Tag Archives: alaska

Alaska Cruise – Ketchikan & final days

Our final port of the trip! We definitely made this an epic stop: the guys went fishing and I went on a hike! Even better: as we finished breakfast while approaching port we were greeted by a bunch of whales right outside our dining room window!

Jon was definitely interested in trying to go salmon fishing as an excursion on our trip. Tim and David were also interested, but it was really early in the season for salmon fishing. Thankfully, Tim found a good tour operator who was honest with them about that fact, and suggested that they try for halibut first since that WAS in season, and if they wanted to switch over to salmon they could. This turned out to be a good suggestion, since everyone caught halibut!

The guys motored for about an hour to the fishing grounds, seeing whales and porpoises along the way. It was super cold at first, but it ended up being a beautiful day!

Everyone started off bottom fishing for halibut and Jon was the first to catch a halibut – within the first 10-15 minutes! It was about 33″ – a keeper for sure! The guys continued to catch fish – several “rock fish,” two smaller halibut (“chickens”) that they decided not to keep (since you can only keep one per person) and the most unique catch of the day – Tim’s “dog fish”. There were lots of exciting false alarms throughout the morning… when Tim caught the dog fish they thought they had a big keeper halibut, and they thought the smallest of the keepers was a real monster because it took nearly twice as long to reel in. When it was all said and done, they ended up with “keeper” halibut within just two hours! A very busy and fulfilling morning of fishing.

Since the plan was to hopefully limit out on halibut and switch over the salmon, their guide had strategically taken them to a halibut fishing spot that was just minutes away from a salmon fishing spot. So, after limiting out, they switched gears to start trolling with two poles setup off the back of the boat.

The guide warned them that he hadn’t landed a keeper salmon yet this season; and the entire fleet was only catching one a day. But it had been a banner day so far, and their luck continued and they got a big hit right away. Unfortunately, they lost that first fish but it got everyone really excited. Ultimately, they caught several juvenile “shaker” salmon that were too small to keep and then David landed a 20 lb keeper King Salmon.

After a very successful day fishing, they discussed the shipping options on the way back into shore. They had caught a lot of fish!! David generously offered to cover the costs to have them prepared and shipped back to Tim and Ruth’s house. The rock fish, which couldn’t be thrown back, were donated to a local charity.

All in all, it was a banner day for fishing, as everyone caught a “big one” and plenty of little ones that they didn’t keep as well!

While the guys were fishing, I headed off to Deer Mountain to attempt to make it to the summit. The season for this hike is typically June – September. Sooner than June you run the risk of the trail be snowed over. I figured it was worth the risk since the weather had been really nice the last few weeks, and the weather was perfect for hiking today. Bonus: this trail is considered one of the best day hikes due to it’s close proximity to town and the panoramic views that you earn. Although the trailhead was only 1.5 miles from the cruise ship terminal area, it is UPHILL. I didn’t know how arduous the hike would be, so I took a taxi to the trailhead.

My goal was to make it the 3.35 miles one way to the summit, hiking up over 3,000′ of elevation gain. The trail quickly began to switchback through moss-covered trees. The sound of running water was everywhere! After about 40 minutes, I reached the first view point, and it was just like the best pictures I saw on AllTrails! I was so lucky to have such a beautiful day, I couldn’t believe it. As I soaked in the views a huge blue jay kept me company, which was also super neat!

Continuing on, the trail continued to switchback and was very wet – at points water fully covered the trail and was essentially a shallow stream running down the trail! I walked carefully through the wet spots and eventually the trail began to reach the top of the tree line and I came across my first patches of snow just before reaching the second view point. The trail got a little confusing here, with the offshoot to the view point being just that – an off shoot. I worked my way back and continued along the trail which was quickly and suddenly covered in surprisingly deep snow.

At first I was able to follow others tracks through the snow but eventually reached a point where all that was ahead of me was a field of snow – no trail, no footprints. Being alone and with no other hikers in sight, I decided that it would be safest to turn back. I was about 2/3 of the way to the summit.

