Ketchikan - a City spawn to run!!


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North America » United States » Alaska » Ketchikan
September 13th 2018
Published: September 19th 2018
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Glacier Bay to Ketchikan


Close to Alaska’s southern tip, where the Panhandle plunges deep into British Columbia, lies Ketchikan, our final Alaskan destination. With a population of just over 8,000 it is Alaska’s fourth largest city. On board the ship there have been talks known as enrichment lectures about the geography, history and heritage of Alaska. Roisin and I didn’t attend any of these events but they were repeated on the stateroom TV. The lecturer referred to Ketchikan as ‘rainy’Ketchikan saying that if you spend enough time in this city, it will rain at least once. Mind you, you could say that about most of the cities in the North of England!! The Ketchikan locals refer to the rain as ‘liquid sunshine’ whereas us Northerners also refer to the rain as a liquid but not of the sunshine variety!!! Today was a short day arriving at 7:00am and all back on board by 12:30pm. Hopefully we wouldn’t be here long enough to experience the precipitation that the city is famous for. We have been very lucky with the weather this week. With the exception of our first day out of Seattle, which was spent at sea anyway, the sun has shone every day and we’ve had clear blue skies for most of the trip. The beauty of this small community was apparent on stepping out on to the deck (some ways after 7:00am I might add). The buildings gave the appearance of being layered up the steep slopes. The city is backed by forested slopes and a distinctively shaped Mountain giving that ‘hemmed in’ feeling although I was reassured that unlike Juneau, the roads do lead to other towns and cities in Alaska and Canada. On looking out in to the Tongass narrows, you could hear the hum of the sea planes as they took their passengers up for a spectacular view of the surrounding islands and mountains.

Our mission today? To see a bear in its natural habitat. So far, we have seen stuffed bears, wooden bears, knitted bears and Pooh bears so today we’re hoping to catch sight of a grizzly or a brown bear. We hear that this time of the year the mother will take her young to the stream and teach them how to fish. The enrichment lecturer mentioned to go walking along by the creek where it will be possible to see hundreds of salmon as they swim upstream to the spawning grounds.

The creek was only a fifteen-minute walk from the ship. The signs to downtown took us along a board walk on stilts known as the Waterfront Promenade. We then picked up the sign for Creek Street that took us passed a funicular. Funiculars are great!! These are modes of transport that use a carriage on a track while employing elevator technology (cables) to pull it up the side of a steep hill. I always say to Roisin that riding a funicular is the second-best thing to do whilst in a town next to seeing a bear roaming free!! My excitement was short lived as this funicular was out of service – sorry for the inconvenience! Well we’re not inconvenienced. We didn’t even know Ketchikan had a funicular. No, it’s the poor sods who live at the top of the hill we feel sorry for!!

The entrance to Creek Street was by way of a boardwalk that had been built over Ketchikan creek on pilings. A large wooden sign advertising the street was suspended above the narrow wooden bridge we had to cross to continue our quest. This was a bit of a bottle neck, caused by those who thought that they had to stop and take a selfie not realising that five yards further on when the bridge opens out in to a slightly wider street with a viewing platform that the shot would be practically the same!!! To our right, a history book of misshapen wood-panelled houses painted in bright colours to deflect the heaviness of the rain sodden climate. Although Creek Street is now crammed with souvenir shops and restaurants, this was originally Ketchikan’s famed red-light district until prostitution became illegal in 1954. During Creek Street’s heyday, it supported up to 30 brothels and became known as the only place in Alaska where ‘both the fishermen and the fish went upstream to spawn.’ We, however, turned left to follow the path deeper upstream in search of the elusive bear. We passed the salmon ladder which is where the creek rises. The ladder is manmade from concrete and provides an even passage for the fish as they frantically and sporadically try to make it up the lower falls. It supposes to ease their way against the rapid flow of the water by creating a series of pools arranged like steps that allow fish to travel upstream thus, in theory, increasing the number of salmons that make it home.

