On Monday, I was on my own since my sister and her boyfriend had to work. I had known that before my flight up, so I booked a seat on the Phillips 26 glacier cruise out of Whittier, Alaska. After a good night’s sleep, I said farewell to my sis and headed off down the Turnagain Arm to Portage and the tunnel that connects it to Whittier. As I drove along the Turnagain Arm, I stopped and snapped some photos. As I was nearing Portage, I noticed a car that was parked on the shoulder. A person was standing on the shoulder and was looking at the water. Curious, I stopped and peered out at the water also. To my surprise, I saw a pod of beluga whales swimming up the main channel. I was able to get a few images on my camera – the belugas only look like white or gray humps in the water, but they were special none-the-less. I knew then it was going to be a good day.
The only way to get to Whittier is by boat or car. Boats arrive via the Prince William Sound. Cars have to come through a one-way tunnel. At the top of the hour, cars can go from Portage to Whittier for a $12 toll. At the half hour, cars can go from Whittier to Portage. Oh, by the way, trains use the same tunnel, so your schedule could be screwed by a train either arriving or leaving. I was able to make the 9:30 AM tunnel with no problem and I was shortly in Whittier, which gave me plenty of time to explore the town since I had never been there. Once I parked, I started my explorations around the town which isn’t really that big. I visited the local museum and took in the exhibits. I investigated the abandoned Buckner building (a former military barracks) and noted some of the graffiti. I walked up the roads on the hillside to find a great view of Prince William Sound. Lastly, I hiked some trails that led to several melt water streams merging together to form a creek. Once I followed the creek to where I parked the car, I saw that it was boarding time for the boat.
The Klondike Express is a powered catamaran that plies the placid waters of Prince William Sound, giving tourists a close up view of wildlife, glaciers and the overall majesty of the sound. Once on board and underway, we were served a fish and chips meal while a forest ranger narrated the opening segments of our excursion. We soon understood the differences between suspended, hanging and tidewater glaciers, and we were ready to view. It was a beautiful day on the sound, temperatures in the 60s and full sun, but the ship moving across the water at 46 mph creates a very cool breeze to say the least. As I walked outside, I donned my hoodie and set my camera to capture the sights I would see. There was plenty to look at – we saw birds, lots of sea otters and seals. The glaciers themselves were also very interesting. We got to see some of them, specially the suspended and hanging glaciers from a distance, but the tidewater glaciers were the coolest. We visited two different tidewater glaciers and you could tell when you were getting close, even if you couldn’t have seen them. Small icebergs and brash ice were in the water, signaling that a tidewater glacier was near. As we got closer, the boat slowed down and then finally stopped. As the engine sound died away, you could hear the ice groaning. Since a glacier is simply a river of ice, it is in constant motion even though it might not be apparent to us. It became clearly apparent when a section of the glacier fell away, calving off from the main glacier. With a groaning crack and a crash of ice into the water, the glacier became a little smaller. The visit to the tidewater glaciers was the highlight of the cruise. Soon we were heading back to port in Whittier. After the cruise I headed back to my sister’s place and rested for a few minutes before heading out for dinner to one of my favorite Anchorage establishments, Humpys. If you ever get then chance to to a glacier cruise, take it! It’s too great of an opportunity to let slip through your fingers.