At Sea in Alaska – Part I 6/10/17

After 9 1/2 hours on the scenic train ride from Denali to Whittier, we were ready to disembark and get settled into the cabin  on the Island Princess where we’d be for the next seven nights.

The Island Princess is a beautiful ship . . .

. . . and our mini-suite was spacious and very comfortable.  We had plenty of closet space, two TV’s, and a sweet little balcony.  Because of the weather, we didn’t get to enjoy that balcony too much, but we would dash out there whenever an announcement was made that  marine life had been spotted.

I hate to mention this, but it took us at least two days to get our bearings as to where our cabin was in relation to everything else – the dining rooms, the ship’s theatre, the atrium, the casino, the internet café, etc.  The elevators closest to our room didn’t go to all floors, which meant we’d travel down a few floors, get off, and then walk half the length of the ship to get to the elevators that traveled down several more levels.  We laughed at ourselves (and others – we certainly weren’t by ourselves) when we’d exit an elevator, step out, and then stand there a few seconds deciding whether to go left or right.

Our cabin was almost at the front of the ship on the Baja deck (floor 11), so we only had to walk a short distance down our hall and go through two doors to be . . .

.. . at the front of the ship, directly under the bridge.

We left Whittier on Wednesday, May 17, (temp 43 degrees) and navigated the Passage Canal into Prince William Sound. During the night the ship set out across the Gulf of Alaska.

In the dining room on Thursday morning we watched as the ship cruised through very cold water filled with ice in Yakutat Bay.

In some places it was as though we were moving through a giant cup of pale blue slushy ice . .

. . . and we also saw several large icebergs that the glacier we were approaching had “calved”.  It’s hard to get a perspective here on the size of these bergs, but they were large enough that our captain didn’t risk the ship by bringing us as close to the Hubbard Glacier as he would have liked.

After leaving Yakutat Bay, we sailed toward Cape Spencer and the approaches to Glacier Bay, and by Friday morning we entered the waters of the Glacier Bay National Park.  National Park Rangers from the Park Ranger Boat “Serac” joined us on board during the morning and gave several talks throughout the day about the park.

Margerie Glacier as we approached . . .

. . . and closer up (this was with as much zoom as my cellphone would allow).

I filmed a short video that includes the sound of ice breaking off the glacier (calving).  Make sure your sound is turned up!:

Some “icy” history:

In 1750 the glacier in the photos above was jutting out into Icy Strait . . .

Today you have to travel 65 miles into the bay to view the tidewater glacier.

We did spend quite a bit of time outside on the decks while viewing Marjorie Glacier on Friday.  The landscape was so foreign to us Southerners that it was jaw-dropping just to stand and gaze around.  Pure frigid splendor

While we slept the ship slipped into a northerly course and by morning we awoke to find we had just docked in Skagway at 6:55 am.

It was 52 degrees and partly cloudy as we set off to check out this tiny village that was once the “Gateway to the Klondike Gold Rush”.

In 1897 news of gold discovered in northwestern Canada, near where the Klondike and Yukon rivers join, reached Seattle, and the gold rush was on.

Even in 1897 Skagway had electric lights and telephones.  It also had 80 saloons, three breweries, many brothels, and other service or supply businesses.  It was the starting point to the White Pass Trail, 10 miles longer, but less steep and 600 feet lower than the original trail (Chilkoot) taken by the first gold miners at Dyea.  But after two months of overuse, White Pass Trail was destroyed.  The next year investors began to build the White Pass and Yukon Route railroad.  By the time it was finished in 1900, the gold rush was over.

After lunch we climbed aboard a train that would take us to White Pass.

The train travels 20 miles up to reach the summit at White Pass and climbs from sea level to almost 3,000 feet in less than 2 hours.  That’s a pretty speedy trip considering it would have taken the average gold stampeder a month or more to move their supplies to this point on the trail.

The route features steep grades of almost 3.9%, and the tight curves of the White Pass called for a narrow gauge railroad.  The rails are three feet apart on a 10-foot wide road bed.

Each of the vertical “fingers” reaching down the mountains is evidence of an avalanche.

Those tight curves meant we could often see the front of the train from the other cars.

At the top, Summit Lake – one of a series of lakes forming the headwaters of the Yukon River.  It has the same stunning blue color as the ice bergs in Glacier Bay.

In 1901, the 1,200 foot-wide gorge at Milepost 18.6 was spanned by the famed Steel Cantilever Bridge.  At the time, the 215 foot high structure was the tallest railroad bridge of its kind in the world.  It was one of the many reasons the White Pass Railroad was designated an international Historic Civil Engineering Landmark, a title shared with the likes of the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, and the Panama Canal.  The bridge was retired in 1969.

The one that we went over was plenty high (and scary enough) for me!

There’s no way these pics give you even a tiny, tiny look at the reality of this train trip.  Because there was very little “green” yet at this location, the photos came out gray and dull.  You just have to trust me that the reality of this venue was spectacular beyond words.  And these pics don’t tell the unbelievable story of how thousands of gold miners WALKED and CLIMBED to this summit as the railroad was being built.  Each miner was allowed to cross into the Yukon with one ton of supplies.  That meant MANY trips on foot back and forth across this summit as they carried on their backs and on the backs of horses as much as they could with each trip.  This is one of the many parts of our Alaska trip I’d like to repeat later in the summer..

Two more pics from Skagway. This one to show how surrounded by BIG mountains we were everywhere we went . . .

. . . and this one showing our crew practicing abandon ship maneuvers in Skagway’s harbor.

Tomorrow night – from Juneau to Vancouver!  Come on back for the last leg of our journey!

God bless.



5 thoughts on “At Sea in Alaska – Part I 6/10/17

  1. Truly amazing!! I think that train ride would have been a little scary for me (height wise) but I can only imagine how gorgeous it was. Trip of a life time!

  2. Just beautiful! What a great history lesson. I know i would get lost on that big ship. Thanks for sharing.

  3. The pictures may not do justice to what you actually saw, but to this flat-lander, they are spectacular! Can’t thank you enough for sharing. We’ve really enjoyed them all!

  4. We went on the Whitepass Railroad while we were docked in Skagway, and then the next day took it to Carcross Yukon for the tour part of the cruise tour. I enjoyed the rail trip, and in August Summit Lake is completely open water.
    It was “green” when we were there, but it was white when we were there in March. It was stunning.
    The discovery of gold in 1894 helped bring an end to the worldwide depression. That was the same depression that caused Laura (Ingalls) and Almanzo Wilder to leave South Dakota and move to Missouri. FYI, after the 5th or 6th time, your traveling companions get tired of hearing about it.

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