Canada Alaska 2019

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Have you been dreaming of Canada & Alaska? Now’s the time to book as Earlybird offers are selling out already. Book your 18 day Deluxe Rockies Explorer Tour with an Alaskan Inside Passage Cruise with Evergreen Tours Australia. Call Lyn Spain at Grey Nomads Travel and Cruise on 0418 185 850 or email to lyn@gntc.com.au and receive expert attention.

150525 Ketchikan

Ketchikan is known as Alaska’s “First City” because it’s the first major community travellers come to as they journey north. This charming waterfront town showcases its maritime history and offers picturesque scenery, quaint architecture and an abundance of cultural delights.

It’s hard to believe that not all that long ago, the entire area was covered in ice. Massive glacier action carved out the present landscape – long saltwater fjords hemmed in by cliffs that soar as high as 3,000 feet into the air.

Nowhere is this feat of nature more beautifully realized than just east of Ketchikan at the magnificent Misty Fjords National Monument. Named for the weather conditions that are normal for the area, we encountered a perfect day again.

The main source of income is from salmon fishing. There are five different species of wild Pacific salmon found in the Alaskan waters surrounding the area. And you can even view the salmon, in the town creek; complete their exhausting journey to the spawning ground.

Ketchikan’s second most important income source is the tourist. Yesterday, there were four large cruise boats in port. As we sailed up the waterway towards the port, we sailed past the local airport and a 737 was taking off just as a seaplane was landing beside our ship. Rather uncanny when you are there.

We took a 90 minutes walk around the town before boarding the Misty Fjords National Monument tour in a Jet-Cat catamaran. The water was smooth and the sky was mainly clear of clouds. Speeding around the waterways in a 30 mph Jet Boat made it so much quicker to view some of the great geological forms made by glaciers over the years.

Lyn was standing outside up the back on the top deck and noticed a well-known face that comes into our agency regularly. Our travel insurance rep was on board. We were aware that she was taking a group on a trip but hadn’t discussed dates or details of her itinerary with her. Leonie had only made a booking for the excursion we were on just the day before so the meet-up certainly was a coincidence. She was travelling on the Vollendam berthed just in front of the Coral Princess for the day. They had also been in Skagway on the same day as us.

At present, Tuesday, we are sailing towards Vancouver. Disembarkation is quite a feat as accounts need to be corrected and packing done with bags out by 11:00pm. Our disembarkation group meets at 8:55am in the morning. From there, we are on our way in a campervan for two weeks around Western Canada.

 

150524 Juneau

When you study the map of the area we are in at present, you find that there is not a long way between the Yakutat Bay, Glacier Bay, Skagway, Juneau and Ketchikan. However, there is much to see. Some on board have said they have had enough of the scenery of snow-capped mountains and hills and are looking forward to leaving the ship (whinging poms). The waterways are not busy like they are in the Mediterranean Sea and the Baltic Sea.

There were 5 cruise ships in Juneau yesterday but as we were the first ship to arrive, we were able a free run from our dock to the trail we walked. After being given all the safety advice (oh dear, they didn’t tell us about the fire extinguisher today), our group was divided into the faster walkers and the slower walkers. We chose the slower group, as we wanted to have some time photographing the scenes and wilderness along the way.

The climb took us up to over 1000 feet enabling us to look over the Mendenhall Glacier. We were thinking that we were going to get close to the base of the glacier but that was not to be. Lyn had done a rubber raft trip on the lake with the group she brought over here in 2008.

Our guide, John, pointed out the changes in the vegetation that has taken place in the last 26 years. Mosses and lichens have attached to the fallen branches of spruce that have secured their locations since the regression of the glacier. Little wild flowers have also taken their place within the vegetation.

John, our guide, thought we were British as his answer to our question, “Who is our Prime Minister?” was “David Cameron.” Ah, no John.

After returning to the town of Juneau, we took a quick walk up the main street, purchased some scrumptious chocolates and returned to the ship for lunch. Today, instead of going to the lido restaurant, we had lunch at the bar and grill and were able to eat out in the warm sunshine. Nearby were some deck beds that enabled us to have a good sleep in the sun. I even took on some lost colour.

Tomorrow, we arrive at Ketchikan at around 10:00am, the last stop before arriving at Vancouver on Wednesday our time.

