Goodbye Seward, hello Whittier!
Seward treated us so well, that it was hard to leave! We rolled in without expectations, thinking it would be nice to visit the aquarium, do some laundry and restock on food. Rolling out, we are bringing with us life-altering memories… We saw an Alaska so monumentous, wild and free that it gives me the chills.
We had resident otters right outside our door who entertained us from morning til night as they played, ate urchins and floated on their backs for hours only a few yards away. The bald eagles are as common as our turkey vultures, yet we can’t help stopping to take pictures and admiring these regal, strong birds as they control the skies or scan the ground and look like they could make any prey roll over and give up just by their stern stare.
I have seen more glaciers in the last week than I knew existed. Some cling to the tops of the mountains while others spill down the sides and yet others connect the water with the skies. They seem so grand and we could not withstand the allure of a snowball fight in the middle of summer. After getting into a helicopter that was unnervingly similar to a dragonfly we zipped through the skies, up the mountain and onto the everlasting snow. Mountain goats were teetering on the edge of the snow ridge and waterfalls crashed down looking to join the ocean. In the middle of the glacier we could see little dots which turned out to be two tents, a port-a-potty and a few dozen dog-houses. This is where our two guides and their dog team stayed for stretches of 6 days before going down to “civilization” for a couple of days while waiting to be allowed back up to their paradise. This is also where they train for the Iditarod, the Tour de France on steroids of Alaska. That’s where they drive their dog sleds about 120 miles a day, with about a two hour rest a day. In the dark. And cold. For a minimum of 9 days. In utter wilderness… It takes a special kind of animal to tame that beast. The kind that would rather stay in a tent on a glacier with only dogs for company, rather that in a warm log cabin with a roaring fire and a toddy…
We spent a lot of time on the water the last few days, and this was a side of Alaska that absolutely blew me away. The mountains towered into the skies and plunged into the ocean creating a rugged coastline where Stellar sea lions, puffins, whales, sea otters and porpoises reveled in the clean water and immense expanses. We got to witness an otter feasting on a puffin, and we really lucked out as our captain had a “whale button” right next to his seat! Every time he pressed it whales would explode up though the water and breach, show us their glorious blowholes or let us admire their glittering tails. When we asked if he had a porpoise button he retorted “don’t be ridiculous, of course not!”.
We spent one 15 hour day exploring the water by kayak. I will admit that I was not completely confident that it would not be too much for the kids - but they certainly showed me that I should not doubt their abilities or strength. They absolutely rocked, and I will happily apologize for any wavering in my belief in them I may have had. Our reward for venturing out there was a treasure trove of amazing experiences…At one point we were zig-zagging between ice floes with dozens of wet, round eyes following us. These seals had not been taught to fear humans and they curiously peered at us while they balanced on the ice or popped up next to our kayaks. The whole world seemed to be in hues of blue and grey and it was so quiet you could hear the echo of the glacier moaning and cracking as the sound bounced between the mountains.
Later on that day we approached a massive glacier where we got to witness giant pieces of ice let go and thunder into the ocean in a cloud of spray. Here, the noises made by the glacier were so loud it sounded like massive explosions, deep inside the ice… Surrounded by this powerful, beautiful environment I felt connected to nature in a way I don’t know how to describe in words.