A Travellerspoint blog

Mendenhall Glacier and Mount Roberts Tramway & Hike

Sunday, July 22, 2007

semi-overcast 0 °F

I'm feeling out of sorts this morning (translation: I'm in a bad mood, but for no apparent reason) so we end up skipping church. I don't know where or when church services are in the area and I'm not in the mood to ask anybody. Yeah, I know -- not good. I later find out that there is a church within walking distance of the campground that we could have easily attended. I'm sure attending would have helped my moodiness. I'm homesick.

Anyway, Jere plans our day since I'm not in the mood to make any decisions. So after breakfast we head out to Mendenhall Glacier.
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We look at the exhibits in the visitors center, watch their movie on the glacier, walk out to view the glacier,
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and then hike the East Glacier Trail. The trail takes about 90 minutes and goes up behind the waterfall adjacent to the glacier. It's a nice hike, and the views are very pretty, but the view from the trail really isn't any better than the view from the visitors center viewpoint.
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The one good thing about the hike: I'm feeling better after some fresh air and exercise.

It's supposed to rain tomorrow and be overcast on Tuesday, so we decide to ride the Mount Roberts Tramway in downtown Juneau. The campground manager said to only ride it if it wasn't cloudy. We find a parking spot close to the tramway. There are 4 large cruise ships in port, so lots of people in the area! The tram can take up to 50 people and runs every 6 minutes so we have a short wait to ride the tram.
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The tram takes us up about 1600 feet (I think) above the city of Juneau. They have a few things to look at, but the purpose of the tramway is really the view.
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The view from the tramway top is great, but we decide to keep hiking up the hill further and have a wonderful 2 hour hike, with lots of great scenery and wildflowers.
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There's some patches of snow beside the trail so of course Joe makes some snowballs to throw at his Dad.
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We hike back down to the tramway.
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We're starving so we decide to eat at the restaurant at the top of tramway. The food's good, but it takes a long, long time to make.

We ride the tram back down, visit a few of the gift shops at the bottom and then decide to make another quick trip up the tram (our ticket gives us unlimited rides for the day) to buy an ornament at the gift shop at the top of the tram. The last tram leaves downtown at 9pm, so we get the last one up and then take the last tram down for the night.

On the way back to the trailer we stop at the fish hatchery to look at the salmon going up their ladder and the eagles in the area. Neat place, but too dark for pictures. There's a bald eagle on the shore eating a salmon. We'll return here tomorrow.

Posted by jengelman 13:07 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Taking the “Aluminum Box on Wheels” on the Alaska Ferry

Haines, Alaska to Juneau, Alaska Saturday, July 21, 2007

rain 0 °F

Today is the big day—our first experience of driving our large 5th wheel onto a ferry. Jere is the first one out of bed this morning: he’s a little nervous about getting this thing on the ferry. So we eat breakfast and start to pack up when we hear a knock on the door. Our neighbor’s truck won’t start, so Jere tries to jump it for him, but that’s not working. Jere offers to drive them to their tour (they can walk back tonight and hopefully figure out what’s going on with their battery) and takes them to the harbor. We were up early with anticipation so we still have lots of extra time even with the unplanned jumpstart/drive.

We get to the Haines Ferry terminal two hours early as instructed. I go in for our ‘lane assignment’ and we drive to our lane and wait. The ferry is on time today and should be here in about 90 minutes, so we have lots of time to go to the restroom, turn off the propane, label our gas can that will get stored in a special compartment on the ferry, take pictures, and worry about how we’re going to get this big thing down the steep ramp and onto the ferry. Jere knows he can do it; I know he can do it; but we still wonder how the heck we’re going to do it. The tide is low, so the ramp is steep and then we know we have to make a 90 degree turn to get it into the ferry. These are not the type of ferries where you drive in the back of the ferry and drive out the front of the ferry—that would be way too easy :-) Of course it’s drizzling out this morning, so the ramp is also wet – not a big deal for us, but the motorcyclists are not looking too eager about driving down the steep, wet ramp either :-)

The ferry arrives.
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A few cars and RVs drive off and then they start loading us. They load the vehicles pulling trailers last. They pull us out of the line and tell us to go first. The drive down the ramp is fine, but the left turn at the bottom presents a challenge. They have a ‘lead mechanic’ who is great at doing his job, which is loading the vehicles on the ferry. Then there are two ‘spotters’ who watch the back and opposite side of our rig. As we’re turning into the ferry, one of our back jacks catches on the ramp and the mechanic stops us immediately before any damage is done. The bottom line is that after several minutes of following the lead mechanic’s instructions, we get into our spot. The only excitement (besides when our back jack gets caught on the ramp) is when Jere is looking in his rear view mirror to see where the 5th wheel is and doesn’t realize that the lead mechanic is walking toward him trying to get his attention -- Jere almost runs into him with the front of the truck. The lead mechanic then explains to Jere that his only job is to keep his eyes on the lead mechanic and do whatever he tells him. The crew will watch the rig for him.

