Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Alaska Cruise Vacation - Day at Sea with a View of The Hubbard Glacier!

So what did you think of our tour of Skagway, the Alaskan Sled-Dog
camp and trip aboard the White Pass Railway I shared in my last post?
Pretty cool, huh? Well, if you think that was cool, you're going to love
this day at sea, with viewing of The Hubbard Glacier, because...
This ice is all about the cool! In fact, it was all about the COLD when I arrived
to my favorite spot on the boat at 6:30AM. I was up and out early, to ensure I
had a front row seat to take in this tidewater glacier, located roughly 200 miles
northwest of Juneau. But before I show you Hubbard Glacier - I have to tell you
about a guy I met - Seemed that every time I popped up to this deck, he was there!

No matter what time of day or night, we always seemed to get here at the same
time! After a little small-talk and a few offers exchanged to take photos of each
other against the scenic Alaskan backdrop, we finally struck up a conversation
where I learned that he and his husband were cruising Alaska with his in-laws,
who had already made this trip - Which is why he always seemed to be taking in
the sights alone. Of course, I could totally relate because my better-half was not
as willing as I was to run up to this deck every five minutes to check out how the
scenery may have changed since the last time we were there. Or, to scope the sea
for whales, which is something I did constantly! So, without further ado, I would
like to introduce you to my new friend, Chris who happens to be from Houston!
Chris is a great guy and we really hit it off... Mostly because
he appreciates cruise-people watching as much as I do!

The plan for this day at sea (referred to as, cruising) was to arrive
at Hubbard Glacier at 7AM and idle the ship in front of it for roughly
four hours, so as to give everyone aboard an opportunity to see it!
Of course, we were all hoping to see lots of calving! Calving... What's that?
Yes, cows have calves but glaciers have icebergs, which are chunks of ice that
break off glaciers and fall into the water. When this happens, it's called Calving!
As we found out at the Mendenhall Glacier, calving makes a lot of really
cool, loud noises; unlike any we have ever heard before. So we were hoping
to hear and see lots of it at this glacier, which is called the Sleeping Giant!
Calving occurs when chunks of ice break off at the terminus, or the end of
the glacier. Ice breaks because the forward motion of a glacier makes the
terminus unstable. The resulting chunks of ice are called Icebergs! Now...
Icebergs can be really small or they can be really big. At least one has been
seen that is as big as the state of Rhode Island! Icebergs also come in a variety
of color. White icebergs have lots of air pockets inside. Blue icebergs are very
dense. Greenish-black icebergs may have calved off the bottom of the glacier,
while darkly-striped icebergs carry moraine (rocks/soil) debris from the glacier!
Now, I'm not one of those bucket-list people that chases things she believes must
be seen or done before we die... However, I will tell you that standing in front of,
on top of and inside of a glacier, like we did, is something everyone should do!
It's so pretty... Something only God himself could create!

So what do I know about Hubbard Glacier? Well, I know Hubbard Glacier
is seventy-six miles long, by seven miles wide, 500 feet tall and sits 350
feet above the water where it meets the bay. In all, this active glacier
is 1,350 square miles of translucent ice and, quite the sight to see!
Although I never felt that we were ever in any danger, icebergs calved by
tidewater glaciers can be dangerous. An iceberg over 80 kilometers long
and 40 kilometers wide broke off from the Larsen Sea Shelf in Antarctica
and is still being monitored by satellites so as to keep ships that navigate
it waters safe. Here in Alaska, in Cordova, the Child's Glacier once calved,
resulting in a 12-foot high tidal wave that almost wiped out some tourists
that were watching from a small boat. The tallest wave caused by calving
at Child's Glacier was twenty feet. So do heed the warnings if you go see it!

As we made our way closer to Hubbard Glacier, the ice in the water
made it sound like we were cruising through a giant bowl of Rice
Krispies because of all the air bubbles that pop as the ice melts!

