Days 6-9 Where We Wrap Up the Journey and get to Channel Moby Dick: We spent Day 6 in Juneau where we were driven out to the Mendenhall Glacier and got to hike around the trail there. The glacier is amazing, of course, but more amazing is how fast it is retreating. Climate change, whether you want to admit it’s us or not, I having a really big impact here in the Inside Passage. The visitor center has a time lapse movie of the glacier from 2007-2015 that very dramatically shows what has happened just in the last 12+ years. We looked around for wildlife and did see a bear cub in a tree and one red squirrel but that was it. In the afternoon we went to the Alaska State Museum and walked around Juneau’s harbor area – basically a big tourist trap of jewelry and souvenir stores mostly owned and operated by the cruise ship lines. There were at least three really big cruise ships docked – we heard that on any given day they disgorge upwards of 12,000-15,000 passengers onto the streets of Juneau. In the evening we went to Orca Point Lodge where we ate lots of crab (and I mean LOTS), had a chilly bonfire with ‘smores and enjoyed a lovely sunset and encountered more mosquitos.
Day 7 was a real treat – we explored Glacier Bay National Park and saw the Margerie Glacier, in time to see an immense chunk calve off into the bay. The ensuing wave rocked our boat for a few minutes. I have been reading a book about John Muir called John Muir and the Ice That Started a Fire – the story of his trips to Alaska and his fight to preserve and protect the wild spaces from over development. I hadn’t realized how intense his love of Alaska, and especially its glaciers, was. To see some of the places that he saw over a hundred years ago, and it realize how changed they are makes me wish we had a John Muir around now, to fight eloquently against the forces that would spoil these beautiful places.
Our last day on the boat was a quiet one with a spectacular finish. We cruised around looking for whales and saw one humpback breach. Then around 6pm we encountered a small group of four whales and all heck broke loose. A couple of them basically put on a show – breaching, rolling over and generally just having a grand old time. We all took lots of pics but I finally decided to just watch. Whales are so magnificent and so graceful – it really was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen! And what a way to wrap up a great trip! The crew put together a fun slideshow of the past 8 days in the evening (much like Chuck and I used to do for our leadership training events) and we all laughed and teared up a bit that the trip was ending and it was time to say goodbye.
This cruise really was a grand adventure – completely different from our Galapagos trip (really, the only thing they had in common is that both were on boats), so comparisons really can’t be made. Alaskan Dream Cruises was a great company to go with – there were some bumps at the beginning but that was all front office reservation stuff. The actual cruise – from the moment we arrived to the moment we disembarked, couldn’t have been nicer. The food was great (we all became like Pavlov’s dogs at 3pm cookie time by the end of the trip). The cabins, while not spacious, were plenty adequate considering how little time we spent in them. They (surprisingly to me) did allow smoking outside on the second level, but luckily we had considerate smokers who used e-cigarettes and for the most part stayed away from us non-smokers when they were indulging. The vast majority did not smoke and I think that would be a nice thing to be able o opt into a fully non-smoking cruise. We were able to navigate into very small inlets and get close to the glaciers which was amazing. If you are a very active person, there aren’t a lot of really active extracurricular activities. We went on every hike, but there were a few days when were just on the boat so the only real exercise was going up and down the stairs (of which there were several flights – this would be a tough boat for somebody with really dodgy knees or who needed a cane). We did get to kayak once (there was another opportunity but it conflicted with a hike). One of the things that I loved about the Galapagos trip was that we were able to get off the boat and do activities every day – there was very little passive watching the world go by.
The opportunity to see a landscape that is quite literally disappearing before our eyes made all the tiny issues we experienced disappear. I’d recommend that everyone come and see and bear witness to the changes and the impact they’re having on the animals and the landscape and then go home and vote to support all efforts to protect and preserve open spaces. In the 100 years since John Muir’s death the glaciers have receded at an increasingly fast rate. If we came back in 20 years I can’t imagine the changes we’d see. Sure, you can argue that those are natural changes and to some extent they are, but the PACE of the changes, and the fact that the pace is accelerating, can’t be denied (well, I guess it can but only by people with ulterior profit-based motives). I’m inspired to see more wild places, and to look for more ways to keep them safe from development.