As we enter our last week in Alaska I am compelled to write about the destination. We’ve been here just over two months and been lucky enough to have had great weather most of the time. I had two new ports this year with Haines and Seward, both of which have become my favorites. Many people put Alaska off as a vacation destination, thinking it is for older people or one of those “one-visit-in-a-lifetime” places. Please believe me when I tell you both assumptions are dead wrong. You should come to Alaska as soon as you can because there are some of the coolest activities to do here you will find anywhere and I will bet you visit more than once. I had dinner with a couple on their tenth visit. Even if you think you may be beyond ice trekking or rock climbing, you can just look at the amazing scenery and watch for wildlife.
Granted, I probably have more photos of ice and rocks than anyone I know, but having visited Glacier Bay and Marjorie Glacier every week for the last nine weeks, I can tell you it is ever-changing. Watching for the whales to show up and breach is a daily habit. This summer I hiked a part of the original Chilkoot trail that the gold rushers used, floated down the Taiya River on a raft, kayaked several places, did two photo safaris, went horse back riding in the Yukon and saw a moose and two bears there, took a helicopter to go ice wall climbing on Mendenhall Glacier, did glassblowing and made a gorgeous Christmas ornament, visited Misty Fjords Park by boat, climbed Mt Roberts in Juneau, went whale watching, zip lined in Ketchikan and spent hours just wandering around with my camera. Between the activities and the scenery of magnificent mountain peaks, glaciers and waterways, Alaska needs to be your next vacation. End of commercial.
I took a helicopter to go ice trekking and climbing on a glacier. The ride took eight of us up over the Juneau Icefield to land on Mendenhall Glacier. We got outfitted with our crampons, ice axes and climbing axes and headed out over the 800 feet deep glacier. Fortunate to have a bright sunny day, we needed sunscreen and sun glasses – whoda thunk it? I felt like Frodo and Sam crossing the mountains to Mordor in Lord of the Rings. We walked about 4 miles in total with a stop to climb the ice wall. The trick is to jam your boot toe straight into the wall then use your climbing axe to hold you on the wall while you use your legs to move up the wall. Natural instinct is to cling to the wall but the actual position is to keep your butt away from the wall so you have room to step up the wall. It was easier than I expected although I definitely need more practice to be better. I must say I felt a bit like Jack Nicholson in the Shining with my ice axe in hand (see photo). The most fun part was rappelling down the wall.
Joanne Gardner is Statendam’s future cruise consultant.