Alaska Interlude: Hiking Mount Roberts

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Unlike the previous day, Tuesday, September 1 was rainless in Juneau, perfect weather for a hike up Mount Roberts, which rises immediately east of downtown. The Mount Roberts Tramway takes visitors on a gondola ride to a point 1,800 feet up the 3,800-foot mountain. We decided that instead of taking the tramway up and hiking down that we’d hike up and take the tramway down. Although the trail was only about 1.4 miles, the trailhead was about a mile from downtown, making the total hike 2.5 miles with an elevation gain of 1,800 feet.

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We again took advantage of a complimentary breakfast at the Silverbow.

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Then we gathered our daypacks and headed out. We walked out of downtown Juneau up into the neighborhoods east and above the city center.

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Fairly quickly we were high enough to have views of Gastineau Channel beyond the building around the state capitol.

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Farther up, the neighborhood thinned as the slope of Mount Roberts grew increasingly steeper.

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As Basin Road hugged the mountain around a curve, all pretense that the city could follow was dropped, and we were almost instantly in a deeply carved valley between Mount Roberts on our right and Mount Juneau on our left.

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Looking back toward downtown Juneau

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A cascade on Mount Juneau

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Gold Creek, down at the bottom of the valley

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Mount Juneau

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Presently we reached the trailhead proper and began a shady ascent of the backside of Mount Roberts from city.

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The trail was steep, but it was a perfect day for hiking. The forest was cool and smelled of the rain it had received for the preceding several days. By contrast, warm sunlight filtered down, illuminating and highlighting the trees, ferns, and mosses.

It was a magical place just a moment from downtown.

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The trail wound around the mountain and soon we were treated to views of Juneau below us through the foliage.

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Devil’s Club

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We passed clusters of other hikers, both those who were hiking down from the tramway and those who we overtook on their way up. We were in turn overtaken and passed by a trail runner with her dog.

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The forest became drier the farther up we hiked until we reached an overlook with a little shelter and a great view of downtown Juneau and Douglas across the channel.

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The trail then turned east again, away from the city, which afforded us more views of Mount Juneau opposite. We spotted our first Mountain Goat of our time in Alaska. He was a gleaming white dot up above tree line on Mount Juneau.

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Mountain Goat

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Mount Juneau

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Chipping Sparrow

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Bunchberry

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We wound west again and this time we looked down on the cruise ship docking area just south of downtown.

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The helipad of a cruise ship through the trees

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After a steep and steady, though very pleasant, hike we reached the tramway area. We skirted the main tramway buildings and continued up the trail above the tramway.

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Soon we began to emerge from the forest as we reached tree line. It was then that the views really opened up.

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Mount Juneau

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Bald Eagle

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Gastineau Peak

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There were far more hikers on the trail now, most of whom had ridden up the tramway and were having a stroll in the subalpine zone.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

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Northern Geranium

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Father Brown’s Cross, erected in the early 1900s by a Roman Catholic Priest

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At the pinnacle of the subalpine loop we decided to begin our descent, but not before having a grand look up and down the Gastineau Channel some 2,000 feet below us.

First, however, our attention was pulled by a little fellow in the rocks at our feet.

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Hoary Marmot

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Hoary Marmot

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Gastineau Channel, looking south

Once the Marmot ambled away to continue his lunch, we took in the view, which truly was spectacular.

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Gastineau Channel, looking north

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Gastineau Channel with Douglas (left) and Juneau (right)

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Near the cross, we saw this small, sobering memorial. Image: Sean M. Santos

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Mount Juneau

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Back in the forest, we headed for the tramway terminal, which also held a nature center, shops, auditorium, and restaurant.

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Timberline Bar and Grill

We had lunch and a beer at the grill. Then we sauntered through the gift shop (I had begun a search for an Alaska cap) before lining up for the tram ride down.

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Video: Brandon Hayes and Sean M. Santos

And then we were back at sea level in downtown Juneau.

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On the way back to the Silverbow, we swung into Kindred Post and Hearthside Books. And while looking for a camera shop (which was closed), we discovered Pie in the Sky, a tiny baked goods stall. We chatted with the woman at the window while she wrapped up some cookies for us. There was the, now standard, query whether we were in town on a cruise, followed by the renewed interest when we said we weren’t. We told her we’d be headed to Gustavus (which she corrected our pronunciation of) and Glacier Bay the next day. She made some recommendations for our time there (she had lived in Gustavus) and for when we were back in Juneau on Saturday.

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Image: Sean M. Santos

Back at the Silverbow, we arranged for an early taxi the following morning to the ferry terminal. And Dave at the front desk also said that we could take our complimentary breakfast boxed to go and that they’d be waiting for us in the refrigerator in the morning.

We decided to check out the food truck scene for dinner that evening. So we sallied forth into downtown once again.

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Lola’s…an example of what were were noticing was a clear Filipino presence in Juneau

Mount Roberts Tramway from the ground. Video: Brandon Hayes

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We were tempted by the Filipino home cooking food truck, but ultimately decided to go with a creperie truck.

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After dinner, we strolled around the waterfront and downtown as the light faded.

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Then we headed back to the Silverbow. We had a glass of wine at the wine bar, while the woman managing the bar and the front desk told us that the bakery portion of the Silverbow would be closing the coming fall. What a shame. We were glad to have experienced it.

Then we headed upstairs to finish packing for the final part of our adventure: Glacier Bay National Park.

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