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The way to the Glacier Bay – the Inside Passage

The way to the Glacier Bay – the Inside Passage

This and the next two posts report about the maybe most beautiful journey I ever did. Those who usually only scroll over the texts and only watch the photos, I don’t mind that, are now invoked to not do so this time and read all of it instead. To express my emotions in these posts wasn’t an easy thing, but I tried my best to do so.

Let’s begin on June 5th, 2017. Moritz and I were in Skagway, only one day away from splitting up for one week. My destination would be the Glacier Bay, a remote place laying far away from each road access and being one of the most impressive protected areas of North America. The last preparations were running. I bought the tickets for the Alaska Marine Highway and packed all my stuff. Later on, we visited the public library to use the Wifi and the first thing I looked up was the weather forecast. Rain! Really nothing but rain was predicted!

The trip would be one of the most expensive ones I ever did so the doubts were growing and growing. Do I get to put up the tent alone? Where do I sleep at the stopover in Juneau? Is it really worth the money when there’s only rain? I didn’t sleep well that night. All the time I just thought about returning the tickets and cancel the whole trip. But there was one thing that kept me off from doing so. A book! It must’ve been around one year ago my parents gave me the book “The Blue Bear” from Lynn Schooler. The book tells the touching story of the captain of a small boat from Juneau, who brought out tourists and photographers to the waters of the Inside Passage and then gets to know a Japanese photographer who would, later on, get one of his best friends. Together they shared the goal to find one of the rare glacier bears, which is a brown bear with a genetic defect, that makes his fur being kind of silverish, greyish, bluish. The book describes their search over several years in exactly that area that I was into now. I just had to experience it! There was no way around that!

On the day of my departure, the weather was bright, sunny and a gentle breeze blew from the ocean. All the sorrows seemed to be blown away when I entered the ferry, fully packed with food and camping equipment for seven days.

Food and camping equipment for seven days. I was really heavily packed.

I headed to a seat at one of the large windows and made myself comfortable. The first hour we travelled through a steep valley, which slopes waterfalls were falling down until we reached Haines, the first stop on the Alaska Marine Highway.

Steep rock walls and waterfalls dominated the landscape from Skagway to Haines.

From there it went on to Juneau, the capital of Alaska.  At this point, all the doubts already had disappeared and the breathtaking nature had charmed me. Barren rock walls, snow-covered summits, glaciers… nothing I haven’t seen already on my trip. But there was the difference that those mountains rose directly out of the sea and I was travelling on it. Unbelievably beautiful.

One of the glaciers in the Inside Passage. It nearly made its way down to the ocean.
Rocky summits elevated directly out of the sea.
Only sometimes there were some signs of civilisation, the rest was just wilderness.

At 10 PM Alaskan time I arrived in Juneau without even knowing where I would sleep. The next ferry would go at 7 AM on the next day, so I had to be there at 6. I went to the terminal and asked friendly, how long they had opened. Until 11 PM. This didn’t help me much. But one of the staff meant that I could just wait and sleep under the porch of the building at a picnic table, that’s what people were doing there al the time. So I ended up sleeping under the picnic table in front of the ferry terminal.

By far the most primitive sleeping place on my journey so far.

Crazy what you experience to travel in a cheap way. The next morning I entered the boat again (it was the same one) and was happy that there was a shower available on it. Further, there was free hot water, which I could use for my oatmeal. And on top of that free jelly. Jackpot!

Fresh and replete the journey went on, the next stop being Gustavus, my final destination. On the way, the landscape was still great and I was stuck to the window like a fly. From time to time I saw saliences on the water surface, jumped off my seat, ran outside and hoped it to be a whale. If all the other tourists wouldn’t have done the same I would’ve felt really awkward about that. The time passed by and I wasn’t successful. But just as we entered the Icy Strait, an announcement informed us that whales were sighted from the bridge of the boat. So I and all the other tourists ran out to the deck once more and I saw humpback whales for the first time in my life. Only far away, but I could sharply separate their tail fins above the water surface.

Only far away but clear to identify. Some humpback whales in the Icy Strait.

I was happy! Another animal I could check off ma wildlife list. Around noon we arrived in Gustavus from where it was only another 15 kilometres to the lodge and the free campground at the Bartlett Cove. I just passed all the greedy taxi drivers and asked the driver of the lodge bus if he could take me there. By that I saved up another 15 dollars. Arriving there I went to the visitor centre, registered for the campground and put up my tent. The campground was really beautiful, directly behind the coast in the forest.

What a lovely campground. My home for five nights.

And the bay was nothing else than the entrance to the Glacier Bay! I nearly made it, I was so close to it. Only a reservation for the tour boat and a 225 dollar bill separated me from the Glacier Bay. So I went to the lodge and signed up for the boat on the next day. The weather forecast changed a little bit and there was only a chance of rain predicted for the next day, which made me feel quite optimistic, that the trip could get a great success. Because I still had some time on the evening I informed myself about the programs offered by the national park rangers and decided to visit an evening presentation. But first I cooked my dinner in the intertidal zone, where we had to cook, that bears wouldn’t get attracted to the food.

Cooking on the beach in the wind. Not the easiest thing, but it keeps the bears away.

After dinner, I went to the presentation.  And then; I was just on the way to the auditorium; a book on the shelf of the gift shop caught my attention. It was there! The book! “The Blue Bear”, from Lynn Schooler! I already thought it was all a dream, as all the locals I talked to on the ferry didn’t know about this book or Lynn Schooler. It was no dream! There was the book and tomorrow I would experience parts out of it! May the dream become true.

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