ALASKA BLOG 05
Wednesday Sept 18, 2019
Not sure where to start. I’m so far behind with these blogs aint funny. And so much of what’s happened these past few days is blimmin’ hard to describe …
Take the tiny frontier town of Skagway, for example. It’s nestled up the end of a beautiful fjord and surrounded by rugged wilderness and looming peaks. And it’s where, last Thursday, the Westerdam dropped anchor (well, docked, actually).
Skagway just about freezes solid in winter, and it’s not hard to imagine the frightful conditions endured by gold prospectors of old who plodded through here during the famous Klondike gold-rush. This morning we rode a giant-tyred ‘unimog’ up into the mountains … enjoyed an exhilarating ride (across dry land, sorry, not snow) on a dogsled pulled by energetic Alaskan huskies (not to be confused with their fluffier cousins, Siberian huskies) … went gooey and girlie over some cute husky-pups … and met one of the dedicated ‘mushers’ who compete in long-distance sled-dog races, like the 1000-mile Iditerod.
Then, as if that wasn’t enough excitement already for one day, we rode a couple of helicopters up-up-up into the snow-covered landscape for some pinch-me-please views of the massive ‘river of ice’ known as the Meade Glacier. The weather wasn’t as kind as it might’ve been, but the heli-ride was thrilling – and, especially when we landed on the glacier and took a guided walk-around tour, the scale of this landscape was simply, totally, utterly overwhelming.
Sorry, folks, but this one highlight you’ll never appreciate secondhand – you’ve gotta see it for yourself. I mean, against this huge, slow-moving, thousand-year-old, rock-littered, kilometres-across iceblock, our helicopters looked like insects. And we humans felt like SPECKS!
But wait – there’s even more!
Having briefly witnessed the TOP end of Alaska’s glaciers (there are more than 200,000 of ‘em up in those mountains) we spent Friday getting up-close-and-personal with the BOTTOM end of a few biggies … as our ship (arriving in the foggy drawn) cruised ever-so-slowly through the UNESCO World Heritage Reserve known famously as Glacier Bay National Park. This 100km-long fjord, filled with inlets, looming peaks, frozen cliffs and floating icebergs, has more tidewater glaciers than any other place in the world.
Look, why don’t you do what we did? Put on your long undies and warm layers and woolly hats and go sit in your fridge while I give you a few Staggering Glacial Facts:
- These shorelines are no strangers to ice. In fact, only 250 years ago, this vast region (including the Bay itself) was completely buried, up to 4000 feet thick, under the stuff.
- The monster ice-slides we Kiwis saw began life some 4000 years ago, and were formed high in the mountains from densely compacted snow (just like the glaciers in NZ).
- When these giant, now rock-solid ‘rivers’ get heavy enough, they begin inching (centimetering?) downhill, reshaping the landscape and gathering rocky chunks, rubble and ground-down glacial flour (dust) on the way.
- When their front-ends finally reach the ocean (the glaciers we photographed from the ship were a LOT further away than they look, and some were several kilometres across) they begin breaking up …
- It’s called ‘calving’. It happens when slabs of ice split off from the towering face of a glacier and crash into the sea. And when it happens (especially if it’s a big chunk) it sounds like thunder, shooting water hundreds of feet into the air – and seriously rocking the boat (if you happen to be close enough)!
Anyway, some of us spent hours out on deck trying to capture this explosive moment on our cameras – not caring that we got cold and hungry and frostbitten. We waited, and hoped, and held our breath, and even prayed for a calving-to-beat-all-calvings. But the best we saw was a few smaller ice-crunches that went off like a gunshot and hit the water in a cloud of spray.
Not that it mattered. Because this was yet another mind-blowing, gob-stopping Alaskan experience that we will always remember.
COMING UP: We say goodbye to the Westerdam, and head ashore in Seward – gateway to the Kenai Fjords National Park and home to more awesome mountains, glaciers, and creatures great and small/ It aint over yet …
PEOPLE-NEWS: Another little pink piggy has wriggled under the fence and found a new owner – oink, oink …
- Vijaya earned herself our ‘Temperamental Temperature Award’ – for secretly closing the window in a trolley-bus we were sharing the other day, robbing the Tour Leader of the fresh air he craves and causing him to overheat and almost explode.
Yours bloggedly – JOHN
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