Glacier Bay National Park Headquarters where the Baranof Wind was waiting. We helped get all of the gear on board. Yellow bear can after yellow bear can containing our food supply for the next five days, tents, dry bags containing our compressed possessions, all packed away on board, and the boat departed by 7:30 AM. Our drop-off was not until 1:00 PM so we were able to kick back and enjoy the ride.<br /><br /> Along the way we had the opportunity to see a variety of wildlife include a humpback whale who was literally a few yards away from the dock, sea otters, sea lions, a variety of seabirds including puffins, mountain goats… and even a couple of grizzly bears on the beach - all from the safety of the day boat. During the boat trip we also got to talk with the other members of our party: Brian and Debbie from Vermont and John from Virginia.<br /><br /> As we approached the Margerie Glacier, a cruise ship was near by to help put in perspective just how big the glacier is. The boat drifted a safe distance from the glacier which is one of the handful of glaciers that reaches the bay. While drifting, we could take in the sights and sounds of the surrounding area… the glacier, the ice in the water, the birds, the wind. It was remarkable how the overall calmness and remoteness of the area evokes a sense of calm. That is, until the glacier calved, dropping huge amounts of ice into the bay with a thunderous crack that pierced the serenity like a rumbling Florida thunderstorm.<br /><br /> After a lunch of smoked salmon chowder and hoagies, the boat dropped us off at Ptarmigan Creek. It was \"Go Time\". The ladder was dropped into what turned out to be thigh high freezing cold water. Our band of \"Wilderness Adventurers\" started climbing down. The first man down took a very quick swallow drive and a chorus of moans erupted from the group of onlookers on the top deck of the boat. Vicky and Debbie got a piggy-back ride from our guide from the ladder to the shoreline so they escaped most of the shock. We then formed a quick fireline and all of our gear was passed down from the boat to a pile on the beach. We had some time to recover from the beach drop, get our gear organized, and get the kayaks packed. We also get one of the most important briefings from Kyle, which amounts to three words: “Style! Safety! Snack!” If nothing else, remembers those three words - in that order.<br /><br /> From here we spend about an hour and a half to kayak the 2 or 3 miles over to Reid Glacier. A potential campsite on the west side of the inlet turned out to be a nesting area for the Black Oyster Catchers that were not happy about Kyle, our guide, checking the area out as a potential campsite. So as to not disturb the birds, we moved to another site on the east side of the inlet. What a spot! Mountains all around… a glacier to the southwest… and even the occasional humpback whale in the inlet. The bugs are a bit much in the evening and the mosquito nets quickly come out.<br /><br /> Kyle is fixing dinner with his mosquito net donned. Suddenly he exclaims, “I’ve been infiltrated!” as quickly removes his net and shakes it out. Soon dinner is served and Chris is in heaven - Pad Thai for dinner!<br /><br />


