Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Alaska Trip Journal – Part 6

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009
DSC00071 Arrival in Juneau took place in the early morning. My tour of the city and the Mendenhall Glacier was scheduled to meet on the pier at 8:20am. Not want to even chance oversleeping (not a common thing for me to do), I set the alarm on the Blackberry for 6:30am and set a wakeup call for 7:00am. Turns out, my body clock had me awake before either alarms so I showered, dressed, and headed up to the Garden Café for breakfast (buffet style, for speed and convenience). I prefer the sit down, serve me, breakfast always but there just wasn’t enough time. Here’s what I plated up for consumption:
  • Scrambled eggs
  • 2 mini croissants
  • Grilled tomato
  • Hash browns
  • Smoked salmon
  • Cream Cheese
  • Sliced tomatoes
  • 1 Slice of ham
  • 1 Strip of bacon
  • Decaf Coffee
  • Orange Juice
After breakfast, I made my way straight to the pier finding no line at the gangway and a brief wait before the tour began.
The early portion of the tour offered a lot of general information about Alaska that was covered on yesterday’s tour along with Juneau specific facts as we eventually broke free of the downtown area and headed to the Mendenhall glacier. I wasn’t sure what to expect from visiting a glacier. I know I’ve been wowed by them on TV documentaries and even an IMAX documentary on Alaska. I has some initial reservations about visiting a large block of ice, at least doing so on a bus – I had no idea what I would see or what to expect but I knew I didn’t want to be disappointed.
Were money not an object, I would love to have taken a helicopter tour of the glacier. The helicopter actually lands right on the glacier and they let you out, with ice shoes, for a spectacular photo opportunity and a unique experience of a lifetime. At $500, I just couldn’t afford it – so the bus was really my only option.
If you look through the window of this bus you will see “Egan Drive”. I snapped this photo in honor of the fabulous blogger and fine friend Egan, from Seattle – immortalized in Juneau.
DSC00074From the very first time the glacier came into view, just before the bus came to a stop, right up until we boarded the bus to leave just over an hour later, I was mesmerized by the awesome beauty of the sight and constantly reminded of just how miniscule my human existence is in the grand scheme of the universe. DSC00079It was quite revealing to have the opportunity to hold a large chunk of glacial ice in my own hands. I had recalled some of the statistics of glacial recession revealed earlier by the tour guide; over a period of like 250 years, recession had been measured at an average rate of some 60 feet per year, varying within a relatively predictable, small, range for all but the last decade. DSC00077In 2008, the Mendenhall Glacier receded 250 feet. It’s hard to  ignore the impact of human behavior knowing that fact while holding that chunk of ice broken off from this massive, beautiful specimen of nature. Check out these incredible photos – that can’t possibly do justice to the real thing but it’s all I got…
DSC00075DSC00076 DSC00080DSC00081DSC00083DSC00085After leaving the glacier, we made our way to a salmon hatchery with the promise of seeing more fish in one place than most have ever seen. Oh, I forgot one other special moment at the glacier. While walking the trail to the glacier, there was a sign that read, “Bear activity…” and then had some silly rules – silly only in a sense that I can’t imagine that most would remember in their panicked state (that’s pre-mauling) a bear encounter might bring on or irrelevant in the passed out state for those whom the experience overwhelmed with incredulous fear. DSC00073Anyway, the point is, I actually saw a bear with her two cubs, just wandering merrily along – passing under the foot bridge we all had to cross. The way back led to a cub sighting way up in a tree; very cool.
DSC00090  Back to the salmon, the driver was right, there were a seemingly infinite number of salmon finding there way through the process of being salmon. Salmon farming, extremely common on the Atlantic coast, had been outlawed in Alaska and as such, they call what they do “salmon ranching”. Either way I found it interesting and moving inside the visitor center, there was a mock up of the process whereby they extract eggs from the female salmon and the “milk” from the males to create millions of new baby salmon each year – more than 90% of which go back into the ecosystem ( a major difference between “ranching” and “farming”).
To be continued…


egan said...

Glaciers are melting at an alarming rate and it's amazing how unfazed many people seem about this. A world without glaciers isn't a world I want to witness.

Chris said...

Egan - I am with you on this. I just saw a very revealing documentary just before I left and it is quite scary.