We crossed Married Man's Trail so called as it was once used by married men for discreet access to the afore mentioned red-light district on Creek Street. We then continued to follow the path of the creek. The salmon, now, were plentiful in the shallow stream. Many were just waiting in dense shoals. The water seemed to have a gentler flow about it here but yet the majority of the Salmon bided their time. Some hardy individuals made a dash for it, thrashing and jumping, making it to the protection of the next calm pool. We spotted many dead fish along the banks of the creek. These poor souls (not soles!!) obviously had been waiting too long… We started talking to a local lady who said that it’s just part of the process. Roisin and I thought that the dead salmon were due to either the stream being too shallow or they’d dropped dead through exhaustion. Nothing could be further from the truth. These fish may have already spawned. After spawning, most Atlantic Salmon die and just go back in to the food chain. The eagles swoop down and take some, bears take their share, other sea birds feast up on the remains, the rest is washed in to the sea and eaten by other fish. The whole process then starts again.

Well, we never got to see a real live bear on this occasion. Plenty of fish, though but if I wanted to see plenty of fish I’d just go to our local chippy!! We explained to the resident of our hunt for the elusive bear hoping on the off chance that she said: ‘Oh yes hang around. They come down here all the time’. Instead she explained that occasionally the bears come down from the forests, usually when they smell the garbage left by untidy tourists!! She had only seen one in the past few months. She pointed to a tree trunk that had collapsed and was now wedged against the bank of the creek. ‘The bear was stood on the tree trunk fishing for salmon but kept falling in. How we laughed!!’

Thanks for rubbing it in I thought. So, it looks like our luck wouldn’t be in unless we ventured out in to the wilderness. It wasn’t to be on this occasion, maybe, but we are back in Alaska in 2020 so this will definitely be top of our ‘to do’ list.

Roisin and I decided to head back to town. We walked down Creek Street stopping at Dolly Arthurs House. She was the city’s most famous Madam. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to venture inside. Anyway, one brothel looks pretty much like another (err, so I’m told!!)

Many of the restaurants sell buttburgers. If the meat used in these Ketchikan delicacies was pork then the kid’s rhyme: yum, yum, pigs bum…would be very appropriate!! However, later that evening on talking to a fellow passenger, I learned that the Butt was short for Halibut!! That makes much more sense!

Our scheduled departure from Ketchikan was 13:00. At 13:55 there was still no sign of the lines being released as one of the two gangways was still down although there was not much movement happening on the quay. A few dockers and security remained. Then one of the security guards radio burst in to life: ‘Missing…..passengers…..two…..Chinese…elderly’ We were being held up because a couple of passengers have no concept of time!! I wanted to be one of those You Tube videographers you see filming distraught passengers running along the pier shouting and waving frantically as the ship moves away from the quay!! Unfortunately, our Captain, or should I say, Commodore is too soft hearted and would rather the company pay the additional moorage fees than leave any of his passengers behind. All I could do was ‘snap’ them as they presented their cruise card to security at the bottom of the gangway and include the photo in this blog!!

Once again for the fifth day in a row, the weather had been sunny. The temperature was only 15C but felt much warmer. At dinner, the waiter mentioned that on every trip this season the weather had been poor with rain or wind or both on most of the days. All culminating in poor visibility. This cruise has been the best one yet for scenery. It’s a shame the season is coming to an end. Only one more trip to Alaska then the Ruby Princess will change itinerary and start a season of cruising the Californian and Mexican coast.

This evening was the Captain’s Circle champagne reception. The Commodore and the captain’s Circle host made speeches before announcing the most travelled guest on this cruise. This honour went to a solo traveller from the U.S with 808 cruise days. That’s quite a modest amount. We have been on cruises where the most travelled guest had over 2000 days under their belt. It’s a wonder they can still fasten their belt with the number of buffets that amasses to!! Bonnie came second with 680. We were in the top 94 as that is how many elite members were on board (we probably scrapped in at 94!!)

So, as we say goodbye to Alaska, we saw most of what we planned. We saw stuff that we didn’t plan and we plan to see stuff we didn’t see next time round. We guarantee it. However, the blog isn’t finished just yet. Tomorrow we dock in Victoria for a few hours before returning to Seattle where Roisin and I will be jetting off to San Francisco for a few days to catch up with our friends Simon and William and to generally chill out before that long flight home.


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Tot: 1.859s; Tpl: 0.062s; cc: 14; qc: 61; dbt: 0.0476s; 1; m:saturn w:www (104.131.125.221); sld: 2; ; mem: 1.4mb