June 30, 2014 - We wake up Monday morning to some fresh brewed coffee and bagels with smoked Alaskan salmon and cream cheese. While sitting on the beach admiring the view of the Reid Glacier, we notice a bald eagle perched on a large chunk of ice that washed ashore during the night. There is a light rain that is keeping everything wet as we get packed up before we kayak to our next campsite, but the rain discourages the little bugs that we saw last night. While it is challenging enough to use the restroom outdoors, the rain adds another element that you don’t have to deal with while in the comforts of a proper restroom, like trying to keep the toilet paper dry until you need it.<br /><br /> From the Reid Glacier we kayaked over the Lamplugh Glacier were stopped for a snack break. “Style! Safety! Snack!” Vicky and I walked over to a huge “ice cube” that has washed up on to the beach. Cocktails anyone? Having satisfied ourselves on Snickers bars, we climbed back into the kayaks. Before crossing the inlet, we stopped at a waterfall to refill our water containers. Kyle has the group stay a bit off shore as he makes his way to the base of the waterfall. Again there are a few screeching birds, but they settle down enough so that we can refresh our water supply. Tracing the waterfall up the steep mountain-side you can see its frozen source before it begins its rapid tumble down to the bay, no refrigeration needed. This was a very scenic site that unfortunately we did not get any usable pictures. I must have bumped the exposure control on my camera and all of the pictures came out very under-exposed. Sigh.<br /><br /> While crossing the inlet, we remarked on the large number of icebergs in the water. After a while we began to identify shapes in the ice much like one would while gazing at clouds in the sky. We would see birds, ships, and even the occasional dragon.<br /><br /> After crossing the Johns Hopkins Inlet we found a spot to set up our new campsite where we would camp for the next two nights. The sun is out now so we take opportunity to leave the rain fly off the tent for a bit and to dry our things over some convenient bushes. With the sun on our backs, life is good. From here, we could look across the inlet and have a nice view of the Lamplugh Glacier and the sprinkling of floating icebergs across the bay. Amazing that the face of the glacier is now two miles away. One thing we’ve come to realize is that the distances and sizes are very deceiving. <br /><br /> Several times during the afternoon and evening, we would hear the thunderous crash emanating from the glaciers as the ice was calved into the inlet. What’s funny is that every time this happened, we would all turn to look and see. But we are 2+ miles away which means that anything we are hearing had already happened more than 10 seconds ago. Yet, we still turn and look. <br /><br /> Kyle prepared some fresh halibut for dinner, and we even get dessert, dark chocolate, Vicky\'s favorite.<br/><br/> As we climbing into our tent to get ready for bed, I look down and see what looks like a giant wasp on the bed roll - right between my legs. “What is that!?!?!? That looks dangerous!!!” Its not moving and neither are we. Neither of us has our reading glasses, but I attempt a closer look. It turns out that it was a yellowish flower with a couple of faded brown leaves from the grasses outside. Vicky starts laughing in relief as we discover that my socks were covered with these flowers.<br /><br />


July 1, 2014 - This Tuesday morning marks the first day of the year that the Johns Hopkins Inlet is open past Jaw Point. This area is otherwise restricted to protect a habitat for the harbor seals that use this inlet for rearing their young.<br /><br /> Kyle prepared pancakes for breakfast… and coffee, of course. Since we will be camping here again, we have a nice relaxing morning and enjoy a bit of the sunshine that has finally broken through the clouds which we have affectionately given the color name of “Glacier Bay Hue”.<br /><br /> After breakfast, the group climbed a nearby knoll to take in the surrounding beauty while Vicky and I took opportunity to take a nap. We will be starting out a bit later today in order to catch the incoming tide for our paddle into the inlet and the outgoing tide for our return. I have learned to pay special attention to the tide cycle. <br /><br /> For lunch we had a cabbage salad where we mixed in some fresh beach greens harvested from the rocky beach. It is a little late in the harvest season as they turn a little bitter once they go to flower, but there are plenty to be found that are still supple and fresh.<br /><br /> After lunch, we hopped in the kayaks and made our way further into the Johns Hopkins Inlet to where we could see the glacier. We paddled amongst the ice and enjoyed the fantastic view. What a beautiful day as the sun is shining, reflecting the mountains in the becalmed waters. Yes, the forecast for today - seas 2 to 4 inches folks. As close as the glacier seems, it is still several miles away. Chris and John had been carrying the bear cans full of food supplies, but with the set camp now their kayak was much lighter. Soon he and Chris are making serious headway across the inlet. Chris seems relaxed and thoroughly confident. I guess our many camping trips such as this and his Outward Bound experience have really given him the exposure he needs to feel at easy in this environment. <br /><br /> We stopped for water on the way back where Kyle was once again pestered by the birds. Once the water supply was resupplied, we found ourselves with a small window of opportunity to cross the inlet as there were a couple of very large vessels in the area - one of which was the cruise ship Oosterdam and the other was a National Geographic ship. Kyle is on the radio to try to make sure the boats see our little group. The Oosterdam has just passed and we are facing towards the middle of the channel knowing that a wake will be coming and we need to face it head-on. Kyle hears a cut in the engines of the National Geographic ship; they have seen us and are giving us a chance to cross. Arms and backs to it, here comes the roller coaster wake from the first ship, whoo-hoo!<br /><br /> We have seen probably four different cruise ships make their way into Glacier Bay to view the scenery and pause at a couple of the glaciers. One of them tends to play dramatic music a bit too loudly over its speakers. It seems rather strange as part of the experience is to hear this world. The quiet shattered by a tumultuous crack as a VW sized chunk of ice tumbles from the glacier face, the throaty call of a lone seabird, the oscillating gurgle of the flowing stream, the waves advancing and receding over the rocky beach, all this is missed, is glossed over and less real.</br></br> Back at the campsite we relax after bringing the kayaks up above the tideline. We don\'t want those babies floating away in the middle of the night. Kyle prepares a dinner of smoked salmon alfredo which really hit the spot after spending the afternoon on the water. Kyle brings up the discussion of tides and brings out a map of the bay indicating our camping objective for tomorrow. We need to catch the tide change at either 5:30 in the morning or leave camp about 3:30 in the afternoon. Hum.<br /><br />