150523 Skagway

Skagway is yet another Alaskan town that came about because of a gold rush. It is an old looking town with timber being used for the sidewalks and old-style shops.

On arrival at 6:30am, we quickly had breakfast and uploaded the post for the day before. That done, I did the usual ‘logout.com’ and it seems that I didn’t give the computer long enough to properly get off the Wi-Fi Internet. On our return at lunch time, all the time we had purchased was ‘chewed up’. The guy in charge of the network has been kind and given us credit so we can upload our posts during the rest of the cruise.

The old Skagway railroad train was waiting for us to get on board for a picturesque trip up into the hills nearby to around 3,000 feet. It is a narrow gauge railway and the carriages are from way back, from pre-historic days. There were a few tressle bridges to traverse which made the train trip rather nice. It’s not long ago since they used to use steam engines but now 3 diesel engines did the task of hauling us up the gorges. The round trip was over 4 hours.

After a quick lunch and a short rest, we were met by a young lady who took us up the only road into, and out of, Skagway for a 15 mile down hill bike ride into the town. There were just 3 couples and after the ‘safety drill’ and ‘this is how you use and ride our bikes’ talk, we started the down hill run.

There was very little peddling with the brakes on most of the way. We stopped to view the valley from the other side to which our train journey had taken us. Magnificent! Within just a short distance of one another, we encountered a black bear then a brown bear. The black bear was behind the guard rail and hard to photograph and the brown bear worked out he shouldn’t be so close to humans and ran off down the steep embankment before I could get the camera ready.

The ride was a nice way to see the district and now we can say. “We saw a bear or two’.

We tried the buffet dinner and then went to a great show put on by the ship’s entertainment crew. Some texan folk have really taken to us as ‘our friends from down under’ and always greet us with handshakes and hugs and happy conversation.

Tomorrow, we are doing the Mendenhall Glacier Guide’s choice trail hike. It’s a 6 mile hike exploring the wonders of the Tongass National Forest. Check it out tomorrow.

Seniors Moment

I know that some of you have been waiting for our Senior’s Moments section. Well, we havent had one until we were told about one by an Australian couple from Brisbane. When she was going through boarding procedures in Seattle, the guy at the boarding gate said, “Could I see your boarding pass?” With hesitation, she presented her fingers thinking he had said, “Could I see your body parts?”

150522 Glacier Bay

Yesterday was what has become ‘just another day of sunshine’; perfect for viewing more glaciers in a beautiful region.

We slowly sailed up the Fjord and found Margerie Glacier and then moved around to the Johns Hopkins Inlet to find Lamplugh Glacier. The sun was warm and made some great photos. The day was spent just cruising by glaciers, some white, some well darkened by the debris that it had gathered along the slow journey down to the waters edge.

I don’t have much time to write today (Saturday morning) as we are about to catch a train in 30 minutes so I hope the photos do justice to our perfect day in Glacier Bay.

 

150521 Yakutat Bay

Yakutat Bay is often known as Hubbard Glacier. The Glacier is 6 miles wide and faces right on ocean water. The face of it is higher than our ship is.

We ‘crept’ into close proximity to the face but were still well back so we could view the splendour of glacial wall. Calving is the term used to describe when parts of a glacier fall into the water. We saw, but didn’t capture on film or movie, about 8 different calving moments. They just happen. First you see it, then you often hear the bang of the ice exploding off the face of the glacier into the water.

We found a good viewing position up the front of the ship but it meant we had sore bottoms at the end of the 90 minutes or so we spent approaching the glacier. As the front of the decks of the ship is ‘walled’ with glass, it is hard to find a spot where you can poke the camera lenses through to capture the moment. And, you have to ‘fight’ your way to that spot where 100’s of other viewers want to be too.

The ship stayed up close to the glacial wall for about an hour, spinning around for those who were viewing from their balconies to enjoy the sacredness of the slow movement of the glacier. I’m sure that if the weather was not the fabulous sunshine we had, the scene would not be as awe inspiring. You probably are wondering why there isn’t more photos in the post – many of them are the same, lol!

Tomorrow, we visit Glacier Bay National Park and get up close to two other glaciers, Margerie and Lamplugh, and pass by John Hopkins.

150519 Kenai

This is a great place to relax in the wilderness. With tall mountains divided by busy mountain streams, clear air and great food, Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge is the place to be.

