Talk 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 in the clouds
First line ashore at 6:05 am and Pat and I headed off about 7:30 to climb 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.
Deer Mountain trail
It had been raining several days before we arrived which is not unusual in a place where it rains over 150 inches per year. In 1953, they had 101 consecutive days of rainfall. Several salmon runs were in progress as we walked through town. There were large quantities of pink and silver salmon jumping as they headed up the local creeks and fishermen were pulling them in from the sidewalks on the bridges and along the shore.
Salmon heading upstream
We set sail just before 6 pm heading for Sitka.
We anchored about a mile from the tender dock at 8 am and started tender operations. Jim was on the first tender in his quest to climb Mount 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.
Sea otters at Sitka
After lunch, we joined forces to walk around Sitka and visited St Michael’s Russian orthodox cathedral and the Raptor center followed by a walk through the Sitka National Historical park before leaving port about 5:30 pm.
Upper Dewey Lake from No Name Peak
We had the first line ashore at 6:37 am and Jim headed off for a climb about 7 am hiking up the Dewey Lakes trail to Upper Dewey lake. From there, he walked partway around the lake before heading cross country in pursuit of No 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
We spent the day with Park Rangers cruising up to the John’s Hopkins and Marjorie Glaciers. The rangers provided information on the geography, history, inhabitants and glacier activity here.
Glacier Bay dining
The weather was party sunny and cool (50 F) which made for great outdoor viewing of the scenery since there was almost no wind.
According to Holland America, we were the 8th cruise ship to visit the port of Anchorage this year when we put the first line ashore at 6:31 am. The previous 7 visits were also by our ship, the Amsterdam, during this 2010 season. We were cleared to go ashore about 8 am and Jim headed ashore to meet his former “little brother” Jae Shin, who lives in Anchorage with his wife and 3 children. It was the first time they had seen each other in almost 25 years following Jim and Pat’s retirement from Arco Alaska and move back to the lower 48!
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.
South Suicide Peak
As we approached the peak, clouds built up around the mountains and we were not able to enjoy the views most of the time we were climbing. It started raining fairly steady on the approach ridge and was even snowing a bit as we found the summit in the fog. As usual, a bit of an adventure followed as we tried to find our way back down to Rabbit Lake, but with both of us pondering the variables, we were successful and ended up in the right drainage.
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.
Sunrise over Homer spit
We arrived at the Homer spit at 9:22 am and planned to spend a leisurely day ashore. As we were walking away from the pier, a fellow passenger asked if we could use two “best of Homer” tour tickets. She had run into an acquaintance who was going to give her a personal tour and wasn’t going to need her tour. After a brief discussion, we decided the price was right (free) and we might as well see what the tour offered. It was led by a former school teacher from Arizona who had moved to Homer after marrying her fisherman husband. She had three kids with another on the way and must have enjoyed getting away from the kids for a few hours to interact with adults!
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
Sea Lion in Homer Maritime Refuge HQ
and the Pratt museum before returning to the ship just in time for a late lunch on the Lido deck. The weather was cool, cloudy and there was some light rain. The ship sailed at 6:12 pm heading for Kodiak.
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.
First line ashore was at 6:39 am and we were both excited to see Kodiak for the first time. Jim was on a roll with mountain adventures and joined with two other passengers, Jill and Russ, on a quest to find and climb Barometer 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.
Huge berry pie
Many passengers reported seeing large pods of whales late that afternoon as we were heading to dinner. We sailed for Hubbard Glacier at 1:48 pm
Hubbard Glacier 9/2/10
Seals by Hubbard Glacier
We boarded a couple Alaska natives and a couple National Park rangers for our day of viewing the area of the Hubbard Glacier. The ship reached the glacier about lunchtime and we enjoyed the view from the dining room as we rotated for our return out of Disenchantment Bay. The Hubbard Glacier is about 6 miles wide across its calving face which is still advancing.
The ice was quite thick on the approach and we saw many seals lying atop the ice floes. Some of the passengers spotted a whale carcass on the shore with a bear feeding on it as we were entering the bay that morning
We 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.
Scene of dropped camera
Somehow, removing his new camera from his pack, it caught on something in the pack and slipped out of his grasp. It then proceeded to fling itself under the railing and over the edge out of sight some 10-15 feet in the thick brush below. Being used to climbing, Jim scaled the railing and descended down the other side using the ample hand and footholds to reach the hillside below where he began a 10 minute search. As luck would have it, another visitor spotted the camera from above and guided Jim toward it for a less than smooth recovery. In spite of the impact, it still worked and other than a slight scuffing and dent, it survived.
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.
Final days at sea and Victoria, BC port call:
Mile 0 of Trans Canada Hwy
From Juneau we cruised toward Seattle with one last port call in Victoria. We put the first line ashore at 3:45 pm in Victoria and decided to take a walking tour on our own to the Beacon Hill park where the trans-Canada highway begins its 5000 mile journey.
Flowers in Victoria
From the park, we were only a couple of kilometers from downtown, so we headed over there to see some of the beautiful gardens along the way. It was a great hike and only took about 1 ½ hours before we were back at the ship ready to finish packing for our return trip and enjoy a final excellent dinner in the dining room.
Only bears I spotted this trip
The ship sailed about 11:42 pm and headed to Seattle where we arrived at 6:30 am the next morning. We were among the first few passengers to get off the ship at 7:45 am heading for the Shuttle Express to Seatac airport where we boarded our non-stop Alaska air flight to Las Vegas arriving home by 1 pm.
That's all folks!
links:see Hiking the Inside Passage Cruise