North to Alaska

Just a week ago today, Tim and I got on a plane to Juneau, Alaska.

We’d been talking about this trip for a few years now, three years at least. I had a printout of a PDF of things to see and do in Juneau, dated 2012.

We managed to do pretty much all of them, with three exceptions.

1) The Alaska State Museum is in the process of being rebuilt, and won’t re-open until 2016.

2) The state capitol is also being renovated, and currently not offering tours.

3) We walked or drove by the Wickersham House on three occasions, but it always had the Closed sign in the window.

Our trip was bookended with two trips to the Mendenhall Glacier.

On Wednesday, June 24, we headed out early. The visitors’ center opens at 8:00 am, and we’re early risers.

It was still pretty quiet when we parked the rental car. We started out by walking the Steep Creek trail and then the Moraine Ecology trail. We did not see any bears.

Then we perused the visitors’ center. We viewed a short video describing how glaciers are formed and how far the Mendenhall has retreated in the last 80 years or so. In 1930, there was no Mendenhall Lake. Last week, we walked in areas that were covered by the glacier less than a century ago.

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Last Wednesday, after seeing what there was to see at the visitors’ center, we headed out along the trail to Nugget Falls.

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I also spied a couple of kayakers out on the lake. Apparently, there is one place you can rent kayaks to take out onto the lake, which I found out about just now. (If we’d known about that, we probably would have rented one.)

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You don’t want to get too close to the glacier, though, because you never know when it might calve an iceberg, of which there were a few floating in the lake.

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We hadn’t planned to go back, but we had a few hours to fill before we needed to go to the airport on Sunday. There was another trail called the Trail of Time that we hadn’t walked, because after about three hours we were kind of “trailed” out, and ready to head back to town.

After walking the Trail of Time, we still had some time. We walked out to Photo Point, and along the way saw some signs warning that the trail to Nugget Falls was experiencing some flooding. I had already observed through my camera’s telephoto lens that the beach below Nugget Falls seemed to have disappeared. A ranger was walking the other way, and I queried her regarding the situation.

She told us that an ice dam up on the glacier had broken a day or two earlier, and an amount of water approximately equal to the amount in Nugget Falls was flowing into the lake, raising the water level with more expected. Apparently, this commonly happens earlier in the year, but this one was additional and unexpected, and was causing a bit of a stir among the rangers.

After talking with the ranger, we headed down the trail to Nugget Falls to see how far we could get, which turned out to be not very far. The water was right up to the edge of the trail, covering what had been open space just three or four days earlier. We managed to skirt one or two large puddles, but then came upon one that we would have had to wade through. There was another ranger standing in the middle of it in her knee-high rubber boots, discussing the situation on her walkie-talkie and getting advice on warning visitors.

At that point, we turned back. But it was kind of cool to see how much difference just a few days made.

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