July 2, 2014 - Wednesday morning and we begin breaking camp at 4:30 AM in order to catch the outgoing tide. Yes, we made that decision but with the contingency that if it was raining we would sleep in. It is not raining and the mountains across the way are alight with a rosy alpine glow reflecting the sunlight that is still low in the sky. Beautiful, totally beautiful. After a quick granola cereal (and coffee) we are packed and on the water at 6:00 AM. We paddle across the inlet again, this time over to the Lamplugh Glacier. The crossing seems relatively quick, thanks to the tide or the calm water or perhaps our kayak muscles are getting strong. Yes that\'s it. </br></br> Again there are some awesome photo opportunities. Vicky and I discovered that there was an upwelling of water in the ice cave at the base of the glacier. The water on the glacier had probably created a moulin through the ice forming an internal stream that was funneled through an opening just below the surface of the water. One spot on the glacier face was a deeper color of blue and formed what appeared to be a shallow amphitheater. We spotted a seal on one of the icebergs. He was playing the \"Don\'t move and they won\'t see me\" card. We gave him enough distance so he wouldn\'t know we were on to him as we paddled across the glacier face to a little beach. From this beach you could just walk over to the glacier. A large iceberg had beached and behind it you could see a small waterfall exiting higher up on the glacier.<br /><br /> So after a quick break we got back into our kayaks to make our way to the campsite. We landed the kayaks at Ptarmigan Creek (same place we were originally dropped off) for our last night of camping for this portion of the trip. After getting the site all set up, we enjoyed grilled cheese sandwiches and a bowl of corn chowder. The early start, exercise, full belly, and the light rain was causing heavy eyes, Vicky and I are now ready for a nap. The rest of the group went in search of an old cabin on a nearby trail.<br /><br /> On a nearby boulder, we notice a couple of Black Oystercatchers that are keeping a close eye on us. After a bit they seemed to determine that we are ok and go back about their business. After watching them for a while, we discover that they have a young chick that can occasionally be seen running around the boulder. There is also an interesting piece of ice sculpted into something of a love seat sitting right on our beach.<br /><br /> When the rest of the group returns, Kyle begins the preparation of lentil soup for dinner. In the evenings up to this one, Chris has eagerly volunteered to help Kyle take care of any leftovers that remained in the pot after serving everyone. Tonight was a bit different as he slowly made his way through his bowl, he is not a big fan of lentils but as a true outdoorsman he doesn\'t waste the food, besides dark chocolate is coming for dessert.</br></br> One thing we have noted is that each campsite has had a running stream nearby. This is important as it provides a source of fresh drinking water… and makes it easy to do the dishes. The running water also makes for a pleasant background noise while sleeping. Natures own sound machine!<br /><br />

Back to week 1

Continue to week 3

  1. Ralph
    July 21st, 2014 at 18:30 | #1

    It may be on the warm side in Florida but it beats having to wear all the clothes to keep warm up in Alaska. I’ve enjoyed the pictures and expeditions so far, so keep them coming.

  2. Jay W.
    July 23rd, 2014 at 23:19 | #2

    FWIW I’m pretty sure the bird is a Golden-crowned Sparrow.

  3. Lisa
    July 24th, 2014 at 20:20 | #3

    Im confused. July 1, Tuesday. July 2, Saturday? And where is July 3???? Im missing my Alaska blog fix! I really am enjoying reading about your adventures. 🙂 Thank you for sharing. And the photos are fantastic!

  4. July 25th, 2014 at 08:02 | #4

    Started week 3 –

  5. George
    August 1st, 2014 at 15:25 | #5


    Last night at Joe’s retirement party while discussing reading glasses, Vicky asked if I’d read the blog entry about the scary bug in the tent.
    After reading the entry this morning I laughed so hard I almost had Dr Pepper come out my nose!!!

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