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« Vancouver to Victoria | Main | Good morning, Alaska »

Ship to shore

Today is the final day of our seven-day cruise around Alaska.

We are currently sailing to Vancouver having visited Hoonah, Juneau and Ketchikan. The other days were spent ‘at sea’.

Hoonah, which we visited on Tuesday, was a mile and a half from the jetty at Icy Strait Point where the ship docked for the afternoon.

The path to the town followed a rough, dusty road but there was little to see or do when we got there. A cluster of houses - some no more than wooden shacks - several churches and one or two bars.

There were plenty of small boats in the harbour but the days when the local fishermen could get rich are long gone.

On Wednesday the ship took us to Hubbard Glacier which, in truth, wasn’t as spectacular as I had been led to believe.

The problem, I think, is that cruise ships can only get close to the glacier during the summer months, and even then the size of the ship limits how near you can get.

I can imagine the scenery looks far more dramatic in winter when the surrounding hills are covered in snow and the sea into which the glacier ‘flows’ is also frozen.

To see that however you’d have to hire a small plane or helicopter.

In Juneau, the following day, we rented a car and drove to Mendenhall Glacier.

Can I be honest? It was much the same as Hubbard Glacier, albeit seen from land rather than sea.

Rather more impressive is the rate at which both these glaciers are retreating - one metre a day, apparently. (See Update below.)

We witnessed it for ourselves because on several occasions we saw large blocks of ice breaking off and crashing into the water below.

We also heard several rumbles of what sounded like thunder but that too was the ice cracking.

Neither glacier is going to disappear any time soon though. Hubbard may be in retreat but if I heard correctly it’s still seven miles long.

After Mendenhall we drove to the National Shrine of St Therese of Lisieux who was named patron saint of Alaska in 1925, following which they built a chapel in her name.

Today, in addition to the chapel, there are log cabins - two of which can be rented as a retreat - plus a tiny unmanned gift shop that relies on discretionary payments (a dollar for a can of flavoured water, for example).

It was a beautiful spot with very few visitors. Perfect.

Other news.

There have been one or two whale sightings but, inevitably, my back was turned at the crucial moment.

I did catch a glimpse of a large ferret-like creature among the rocks on the walk to Hoonah but the bears we were warned about were nowhere to be seen.

(We were instructed to stay in small groups and, if approached by a bear, to make a lot of noise. We were also told not to run, which is easier said than done if you ask me.)

Another warning (this time at the Avis car rental cabin in Juneau) read:

CAUTION: Vehicles returned smelling of fish or animals or with blood and hair will be charged a minimum cleaning fee of $500.

It makes a change from being threatened with a cleaning bill should you choose to light up in a hotel room.

Talking of which, I would advise smokers to avoid Icy Strait Point and Hoonah.

From the moment we got off the ship there were signs telling us that ISP is a ‘designated Non-Smoking Property’.

Other outdoor signs read ‘Tobacco Free Zone’ or simply ‘No Smoking’.

Overall however it’s been an enjoyable week and four days in Vancouver still to come.

Best of all, perhaps, the days at sea have given me the chance to read Andrew Roberts’ wonderful biography of Churchill, ‘Walking With Destiny’ (‘Undoubtedly the best single-volume life of Churchill ever written').

In view of the gathering storm at home, let’s hope Boris has read it too!

Warmly recommended.

Update: I’m told that Hubbard Glacier is expanding not contracting. It’s Mendenhall Glacier that is retreating one metre per day. Nature works in mysterious ways.

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Reader Comments (1)

So the last ice age is finally coming to an end. Once the poles are ice free we will enter the true interglacial. As has been the case over the geological past. The poles have been ice free over most of geological time.

Sunday, August 18, 2019 at 17:27 | Unregistered CommenterDr Evil

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