IntroductionTalk about a luxurious floating base camp! On August 23, 2010, wearing our mountaineering boots and carrying our backpack, we boarded the Holland America line’s Amsterdam to embark on a 2 week cruise to eight ports along with a day cruising in Glacier Bay and a day cruising up Disenchantment Bay to the Hubbard Glacier. This itinerary was new in 2010 and included the first port calls by a cruise ship at the port of Anchorage in 25 years. The weather on our cruise turned out to be the best the ship had encountered all season according to the captain and we made the most of it with hikes and tours in every port. To fuel these adventures, we enjoyed excellent dining onboard where Holland America seemed to emphasize the Alaskan theme with offerings of fresh fish and berries available daily. Following is a brief summary of the ports as we experienced them from a mountaineering perspective.
Deer Mountain. The hike goes through thick SE Alaska rain forest and there was water running down many parts of the trail as we hiked about 8 miles and gained nearly 3,000’ elevation.
Sitka 8/26/10Mount Arrowhead via the Mount Verstovia trail. The trailhead is several miles from town, but he quickly caught a ride with a local that knew where the trail was and dropped him off there. He had a great adventure hiking to Picnic Rock where the summit of Arrowhead could be viewed shrouded in the distant clouds. The final approach to Arrowhead became a mountaineering challenge with the reduced visibility and fading of any trail, but the summit was finally reached and was soon followed by the excitement of trying to find the way back in the clouds.
This was Pat’s first visit to Sitka and she took a small boat tour to view sealife and saw orcas, humpback whales, sea otters, seals and bald eagles.
Skagway 8/27/10No Name Peak which towers above the lake. As usual, it had been raining in the previous days and the rock seemed to be extra slick. It may have been a combination of high angle slopes and lichens and moss that contributed to the unsure footing even though the rock texture was quite coarse. In any event, he climbed to about 5,300’ elevation before retreating in the face of storm clouds building around the summit. Meanwhile, Pat entertained herself walking through town and doing some casual window shopping. Later in the day, it cleared somewhat and we saw the Harding glacier across the bay from the ship. The captain set sail about 9:30 pm for Glacier Bay.
Glacier Bay 8/29/10
The climb planned for the day was South Suicide Peak just outside Anchorage. Jae brought along a couple of mountain bikes and we set off toward Rabbit Lake some 5 miles from the trailhead and perhaps 1,250’ elevation gain. The bikes were a challenge for Jim going in, but a welcome addition on the downhill return.
After the exciting ride back down the rocky trail, with only one crash by Jim, Jae took him to meet his family which was a real treat. The sun was trying to shine in town as Jae drove Jim back to the free shuttle pickup location at the Egan Convention Center.
While Jim was bagging his peak, Pat took a tour to the Portage glacier near the Turnagain arm of the Cook Inlet. The trip included a small boat ride up very close to the receding glacier face. She also visited the wildlife preservation center where various animals (muskox, buffalo, caribou, bear, elk) were being rehabilitated for possible release back into the wilds. The tides in the Cook Inlet run up to 30 feet and thus we didn’t leave until after 11 pm to take advantage of high tide on our way to Homer.
She gave an excellent tour and told us all about life in Homer and about fishing and boat building which her family now engages in. We saw a great collection of art available for purchase at the Norman Lowell studio and gallery before visiting the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Headquarters
A possible climb from this port is China Poot Peak, but it would require a long port call since you are dealing with crossing Kechemak Bay at high tide to reach the trailhead.
Kodiak 9/1/10Barometer Mountain. We discovered that it was located 4 or 5 miles from where we docked and we shared a taxi to drop us off where the road passed the end of the runway at the Kodiak airport. Jim had found some climbing info on the internet and we proceeded from our drop off point to discover that the info was somewhat dated. We found evidence of the trail described, but it was very overgrown and we ended up experiencing some Alaskan bushwhacking before eventually reaching the ridgeline we sought to climb.
It turned into a great adventure with great weather and willing partners and Jill and I reached the summit, while Russ was content to contemplate his survival somewhat lower on the mountain. He was a good sport for never having done anything remotely like this steep hillside hiking with drop offs stretching off hundreds of feet below him. I was able to convince him that with care he could walk upright as he descended! We found an alternative route back from the base of the ridge which did not entail so much bushwhack and encountered a very large pile of bear skat along the way. We fortunately never spotted the skat depositor and were all happy to once again reach the highway where we flagged down another cab for the trip back to the ship.
Pat wisely passed on our adventure and instead explored the town which was about a mile hike from our pier. She really enjoyed the Baranov Museum as well as the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge and the Russian Orthodox church. The weather was mild and again in the 50s. The ship prepared grilled salmon on the Lido deck beside the pool and we once again enjoyed our Alaska cuisine including huge berry pies.
Hubbard Glacier 9/2/10
Juneau 9/3/10We had the first line ashore at 7:37 am on a cloudy, cool day with the mountain tops enclosed in clouds. Jim wanted to climb Mt Roberts and Pat agreed to hike with him the first few miles up to the top of the Mt Roberts tram where she could ride back down to town. The trail was muddy and slippery as we climbed up due to recent rains. When we reached the tram, we walked out onto a viewing platform and Jim started to take a picture of Pat.
After that brief adventure, Pat suggested we both ride back to town, but Jim was adrenaline charged and ready to continue up into the clouds to look for Mount Roberts. After being nearly lost in the maze of trails in the clouds last year, Jim built small cairns at most of the intersections to aid on finding his way back. Eventually, Gastineau Peak loomed out of the clouds ahead and after crossing it, Jim continued toward Mt Roberts another mile or so in the clouds. This time the compass and slightly less cloud cover permitted success and Jim headed back over Gastineau Peak on the return to civilization.
Having visited Juneau many times, Pat was content to just do a bit of window shopping and secure a bottle of wine for the last several cruise days remaining. We set sail about 5:24 pm with some amazing cloud formations hovering around the surrounding islands as we prepared to have dinner at 8.