Mount La Perouse in the Fairweather Range, Glacier Bay National Park
Wednesday, September 2 we departed Juneau via the Alaska Marine Highway System and journeyed to Gustavus (population 442), the gateway town to Glacier Bay National Park. Gustavus sits on the shores of Icy Passage, thirty-seven nautical miles west of Juneau. Our ferry ride would take just over four hours to reach it.
Our sailing was at 7am, but we woke at 4am because the Alaska Marine Highway System website stated we needed to check-in two hours before. The Juneau ferry dock was not on the Gastineau Channel in downtown Juneau, but rather near the northern end of the Juneau road system in Auke Bay.
We were bleary-eyed but excited as we loaded our bags into the taxi at 4:40. Our driver was a gruff, but friendly older fellow with a big beard. We chatted with him about our trip, Chicago, and that we had failed to visit “Juneau’s glacier,” the Mendenhall, while we were in town.
We arrived at the ferry terminal right around 7am, and we were the first one’s there. So we settled into some seats near a window that looked out at the water and waited for dawn.
The MV LeConte
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. Continue reading
On Sunday, August 30, we embarked on the final stage of our trip by traveling southeast to Juneau, Alaska’s beautiful capital city. Tucked between coastal mountains and the Gastineau Passage of Alaska’s famed Inside Passage, Juneau is inaccessible save by air or sea. Its population is small, only 32,000 people. Yet it is a cosmopolitan city that feels like the ultimate extension of the Pacific Northwest vibe of Portland and Seattle (and presumably Vancouver).
We decided that we could definitely live in Juneau. Continue reading
Although we’d already spent two nights in Anchorage, one as we arrived in Alaska and the other between Kenai Fjords National Park and Denali National Park, it was finally time to stay for a few nights and take in Alaska’s largest city.
With a population of 300,000, Anchorage is the most populous city in Alaska and the sixty-third most populous in the United States. By comparison, Saint Louis has a population of 310,000, but Saint Louis has a much larger metropolitan population spreading out on either side of the Mississippi River. Most of Anchorage’s population is in the city and borough proper, which encompasses over 1,900 square miles, compared to 66 square miles for Saint Louis. So Anchorage is large and populous, but much less dense than comparable cities in the “lower forty-eight.”
It grew out of a tent city of rail workers that had risen in 1914 when the Alaska Railroad Corporation chose the outlet of Ship Creek on the eastern shore of Cook Inlet as its construction headquarters. The city was incorporated in 1920.
Denali Visitor Center
Morning was chill in Savage River Campground on Thursday, August 27, but the gripping cold that campground host, Liz, had forecast had not yet arrived. In the tent, we had a more insistent puddle than we’d had the previous morning. It had rained overnight, but in the bright gray morning, there was only occasional drizzle.
We’d started our last canister of backpacker stove fuel the day before, and it was fairly light when I started heating water in the coffee percolator. Damned if it didn’t cut out just as the coffee was done. It was the first time we’d estimated perfectly how much fuel we’d need on a trip.
Packing up over coffee didn’t take long. Our plan was to have breakfast at the park grill while we finished writing our postcards to mail from the Park. We also wanted to visit the Alaska Geographic bookstore and, of course, the Visitor Center.
After our mishap on Mount Healy, Sean and I salvaged the afternoon of Wednesday, August 26 with a visit to Denali National Park’s sled dog kennels. We arrived at the Park Headquarters parking area shortly before the 2pm dogsledding demonstration.
The use of dogsleds to patrol Denali National Park dates all the way back to Harry Karstens, who became the Park’s first superintendent in 1921 after it was established in 1917. In the winter, Park Rangers go on one-day to six-week long dogsled patrols of the inner two-million acres of designated wilderness, where motorized vehicles are prohibited. The patrols haul supplies, contact winter visitors, and prevent illegal activities like poaching and snowmobiling.
Wednesday, August 26 was rainy in the eastern part of Denali National Park. We woke in our tent at Savage River Campground to a steady rain. But unlike our overnight at Savage River on Saturday, the interior of our tent was mostly dry. We’d chosen a better-drained site for the tent than I had that earlier night. This time there was just a little puddle of moisture down near our feet, which wasn’t horrible given the insistence of the rain. Continue reading