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Published: September 16th 2016
So the sun finally came out. The morning we sailed into Scagway the view out of my stateroom window was solid cloud/mist and my heart sank. I was excited because I had booked a tour with a local photographer and was hoping for some pretty spectacular landscape shots. It was still rainy and quite cold when we met at the end of the pier as instructed. There were only 9 out of the whole ship's contingent signed up to do this tour, and as there were two photographers and two vans, I was delighted to find myself onboard with just 4 other photographers. I'm not sure what I had imagined we would do, or where I thought we would be taken. The tour blurb that I first read said that no matter what the weather, our photographer guide would know where to take us for some special shots. My imaginings did not foresee that there is only one road in and out of Scagway and that the surrounding terrain is so wild and mountainous that any other roads are impossible. There is another town only 14 miles away from Scagway, and it takes just 40 minutes to get there by boat,
but by road the trip covers some 350 plus miles. You have to go up to the summit, into Canada, around here and then back there and finally end up just 14 miles as the crow flies from where you started. That will very clearly tell you what the terrain was like.
To my delight, we were escorted up the exact route that the very expensive train tour was taking, up the White Pass to the White Pass Summit and lake. OK, yes the train did continue on further, but I was thoroughly satisfied with my tour and the extent of it. The guide did indeed know his photographic stuff, but on discovering that I, and one other of his passengers, were relatively competent photographers, he concentrated on the other two beginners and left us to our own devices. He stopped on and off all the way up the Pass and then we spent a lot of time taking in the vista at the summit and moving from one vantage spot to another (while the train quickly whistled its way straight through).
And guess what, by the time we reached the summit, the sun was out, it was
warm and brilliant, with just enough clouds to make the sky shots interesting but enabling the absolutely stunning mountain peaks all around to show themselves.
The township of Scagway is another "frontier" town which has been left in its original historical state and is delightful. Again, it is very set up for tourists, but this time with historical and museum displays as well as the usual run of souveniers and peddling of Alaskan craft - all of which is quite beautiful I must say. Scagway was born because of the Yukon Gold Rush. It was to there that many thousands of people flocked and started their arduous climb up the mountains, through the White Pass and on into Canada. It apparently took them at least a year - each miner had to carry into Canada with him/her a year's worth of supplies, and most of them did it on their back up the treacherous mountain side through snow and ice - one arduous death defying trip after another until they got all their stuff to the top. Then they had to winter by the lake there, build themselves a boat or some kind of floating device and in the
spring sail, float or paddle their way up the Yukon River to the gold fields. One documentary I saw about this in Anchorage said that by the time most of them got there, there were no more gold sites available, no more gold to be found and the rush virtually over. Imagine!!!! And here is an interesting piece of trivia. One guide told us that it was here on these gold fields and in this period of time that the Trump fortune was made. It was an ancestor of Donald Trump's who in partnership with another "opportunistic" chap didn't dig for gold, but established a hotel and made a fortune selling liquor, food, women and the like to the miners.
After a day in Scagway we sailed through the night to Juneau, Alaska's capital city which is only accessible by air or boat. No roads lead in. Excited by my tour in Scagway, and eager to see whales and other wildlife close up, that night I lashed out and booked myself on another tour the next morning. One that guaranteed sightings of whales (or $100 refund) and other sea and land wildlife. I was very excited and full of
expectation. BUT alas, mother nature was not going to smile two days in a row. The next morning, berthed in Juneau, we were encased in the thickest whitest fog I have ever seen. Don't worry we were assured, its going to be a beautiful day, the sun will burn off this fog and all will be well. It did, but not until my tour was back at the ship at about 1pm that day. I was in deep admiration of the two women in charge of our boat - they steered us safely through that fog, without colliding with another of the many vessels also out looking for whales and wildlife. They never took their eyes off the radar or AIS (for all my marine rescue friends), and the horn blasted constantly. They did find us humpback whales which we peered at in the fog. The photos tell the story. As one of my fellow travelers muttered when we sighted the first whale, "there goes our refund". It was truly disappointing. At no time could we see the shore or the waters around us. Never mind. You can't win them all.
Back in Juneau I did a brief walk
around town and the pier area. This is quite a modern town. Our bus driver took pity on our bad luck with the fog and detoured on our way back to the ship past the only glacier in Alaska that you can walk up to (apparently, at least a sea level I think she meant). She hoped we might see Mumma bear and two cubs walking down the road (as they did yesterday) but that was not to be the case. At the pier I spent time trying to photograph a bald eagle sitting very silently on a jetty some way off, but without my big lens (at home), had to be satisfied with only mediocre results. When he was disturbed by some people walking out onto the pier, he flew off and relocated to the top of a nearby telecommunications tower, and spent the remainder of the afternoon just watching.
The next day was Ketchikan. We were the last of 4 huge cruise ships to dock in town that day, and trying to get a piece of the footpath to move freely on was just a waste of time. It was shoulder to shoulder tourists. I managed to
find the historic district where I saw the scene that had led me to believe I would love this place on many brochures and in other people's photos. It was just as promised, and I duly photographed it, with all the touring crowds pouring all over it. I then caught the free shuttle bus that was doing the rounds and saw the rest of the quite extensively laid out town in comfort.
That was the last of our shore excursions. The last day of the cruise was at sea, full steam ahead for Vancouver which is where I am as I write this blog. But more about that next time.
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