I knew that this had been a possible outcome for my day, so I wasn’t too disappointed not to make it all the way. The views thus far had been great, and the weather had held up perfectly. Heading down, I actually ended up taking a different route, although I don’t recall seeing any splits in the trail on the way up!

Since I wasn’t able to complete the full hike, I figured I owed myself a walk back to town. All in all, I got in about 6 miles and my feet were tired!! After a brief rest back on ship, Ruth and I met up to get some food and head out to explore Ketchikan.

As we were walking around, I couldn’t believe how tired I was. My feet were really tired of course, but my whole body was really tired too. It turned out that I was getting sick, which was a major bummer but I’m so glad it didn’t happen until the end of our trip, and we were still able to do pretty everything that we wanted to do.

We departed Ketchikan at 6 pm and began our 549 mile cruise back to Vancouver. We’d be cruising all day Friday, our last full day on the ship to make it back. Everyone had a relaxing day, and especially me – I pretty much rested in the room all day until dinner time.

Saturday we arrived back in port in Vancouver, and had a leisurely morning since our group didn’t disembark until about 9 AM. So we all enjoyed one last breakfast on the ship, then relaxed in our rooms until it was time to go. The entire disembarking process was super fast and easy – I think we kept waiting to find the line that wasn’t there. A great way to end the cruise in light of how much longer the boarding process took.

Looking back over the last week, we really couldn’t have asked for a better cruising experience. I would definitely recommend an Alaska cruise to everyone, even people (like me!) that aren’t big on cruises. Our particular itinerary was perfect as well, since you never were cruising for so long that you got bored/felt trapped on the boat. One day at a time was so great, since you got to relax a bit between the ports which were much more go-go-go, see-see-see. And we got SO lucky with the weather!

 

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Alaska – Glacier Bay

After two epic days in port, we spent Wednesday cruising in Glacier Bay. We had seen Mendenhall Glacier at what seemed like fairly close up, but the scale and impressiveness of the glaciers we visited in Glacier Bay was no comparison. All of the glaciers we visited in Glacier Bay are tidewater glaciers – which means that they are fed by enough snow in the mountains to flow out of the mountains and down to the sea.

Our first glacier of the day was Lamplugh Glacier, which is about ¾ mile wide, 150 to 160 feet high at the face, 10 to 40 feet deep at the waterline, and over 16 miles long. While you hear about about global warming and glaciers receding, Lamplugh has been stable for the last 50+ years, and has actually advanced very slightly.

Jon and I headed off to our workout class, so we actually didn’t get to see the second glacier of the day, Johns Hopkins Glacier. Johns Hopkins Glacier continues to advance with Gilman Glacier as a single ice front. The glacier is about 1-mile wide, 250 feet high at the terminus, and 200 feet deep at the water line. It is formed from numerous tributary glaciers, many of which extend 12 or more miles into the surrounding peaks. It calves such volumes of ice that it is seldom possible for larger boats to approach its ice cliffs closer than about two miles.

We were able to rejoin Tim, Ruth and David on the bow in time to see Margerie Glacier, which was the most impressive of the glaciers we saw (in my opinion). Margerie is about 1-mile wide, with an ice face that is about 250 feet high above the waterline, but with its base about 100 feet below sea level. It’s about 21 miles long. The ice flows about 6 feet per day. It has been advancing about 30 feet per year for the past couple of decades. We even got to see some calving, which was pretty cool!

In addition to the epic sights of the glaciers themselves, we also saw a good amount of wildlife – some whales spouting, and at Margerie we saw seals and a bald eagle hanging out on the ice flow. We even saw more mountain goats along the hillside as we cruised!

One of the things that really jumped out at me was just how COLD it was by the glaciers. Which makes logical sense, but for some reason I wasn’t expecting the bitter cold after how mild and nice our first few days had been.

We were watching the glaciers until approximately 1:30 PM, then we relaxed and napped the rest of the afternoon. Tonight was our second and final gala night. We didn’t take too many pictures tonight, but did catch a few!

