Tuesday, August 21
Left the apartment in (improving) renovation chaos and XYZ'd to Newark for our 12:19 flight. Off to Alaska via Dallas and Seattle. Makes a lot of sense if the whole trip is on miles.
After reasonably smooth changes, flew "down the channel" into Juneau arriving around 10:15pm. Not sure what that phrase may mean, but other passengers indicated that Juneau too has one of those hair-raising airport approaches. Maybe fourteen hours of transit? Taxied to the Prospector Hotel and to sleep. Seems like a pleasant mid-range sort of place on the main airport road just on the outskirts of downtown.
Everything more chipper after a night's sleep. Woke and ate breakfast around 9:30 before heading out on the town. By daylight we can see that the plane route "threaded the needle" between mountains and flew right along the Gastineau Channel. Spectacular approach.
Juneau, for tourists at least, is nestled at the foot of steep, piney mountains dropping right along the waterfront. Three huge cruise ships were in town so we walked along the docks to admire. Very low tide; you could see 20 feet or more of watermarks along every set of pilings. By afternoon, with the tide in, those long-legged pilings had disappeared.
Downtown is geared to the cruise ship shoppers, but the buildings are reminiscent of Park City: small, wooden, 1890s, built on the flat and up the steep lower slopes. Bright cheerful colors as paint choices. We took the glossy 1996 tramway up 1800' for the panoramic view and impressive mile long nature trail loop. Weather was off and on showers, but clear sight. Mountains rise steeply and greenly another 1500 feet or more with snow pockets and lots of streams carving down. Lush in an alpine way.
Lunch at the Twisted Fish along the wharf, a quick look at the Pacific Catalyst, our home-to-be, then naptime back at the hotel. Zonkered. Out again in bright sunshine around 5:15pm. Wandered through historic Juneau past the Russian Orthodox Church, 1893, and charming Catholic cathedral, 1890s. Meandered along hilly residential streets, past the impressive party house of the Governor's Mansion, to a fine dinner at the Breakwater Inn, an excellent dining room in an unpretentious hotel on the north edge of Juneau proper.
Walked back along the waterfront in 9pm twilight and now to early bed.
Leisurely morning and breakfast at the hotel. Feeling much refreshed after a night of on-time-zone sleep. Taxied to the dock around 10:30 and were greeted by Maria and Dag. Got settled into our cozy cabin. High built-in double bunk with two portholes just above the waterline, warm green and cranberry flannel sheets and blankets, four big drawers under the bed, closet with bins, another closet with hooks, good reading lights above headboard slanted for easy sitting. Head and shower just across the hall.
Pacific Catalyst is smaller than I'd pictured, but very warm and cozy. Main saloon seats ten at built-in booth, galley seats another six or so. Lots of wood: all the drawers and fitting, tables and shelves are wood, very well tended. Four-person crew: Captain Tom George, Mate Matt (a real cutie), Engineer Dave (looks like an Irish fireman), and Chef Heidi.
Group looks good. Connie and Susan are chums, one from California, the other a middle school principal in New York; Bill Matalene seems a class act (same as his wife Carolyn from the Turkey trip), great to see Sarah the triathlete again. Jeff the young student from New Haven, and Lee and Nicki also seem smart and grownup.
Orientation was around 11:30 on deck, then we were off south down the Gastineau Channel to Sum Dum glacier, a five-hour plus run. Lunch was buffet-style sandwich fixings. The rest of the afternoon was hanging out on deck gazing at snow topped, wooded mountains running down to still green water. No visible human activity. We spotted two or three spouting, then fluking whales at some distance.
Felt quite chilled and dull by late afternoon and was unenthusiastic about suiting up for kayak trials when we anchored. Ran through the dress code: Wellie boots, rain gear, fleece, hat, gloves, life jacket. Then the boarding routine: over the side, down the ladder, left foot on bottom rung in the water, right leg straight into the kayak, both hands holdings the leader, lower butt into seat, swing left leg in, and paddle away. It actually works well and was described with helpful precision.
Got everyone loaded and paddled for about a half hour. Amazing how much warmer and more cheerful we all felt after paddling. Great serene views of glacier, woods to a grassy shoreline, and ice floes. Back on board for dinner - pasta and salad - with nice red wine and good humor. Bed around 10:45 feeling very toasty and comfy.
Waked early with engine running and hung around deck as we headed toward Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier. Met up with sister ship Westward which provided much entertainment including parting catapult shot over our bow (apples). On up the arm between narrowing mountains to THE END, stopped off by the 300 foot glacier face dropping straight down into the water. (Extending some 600 feet down beneath the surface.) Ice floes floating, chunks falling off the face, great booming thunderclaps from inside.
Catalyst took us within a quarter mile, then backed off while we loaded into the kayaks and paddled around the floes. Intense blue colors, luminous like jade. Great fun but we were all reminded of our Ps and Qs when a big blue floe, maybe 50 yards long, cracked in half and rolled over. Big time.
