Escape from Paradise with Ingrid Lemme-Chalut

Alaska…The Last Frontier

Ingrid Lemme-Chalut

As I mentioned in my story last month, Alaska had long been on my bucket list and when we’d found a 27 day repositioning cruise that would take us from Florida through the Panama Canal, which was on my husband’s bucket list, and up the West Coast into Alaska—I was all on board! I did a whole bunch of research before our journey and was astounded to learn, that some glaciers are either holding a steady position, or, even more surprising to me, have been advancing at greater rates. Like the Whitney Glacier on Mt. Shasta, California, or the Hubbard Glacier in Alaska, which is larger today than it was back in the 1890s. A group of National Park Service rangers that hopped on board of MS Eurodam in Seattle to accompany us through Stephens Passage shared the science and significance behind every view and confirmed that some glaciers are actually advancing, mostly due to increased precipitation.

It hadn’t been an easy task to pack for a cruise that would accommodate us from subtropical climates all the way into the freezing temperatures of Alaska, but it definitely added to the excitement of our adventure. Besides, the Holland America Line kicked off its 2023 Alaska cruise season with the arrival of MS Eurodam at the Port of Seattle, known as “Seattle’s Hometown Cruise Line”. HAL marked the day with a welcome celebration at Pier 91 that included a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Capt Marc Trembling, Miss Washington Regan Gallo and Miss Alaska Jessica Reisinger and many of the crew members. To honor its 150th Anniversary, the Captain presented a commemorative plaque to the Port of Seattle and presented a check to The Pastry Project, a Seattle-based organization.

My husband’s old friends Bruce & Raelene Rogers had taken the ferry from their home in Gig Harbor to meet us for lunch and show us around. We had gotten special permission for them to join us for the fanfare at Pier 91 that also included a performance by an ensemble from the University of Washington marching band, and they were excited to be part of the celebration. Later Marcus’ friends took us on a little tour of downtown Seattle that would bring us to the colorful Pike Place Market, a great lunch at Matt’s and the equally colorful and unusual Bubble gum alley. The last leg of our incredible journey would take us then from Seattle, WA through the Stephens Passage, Alaska (cruising) for a stopover in Juneau, AK, followed by Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, AK (cruising), to Icy Strait Point, AK, and then Sitka AK to Ketchikan AK, and on to Victoria BC and back to Seattle, WA, from where we’d fly back home.

Alaska is one of the most beautiful places on earth and its state capital Juneau one of its most beautiful towns. Downtown Juneau sits snugly between Mount Juneau, Mount Roberts, and Gastineau Channel. It’s a maze of narrow streets running past a mix of new structures, old storefronts, and quaint houses featuring early 19th-century architecture from the town’s gold-mining days. The waterfront bustled with fishing boats, a couple of cruise ships and floatplanes zipping in and out. With no road access to Juneau, it is the only state capital in the United States that can only be reached by airplane or boat. One of the reasons Juneau has so much character is that it’s one of Alaska’s oldest cities. Established before the big Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, Juneau also has gold in its past. In 1880, a local Tlingit Indian chief led prospectors Joe Juneau and Richard Harris to what later became known as Gold Creek, where the two men discovered nuggets just lying on the ground. Soon after, a town site was established, making Juneau the first city founded after the purchase of Alaska by the United States from Russia.

One of Juneau’s great attractions is Mendenhall Glacier. This meandering river of compressed blue ice ranks as the largest glacier accessible by road in Southeast Alaska. It is a half-mile wide, hundreds of feet deep, and fed by the 1,500-square-mile Juneau ice field. The Visitor Center features exhibits, interactive videos and a panoramic view of the glacier. There are several self-guided walking trails from which to experience the special beauty of Tongass National Forest and ever-changing glimpses of the glacier. Of course we took the path that had us pass by a huge waterfall and brought us closest to Mendenhall Glacier. Glacier Gardens amazed us with the diversity of the rainforest as we wound up on a huge open off road vehicle along pathways carved into the mountainside, heading toward the upper regions of the forest. We visited a one-of-a-kind Alaskan garden featuring towering ‘upside-down trees’ that were unfortunately not covered with planted flowers as anticipated. From the viewing platform up at the 580-foot level, we were able to take photos of the Gastineau Channel, Douglas Island and the Chilkat Range.

The Margerie glacier in Glacier Bay, Alaska made my dream of Alaska come true. Not even the steady icy rain of the overcast sky could take anything away from my excitement! Besides, nothing warms the chill in the air like a cup of Holland America Line’s famous Dutch Pea Soup. HAL serves the delicious hot soup out on deck on Alaska and Norway cruises while guests admire the icy scenery, a special touch that makes viewing the glaciers and fjords all the more memorable. Margerie Glacier reaches all the way to the ocean water and is referred to as a tidewater glacier, defined as a glacier that interacts with ocean saltwater. Margerie Glacier is about 21 miles long from its origins in the Fairweather Mountain Range in elevations exceeding 9000 feet.

I can’t put into words the feeling of joy over the beautiful day when we arrived in Sitka, an island community “boldly living between the mountains and sea, where the arts flourish and an ancient native culture still thrives”. Surrounded by rainforest, they share their home with brown bears, bald eagles and all five species of Pacific salmon. Sitka is home of the earliest Orthodox cathedral in the New World. St. Michael’s Cathedral was built in the 19th century, when Alaska was under the control of Russia. A National Historic Landmark since 1962, it’s an important legacy of Russian influence in North America and Southeast Alaska in particular. We were looking forward to our Sea Otter and Wildlife quest tour and were promised to see Bald Eagles, whales, sea otters and other birds which we did. We met the award winning photographer Diane W. Dersch and her friend Amy over dinner in the main dining room of MS Eurodam and she gave me permission to share with you her fantastic eagle and seals closeups.

One of my favorite HAL-Alaska excursions started with a 20 minute bus ride from Ketchikan’s idyllic harbor to Clover Pass, one of the oldest operating fishing resorts in the State of Alaska. There we first met with our guide Rainy, a young naturalist. We were welcomed by Captain Sonny and first mate Trevin and stepped aboard their heated vessel. None of us Eurodam cruisers were prepared for an adventure that would get as close as any of us had ever been to Bald Eagles in the wild. As the captain navigated us through maze like inlets, he had located an eagle’s nest on one of the many islands. That’s when Rainy opened a pack of herring and the moment she held a fish in her hand and threw it in the air, the eagles were on it. Clearly used to these more or less unexpected feeds, both eagles soon circled the boat, as if they were begging for more. We watched harbor seals sunbathing on little inlets, and when we passed by the Back Island Naval Facility we witnessed to our surprise a submarine emerging from the waters of the deep Behm Canal. A U.S. Navy submarine test base tucked away in Alaska, no kidding!

Our final destination was the remote Silverking Lodge, located in the heart of Grant Island State Marine Park. An idyllic place indeed, with its elevated boardwalk trail that allowed us to walk into the normally difficult-to-access rainforest. There we discovered the flora and fauna of Tongass National Forest and its largest known Red Cedar. We ventured back to the lodge for an authentic Alaskan seafood boil. Non of us thought that we’d be really hungry enough for an early lunch, but nothing was left from the rustic feast of Dungeness crab, shrimp, mussels, clams, sausage, corn, garlic, pearl onions, and French baguette. The cooks and servers were Brad, Mallory and Jonan and they clearly seemed to be enjoying our excitement and appreciation over the fresh, delicious feast they’d prepared for us.

Until next month from another interesting location!

    — Yours in travel, Ingrid

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