While Chris and I began the morning on the deck alone, it didn't take
long for the rest of the ship's passengers to pack in closely around us
to take in the sights and thundering sounds of Hubbard Glacier too!
And boy, did she thunder!
It was fascinating and a real thrill to watch!
Since it is not a port-stop, I didn't pay any attention to Hubbard Glacier
being on the itinerary when I booked this cruise. However, now that we
have seen it, I consider this just as exciting as any shore excursion. Well,
maybe not the Mendenhall Glacier Ice Cave one in Juneau... But close!
Just as we were instructed to watch for breath (steam vapor) on the surface
of the water as warning that whales might soon pop up, so were we advised to
listen for sounds of popping, cracking and thunder as a precursor to calving!
After watching for a while, someone aboard the ship announced they were
deploying the rescue boat to retrieve a piece of glacier ice to carve later!
How cool is that? That we might be able to touch a piece of Hubbard glacier!
As our crew fished for glaciers for a while... Chris and I
parted the crowd to take more photos of each other!
Once they located the perfect chunk of ice to bring on board...
The crew worked to reel it in and, made they it look easy in the process!
Pretty soon, much sooner than anyone wanted,
it was time for us to depart from Hubbard Glacier...
Who put on a great show and made it well worth the effort to be out
on deck in the cold Alaska air before seven o'clock in the morning!
After breakfast, which was actually a very late lunch for us, I set
out to find that big chunk of ice the crew had brought aboard...
I watched for a while as this guy beat away at it with his chisel;
and then, as he called in reinforcements after making no progress!
Pretty soon, we had a whole team of people trying to figure out just how
to carve this massive hunk of ice into the ice carving the crew promised
to unveil to us around dinner time. I overheard this guy on the phone
ask if someone might have ax or a chainsaw they could run up to him!
Unfortunately, this piece of Hubbard Glacier never became anything
more than it was before it was plucked from the bay. It sat in that
spot on the deck for the remainder of our cruise... While our crew
turned their attention to things they were more equipped to carve!
Not quite the same as seeing part of the Hubbard Glacier
transformed into something even more ah-mazing that it was...
But at least it helped pass the time of another day spent at sea!
It sure beat the movie being shown on board that day, which
only served to help us catch up on the sleep we missed that morning!
I sure hope you enjoyed seeing The Hubbard Glacier as much
as we did and, that you stay tuned for our next adventure...
Seward Alaska!  Where we were booked into a 10-hour excursion
to Prince William Sound to see glaciers, whales and other life on the sea!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Alaska Cruise Vacation - Fourth Port of Call, Skagway!