Back on board for lunch and sailing into a set of passages and inlets called Ford's Terror. We anchored and paddled through the current at the entrance, then along the shore gazing up at granite cliffs and thundering waterfalls hidden in rock clefts. Mist wisping around the trees. Catalyst passed us on the way to our anchorage inlet, hooting the horn and making the echoes roll around the mountains. Back on board around 9, then a fun silly dinner with wine and salmon. Bed around 10:30 after a lot of laughing.
Stayed anchored in Ford's Terror. Breakfast around nine, then into the kayaks in the rain for a paddle around the local inlet. Some paddling stroke practice, but mostly an absolute ramble. Back for lunch and a quiet afternoon. We wussed out and stayed on board while the rest of the group paddled back out of Ford's Terror. Looked like an excellent decision as rain and chill breeze kept up steadily while we rode past the paddlers in comfort.
Woke to sunshine - hurrah! - and bright skies. The forecast, however, is for a storm, so we adjusted our route and spent the morning motoring to a protected spot in Donkey Bay. Everyone was drawn outside to ride in warm comfort on the front deck. We spotted two whales flashing their flukes. Then inside for a long conversation with Maria (and Susan and Bill) about her book on risk and loss in mountaineering.
After lunch, a longish paddle tour ending after about and hour and a half at a salmon river. Weird. Fish scrambling and flopping wildly in the out-rushing stream. The females flap a hole in the streambed and lay the egg sac, while the males thrash and flail up, fend each other off, and do the fertilization thing. In pouring rain we walked up the stream getting bashed by fish when we forded across to a waterfall at the top, complete with trick-flying gull. Paddled back still in steady rain, then wine, nibbles, and dinner.
Stayed in Donkey Bay overnight reportedly with rain and wind. (I slept through.) Woke up to warm - 50 degrees - sun, breakfasted and took the zodiac to shore for our bear walk. Captain Tom and Engineer Dave were our guides armed with air horns to scare off any unhappy bear and a shotgun, yes, loaded to make very big holes in very big animals.
Immediately saw two bears across the stream marsh, then a third strolling along the opposite point. Trekked through grass, mud, streamlets and swamp to overlook another salmon stream with a wide, swampy estuary backed by woods. Saw another bear there, but he scented us and headed back into the woods. Waited an hour or so, but no more bears, so hiked back reversing once or twice when it seemed we might be trespassing too close to bear territory. Strong zoo scent is a clue.
Back on board around 1pm for lunch, then "toes up" for the afternoon with everyone napping or quiet. Tom took off with Matt to scope out weather prospects, then took us on a rolling voyage to our anchorage at the Brothers. Well along it was noticed that the shrimp pots had been left behind, so Matt was sent off (with Jeff, so it was the two young cute guys) to retrieve them. Quite a journey in a zodiac, but Tom relented and headed back with Catalyst to meet them halfway. Lesson learned. Anchored in rain, wind, and swells so only Sarah and Jeff went paddling with Dag while the rest of us stayed lazily on board.
O Frabjous Day! Up early and off by 7am to a nearby sea lion colony about a mile away across an open channel rolling with swells. Probably 350 sea lions on the beach while we drifted quietly 50 yards off. Troops of young'uns came swimming out to check us out. Throaty barks all around. (Followed by Larry and Lee doing very convincing imitations of them.)
Paddled around the island then back across the channel with 3 and 4 foot swells (non-breaking) to keep us amused. Paddled around a cove admiring various kinds of kelp (Larry even ate some), then surfed back to the Catalyst around 9:30. Saw many whale spouts in the distance as we paddled in, but had no idea what was in store.
We were getting "expert" enough to know when a whale would fluke, when Dag said, "This is boring. How about breeching?" Whereupon a whale came popping up behind us, did a lazy half flip completely out of the water, and landed on his back with a contented splash. Oooh, Aaah, and sure enough, he did it again. We thought the show was wrapping up when one whale dude (we dubbed him "Phineas Finn") surfaced about 30 feet from the stern. He liked what he saw and began to play, surfacing again and again right next to the boat, swimming underneath while we rushed around on deck, and surfacing on the other side.
To great cheers and applause he surfaced again, humped over, flicked his flukes, and sounded out of sight. Amazing.
Larry started so when the big guy came up that his little Kodak took a clean bounce right over the side. A small loss to mark quite an event.
Finally underway for a five-hour ride to Scenery Cove at the foot of Baird Glacier. The rufty-tufties (Jeff, Sarah, Judy) went out for a local paddle while the rest of us lingered on board drinking wine and listening to Mozart. Duh.
Off by eight paddling to the end of Scenery Cove, about a mile, where we briefly saw a black bear out for breakfast along the river outlet. Back to Catalyst for "tea and pee" before paddling around the corner to see the glacier. Paddled about 2 miles, then maybe another quarter mile up a river before landing on large rounded rocks, exposed at low tide.
Walked through the rock field, then gravelly moraine, then onto squishy mud on ice, and finally onto the ice itself. Great folds of ice marbled by the sand frozen inside. Cracks and holes denting the crystallized surface. Watch your step country. Some of the intense glacier blue colors visible even up close. Back in the kayaks with the benefit of the river current and tide to help us back to Catalyst. Raining throughout and cold from the glacier so Heidi's sandwiches and hot lentil soup were more than welcome.
