By Dennis Aures
A few years back my wife, Mary Ann, and I were fortunate enough to take a cruise to Alaska. The cruise originated in Vancouver, British Columbia, and proceeded up the Inside Passage. Seven days of cruising included port calls at Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway.
In Ketchikan we took a “Duck” tour of the town and harbor. The guide on our amphibious vehicle brought our attention to the unusually large number of churches we might have observed around town. It seems that during the frontier days, because of Ketchikan’s reputation as the “wickedest town in Alaska,” an ordinance was passed requiring that for every new saloon that opened, a house of worship had to be built. Must have been some pretty interesting Sunday mornings back then.
The harbor tour was exhilarating. Bobbing among the whitecaps in our little “duck,” with waves lapping up the sides, and rain slashing at the windows, made me appreciate even more that humongous floating hotel waiting for us at the pier.
Our stop in Juneau provided a truly unique adventure; a helicopter flight to and a hike on Mendenhall Glacier. As we climbed aboard our chopper for the flight the pilot informed us, because of weather conditions, there was a chance of an exceptional experience.
Soon we were enveloped in thick clouds, which is usually not a good thing in a helicopter, but eventually we popped through to a brilliant blue sky. Jagged mountain peaks surrounded us for as far as we could see, piercing the pure white blanket of clouds below. Exceptional and breathtaking!
Once on the glacier we were met by a guide who emerged from a little orange tent and set us up with crampons and ski poles for our hike. While this was going on, our helicopter took off, leaving us alone on this immense expanse of dazzling white ice – 14 miles long, 3.5 miles wide and over a mile thick. That’s a lot of ice, and cold. I was pretty sure we paid for round-trip tickets.
My mind was diverted from those concerns as our guide kept repeating that we should walk single file and only in his footprints because he didn’t want to have to drag us out of one of the many crevasses waiting to swallow us. Are we having fun yet?
Just as I was convincing myself that we had not paid for round-trip tickets, the unmistakable sound of beating rotors filled the air and we were soon aloft again. As we zigzagged our way back through the mountains, I asked our pilot if he received his flight training in the military. What flight training, he replied? Funny guys, those Alaskans.
Skagway was once the jumping off point for prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush of the late 1800s. The amazing White Pass and Yukon Railroad also has its terminus here. Originally built to get those prospectors and their gear to the gold fields of the Yukon, it now allowed us to retrace that same spectacular and harrowing route.
Back in Skagway, after that stimulating journey, different stimulation awaited to culminate our excursion. A stroll up Broadway brought us to the infamous Red Onion Saloon (and brothel). Playfully beckoning from the second floor windows, lovely “ladies” enticed passersby. I was enticed, Mary Ann not so much. We passed by.
Dennis Aures, of Buffalo, was exhilarated by a visit to an Alaskan glacier.