Current News – The bike has cleared all the necessary customs procedures, this time all liquids, food and lotions had to be removed, she should be on her way shortly. We have booked our flight home almost four years to the day we left (17th May 2010) Are we excited to return? Well we are pleased to be reunited with family and friends but we are certainly not looking forward to that first Monday morning…..
Here we embark on our cruise out in the sounds beyond Whittier in Alaska where we hoped to see some glaciers and wildlife.
Blog 298 Whittier boat trip 31st July 2013
On the boat we were all worried about the heavy fog affecting our chances of seeing anything but our guides assured us it was normally clearer out in the sound. The Catabatic winds we talked about previously help clear the mist and fog around the glaciers. Sure enough they were right by the time we got to the first of the glaciers the fog was lifting and the sun was starting to poke through.
We headed out of the bay and almost immediately the crew spotted the first humpbacked whale of the season, the crew were all as excited as the tourists as we raced over to watch it. Trying to get a picture was hard, the whales are able to stay under water for quite some time before emerging who knows where. It fully breached but sadly we were both a nano second too late to capture it on camera. All we got was the splash but seeing one of these magnificent creatures in the flesh was an amazing experience never the less. Humpbacked whales are baleen whales and adults can reach 55ft long and 40tons. They winter in Hawaii 2800 miles away which takes them about 40 days to reach.
Our first official stop out of port was Egg Rock a sea lion rockery, here we saw many stella sea lions most of which were resting on the rocks, sadly we can’t bring you the noise they were making barking at each other. Happily you can’t smell them either lucky for you !
We were told that Esther passage was only passable by small ships and that the high mountains protect the narrow passage from rough seas and winds which is why so many animals call it home. We saw many salmon jumping and we were lucky to see this bald eagle here in the trees. It is the national symbol and animal of America, there are reputedly about 6000 in the sound.
The crew sent junior helpers around to show us samples of various things. We saw a small piece of whale baleen, it is the material which some whales filter seawater in their mouths through to extract krill (their food). They also had a harbour seal skin pictured below and some krill. Another sample was Sea otter fur which is the finest of any animal in the world and can contain up to a million hairs per square inch, it provides them with insulation from the ice cold water.
As we headed inland towards College Fjord a glacier rich region we were entertained by watching the playful the sea otters on route. They definitely tick the cuteness button lying on their backs with their paws in the air, they eat, groom, sleep and socialise floating on their backs often holding hands (or paws) to raft together in large groups. They use folds of skin like pockets to store fish and crustaceans they catch when they dive to the seabed. They also sometimes keep a stone in there as an anvil to crack open crustaceans on their belly as they float on their back. They spend virtually their whole life in the water only leaving it to occasionally perch on ice flows and rocks to weather storms.There are about 12,000 in the sound and they are the oceans smallest mammals averaging four to five feet long and weighing 60 to 70 pounds.
Interestingly they are the biggest member of the weasel family and the only one that spends virtually its entire time in the water. To sleep they wrap themselves up in kelp beds and hold paws to prevent drifting away in the ocean currents. They were almost wiped out between 1741 and 1911 when they were hunted for their fur but happily since they been protected their population has increased to 2/3 of it’s original numbers although they are still classified as an endangered species.
We reached Barry Arm and Surprise Glacier where our pilot skilfully plotted a path through the ice field to get us up to the front of the glacier. Harbour seals stella sea lions and sea otters were all around resting on the ice flows.
We were informed by the crew that there were three types of glacier found in Alaska: Tidewater, Piedmont and Alpine. This one was a tidewater glacier, pressured by its own weight and the icefield feeding it they creep towards the sea where large slabs calve off right into the ocean. We waited and watched it for about 10mins and were lucky enough to witness several huge pieces calve off the face of the glacier into the sea in front of us.
This is one of the many waterfalls we saw.
On our way back to port we stopped at the Black legged Kittiwake bird rookery this shows some idea of the scale of the mountains and glaciers we had seen. More than 10,000 birds inhabit the rocky cliffs each summer laying eggs, fishing and teaching the young hatchlings the survival tips they need before they fly south for the winter.
As we headed back to Whittier the town was more visible this time and we could see the massive glacier that sat right above the town. We also saw the Alaska railroad train heading out towards the tunnel.
We thanked our crew of the Klondike Express we had a great time.
As we traveled back through the railway tunnel again we were once again surprised by the difference in the weather as we emerged to a glorious day, we stopped and photographed the glaciers on the way back through Portage pass.
Headed towards Anchorage we passed turnagain arm for the last time and stopped for our last chance for pictures. A few miles later Karen spotted a campsite through the trees on the side of the road and we doubled back for a look.
It was a brand new campsite they were just finishing off, we just camped there before it officially opened, peace and quiet or so we thought. A short walk down to the beach revealed this lovely sunset it had all the hall marks of a great camp.
Wrong 1.30am we woke to the sound of the lorry backing into every camp pitch beeb, beeb, beeb, followed by the sound of spraying water, we risked a peek out, the worker was spraying weed suppressant on the new gravel lucky we parked the bike so close to the tent. He left after 20mins or so and we breathed a sigh of relief, sleep at last but no 2.45am beeb, beeb, beeb, he returned with another full load to do more of the campsite, 3.15am he was back for the last round. We fell into an exhausted slumber but set the alarm early we were already getting the tent down when the inevitable parks van drove by but nothing was said. We completed our pack up, left no trace as always and rode to the garage over the road for a strong cup of coffee and pastry for breakfast before we resumed our journey to Anchorage. Sometimes you get lucky and sometimes not so much.
Next up – Anchorage at last