Naptime, then an afternoon paddle to the next anchorage. I opted to rest my wrist and take a shower so Larry headed off with Maria. On the paddlers' return we all got ready for the Captain's Ball. Larry and I were both prepared with black ties - Bugs and Priceline - but it quickly became apparent that Catalyst takes this tradition seriously and carries all manner of supplies. Bill appeared in a loud checked jacket over his Duke sweats and clashing tie. Matt looked delicious in an HMS Pinafore naval jacket. Connie choose a leopard print slip dress that looked quite flattering. Dag had a bejeweled black jersey gown which looked very fetching over his long undies. Jeff was a good sport in naval uniform and Playboy bunny ears. Sarah picked a sequined Pearlies jacket, and Maria carried off a white strapless with jacket ensemble with nautical gold braid trim.
The girls had picked a dress for me which turned out to be a hot pink, sequined strapless ballerina dress with a poofy skirt. I finished it off with while ankle socks and sneakers. Great fun. Great dinner too: hamburgers, baked potato, corn on the cob, etc etc etc. Much fun and then to bed.
Wrap up day. Several activity choices for the morning. We elected to paddle off and be picked up by Catalyst along the way to Petersburg. Others opted for a hike. Turned out to be about eight miles, close to three hours at a very respectable clip. Rain, of course, started up about halfway along. Just as everyone - except Sarah - pooped out, we pulled up on a sandy beach to wait for our pickup. The sand showed wolf, bear and moose tracks before turning into thick grass and then forest. Clearly we humans are the visitors here.
Picked up, packed up, then quesadillas for lunch. Pulled into Petersburg around 3pm in steady rain. Many hugs on the docks as folks headed off in their various directions: Sarah, B&B #1, Lee and Nicki, B&B #2, Judy, B&B #3, Connie, Susan, Jeff, and the Weisses, Scandia House, Dag, Maria and Bill, plane to Juneau.
Blissful shower, heat and cuddle at the hotel. Then off to the first Catalyst reunion at the local Chinese restaurant. We'd just about finished a pleasant dinner (mediocre food) when in walked Bill, Maria and Dag. Their plane was cancelled so the whole group was together again. Off later to our various abodes with revised departure plans for tomorrow.
Up after a toasty night's sleep. Wandered down Sing Lee Alley and stopped in at Helse Café. We were greeted pleasantly by the proprietress, sat down, shed coats, and then were told that they don't serve breakfast, "There's no profit in it." On went coats and rain gear, then we went along to Northern Lights which is the only spot in town serving breakfast. Big waterfront café. Outside looks like an industrial building, four square and sided, but inside is a pleasant light colored café with big windows. We settled in for a good breakfast, then looked up to see Bill, Maria, and Dag back from the airport (walking distance) and with an uncertain departure time. Fun chatting then yet more farewells.
We went along to the local bookstore which was quite good and ran into the crew again. Enough already! Then strolled around town, three blocks long: drugstore, two groceries which specialize in fishing boat supplies, hardware, two kid shops, two clothing store mixing rain gear and dress shoes, a stationers, and that's about it. Schools, hospital, Moose Lodge, churches are all one or two blocks in, parallel to Main St. Banks (2) and harbor services are on the waterfront. A Norwegian town built by fishing.
Probably 500 boats docked in the two or three sections of the harbor. Zero pleasure boats. These are all working fishing boats, commercial. Canneries and processing plants are at the end of the harbor. Houses are all pretty low and boxy, standard style seems to be main rooms up one flight and mudrooms etc. on snow, oops, ground level.
Back to Helse's for good sandwich lunch, then napping for the afternoon. Met Sarah and Judy for dinner at Northern Lights. Fun time, but will this group ever end?
Up and off to breakfast at Northern Lights, where else? Startling flashes of sunlight, but settled back to the less unnerving rain. Went to the town museum where Larry engaged the docent, a native Klingit fellow, recovering alcoholic, in long informative discussions of fishing and related implements. More meandering around town before lunch at, guess! Northern Lights.
Killed time then out to the airport around 4:30. Driver from the hotel had the basic town facts: population 3400, high school graduating class (a big one) 68, cannery season mid May to mid September, cannery workers Mexican or Californian Hispanics.
Our flight - a jet - came in on time through rain and fog. We loaded up for two thrilling 18 minute hops ("We're going the long way") to Wrangell and then Ketchican. Dark fog, rain, mountains, no visibility from our window, lots of wind bumps. Nerve wracking. Last leg to Seattle was longer and smoother. Landed around 11pm then to airport Doubletree, a grotty hotel but ok room, to crash.
Back to summertime. The flight from Seattle to Dallas was on time at
9:15. Dallas temperature was 82 degrees. An hour and an ice cream later
we were onto our homeward flight, empty in first class because of the
Labor Day weekend lull. XYZ'd to home sweet home.
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