Monday, October 1, 2012

Alaska - Juneau - Day 4

Tuesday, September 4, 2012:  Today's port was Juneau.  It's the capitol of Alaska, but has no roads in or out. People have to arrive by plane, boat, or birth canal. <smile>  The weather confirmed again that I was definitely in Alaska.  It was raining, foggy, and noticeably cooler.  Good thing I packed my full rain gear and thermals!  First up for the day was an early morning whale watching excursion in Auke Bay.  I'll not lie, I was quite skeptical about standing on a boat in the rain/fog searching for an animal that might or might not make an appearance.  The excursion company had a money-back guarantee that we would see whales - so off we went. 

Within 20 minutes, the first thing I noticed was a dab of blue sky!  The views were spectacular from the water.

Suddenly, the double-decker catamaran's engines shut down and we were instructed to look towards one o'clock (assuming the boat was a clock - which meant 1:00 pm was forward and right.)  Sure enough, I saw a rounded shape crest the water.  It was a Humpback Whale.  We watched it surface a few times (which takes about 5 minutes in between), then it finally flipped it's tail.  The catamaran's crew seemed pleased, so we moved on (I guess they got to keep their guarantee money today.)  My skepticism turned into curiosity really fast.  I decided that this large creature may be worthy of a photograph after all.
Soon after moving further into Auke Bay, we saw another Humpback Whale. This time I snapped a photo of the tail flip.  This photo is zoomed/enlarged quite a bit, because the Humpback's didn't get too close to the boat.


Our ship received word from another boat that they had located a pod of Orcas (Killer Whales.)  A pod is a collection of three or more whales swimming and feeding together.  We arrived to see the Orcas crest many times.  I was amazed at how close they were to the other boat.  What an amazing experience for the passengers on that boat.  Here's the scene I captured:

I didn't count how many whales we saw, but it was an awesome experience!  I'm a believer now.  Sometimes, it takes having a moment in nature where it's just me and the animal. I get to watch them as they go about their daily grind.  It's easy to become connected to the animal and mesmerized by the experience.  Wildlife is magical!


In addition to whales, we also were taken to an island full of seals.  They too, were unaffected by our presence.  They made weird honking noises and seemed to quarrel amongst themselves for the most part.  I'm not sure how they managed to 'waddle' up to the top of the rocks, but they did!  Here's what I saw:

Next on my agenda in Juneau was a glacier viewing excursion.  The Norwegian Jewel was scheduled to traverse the Inside Passage through Tracy Arm Fjord, but the closeness of the ship to the glacier depended upon the icebergs.  The catamaran boat was much smaller than the ship; therefore, it was able to get much closer to the glaciers.  So, we set out about 20 minutes prior to our large cruise ship's departure.  They explained to us that we would re-board our ship at Tracy Arm Fjord...which I wasn't too sure how would happen, but was game for the adventure.

The weather had finally begun to cooperate.  Although it was cooler, the rain had stopped! Yay!  I met some very nice people on this excursion and we all really enjoyed the glaciers.

We went to Sawyer Glacier first.  Even on the approach, we started seeing floating icebergs.  The Fjord was a deep, deep river of blue/green glacier water which met steep mountains with rock faced surfaces mixed with the varying tones of moss.  The mountains easily towered 2,000 feet above us. What a view!  We navigated many icebergs and what felt like narrow passageways until finally, we saw the glacier.  It was a color of turquoise and Carolina blue mixed together.  The glacier itself was basically a large vertical wall of blue ice with a hint of snow covering.  I'm using this particular photo because there was another vessel (the same size as ours) close to the glacier. Maybe it helps put the glacier's size into perspective...maybe.

The catamaran driver took us to a large waterfall in the Fjord.  I was surprised at how close he got us!

We made our way to the South Glacier, and this was the location where we were to meet our cruise ship.  The entrance to the South Glacier had a lot more icebergs than the previous.  Even our little catamaran boat had to navigate slowly.  We did hit one, and the eerie sound it made while the ice was scraping down the side of the boat left us very weary <think Titanic>  Here's a shot of the cruise ship coming through the Fjord, it gives me goosebumps remembering back:

Once our cruise ship drew closer, I began worrying about how we would go from the little catamaran to the large cruise ship.  As we approached the ship, I looked up to discover that just about every passenger was outside and leaned over the railings of every deck watching us!  It was like seeing long-lost family again.  Everyone was waving, and the energy we shared revolved around the wonderment of how in the hell we were going to switch boats in a narrow passage full of icebergs while we were moving!  It was an amazing experience, and our catamaran driver sure did earn his wages.  He pulled up along side the cruise ship, and we saw a door open in the lowest level of the ship.  A chain link gate came down which secured onto the catamaran.  We then began unloading from the catamaran into the galley of the ship.  Sadly, I didn't get any photos of this because I had packed away my gear (in fear of us having to make a jump for it I suppose.)  Hindsight is always 20/20! 
What a truly amazing day I had been blessed with.  A hot shower, dinner, and conversation about "being on the little boat" made this day a definite highlight on my trip.

icebergs near the South Glacier

ice actively calving off from the Sawyer Glacier


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