Thursday, May 30, 2013

Flat mountains, glaciers and waiting for the tunnel

As I have said many times, when things go wrong it can be the best thing that happens – It means that plans can go out of the window and you just go with what happens. So today was my bus and boat trip to see the glaciers. I really could go on for ages about a brilliant day – but I will attempt to reduce it to just a page....otherwise you would be reading all night!

It turned out that I was the only person out of 20 that was taking the cheaper, 4 hour glacier boat trip –instead of the 6 hour one. I wasn’t worried as I didn’t particularly want to spend 6 hours on a boat looking at 26 glaciers. Anyway, on the way down we stopped at a few places I wanted to stop at if I had got my hire car. It was also a lovely sunny day and everything was going fine (at least after I had left the hostel - I had earlier been locked out of my room due to a dodgy door lock).

The magic bus!!

Portage lake and glacier

A short break by a lovely lake
The boat dock is in a tiny town called ‘Whittier’. The only way to Whittier by land is through a tunnel under a mountain. Not unusual you say? Well this tunnel is unusual – It is only wide enough for one vehicle, so every half hour the direction of traffic changes – so when you arrive, you queue like you are waiting for a ferry and the weird term, ‘Waiting for the tunnel’  is a common saying around here. Oh, I forgot to mention the tunnel was originally built for trains – which also still run through it – so you drive along the train tracks, through the mountain for nearly 3 miles. Cool tunnel!!

Tunnel entrance

Inside the tunnel - along the rails!

In Whittier

Where everybody lives - EVERYBODY!

On arrival in Whittier I had half hour spare to take in the sights – which there aren’t much of – a couple of small food shacks and one 14 storey apartment block, where every one of the 200 people who live her actually have their homes. It also houses a launderette and shops. You never have to leave if you don’t want and in winter, when the snow is about 20 feet deep, a tunnel is built under the snow for the kids to get to school – which is just 20 metres away!

Onto the boat trip and we had a brilliant time – As well as 4 different types of glacier, we also saw a couple of bears who ran away as soon as they saw us, eagles, sea otters, thousands of kittiwakes, sea lions relaxing on the ice flows and 3 whales – including one whale which was jumping out of the sea (called breaching). We also saw huge lumps of the glacier fall into the sea accompanied by a roar like thunder, you can see that in the video later......  All in all a brilliant trip with a great fish and chip lunch and free hot cookies!

One of the many glaciers

another glacier - falling into Prince William Sound

View from the boat


Inquisitive otters

Close up

Breaching whale....

and again

nearly gone!
I got back to the bus before the longer trip and so had another look around town, which included sneaking into the apartment block and seeing if I could get a view out of the top floor. There was no way to get to a window though, so I headed back to the bus and laughed when I heard that everyone on the longer had had a brilliant time, but seen nothing but glaciers and a couple of sheep!! They weren’t happy with me when I showed them the whale photos and also that I had been able to see around the town. I also bagged the front seat on the bus and spent the return trip chatting to Gary the tour guide (Who looks a bit like Grizzly Adams) and getting the best views through the tunnel and all the way home. We did pass a couple of moose by the road, but couldn’t stop as we had a truck right behind us.

on the boat

the route

Birds everywhere

another look at the apartment building

the best view I could get from inside

Gary - cool tour guide or Grizzly Adams?
I’m actually now really glad that I didn’t get the hire car. Although the trip was expensive, it turns out that if I had had the car, it would have cost $12 to get through the tunnel, $5 parking and the cost of fuel – with the hire cost it would have been more expensive to take the car and I was planning on just a 30 minute trip – so it worked out brilliantly!!  

Here's the glacier video!!

My last full day in Alaska was another scorcher and I had booked myself on an afternoon trip to climb up Alaska's most climbed mountain. Its called Flattop mountain and is just a short drive away from downtown Anchorage - plus its obviously got a flat top, so its easy to spot!

I made my way to the pick up point and got chatting to a few of the other climbers ( I keep saying climb -even though its classes as a Trek, but when we got near the top, its basically climbing up a rock face or up a snow covered 75 degree slope, so I will continue to call it climbing!). One of the others was a fellow Brit from Worcester who was wearing British issue army combat trousers. He was called Carl and is visiting from his new job in Vancouver. We also got chatting to a couple from Brisbane who were here on honeymoon and a family from Los Angeles. It was a good group and on arrival at the trail head we all set off together after a confusing brief from the tour guide (Go that way and then this way!) me,  Carl and the Australian couple soon found ourselves way ahead and it took us just 40 minutes to traverse the snow fields and find ourselves about 100 metres below the peak, with the crazy clamber up to the top left. It was then we spotted a mad couple sliding down the snow to our right from the top of the hill. They slid well for a while before hitting a rock and ending up face first heading downhill. Luckily, they seemed to be OK, but we decided we wouldn't be trying the same thing -even though it did look like fun.

Our bus!

Can you see flat top  mountain!?


Anyway, after another 15 minutes of scrambling up the sheer rock face and through even more snow, we reached the top and stayed there for a good half hour, enjoying the spectacular views down over Anchorage and the mountains all around as well as passing a 3 legged dog who had climbed all the way up there with his owner! Awesome!
Looking down towards the city

and the view to the countryside

We then had to make our way back down and it was even more dodgy. At some points it was impossible to go forward, so you just had to back yourself down avoiding the slippy ice and snow. There were a few stumbles from everyone, but we did manage to get down unscathed in the end.
The 360 view

2 mentallists about to slide down!

3 legged dog!

It took us about 3 hours for the entire round trip and we all knew we had been very lucky with the beautiful weather.
The top snow field - complete with rocks!

It was really dodgy coming down! Its steeper than it looks!

So that was it - Anchorage and Alaska in 5 days. I am now actually really glad that the rental cart fell through. It meant I had to take a couple of good trips, during which I had a great time and met some cool people.

So if anyone from the trips are reading this - especially the nice lady and her family from Los Angeles who spent most of the bus trip chatting with me - Hello to you! It was nice to meet you!! Don't forget to leave a comment!!

Here's the video of the couple sliding down!! 


  1. Hey Rick, decided to check out your blog whilst wasting time on the ipad- this 20hrs of sunshine really messes with you! You got some great pics- we saw so many otters but didn't get a single good close up! Thanks for the company up the hill today- sounds like you've had some great trips!
    The Australian couple (erica and kieran)

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Erica - hey you found it!! Thanks for checking out my silly little blog. I really enjoyed chatting with you two today on the bus tour and mountain climb!.

      It was a great way to spend my last day in Alaska. Enjoy the rest of the trip and feel free to take a look at the blog every now and then!! Its getting updated all the time!!

      cheers again!!


  2. Rick, thank you for referring to me as "the nice lady from Los Angeles". i did enjoy chatting with you on the bus and hearing about your amazing travels, which are quite prolific! I look forward to reading your blog in the future especially when you hike the Pacific Crest Trail next year. I have been on very small portions of it and I guarantee the part through the Sierra Nevada is awesome. Happy travels to you. . . .

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