When we’re all settled in our seats in the front lounge of the ferry, Jere asks me if I was worried about the rig going down the ramp and rolling out the other side of the ferry into the water. What? “What are you talking about?” Apparently I never even noticed that the ferry’s door was open on the other side of the boat and if our brakes had failed going down the ramp onto the ferry that the rig would roll right out the other side.
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When we get to Juneau, we get to back up and turn the 5th wheel around on the ferry to exit it – that’s going to be interesting.

The ferry leave about 30 minutes late (partly due to us). It’s drizzly and very overcast for the first hour of our ferry ride from Haines to Juneau. That’s unfortunate—this is a very pretty part of the Lynn Canal, with glaciers and waterfalls on the side of the mountains. But even though the rain may put a damper on the scenery, I think the rain is a bigger deal to the tenters on the top deck of the ferry. They have two more nights before they reach Prince Rupert:
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However, after about an hour the rain stops. By the time we get to Juneau, the clouds are higher in the sky so the tops of the mountains can be seen.

So what has Joe been doing since he woke up early this morning? Reading his Harry Potter book. Except for a quick breakfast and lunch, and the excitement of driving onto the ferry, he is reading. Joe loves the Harry Potter books and they are wonderfully written (and it's raining/cloudy), so Jere and I are letting him read (and not bugging him to go look at scenery etc).
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The trip down Lynn Canal is still scenic, despite the weather.
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The mountains have so many waterfalls (they had a record-setting snowfall this past winter) and the glaciers can be seen as we get closer to Juneau. We also pass two pretty lighthouses that are on islands.
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As we get closer to Juneau I see a humpback whale in the distance, but can’t find Jere to show him. We do finally find each other and spot what appears to be an orca whale closer to the ferry. The whales are a nice surprise. Hopefully we’ll see more on our future ferry rides around the inside passage.

We get a great view of the Mendenhall Glacier as we get to the Auke Bay Ferry terminal (Anchorage).
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There's another ferry, the Kennicott, at the dock. I take a picture to show the side garage door that is also on that ferry.
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And now we (actually Jere) get to drive this rig off the ferry. We wait for the mechanic to tell us what to do.
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We’re parked in the middle of the ferry, so first he has us back up til our back end is near the opening. No problem so far. We hang out there for several minutes while the cars on the other side of the ferry get off. They leave us go last so we have lots of room to maneuver.

The lead mechanic then comes over to Jere and explains that he’s going to back up and turn the trailer to the right. The back end of the trailer will go out the opposite door, “but don’t worry. We won’t let the trailer fall off the ferry into the water,” What!!! Jere and I smile. So does the mechanic. Now we understand why they have both doors open in the ferry. So we back up and the back of the trailer does indeed stick out of the ferry like the mechanic said it would. I try to take a picture but the lighting does not cooperate, so here is a picture of the trailer on the way to the opening.
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After we back up, we can drive through the other side and onto the ramp and back to land. This ramp is much more level than the ‘low tide’ ramp at Haines. Getting off ends up being much easier than getting on for us today.

I breathe a sigh of relief and Jere is now much more relaxed. Jere did great getting on/off the ferry and must feel a sense of accomplishment. The lead mechanic was wonderful—he knew exactly what to do to get our 35 ft 5th wheel/short bed pick-up truck onto the ferry. We had read that the people working on the ferry would help us maneuver on/off the ferry and they were correct. I’m not sure that we would have decided to take the ferry if we would have seen the steep ramp/left turn onto the ferry that we had to make. Sometimes ignorance is bliss :-)

We drive to the Spruce Meadow RV park near Mendenhall glacier, where we have reservations for the next 4 nights. The women who check us in greet us by name (we are the only 5th wheel getting off the ferry today) and are very helpful in telling us the activities we can do in the Juneau area.

The bonine that I took for the ferry has turned me into a zombie (plus a late night last night getting the Harry Potter book), so we have a late dinner and spend the evening in the trailer, with an early bedtime.

Posted by jengelman 10:04 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (2)

A Rainy Day in Haines

Friday, July 20, 2007

rain 0 °F

We wake up to the sound or rain…ugh. We really enjoyed the last two days of nice weather, but today it is raining and will continue to rain all day :-(

Rainy day, so I do the laundry. Then after breakfast Jere and Joe walk down the street to see the salmon canning tour. No pics since they neglected to take the camera, but they both enjoyed it.

After they return, Jere takes a drive down to the tire store to see if they have a tire to fit our trailer. Like the other two places he phoned in Haines, they don’t stock our size. Hopefully we’ll find a tire (to replace the one that blew out near Destruction Bay) in Juneau.

We go out for lunch – halibut again – and then take off for the post office to see if they have our mail. They do not have mail delivery in Haines. Everyone goes to the post office for their mail. The RV park manager picked up their mail at 10am this morning and our mail hadn’t arrived yet, so she said to go over and ask the post office to see if it came in. It did! The post office worker is not happy about looking for it, but he does. Not sure why, but the priority mail envelope and all the contents are damp--I think the small plane that flew the mail in today must have a leak :-)

We get a few groceries and then have some R&R time til dinner. We were hoping the rain would stop after dinner, but it is still raining after dinner.

