We landed in Anchorage during a rare heat wave; in Alaska that means temperatures into the high 70’s and it has been going on for days. They usually don’t have weather like this until July and it’s very unusual for streaks like this to go on for days. Well – it certainly worked out great for us. After taking care of some personal business in Anchorage and picking up a rental car we headed to Whittier to kayak on Prince William Sound.
The scenery was once again quintessential Alaska as we meandered along the Turnagain Arm with the sun reflecting from the dramatic peaks, creating an off-world metallic sheen along the water. One pond we went by had mesmerizing ice sculptures partially submerged in glacial blue water – the sun intensifying the ice into a sort of crystallized topaz.
We were scheduled to go through the Whittier Tunnel also known as the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. It stretches for 2.5 miles and is a one-way system, hence the set schedules to come and go. So it’s important to plan your trip if you have an appointment for kayaking or a cruise.
As it turned out our kayak trip was cancelled due to high winds, so we decided to flex and when we arrived in Whittier we booked one of the four hour Prince William Cruises, and since we had time on our hands we decided to hike the Portage Pass Trail.
It turned out to be pretty steep – more like level three to four in some places and some pretty long stretches of slushy snow. But the view of the Portage Glacier was worth the effort.
After a thigh busting hike we boarded the cruise and headed towards Blackstone Bay.
On the way we saw Stellar Sea Lions (we have these in Oregon as well), a raft of sea otters and then some lone ones floating on their backs happily watching us go by. There was healthy amount of bird life and waterfalls everywhere, some seriously raging down the sides of the cliffs; it reminded me of the movie Avatar for some reason. It was certainly windy and even on such a warm day that wind got cold and I wound up huddling a good portion of the time in the back where I was safe from the constant pummeling, coming out in intervals, bracing myself to take in the views.
We finally slowed down near Blackstone Glacier; we got a quarter of a mile from the glacier which is a good but safe distance. The crew were fishing out some of the bigger chunks of ice as it apparently gets caught in some of the motors of the boat.
Flocks of gulls were perched on icebergs, taking flight in our wake.
The wind calmed down once we started drifting through the ice, looking in awe at the waterfalls to the right of the glacier, and listening to the roar of a gargantuan spilling of its melt into the water.
I had photographed an arch that a minute later calved into the bay, sending shock waves that dispersed the debris field of ice. I was only able to catch the tail end of the event as I wasn’t quick enough to the draw.
We moved onto the next tidewater glacier known as Tebenkof. You could hear the shifting and cracking of cavernous ice, waiting for it to calve but alas, it was not our luck for this next one to give us a show.
After standing out for quite a while I started to get really cold and finally wandered back for a hot chocolate inside the boat. We stopped by the nesting area of the black legged kittiwakes; waterfall after waterfall – bucolic.
We headed back through the tunnel and as we emerged the sun was intensifying the sheen across the water; it never really sets here in the traditional sense- I’ve been up at 2 or 3:00 a.m. and it feels more like early dawn. It has been an adjustment to go to sleep at 10:00 p.m. and it’s still broad daylight out.
We stopped at a touristy spot as Bob wanted to do some gold panning and managed to collect a few impressive flakes!
As our trip came to a close, I had the opportunity to catch up with my dear friend Janet; we’ve known each other for forty years and still manage to stay in touch. You know it’s a special relationship when you see each other after a lapse of so many years and the connections reignites immediately and you want to spend endless hours catching up. We never have enough time so I planted the seed to visit us in France and I suspect this will happen – we can easily fly to anywhere her and her husband decide to visit in Europe. Some places and people are simply meant to be and this is one of them. She was the closure to a stellar visit to the incomparable State of Alaska.
We left Anchorage on our way to Tok only to be met with yet another unfathomable site – the 27 mile long Matanuska Glacier. Surrounded by the vast green egress of a new spring lies a massive glacier casually visible from the side of the road. Upon investigation, this masterpiece emerges from the frozen vice of the jagged range belonging to the Chugach National Forest; on the other side of the range lies Prince William Sound. Investigating the icey interior of this range with my zoom lens reminds me of the likes of Yukon Cornelius. On the outer rim it is a balmy 70 degrees yet the interior reveals a permanent housing of ice, flanked by jealous mountains. I’m not quite clear how the geography works but to say it is simply a curiosity seems inadequate.
Alaska sets itself apart as an imperious, untamed world…. truly the greatest of all the wildernesses the United States has to offer. Untamed – a concept I can can certainly relate to.