Glacier Bay National Park covers 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines and deep sheltered fjords. It is a highlight of Alaska’s Inside Passage and part of a 25-million acre World Heritage Site—one of the world’s largest international protected areas. The park is accessed only by sea, and ships entering the park must be accompanied by park rangers who join the ship at the visitor centre located at the entrance to the massive fjords which make up the park. We visited twice in order to see different parts of the park. The rangers run the show, joining the ship first thing in the morning and leaving around late afternoon, they offer a thorough yet flowery and almost poetic running commentary on the geology, nature and general facts about the area. They also have a stand on the observation deck where mementos and maps can be bought and further information sourced. The scenery is stunning and impossible to convey successfully with photos, especially when the weather was so windy, wet and cold with occasional brighter moments. At the entrance to the park is an area known for whales so a brief nature watching session is run as we enter and leave the park. The highlight of the tour is right at the end of John Hopkins Inlet and the massive John Hopkins Glacier. The glacier is approximately 80 metres thick, so dwarfing the ship.
The area has been subject to large scale changes in just a few hundred years. In 1680 the bay was completely filled with ice, in 1750 the “Little Ice Age” led to the ice moving yet further into the sound and yet by 1880 it had retreated 40 miles up the bay. Today that distance is 65 miles, the distance we had to sail from the park HQ to the John Hopkins Glacier.
That night we were invited to dinner by a large family group who’d ordered Alaskan King Crab for the table, a delicious change from the normal fare and being a family who’d originally booked this trip 3 years earlier it was a raucous and boozy affair. The next day was disgusting, weather-wise and we anchored off Icy Strait Point, a place of refuge for the Tlingit people who had once lived in Glacier Bay until the advancing ice had forced them to relocate to this area where they established the community of Hoonah. Icy Strait Point is now a business opportunity for these people as they have established a zip-line for cruise passengers and converted the old cannery into a shopping complex. We took the tender (aka lifeboat) ashore, walked in the pouring rain to Hoonah, caught the bus back and returned onboard…judging from the comments of fellow passengers the zip-line was good fun, even in the rain
Moving on, the ship docked at Haines and we embarked on our first paid excursion of the trip, a 40 minute boat ride up the fjord to Skagway, notorious as being on one of the main routes for miners heading to the Klondike Gold Rush. Skagway, being in the US, was particularly lawless and home of “Soapy Smith”, a conman of rare talent.
Assuming prospectors escaped Soapy’s attentions they had the choice of 2 routes over the mountains to Yukon and hence to the Klondike. Neither was an easy option, especially for prospectors with little or no experience of the conditions to be faced in British Columbia in winter. As one scribe put it, “There ain’t no choice, one’s hell and the other damnation.”
One of these was the White Pass, scene of some horrific events described here.
We took the White Pass and Yukon Pass Railroad, originally funded by the UK-based investors Close Brothers and built in the years following the start of the Gold Rush, as this option was closed to us earlier in our trip when we visited Carcross. This little railway runs to the top of the White Pass and down again, with some incredible views and entertaining commentary. The original trail is clearly marked at some points along the trip
Returning to Haines, the changing weather conditions created some dramatic effects.
Next stop Juneau. It’s the capital of Alaska, rather strange as you can only get to it by plane or boat. We had a photographic boat tour and walk booked but the weather was awful with wind and rain. We disembarked to meet the tour only to find it was cancelled, returned to the boat and stayed there until we left.
The cruise ship disembarked those on the 7 day cruise and embarked more guests for another 7 days back to Vancouver.