Yesterday, was not a busy day. Just a ride on a rubber raft 11 miles down the river from here. It was an easy, gentle river rafting expedition as ‘the older folks’ want to experience the concept of rafting on a river too.

Now we have viewed Alaska from a fixed wing aircraft, a Paddle Steam Boat, a motor coach, a helicopter, a train coach, and a rubber river raft; each with many moments of grandeur and awesome scenery to behold.

We will not forget Alaska. Being in a region that has extreme temperatures to -60 degrees Fahrenheit and knowing that much of the earth under your feet is frozen solid, never to thaw, is quite unbelieveable indeed. Hearing stories of dog races and the sometimes 1,000 miles that the team travel to maybe, finish last; I know that I wouldn’t want to try. After experiencing the ‘cold room’ at -40 degrees F for just 90 seconds doesn’t encourage me to live in conditions of such cold. Even our clothes were very cold on exit.

We have been blessed with good sunny days and comfortable accommodation, although not all 5 star. The locations have been superb. The staff have been helpful and ever willing to receive a tip for their efforts. (Thank goodness the currency is all the same colour – $1 is green, $10 is green. You can guess we dispensed lots of $1 bills – haha!)

Tomorrow, we motor coach to Whittier to join the ‘Coral Princess’ for the cruise down the inside passage to Vancouver. Stay with us.

150517 Denali to Mt McKinley

Often when touring in a coach, you have to be out of bed early, but yesterday was an exception. We were able to casually get ready and have an unhurried breakfast as we travelled down to Mt McKinley by train coach, leaving around 10:00 am. The weather was on our side for this surprise train trip. Lyn has been on the Canadian Rocky Mountaineer and often remarked that the Alaskan Railway was much better.

The train was made up of only three carriages all providing top-deck visibility with clear roofs and the dinning room underneath. We had full bar service available, if required, the length of the 4 hour journey.

It is very hard to describe the scenery, in a written form, without using superlatives so I will do my best to describe it with the word “superfabulouslymagnificent”. (Some words you only come across once or twice in a lifetime – how do you like that one?) From when we left Denali until we arrived at Talkeetna, we had beautiful vistas to enjoy. The sky was blue and the snow covered mountains, close and far beyond, made some great photos. We are now members of the 30% Club as only 30% of the visitors to the area see Mt McKinley clearly without cloud during their stay.

We thought when we saw Mt Mckinley at Denali that that was the last view we would have but our train journey took us even closer but from another side. When you see Mt Cook in the South Island of New Zealand, the view is something that you stop and ‘behold’. This mountain has the same, or even greater hold on us. Lyn took so many photos, she is not wanting to count them. I ran the video camera for nearly 20 minutes for the journey.

We arrived at Talkeetna to be transferred to the Mt McKinley Wilderness Lodge about 50 minutes away. The lodge is made up of many buildings accommodating around 1000 people. A special area is provided that has 4 fireplaces for visitors to sit around and chat while beholding the magnificent Mt McKinley just 40 miles away. (The fireplaces keep the elephant-sized mosquitos away too) There are 3 restaurants serving American meals with different names. I ordered a Mac with cheese and mushrooms thinking I would get a burger with chips, but a plate full of macaroni with cheese on top arrived. Macaroni has always been on my food ‘hate’ list so the macaroni had to be replaced with something more to my likeing. The waitress, realising it was a language problem, gave us credit on the macaroni.

Today we transfer by motor coach down to Kenai Peninsular for a 2 night stay.

150516 Denali National Park

Well another beautiful day. Sunshine as far as we can see. So many visitors do not have clear skies like we have. When people come to Denali National Park, they come to see North America’s highest peak, Mt McKinley. We have not been disappointed. For many, the mountain is covered with dense cloud.

I have to say, the breakfasts have not been near as good as they are in Asia. Americans don’t seem to consider breakfast as an important meal as they do their coffee and donuts. However, we managed to have some cereal and hot food before boarding an old school bus and making our way into the only American National Park that has been ‘created’ to protect the wildlife. And so much of it there was; one moose and a couple of sheep, is all we saw. At least when searching for leopard in Africa, we came across millions of other wild beasts roaming around; elephants, zebra, wildebeest, buffalo, lion and rhino. Such a long way to come for 3 or 4 animals. When the moose was seen, the bus stopped and reversed back just before the beast ‘went bush’. Oh, it was SO exciting! Ha Ha!

