Alaska: A Plane, a Tram and a Hike

It’s getting really difficult already to keep up with writing a journal.  We’re seeing and doing so much every day and it’s extremely difficult to find words, pictures and video clips that will do any of these experiences any justice at all.  For me to fully describe everything would take pages and pages and way more time than I want to spend writing every day.

Today we woke up to – Surprise! – an overcast sky and drizzle.  Again.  We showered, packed up and headed over to the lodge around 11:00 to wait for our shuttle back to the airport.  When we got to the airport, we were delighted to find that we were able to fly.  K and I sat down and read the newspaper and played some geography games in the cafe while we waited for the plane.

When our plane finally showed up, we were surprised to find that today’s plane was even smaller than the one we flew over on.  Today we had a tiny, four-person Cessna just barely bigger than the mini van that drove our luggage out to the plane.  You know it’s small when I feel like I need to duck to fit under the wing!

GBTinyPlane

GBTinyPlane2

We were on a flight with a couple who had been on our Glacier Bay tour with us yesterday.  The man sat up front in the co-pilot seat, K and the other woman sat in the middle “row” and I sat in the back, right behind K, tucked into a tiny space surrounded by cargo nets holding back our luggage.  It was a nice, cozy fit – oh, the joys of being small!

TinyPlane

TinyPlane2

The craziest part to me was the door handle right there next to my elbow!  As our pilot tucked me inside and closed the door, he pointed to the handle and said, “Whatever you do, don’t accidentally bump that.”  No pressure!

We had a much bumpier flight today than on Saturday, but it was way clearer.  When we first started out, rain streaked the windows and obscured our view a bit, but it quickly dried up.

PlaneRain

We had awesome views out of the plane today, even with the rain and fog.  We were close enough to the water to see a few whales breach – our first whale sightings!  There were dozens of small, lush green islands in the water, covered in spruce trees.  The islands would appear, seemingly out of nowhere, from under the plane and then quickly disappear behind us.

PlaneIslands

PlaneIslands2

We flew over the mountains so low it was crazy.  In some points we were actually flying lower than the mountain peaks, streaking through the valleys between them.  It was really cool to see the layers of fog laid across the mountains like blankets with a few skinny fingers reaching down in between the trees in some spots.  The fog appeared so dense when we viewed it from the side, but as we flew over and looked down onto it, it became translucent and we could see right through it.

PlaneFog

As we approached Juneau, the islands slowly became solid ground again.  And the dark green spruce-covered ground started to become infused with a bright, neon green ground cover.

JuneauApproach

And as we approached for our landing, we got a unique look at the runway as we came in sideways, gradually straightening up with the runway and lightly (okay, not really lightly) bouncing and touching down.

JuneauRunway

Back at the airport, it took us all of 5 minutes to get out of the plane, collect our bags and make it out front to the taxi stand.  After another 20 minute wait for a cab in the rain, we were headed back to the Juneau Hotel.  It was raining pretty steadily at this point with no sign of letting up.  So we checked in, dropped our things, got on rain gear and headed downtown for a late lunch (at about 3:30.)

Hangar on the Wharf:

Hangar on the Wharf was a neat, laid back place right on the water with large windows and great views of Douglas Island and the Gastineau Channel – though mostly ruined today by five cruise ships docked.  We got to watch several float planes land, taxi in and takeoff.  It was pretty neat to see them skid across the water before hovering off the surface and taking off, disappearing into the fog.

This place reminded me of a Friday’s with a much more Alaskan feel.  The food was good.  We both had burgers and fries and a couple of Alaskan pale ales.  Service was good and quick.  The prices were average.

By the time we had finished eating, the rain had quit, the fog had lifted and the sky had cleared up considerably.  So we decided to walk back to the hotel, get our Alaska Tour Saver book and go ride the Mount Roberts Tramway.  What a great idea this ended up being!

Mount Roberts Tramway:

Mt. Roberts Tramway was another one of our 2-for-1 deals with the Alaskan Tour Saver.

When we got to the tram station, there were several other cruise ship patrons with the same idea.  We stood in line for about 5 minutes to get our tickets, then another few minutes to load the car.  We were smashed into the car with a lot of other people, herded in like cattle.  We were able to get ourselves positioned right against a window so that we were at least able to see out.  It was a slow, steady descent straight up over the city.  K started to get a touch of vertigo with the straight face of the mountain directly in front of us and the ground below us not immediately visible.

We got to the top at the perfect time with a break in the weather just long enough to get some amazing views, a short hike and some photos.  Up to the north we could see snow-capped mountains and what I assumed to be Mendenhall Glacier in the distance.  TO the south we had phenomenal views of Gastineau Channel.  We also got great views of the Chilkat Mountains.

MtRobertsTramway

At the top of the tram, we went on a short hike.  We started towards the Mt. Roberts peak, but the rain and wind really started picking up after about 30 minutes in, we didn’t have water and it was starting to get late, so we decided to head back.  On the short hike, we gained quite a bit of elevation rather quickly and got some great panoramic views of the area.

MtRobertsSign

We went into the nature center and browsed through the books and displays, even measured our wingspans to see how we compare to eagles and other Alaskan bird species.

WingspanR

As we hiked past the nature center and began our ascent, we were in thick trees.  The trees are so thick here that they actually grow out, parallel to the ground, before they shoot up into the air in order to get out of the way of all the other trees around them.  The trunks end in a tangle of roots and stump, so thick it’s hard to believe so many trees can thrive in such close proximity.

TangledTrees

A little higher and we opened out into a clear, grassy hiking area with tall, thick brush and bright red fireweed mixed in.  The wind whipped across the mountainside, blowing the grass nearly horizontal and stinging my cheeks.  But the views were really nice.  So we kept going.

KRMtRoberts

RMtRoberts

As we climbed a little higher still, we came closer and closer to some really large patches of snow still perched up on the mountain – which was surprising because it really wasn’t all that cold up there.

RSnowMtRoberts

We got a closer view of all the waterfalls that we saw from the ground earlier, carving down the mountainside.  The mountains are incredibly steep here and it’s amazing to see that these snow melt streams have enough power to cut through the extremely thick vegetation and down the mountains.  The trees are so thick and the mountains so green that the white water appears to be cutting right through the trees.

Not a great shot, but you get the idea...

Not a great shot, but you get the idea…

The clouds started rolling in on us, slowly smothering the sun.  So we headed back down to the tram station.

CloudsSmotherSun

We stopped in the tram station to watch a short movie on the native Tlingit culture and origins in Alaska, which was really interesting, then hopped the tram down.  We stopped at a local grocery store for some laundry detergent and then headed back to wash some clothes to replenish our sock and underwear stockpiles for another few days.  This is our last booked hotel night for the rest of the trip, so we’re not sure when we’ll get a chance to wash clothes – or possibly even shower – next.

I’ve spent a while writing, watching TV off and on, and K has been asleep for well over an hour.  I suppose it’s time for me to sleep, too, so I’m not a bear tomorrow.

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