Marlene's Journal: Excerpts from Alaska
By Marlene Rattigan of Western Australia, guest aboard the Wilderness Adventurer
As we approached the dock, Lance pointed out the two massive cruise ships and then the tiny vessel in front of it, which was nestled in amongst the little fishing boats. When he pointed out that that little green boat was our cruise ship, I was taken aback, to say the least. A boutique tour indeed. We were greeted by the genial Captain Rob and he made us feel very welcome. We were then met on board by the very friendly Sarah who showed us to our cabin.
After some initial briefings, we were underway. It wasn’t long before Happy Hour was announced, and we were pleasantly surprised to find it was all-inclusive. A platter of crackers, fresh fruit, dips and various cheeses were also provided. I was delighted to find some gluten-free crackers amongst the offerings. So thoughtful! Then came dinner. We were to discover that each night there would be a choice of meal called Land, Sea, or Garden. We both chose salmon (sea) and it was delicious.
The next morning, we awoke early, having breakfast at 7:30 am. While we had been sleeping, the boat was traveling all night, and we were now anchored at the Inian Islands in Cross Sound.
The days were organized into activities of your choosing. We chose the skiff tour of the islands in the morning. Then, after a substantial lunch, we headed out on the kayaks for a training exercise called Kayaking 101. Apart from having to hack our way through lots of kelp – a peculiar life form unlike any seaweed I’ve ever seen, more like long strands of rope with baubles on the end and along the length – the whole experience was interesting and only took 1.5 hours.
A good dinner washed down with wine completed the day. We happily went to bed at 10.00 pm.
That night, we traveled a short distance to Le Mesurier Island, still in Cross Sound. We were headed for Bartlett Cove nearby. This is the headquarters of the Glacier Bay National Park. Here we were to meet Ranger Nicole, who was to travel with us for the next three days.
We went on a 2-hour walk with Nicole through the forest, which was an amazing experience. As the glacier retreated, undergrowth gradually started to reappear. In only 250 years this beautiful forest had been created and felt like it had been there forever. The trees were spruce and hemlock. That’s it. The undergrowth was shrubby with lots of moss, lichen and small flowers. In the middle of the forest, we came across the most beautiful and still reflection pool I’ve ever seen. It mirrored perfectly the trees around it. Nicole said it was a healing place because of the quiet of the region, the fresh air and the stillness of the water, which everyone loved looking at. She said studies had shown people’s heart rates slowing, blood pressure dropping and cortisol levels lowering just by being here. I felt substantially better from the fresh air I was breathing.
After returning to the boat, we cruised for the afternoon while Nicole gave a talk on the bird life, followed by Sarah, one of the guides, telling us through a hilarious interactive method, the story of finding gold in the Klondike. This was an arduous and foolhardy journey through sleet and snow and, of course, many perished. I played the role of ‘the lady’ going to the goldfields by the sea just to have a look. People who did this took so long to get there that the rush was well and truly over by the time they arrived! We found out later that Sarah was being assessed by Nicole for her Ranger’s Badge which she passed with flying colors. I don’t know how many other tests she had to pass but if she did them all as well as this one, she couldn’t fail.
As we advanced up Glacier Bay, we could see sea otters and other wildlife. We were headed towards Margerie Glacier. The sea otters, when not diving for food, would lie on their backs and snooze so all you can see are two little feet and a face poking up out of the water. Too cute for words. We also saw sea lions, which smelled disgusting, as well as loads of bird life. These were all on South Marble Island. We were told the animals would choose another place once the vegetation had grown too much.
We passed glaciers and watched as the landscape changed from lots of trees to rock walls where landslides and glaciers had removed the vegetation. As it got colder, the vegetation lessened even more, and ice appeared on the water. These were little chunks like mini-icebergs that had broken off the glacier. A cold but beautiful landscape.
Once in bed and sound asleep, we were awakened by an announcement there was an aurora borealis. We got up to look and saw over the mountain an eerie green glow that slowly turned cream. It stayed like this – not changing color again. The stars and the Milky Way looked incredible.
We awoke to find ourselves in Reid Inlet where we took the skiff to the glacier (Margerie Glacier) to have a clamber around. Upon returning to the boat, we found that preparations were underway for the ‘Polar Plunge’. As the name implies, you were to jump off the top floor into the freezing sea below and then swim to the boat where you were greeted with a hot drink to which a tot of rum had been added, and then you were to get into the hot tub to stop yourself getting hypothermia. Surprisingly, about a dozen or so hardy souls took the plunge, although a few opted to jump off from the skiff deck below. It was a small boat so the jump from the top was only about four or five meters, but plunging into icy water seemed a foolhardy thing to do in any event. I was glad to leave it to the gladiators amongst us.