But in the distance were the peaks of Mt McKinley. And that did look majestic. Although cloud was swirling around, the two peaks made a few appearances, albeit 70 miles away, we were told. I had in my mind that if we took a helicopter ride, a circuit of the great mountain would be included. Wrong! just a view from a higher elevation.

After a lunch with a fantastic view, we were collected from the motel lobby for the transfer to the helicopter departure point. There were three smartly painted helicopters ready to take us on an hours ride over the Denali National Park. After the full weigh in then a video briefing, we were strapped into a helicopter. Our pilot was young in his early 30s. Fortunately we had a person on board that asked lots of questions. We found out the pilot had been an instructor for 3 and half years and so had quite a few flying hours up. Although it was very windy, we only felt vibrations rather than the buffering we felt on the fixed wing flight to the Arctic circle the other day.

Once over the snow covered mountains, we learned that during the winter months it snows only once a month or so. There are no ski fields in the park. We are not allowed to fly too low – it may interfere with the wildlife (that one moose just may start calving early). There are some bush walks but not too many.

In the distance is Mt McKinley poking its head above a cloud mass. It does look awesome even from 60-70 miles away. We circle around a glacier that shows ‘folded’ masses of ice and after about 45 minutes in the air, head back to the departure point.

Tomorrow, we board a train and head out of Denali National Park towards Mt McKinley National Park (different to the mountain) 120 miles, and then 50 miles by coach.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

150513 Fairbanks and Arctic Circle

The alarm went off at 6:00am Fairbanks time to get me out of bed and down to the tour desk to hopefully get on the 7:00am flight to the Arctic Circle. It wasn’t until we were being transferred to the airport that we learned that there was no flight this morning and the 1:00pm flight was the first for the day. I needn’t have gotten up so early after all.

After the normal ‘American-way’ of going through every little detail about what was going to happen, and what we would experience, we embarked a small twin engined 10 seater Piper Navajor aircraft bound for the ‘northern frontier’. From the moment of take off until touchdown, we swayed and bumped around all over the place. For a moment, I thought I could be in for a Meniere’s Attack but my mind kept saying, “No, No, No”.

The scenery was so different in a way. The vegetation was still considering to bloom from it’s winter cave. As we headed further north, the seasonal change was having less effect. Trees were showing so little attraction to the new season’s excitement. The region doesn’t have four seasons – just the two, summer and winter with a short melt down when freeze becomes melt. We could see the lakes melting at the edge of the shorelines. Some rivers were running with ice still clinging to their banks. As we crossed the unmarked line of the Arctic Circle, our pilot made the announcement but we didn’t feel any different. No extra celebratory bumps. No razzamatazz.

The flight path is generally up the Dalton Highway which goes all the way north to Prudhoe Bay on the north of Alaska. Oil companies used to own the highway while they were building the oil pipeline that generally follows the highway. More than half of the pipeline is above ground because of the intense cold of the ground which would cause the oil to freeze and not move.

We landed at Coldfoot, a very sparsely populated area where they only see the sun for 4 months of the year. Everyone lives in darkness most of the year, and lots of snow with the temperature often -60 F. Sled dogs sleep outside in the winter chill at this time and are fed frozen meat cut-offs not needing to be preserved in the refrigerator.

There is a post office beside the pub and the truckers cafe, but is only open 3 part days a week and receives mail once a week.

We took a visit to Wiseman, a village of people who only survive off the land. They rely on solar power (when the sun is shinning), and generators when needed. Hand-cut wood is the fuel for heating. The produce from the garden is stored for the long winter, or should I say frozen for the winter, under the houses. Meat has to be hunted for and if you shoot a large deer, you cannot take in a vehicle to retrieve it; you must cut up the animal and cart it on your shoulder to your vehicle. It may be 400 metres away and a 60kg shoulder of animal becomes heavy in that distance. An angry bear just may be around. Bear in the area are usually timid and shy of humans and keep away if you are in their territory but make their appearance at the carcass when you have well and truly gone.

Wildlife is just coming out into the open, this week or so after the winter, but we only saw the one moose.

After an all round trip of 5 hours, we are now proud owners of a certificate that says we have been north of the Arctic Circle.