Epic Trip Stop 7 Part 2 – A Train & Glaciers

As long as I was awake when we arrived in port, I watched the docking of the ship, and throughout the entire cruise, I spent every departure on deck watching the place we were leaving disappear behind us and looking forward to our next port of call.

So it was that on the morning of August 7, 2015, I hung over a railing and watched as we pulled into port in Skagway, Alaska.  I hadn’t heard of the town before I started making my cruise arrangements but I was looking forward to my shore excursion, which would be a train ride (you know how much I love trains).

Skagway was once the gateway to the Klondike gold rush, but its main business now is tourism.  I had booked myself a spot on the White Pass Scenic Railway, which runs from the town up to the Canadian border.  This was me for the entire time…

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Happiness is a train ride in the mountains…or anywhere, for that matter

I spent the entire two hours standing on the platform between two cars, hanging over the side and taking pictures.  I couldn’t stop.  I kept telling myself to stop, but I couldn’t, it was just too beautiful.  Another lady and I spent the entire time standing out there, making way for others when they occasionally decided to brave the chill.  My joy kept me warm.

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See that guy’s head sticking out of the train?  He was doing the same thing I was. And yes, we went over that matchstick bridge

After a while, we arrived near the Canadian border.

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Unfortunately, I didn’t see any Mounties…I suspect the NWMP (North West Mounted Police) sign on the old building is from an bygone era

We didn’t get off the train; the engineers did something clever and moved the engine car from the front to the back of the train then we were back off the way we came, traversing matchstick bridges back to town.  It was positively exhilarating!

By the time we got back to town, I was on a high again.  I walked around town for a bit and purchased and mailed my usual stash of postcards before heading back to the ship for lunch and my free Swedish massage, courtesy of my first day raffle winnings.  Skagway had been simply brilliant and I wasn’t sure the cruise could get better.  You know it totally did, right?

The reason I didn’t think it could get better is that we would spend the next two days at sea.  What could be exciting about that?  Glaciers, that’s what.

We spent Saturday cruising Glacier Bay.  I stood on the top deck all day watching as we went from glacier to glacier; I stopped only to eat.  In fact, I was out on deck when we started seeing the first pieces of ice floating in the water.  It was cold out there and I was wearing about four layers of clothes but I didn’t care.  I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  At one point, I ran back to my cabin to put another pair of socks to help out my cold feet, then I was right back on deck grinning like a fool.

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First glacier of the day is over my shoulder

I moved around the deck from side to side and front to back, whatever it took to get the best views.

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This is how close our brilliant captain got us to the glaciers

Meanwhile, there were US park rangers on board giving us information about glaciers and Glacier Bay over the speaker system.  My fascination with and appreciation for what I was seeing grew with each new piece of information they gave us, as did my interest in John Muir, the American naturalist (I later bought his book, Travels in Alaska).

If I thought that day was great, the next was simply phenomenal.  We cruised right up to Hubbard Glacier, the largest freshwater glacier in North America.  It’s about seven miles wide at the shoreline, where the ice is around four hundred years old.  That means that the ice I was looking at had begun its journey from the glacier’s source a good four hundred years before.  And with a crack as loud as thunder, I watched that baby calve.  Twice.  That means icebergs broke off of it while I watched.  Twice!

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The Hubbard Glacier calving…that’s an iceberg falling off the glacier and splashing into the water

I was in a dimension of indescribable bliss.  It was a type of bliss which I now recognise I only ever experience when I’m interacting with nature in awesome and mind-blowing ways.  I couldn’t believe that this was my life…watching a ginormous glacier calve with my very own eyes!

Eventually, our captain executed a beautiful turn of the ship and we sailed away from that marvelous glacier.  I made my way to the back of the ship to watch as Hubbard Glacier disappeared in the distance.  Then a launch came alongside us to pick up the US park rangers.  That was super cool too.  Look…

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One of the park rangers climbing down from our ship to the waiting launch

Those of us intrepid souls still on deck waved and shouted thanks to them as they pulled away.  They had done a truly wonderful job of piquing our interest in Glacier National Park.

After all the day’s excitement was over, I relaxed on the deck with a foodie magazine I had brought along, but it got pretty chilly so I retreated inside to an information session with the captain and hotel manager (every large cruise ship has one, I guess) in one of the lounges.

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Top: glad bag buss as we sailed away from Hubbard Glacier. Bottom left: that’s Hubbard behind me.  Bottom right: relaxing on the deck afterwards with my foodie mag and daily ship newsletter

On our last night aboard, I went to bed supremely satisfied with my first cruise experience and with the itinerary I had selected.  I was glad that I had done the northbound seven-day cruise because the further north we went, the more wonderful my experiences got.  Ketchikan had been nice, Juneau had been great, Skagway had been brilliant and the glaciers had been phenomenal.  I was done.  I didn’t need anything else.

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