I hope you enjoyed our tour of Juneau and the Mendenhall Glacier Ice Cave
adventure I shared with you in my last post, because today we are  visiting our
fourth port of call, Skagway for two excursions there I know you will enjoy
hearing about as much as we enjoyed taking them! Now, we were originally booked
into Royal Caribbean's Glacier Point Wilderness Safari excursion seen here:
However, at dinner that evening, we decided that since we had just
taken the most amazing glacier tour with the best couple and new
friends we had made in Koko and Steven, that we would cancel our
canoe trip to another glacier and do something else that might allow
us to see more of Skagway and the surrounding area. Besides...
We were already feeling our earlier canoe row across Mendenhall Lake!
Following dinner, we visited the Excursions Desk where we learned
there was still space for us to take their White Pass Railroad and
Alaskan Dog Sled Experience excursion in Skagway. Since both
excursions require nothing more strenuous than sitting on a bus and
a train, we were sold. And, since it was quite a bit less expensive than
our original excursion, the difference was added to our ship account!
When we returned to our stateroom we found the itinerary for Skagway!
As well as the weather forecast... Which provided reassurance that we
had made the right call nixing that Davidson Glacier canoe excursion!
Notice the time for sunset? Yeah... The sun never really set! Anyway,
since our new excursion was an earlier one, we ordered breakfast in bed...
Showered, dressed for the weather and then,
made our way ashore to explore Skagway!
We enjoyed reading the tags on this impressive wall of granite along
the wharf, which is known as the Ship-Signature Wall. It's where
ship crews have autographed the wall since 1928 as a way to forever
commemorate their first sea voyage to Skagway. Pretty cool, huh?!
Ship crews weren't the only ones to sign here though... As evidenced
by one very enthusiastic shopper named Michelle on her trip in 1978!
After a short walk, we located our motor coach
and were whisked away to our first stop...
To visit a seven-time Iditarod musher and his racing dogs for a
mushing demonstration and, to hear all about what it takes to run
these incredible animals in such harsh and unforgiving conditions!
Meet Matt Hayashida - He and his wife and their year-old daughter, Lily,
all run this sled dog camp. Matt told us that some of what we paid to be
there would go toward sponsoring his qualifying for the 2017 Iditarod!
Matt gave an incredible talk about his dogs and the process of running
the Iditarod. Everything on the stage with him were things he used during
the races. Those bags, printed with the names of the different race stages,
were used to carry dog food that was shipped to each stop in advance. Each
team is provided a bale of hay at each stop, which is used to create beds for
the dogs to sleep for the night. That bucket you see is used to melt snow for
the water Matt needs to mix the dog food and to water his dogs. Each dog is
examined by a Veterinarian at each stop and, if a dog is determined to be
unfit to continue, it is removed from the team and shipped back home. If this
happens, mushers cannot replace the dog with a spare; they just end up being
down a dog (or two, or three...) for the remainder of the race. That's why Matt
stressed, that it is so critical to care for his dogs during every stage of the race!
See those little black things hanging above the bags? Those are booties
(socks) worn by every dog to help protect their paws from the cold, rocks
and other hazards of the trails traveled during the race. Between the two
sleds you see, the one on stage is a sled Matt has used during his races...
The other sled, on the floor is one Matt
told us was featured in the film, White Fang!
Matt's dogs are very cool! They don't at all look like the Huskies often
associates with Alaska and sled dog teams. They are very long and lean!
And, all of them were very eager to show us what they could do!
After watching the team run around a practice track set up
near the kennel, it was time for Matt to break out... The Puppies!
If you tell Leo this happened, I will swear you're lying!
It was freezing outside on this stop; therefore,
after a quick squeeze and cuddle of this puppy...
I made a beeline inside to visit the bathroom!
After a quick spin through the gift shop, where we bought hot chocolate and a
cookie, we got back on the bus where our driver had kept it toasty-warm for us!
Shore excursion itineraries are never well defined by the cruise line
so we didn't find out until we got back on the bus that the depot, where
we would board the train, was an hour and a half away... Back in Canada!
Which I guess makes sense, since the end of the route was way back
in Skagway where we left the ship. It also made sense now that we had
to bring our passports with us too, since we were crossing the border!
The bus ride took us through some beautiful country! We even got
the opportunity to see what the train looks like from the other side!
We also had a great driver who knew everything there was to know
about the area, the train and the people that passed through Skagway
and these mountains... In hopes of striking it rich, when in July of 1897,
word flashed around the world of gold discovered along the Yukon River
in the Canadian wilderness. As North America remained in economic
depression, it was a rousing event when the steamer Portland docked
