My Alaskan Cruise, Part 3
Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Well, it took me the whole summer to finish telling you about my trip to Alaska, but here it is!
If you like to hike, Skagway is a great Alaskan stop! The town itself is tiny, just a few central roads and the White Pass & Yukon Route railway station. We chose to skip the train and explore on foot.
Our first hike of the day was out to Yakutania Point, then along the coast to Smuggler's Cove.
The Hike out to Yakutania Point was along a beautiful, tree-lined path that traced one side of the glacial run-off river that flows next to the town. The trail was wide and well-maintained, with very little elevation gain, and led to a rocky outcropping that jutted into the water.
Smuggler's Cove was actually the site of an old Tlingit settlement called Yakwdeiyi.aa, which translates roughly to "Canoe Road Cove." It was an ideal place for the natives to land and launch their canoes when traveling up and down the Lynn Canal. It wasn't until 1883 that U.S. Navy Lieutenant Commander H.E. Nichols gave the cove its new, more evocative name.
After Smuggler's Cove, we headed back across town and out the other side, headed for Lower Dewey Lake.
The hike to Lower Dewey Lake started with a series of switchbacks that climbed the side of mountain. We gained about 500 feet in elevation in only half a mile. Once again, Alaskan hiking is a whole lot of steep up and down! After that initial climb, there's about a three mile loop to walk around the lake itself. There is also a trail leading farther into the mountains to Upper Dewey Lake.
When we started out around the lake, we had no idea how big it was. I'd misread the map and thought the half-hour it listed as the estimated hike time for Lower Dewey Lake included circling it. Turns out that was the average time it took a person to hike up and down that initial incline and get a look at the lake... not walk around it. (In my defense, the distances were not listed on the map I got from the visitor center.
Anyway, we set out around the lake with no idea how big it actually was. There were no clear views of the length of it from the near end, just little fingers stretching into the trees and disappearing around bends in the path. There were a ton of mosquitoes, so definitely bring bug spray if you do that hike. After walking for a good long while... well past the half hour I thought the hike was supposed to take... we came upon a young man sitting on a rock cliff that overlooked the side of the lake. This was our first clear view of the lake, and the point at which we started to worry about the size of the thing, and whether or not we could get around it before our ship left. The two pictures above were taken from that spot. One looking up the lake, one looking down. Note that you can't actually see the end in either direction.
The man asked if we were there to dive. Apparently the rock is a popular place to go cliff-diving (not a sport I would have imagined people doing in Alaska). Even as he spoke, another man climbed up the path beside the rock, wet and shivering. He said he'd been diving there every summer for years, but the water that year was the highest and coldest he ever remembered. I guess that's what happens when you have a lake filled with glacial run-off and the glaciers are melting. Needless to say, we did not jump in the lake.
If I ever get the chance to go to Alaska again, I would love to spend a couple days in Skagway and do more of the hikes there!
We spent two days cruising along the coast of Alaska and viewing various glaciers, including Johns Hopkins, Lamplugh, Margerie, and Hubbard. The ship had a naturalist onboard, who told us various facts about the different glaciers, and glaciers in general.
My favorite story was about the Johns Hopkins glacier. Apparently, that is where harbor seals go to birth their young. They do this to avoid babies getting eaten by their main predators, orcas (aka killer whales). You see, orcas hunt by sound. Air bubbles trapped in the glacial ice get compacted over the two hundred or so years it takes for the ice to make its way to the front of the glacier, so those air pockets are under a lot of pressure. When ice chunks fall off the glacier into water, they melt and the air gets released. This causes bubbles to form in the water that act almost like carbonation in soda. The water is full of a popping, fizzy noise that confuses the orcas, who rely on sound to find their prey. Pretty cool, huh?
The Hubbard glacier was the largest glacier we saw, measuring about 6 miles wide where it hits the water, and about 3 stories (30 feet) tall.
Our very last stop on the cruise, the port where we got off the ship, was Seward, Alaska.
Seward was a lovely town at the edge of the Kenai Fjords National Park. Unfortunately, we didn't have enough time to take a tour of the fjords, but we did visit the park's visitor center. We also got to walk for a ways along a lovely boardwalk and path that traces the coast. At this point we were hauling all our luggage along with us (and one of my suitcase wheels had broken) so we didn't walk the full length of the town, though a person easily could. We ended up grabbing lunch in a local diner and waiting for the ride we'd scheduled to take us to Anchorage.
The drive from Seward to Anchorage was pretty uneventful, but one item of note was the Cook Inlet (seen above). At first, I imagined the inlet was a large lake at the foot of a mountain, the likes of which I've seen at home. Except what I was seeing was ocean water, and it just kept going.
About halfway to Anchorage we drove past a humpback whale that had swum up the inlet and beached itself to die. It was a pretty grizzly sight, made worse by the tourists taking selfies in front of the carcass. Yeah... I don't get people. As we continued along next to the inlet, our driver told us some more about it, including that we should never try to walk on it no matter how solid it looked when the tide was out. The water in the inlet never got super deep, so it pulled all the way back when the tide went out, leaving what looked like sandy ground. Unfortunately, every year there are people who think it would be fun to go exploring on the dry inlet. Because of the fine silt in the water created by the glaciers, the ground holds just enough water to be treacherous. If your foot slips into the sand, the ground will seal around you like cement. It's nearly impossible for a person to dig their trapped extremity out once this happens. Then, when the tide comes in again, they drown. So, if you're ever tempted to walk across a sandy inlet when the tide is out... don't.
After that it was the usual hustle and bustle of travel to get home. One night in a hotel, several hours of flights and layovers, and at the end of it all... a rhubarb cake courtesy of my mother-in-law who picked us up from the airport.
All in all, a great time was had by all!