Alaska Cruise – Skagway

It was just a quick 102 miles to get to Skagway on Tuesday. This was our longest port day – 7 am to 9 pm. We had our first excursion of the trip booked for today – a bus tour of the White Pass and Yukon Route. Being the experts that they are, Tim and Ruth had previously done both the train and bus option and strongly encouraged us to do the bus option since you can actually stop along the way and take pictures. We followed their recommendation and were not disappointed. It was a beautiful day – the sun was shining, the sky was blue and we barely needed our jackets!

Our first stop was this stunning overlook with all these waterfalls running down the mountains. There’s actually a pipeline that collects all that water and creates energy from it, which powers most of Skagway and some of Haines.

 

The next stop was Bridal veil falls – the entire falls itself is actually about 600 feet, but you can only see about 45 feet from the road. The amazing part is that the water is so clean you can just fill up your water bottle and drink from the falls, no filtering required. You can see our guide filling his bottle in the first photo below so you can get a sense of scale.

 

Our tour continued on to the Canada/Alaska border. Fun fact: since the winters are so knarly up here, the border stations on both sides are 8 miles from the border itself so that the workers didn’t have quite such an arduous commute and so that they didn’t have to rebuild every few years after the buildings got destroyed by the snow.

 

While the whole tour was a beautiful exploration of Alaska and Canada, there were a couple stops along the way that were especially beautiful. This roadside lake was one of those spots. It was so awesome seeing freshly melted ice floating in the water, and seeing the reflections of the mountains in the water.

 

Our next break was at the Yukon suspension bridge, which I would definitely enjoy revisiting because they had some impressive displays that I was only able to scan.

 

We stopped at another lake which was apparently still frozen over just one week prior! But it was totally melted and smooth when we stopped. Our guide told us a story about a friend who was ice fishing on that lake and caught a 40-something lb trout that was so big he couldn’t get it out of the hole in the ice! Our guide thought this was quite the tall tale since large lake trout are usually about 20 lbs. But then, on a separate occasion, our guide was talking to a women who worked for the Department of Fish and Game, and told her to story and asked if his buddy was exaggerating. But she told him no – they’ve actually caught trout as big as 89 lbs up there!

 

Eventually, we make it to the northern terminus of our tour – the Yukon territory. The most exciting thing about this stop was that there were mountain goats really low on the hillside.

 

We didn’t make nearly as many stops on the way back but we did make a quick stop at our third lake. Then, a bit later in our drive we saw a porcupine and then a bear alongside the road!!

 

The tour was promoted as a 3 hour tour but ours easily lasted 4-4.5 hours. But we didn’t mind, it was fabulous and our guide was very good. Note to future travelers: definitely don’t book through the cruise lines. We booked the same tour directly and saved 40%.

Afterwards, we walked around town a bit checking out the shops and doing a little souvenir shopping. We had tickets for a National Park Service walking tour, but sadly our guide left a lot to be desired so we bailed and went to get a snack at Skagway Brewing Company and refresh ourselves with the local “spruce tip” beer – apparently it’s very high in vitamin C.

 

After our lunch break, the guys and I headed off to hike Lower Dewey Lake trail, depending on your data source the hike is between 3 and 4 miles. The first section was quite uphill and after a short easier section we reached the lake. We went around the lake clockwise, and the first 25% was really tough – a lot of rock scrambling! Although I suppose that’s better than having to cross that at the end…

 

It was an epic day exploring White Pass, the Yukon and a local hike but the day wasn’t over yet! We had to take our picture with the Welcome to Skagway sign! Then, despite the long day, we managed to capture the late light before bed – there was still so much light in the sky at 11 pm!!

 

Alaska Cruise – Juneau

On Monday we approached our first port – Juneau. As we got closer, the weather was crisp, the sky was blue and we were in whale watching territory!

Unfortunately, as we arrived in Juneau at 1 PM the weather took a darker and damper turn. But we were expecting it – the forecast had been calling for rain for weeks so it was no surprise and we were ready with our rain jackets and ponchos!

