Friday, May 28, 2010

Ho, Hum 90 Miles on the Lynn Canal

We’re starting to feel redundant.  How many times can we describe scenery as  “spectacular”, “beautiful”, “amazing”, “incredible” and “astonishing” before our readers simply roll their eyes and accuse us of having Diarrhea of the Superlatives?


But today was another one of those days. At 8:00 am we boarded “The Fjordland”, a 65-foot fast-hulled catamaran to travel south on the waters of Lynn Canal, 90 miles out of Skagway to Juneau. There were 8 passengers on board, plus Glen the Captain, and Jim the Deckhand, and we picked up 7 more passengers in Haines, 45 minutes later. The sky was clear blue with a temperature of 60, and by this afternoon it hit 80 degrees. Captain Glen was incredibly accommodating to the interests of his passengers.


He pointed out dozens of eagles along the shoreline; stopped the boat for 10 minutes at a harbor seal rookery and explained about mating, the pups, and how to tell males from females; stopped at another rocky shoreline to allow us to photograph hundreds of enormous stellar sea lions; pointed out more than a dozen humpback whales and slowed or circled wide around each one to allow for photographs; tracked a school of 7-8 dalls porpoises briefly until they swam alongside the boat and began surfing in our wake; and identified other migrating birds.


We traveled at 27 knots through the narrow canal bordered by the Coast Range to the east, and the Chilkat Mountains to the west. The mountains rose precipitously to over 5,000 feet, straight out of the water, with the tree line stopping between 2,000 and 3,0000 feet. Today’s tide change was 23 feet (at latitude 58 degrees north), meaning there was a whopping 4-foot increase in water level every hour from low to high! There was a light wind and only occasional white caps the second half of the southbound trip, none northbound.


At 11:00 we docked north of Juneau where a bus met us to transport us into downtown. We unloaded and were told to be back at the bus 4 hours later. We had lunch at “The Hangar” right on the waterfront – a former airplane hangar from the days when the only access to Juneau was by boat or seaplane and the airport was on the downtown waterfront. Bob had halibut fish and chips, Cathryn had a halibut burger, and we could certainly tell the halibut was fresh! We walked around town and noted that like Ketchikan where we visited last August, and probably most other waterfront towns in southeastern Alaska, the topography of the town is extremely steep, with streets that make the Queen Anne Counterbalance in Seattle look like a railroad grade, and many residential areas that are accessible by walking staircases with 100, 200 or 300 steps to get to the neighborhood. Juneau only had two “small” cruise ships in port today, so wasn’t nearly as crowded as Skagway, which has had 4 huge ships in port each day since we arrived.

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At 3:15 we re-boarded the bus and were transported to the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center. We took a 1-mile hike to the base of a gigantic waterfall immediately adjacent to the glacier along with Tanya, one of our boat-mates who is a Medi-Vac pilot from Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. This was our first time seeing icebergs, and we apparently just missed seeing the glacier calve yesterday. We can’t resist stating how spectacular this was!


The bus took us back to the dock north of town, and we meandered north on the canal back to Haines, dropping off half the passengers, then to Skagway where we disembarked at 8:30 pm. It was a long day, but wonderful and memorable, and we are so grateful to Galline and Alexsander, the Russian couple we met 3 days ago at Atlin who urged us to make this trip. It was worth every penny and then some.


Tomorrow we head north again, back into the Yukon Territory for a couple days before we finally enter the “main” part of Alaska where we’ll spend the next couple of weeks. We continue to be happy and well, and greatly enjoying this trip.

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