In today's update, I see a glory hole and several growlers. But more of that later.
For the past week I have been in Juneau, the state capital of Alaska. Far from being the snow-covered wilderness I had previously associated with this part of the world, Juneau is actually predominantly rainy throughout the year, except in winter when it is usual to see 20 feet of snow. During my stay it was rainy for two days, sunny for two days (and plenty warm enough for shorts/T-shirt) and overcast the rest. Juneau was founded in 1880 as a gold mining town, but now tourism and fishing are the main industries here.
View into Juneau from part way up Mount Roberts Trail:
At least once a day, enormous cruise liners arrive up the Gastineau Channel and cropspray out into downtown Juneau several hundred affluent old people of all nationalities. It's the tail end of the season here at present but, once the boats arrive, Juneau is awash with tourists for a few hours shuffling between souvenir shops before they get back aboard at the end of the day and sail off into the night. In the evening, the local vagrants, of whom there are many, emerge onto the streets. Although some can be gruff, and spitting appears to be socially acceptable (or at least commonplace), the locals here are generally pretty friendly (apart from one chap who incorrectly thought I was staring at him) and helpful towards outsiders, and drivers always wait for pedestrians to cross the road even if it is not their right of way. Most bars sell IPA which, as in New York, is an unexpected bonus, and judging by my headache yesterday morning it is potent stuff.
One other thing I've noticed is that there are very few bald people. Even the bald eagles have a full head of feathers.
The area surrounding Juneau is pretty spectacular. It is situated in the Tongass National Forest (the largest forest in the US), which is classed as a rainforest. Mendenhall Glacier is a few miles north of the city and there are several mountains and hiking trails nearby. Here I am with a rainbow coming out my ear and the glacier and Nugget Falls waterfall in the background:
Since arriving here I have hiked around 25 miles across 10 different trails, and encountered several of Alaska's indigenous wildlife, including mountain goats, red squirrels, marmots, Steller's jays, a couple of eagles and a porcupine. I even serendipitously stumbled across a geocache in a tree stump. But... no bears. Most the locals I spoke to have regaled me with stories of how one popped into their back garden or wandered across the road in front of them or was spotted grabbing fish out of a creek. One had just appeared in the path of a lady I met on a trail yesterday and frightened her dog, and although I did see fresh evidence of its existence myself (of the steaming variety), whether due to my intimidating demeanour or repellent stench I am not sure, but they have so far kept their distance. There is a bear viewing tour I can take out of Ketchikan (my next destination), but it costs a fortune so I am in two minds about it. On the one hand, it's part of the reason I came to Alaska, and on the other... it costs a fortune.
As well as being incredibly cute, the marmots I saw near the top of Mount Roberts were docile beasts and happy to pose for photos. One of Sarah Palin's lesser-celebrated achievements was to introduce a bill declaring February 2nd as Marmot Day in Alaska.
One highlight of my time here was most definitely a day trip to a couple of glaciers. This involved a 3-hour sail from Juneau up a fjord known as Tracy Arm in a boat capable of holding 40 passengers, but on this occasion was only a third full. The twin glaciers, Sawyer and South Sawyer, it is fair to say, were spectacular. I took nearly 200 photos and have posted the best of them in the gallery, trying hard to keep the number to a minimum (though it may not seem like it).
We stayed by South Sawyer for an hour or so and saw plenty of 'calving', by which is meant sections of the glacier falling down into the fjord - with a thunderous crash. Even though it looked a lot closer, we were actually half a mile away from the glacier according to the captain. This was to avoid the hazardous 'growlers', which are chunks of ice that break off underwater icebergs and rise to the surface, and which can do a small boat like ours a fair bit of damage. Animals ticked off on this trip included seals, mountain goats and humpback whales.
I am staying in a cheap (by Alaskan standards) old hotel on the main street, but despite the wafer thin walls, stale smoke smell, odd inhabitants and shared bathroom it caters adequately for my needs. I am currently in the adjoining hotel bar with an IPA and baseball on the telly trying to upload some photos and update this blog before I have to catch the bus to the ferry terminal as I have a 19.5 hour sailing ahead of me to Ketchikan. As usual, uploading the photos is proving an exasperating experience due to its refusal to work properly despite being sworn at.
As for the glory hole, here it is in all its glory. A bit of a disappointment if I'm honest, but a more glorious hole I have yet to see, on this trip anyway.
Time to wrap up for now; the next update will be from Ketchikan, where I suspect I have booked myself far too much time. We will see.