Today we were heading to Mendenhall Glacier, which is well known since it’s so easily accessible. The glacier itself is about 13 miles long, and is retreating – in fact the entire Mendenhall Lake area was previously the glacier itself back in it’s heyday. Although we got rained on a bit, it really wasn’t bad at all.

Next to the glacier is Nugget Falls – which is caused by snow melt from Nugget Glacier, which is no longer visible from where we were – but it’s back there somewhere. The waterfall was running quite full while we were there. It was very impressive, it’s actually 377 feet tall but falls in two tiers of 99 feet and 278 feet. I think we could only see the bottom tier.

We wanted to explore a little bit more before heading into town, so David, Jon and I checked out a bit of a different trail. The coolest part was the moss covered trees, and it was neat to get a different view of the lake and glacier. Had it been later in the season, this was also an area where we may have seen salmon swimming!

After departing Mendenhall Glacier, we headed back into Juneau to walk around town and bit and check out the shops. It was still pretty chilly and damp so we didn’t explore too long, but we did get a good taste for the town and got to see some of the local artwork, which I love!

We were back on the ship well before we left port (10 PM) and actually had a reasonably early dinner. Early enough to finish in time for an epic sunset (at 9 PM!!) before we headed over to the evenings comedy show… although “Pip” left a bit to be desired… A magical end to our first true day exploring Alaska.

Alaska Cruise – Part 1

There’s no way that a 10 day vacation is going to fit into a single blog post, so I’m going to break this up a bit. It was a whirlwind at work for both Jon and me leading up to the trip. Normally, I’d start laying things out at least a week in advance but not this time. We were grabbing everything the night before we departed and I was really glad that we were caught up on laundry so we had access to everything we needed!

Friday afternoon, we’re rushing out of work to get to our rental car in Oxnard. My step-dad, James, was kind enough to take us so that was one less worry to deal with. Now working through traffic to get to LAX. I don’t see how it’s going to take an hour and 40 minutes to go 60 miles, and we’re making good time by taking the 1 down the coast. As we get into Santa Monica, the GPS is saying we’re about 10 miles from the airport, but still have another 40 minutes. What?? GPS wasn’t kidding but thankfully we made it with enough time to check our bags and we could finally relax. Flying out of LAX is rough!!

Our cruise departed out of Vancouver, so we had an easy flight up. Customs was super easy, barely any lines. They have these fancy machines that do a lot of the steps for you so I think that helps it go faster. We were meeting the rest of the family at our Air BnB in Vancouver, so we got in a cab and headed over. I think our cabbie was in a race to see how many customers he could service in an hour, because he was flying!! We didn’t mind though – it was late and we were ready to go to bed!

Our Air BnB was really nice, and now that the family was all together it felt like the vacation had really begun! Especially after a good nights sleep. We slept in a bit, then headed off to the local Tim Horton’s for breakfast, which is apparently Canada’s Dunkin Donuts.

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Soon enough, it was time to check out and head over to the cruise terminal and to check in for our cruise!! We were taking Holland America cruise line, a ship called the Nieuw Amsterdam! After a few hours of queuing, we finally boarded.

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The good news was that our bags had already been delivered to our rooms, so we could immediately settle in prior to the “sail away”. As we prepared to leave Vancouver, it was such a beautiful clear day. That evening, we enjoyed our first meal in the dining room, which was excellent!! They did a great job with more “fine dining” style portions, probably assuming that most people are going to have a three or four course meal! Which we did! Yum!

Our first full day on the cruise was at sea – heading up to Juneau, 792 miles away. Being our first full day of vacation, we really soaked up the relaxation and explored the ship’s amenities. Jon and I did a workout class that we would somewhat regret for the next two days as it hurt to move any part of our body, and later enjoyed time up in the “crows nest” taking in the views of the coastline.

The big excitement of Sunday was Sunday night – our first Gala evening! We got dressed up in our finest – the guys in their tuxes! And headed down for an even more “stepped up” dining experience.