We decide to take a drive anyway and drive down to Chilkat State Park, south of Haines. There are two glaciers visible from the park. The one glacier has a huge waterfall underneath and is really pretty, even in the drizzle.
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We also drive by a cannery along the bay that is very picturesque.
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We were hoping to walk around the Ft Seward part of Haines today and the fairgrounds where the move “White Fang” was filmed. So we drove around those sections of the town, in the rain.
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We return to the trailer to watch TV, etc. Then at 11:45pm Jere and Joe go to bed while I walk into town to buy the new (and last) Harry Potter book. There are about 25 of us hanging out in the small bookstore til midnight (he opened the store early because of the rain), when the owner thanks us for supporting his small independant bookstore (instead of Amazon) and by 12:30 we all have our books. Instead of mobs of people at a local Barnes & Noble, it is nice to be offered milk and cookies while I wait for my number to be called to purchase my book. One of the benefits of a small Alaskan town :-)

I walk back to the trailer at 12:30am and it is actually dark out. The town has good street lamps and no crime. My only concern is the bears, but I see none on the 10 minute walk back to the trailer.

Posted by jengelman 13:48 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

Haines Hike to Mt Riley Summit

Thursday, July 19, 2007

sunny 0 °F

It’s 5am and several diesel trucks already have their engines running in the campground! Turns out that the Excel RV caravan needs to be at the ferry dock by 6am, so 19 diesel trucks are starting up, hooking up to their 5th wheels, and lining up to leave the campground. Very noisy. At 5am it’s already sunny (no clouds, that is very, very good; but not appreciated so much at 5am), so by 6:15 when I still can’t get back to sleep I get up for the day. By 7am the construction workers are knocking down trees and moving dirt next to the campground, but Jere and Joe stay asleep – sure wish I could :-)

This is the nicest day weather-wise that we’ve had in a month, so we take a walk down the visitors center and the small harbor area of Haines.
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We drove to the ferry terminal yesterday to get our tickets for Saturday, but they were closed, so we drive back today to pick up our ferry tickets. We want to make sure that everything is set for us taking the RV on the ferry this Saturday and it is, so we go back to have a good lunch before our hike.

The visitors’ center attendant recommended the hike to Mt. Riley summit. It’s supposed to take about 3.5 hours—it takes us about 4.5 hours plus 30 minutes at the top.
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I think we may have pushed our physical limits today. The hike is 2.8 miles to the summit, steep, and washed out/eroded many places. We see bear tracks in the mud and do lots of talking or singing during the hike so we don’t surprise any bears on the trail.
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We also see moose tracks and droppings high up in the mountain – what is a moose doing way up here?!

We have good hiking boots on and Joe is fine, but Jere & I are exhausted by the time we make it to the top. HOWEVER, the view at the top is absolutely awesome! We can see the Lynn Canal in both directions, plus the rivers and glaciers in the area.
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We spend about 30 minutes at the top having snacks and taking pictures.
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The hike down is easier than the hike up, but still slow. It’s steep and slippery at places with lots of exposed tree roots where the dirt has eroded away from.
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By the time we get to the truck, we (that would be Jere & I, not Joe—Joe has lots of energy left and seemed to be dancing/jumping down the mountain) practically crawl into the truck. Jere drives back to the campground and we all head for the showers – we (again, that would be ‘Jere & I’) were sweating like pigs for the last half of the hike up the mountain, plus we’re coated with insect repellent.

We have a late dinner and don’t move the rest of the evening.

Posted by jengelman 13:45 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

Beautiful Drive to Haines, Alaska

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

sunny 0 °F

We have beautiful, blue skies this morning. Great day for our scenic drive between Haines Junction and Haines!
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We make lots of stops today. There are lots of snow-covered mountains and beautiful scenery to look at, PLUS IT IS NOT CLOUDY OR RAINING!!!
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Joe sees snow along the road and asks to stop to play in the snow, so we make a stop for a few quick snowballs.
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Before we get to the Canadian/US border, we see bears walking along the road at 3 different places. This is supposed to be a great road to see bears and eagles.
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This is the 3rd time we’re crossing into Alaska on the trip, but the first time we’ve had good weather for the crossing.
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We arrive at Haines HitchUp RV Park. This place is almost full, mostly due to an Excel 5th wheel caravan, but we have a spot reserved. So we set up, get some groceries, have dinner, and then take a drive to Chilkoot Lake. Pretty area. We see several eagles, along with some unusual ducks.
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The Chilkoot Lake empties into the Chilkoot River and they (the state fish and wildlife management?) actually count the number of salmon that travel up the river. There’s a guy sitting on a platform in the middle of the river counting them as they travel through the opening. I’m not sure why he’s counting them, but that is certainly a unique job.
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Here's a nice photo of Haines, Alaska that I took on the way back to the trailer:
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We drive back to the trailer, but it is so nice out (and of course still light out at 9pm) that I take a walk into town and to the small boat harbor. Hopefully it will be a nice day out tomorrow, but you never know…

Posted by jengelman 13:50 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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