Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Alaska - Part Two. JUNEAU!

Remember how I mentioned that we lucked out in weather in Anchorage and Denali?  Our luck did not extend to our visit in Juneau.  They are having the wettest and coldest summer on record (exact opposite of Utah!) and we definitely experienced the temperate rainforest in full effect.  It was chilly!

We started our trip at the Mendenhall Glacier, which has to be the most visited site in Juneau.  It's pretty awesome.  Even though the pictures don't really show it, that glacier is 700 feet high and half a mile across.  I didn't really believe that until later when we were able to kayak closer to it.  More on that later.

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Mendenhall Glacier
I was also surprised to see a little bit of fall color sneaking through already.  I'm not quite ready for that!
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It's not fall yet!
The salmon were running (so. awesome.) so there were plenty of bear out and about.  We saw SO many black bears taking advantage of the easy feast that the salmon provided.  This black bear was right at the visitor's center with her two cubs.
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Om. nom. nom.
Speaking of bears and salmon, we later went on a hike around the same area and came across this unsettling sight mid-hike:
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Instantly, we were all on high alert for a bear because one was clearly close by.  Not a minute later we found her (and her two cubs) just twenty feet off the trail.  Talk about an instant heart rate spike!  We made a bunch of noise, slowly backed up, and hightailed it out of there.  It was too close for comfort for me!  Thank goodness the cubs were right next to her, rather than close to us.  That's a nightmare situation for sure!

Speaking of wildlife (again), Juneau has a crap ton (that's an official measurement, btw) of bald eagles.  Like 30,000+ or something ridiculous like that.  They are seriously everywhere.  It was fun to see them in flight.  They were also big fans of the salmon.

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This is what freedom looks like.  Or something.
Juneau is also home to the Tongass National Forest which is the world's largest temperate rainforest.  It's around 17 million acres.  Huge!
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Jett joined us for that too!
We also did a whale watching tour.  I was realllllly hoping to see some Orca whales but we didn't have any luck with that.  We did see a bunch of humpback whales.  They are always fun to see.
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Whale tail!
We did luck out and get ONE day of sunny weather.  It was beautiful!  It was incredible to see all the different mountain ranges that had been hiding behind the clouds and fog.  We made sure to make the most of that day by kayaking and hiking.  The pictures are lower down (they didn't upload in order and blogger is a pain).
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Mendenhall Lake
We also rode the Mount Roberts Tramway up to the top of one of Juneau's mountains and were able to see Juneau from above.  It was awesome to be able to see the Gastineau Channel from above.  It really is such a pretty area; it's just too bad the weather is so rainy.  I'd go crazy living there!  This girl needs her sun.
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Bald Eagle at the Tramway
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Tramway--can you find the cruise ship?
And of course, all visitors must do the Tracy Arm tour if they are visiting Juneau.  It's pricey but well worth the money.  The Tracy Arm fjord was carved by a mile high (!) glacier and there are still many glacier remnants along the way.  The water is absolutely beautiful.
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Tracy Arm Fjord
There are also glaciers, if you are in to that sort of thing...
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...which I am.  Duh!
The fjord seriously has hundreds and hundreds of waterfalls.  I'm pretty sure they have more than Hawaii.  Each one was unique and beautiful.  My favorite, however, was definitely this cascading one:
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I want one.
Nature really is awesome.  

Another thing that I LOVED about Alaska is the crazy amount of wildflowers they have.  There are so many flowers in bloom there!  My particular favorite was definitely the fireweed.  It was everywhere and so bright and colorful.  Absolutely gorgeous!
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Fireweed Meadow
Did I mention that we also went rafting down a river while in Juneau?  Check out the fog on the lake behind us in this photo:
River rafting
It was so eerie and so awesome.  There were some impressive rapids as well!  Unfortunately, I don't have any photos from the ride because it was raining so dang hard I didn't want to risk ruining a camera.  Oh well--I have it in my memory bank!  :)

And now we get to my favorite part of the trip--kayaking to and hiking the glacier.  Absolutely incredible, and probably my favorite thing I've done on a trip ever.
I was nervous about kayaking because the lake is only 34(!!!) degrees and kayaks are notoriously tipsy.  However, we sucked it up and paddled away to the glacier.  It must have been at least a mile or two across the lake to actually get to the glacier, but it was well worth the effort.
Getting closer...
And remember how I said that the glacier is much bigger than you think it is?  Here's some proof:
Find the people.  Yep.  It's a massive chunk of ice.
Once we reached the glacier, we parked our kayaks and hiked on the glacier up to some glacier caves.  I'm not going to lie--it was super sketchy.  The glacier is really active and calving fairly frequently.  Additionally, it was a sunny day so water was flowing down and through the glacier like crazy.  We crossed many sections where the ice was hollowed out and there was a good risk of falling through an unseen crevasse.  I was totally freaked.  However, I had seen photos of where we were headed and for me the risk was worth it. 

I am SO glad I sucked it up and took the risk.  I can't even describe how amazing this place is in real life:
The cave continues on for about 50 yards or so until the water drops and it becomes too difficult to hike through.  The water is fast and swift.  It also leaves a creepy mist in the cave which you can kind of see in the background of that photo.  Pictures still don't do the place justice though.  If you are up for a risk, I definitely recommend going to this hike.  Be warned though--it is super dangerous!
On the glacier on our way out.
You can see in the photo above some blue streaks on the glacier--that is the running water I was talking about.  So sketchy!
Nugget Falls in the background
Still awesome though...
Mendenhall Glacier
So yeah...those are my adventures in Alaska!  Do you think I'm crazy for hiking to the glacier caves?  I think I am, but I'm so glad I did.  Have any of you ever done something similar?  Tell me about it in the comments!


  1. what amazing photos and lifetime memories friend! im so jealous of your epic adventures this summer:)

  2. I love all your pics. I would have freaked out being so close to the bears. OMG just thinking about it makes me so nervous. You are seriously tough. And hiking to the glacier caves...I don't know if I could do that.

  3. Your pics are gorgeous. that one inside the glacier is AMAZING.

    p.s. we need to hang out soon. it's been way too long.

  4. Isnt alaska awesome! Great photos and glad u had an amazing trip to Juneau

  5. Alaska is so beautiful! It looks like you had an amazing trip!