in Seattle. The ship's cargo, fresh from the gold fields, carried 68 miners
and almost two tons of raw gold! As the news spread, people gathered up
their savings, left jobs and families and headed for the Promised Land! The
Klondike Gold Rush... The World's last great adventure was now underway!
After we crossed the border back into Canada, we hopped aboard the
White Pass Railroad. The quickest route, from the West Coast to find
gold was up the Inside Passage (exactly the way our cruise took us) to the
head of the Lynn Canal at Skagway. Once in Skagway, the trick was to hike
forty-five miles over the mountains to Lake Bennett and, from there, float
five hundred, fifty-five miles down the Yukon River to the gold fields! There
were two trails to Lake Bennett over these tall mountains, the Chilkoot Trail,
starting north of Skagway and the White Pass, with its trailhead conveniently
positioned over Skagway itself! Even before news of the rich gold strike...
A canny British investor named William Close was exploring the notion of
building a railroad from tidewater to the head of the Yukon River. Skagway,
with its natural harbor and passageway over the mountains beckoned. Close
sent three top railway men to Skagway in April 1898, who all spent long days
scouting the daunting landscape. All three came to the same conclusion...
It could not be done!
The three men made their way back down the mountain
to Skagway where they prepared to relay the bad news to their
boss, Mr. Close. As the three checked in at the St. James Hotel...
They noticed a rugged looking but charismatic man there... Michael J. Heney
had just returned from making his own survey for a railroad over the same
forbidding mountains. The four of them talked through the night, and by
daybreak, Heney, an Irish Canadian railroad contractor, had convinced
them that not only could a railroad be built, he was the very man to do it!
Backed by ten million dollars from William Close and his British
investors, it took 26 months and 450 tons of blasting powder for
Michael Heney and his work force to turn the dream into reality!
Give me enough dynamite, and snoose, and I'll build you
a Railroad to Hell - "Big" Mike Heney, Railroad Builder
As we made our way down the mountain back into Skagway...
We learned more more about the people that made this trip...
And, of the loss of pack animals as we passed over Dead Horse Gulch,
where over 3,000 of them died on this trail from being over-packed,
over-worked and due to the extreme weather conditions. Many of
their bones still lie here, deep at the bottom of Dead Horse Gulch!
No thank you...
This would have not been the adventure for me!
Despite conditions, there were relatively few human casualties during
this project to build the railroad. That doesn't mean they didn't happen...
Because on August 3, 1898 tragedy struck when blasting dislodged a
500 ton piece of granite, crushing workmen Alex Juneaux and Maurice
Dunn, along with their pack horses. The massive, unmovable boulder
became their tomb. A simple black cross that was erected to mark the
site was called out to us as we made our way down the big mountain...
By midsummer of 1898 there were 18,000 people at Dawson, with more
than 5,000 working the digging. By August many of the stampeders
had started to make their way back to their homes... Most of them broke!
The next year saw a still larger exodus of miners when gold was discovered
at Nome. The great Klondike Gold Rush had ended as suddenly as it had begun!
Towns such as Dawson City and Skagway began to decline. Others,
such as nearby Dyea, disappeared altogether, leaving only memories of
what many consider to be the last grand adventure of the 19th century!
When we arrived at the station, where our bus waited to take us back to the
ship, we realized the only thing we had eaten all day was that cookie at the
dog sled camp. So, since we were starving and really wanted to see Skagway...
We waved good-bye to the train...
And, set out to see Skagway on our own!
But not before getting a recommendation from our driver about where to
find the best eats in Skagway... To which he replied, Skagway Brew Co.
Unfortunately, he said his bus didn't go that way... We could
either wait for a shuttle or walk the few blocks on our own!
We have never run so fast to get to food!
Only to arrive and find out that every other cruise ship passenger
must have been given the same recommendation! The line of people
waiting was out the door and the wait for a table was over an hour!
Nevertheless, I added our name to the list and then flagged down
a waiter to place an order for an appetizer and drinks. Yes! We were going
to have their hot, soft pretzels standing up, leaned against a doorframe...

While keeping a sharp eye out for movement at the bar,
where we were told it was first-come-first served seating!
It took less than five minutes for two people to leave so I pounced on
their chairs and we ordered! It may have been because we were starving,
but the food at Skagway Brew Company was as good as our driver promised!
After a short stroll through a very small Skagway downtown with a stop
at the gift shop for more postcards and a few trinkets to take home...
It was time to get back to the ship for the last couple of days of our cruise!
I sure hope you enjoyed this tour of Skagway and that you
also stay tuned for our next adventure. A day at sea...
With a long idle of the ship at the face of Hubbard Glacier!