Kapoors Summer 2019: Alaska and The Arctic Circle travel blog

We Had An Early Breakfast At The Red Chair Cafe And Then...

The Chugach Explorer Train Was Ready And Waiting For Us, Named For...

Here's A Map Of The Region We Would Be Travelling Through, First...

The Train Travelled Southwards Through The Outskirts Of Anchorage To The Water's...

We Were Delighted To Pass A Small Row Of Homes That Had...

What A Treat To See Small Private Planes Parked At Each Of...

When We Reached The South Shore We Were Shocked To See The...

We Learned That A Forest Fire Had Been Raging For Over A...

It Was Quite Surreal, No View Across The Water, And Mud Flats...

When We Reached The Entrance To The Anderson Tunnel Near Portage Lake,...

The Train Went Through The Tunnel To Whittier, Then Back Again And...

We Changed Into Rubber Boots Provided By Our Guides And Disembarked, Ready...

We Boarded Some Rough And Tumble Buses To Be Driven Down An...

The Season Was Just Getting Started And These Gals Were Excited To...

They Let Out A Whoop When We Came Over The Hill And...

That Huge Saddle-Shaped Iceberg Had Not Been There The Day Before, It...

A Van Appeared A Few Minutes Later, Bringing The Rubber Rafts For...

After A Safety Briefing, We Were Each Assigned Our Rafts, General Six...

And Before We Knew It, We Were In The Centre Seats And...

This Guide Paused To Give Her Group Some Information And We Went...

It Was Unfortunate That The Smoke Was Limiting Visibility, But We Could...

Our Guide Said It Wasn't Safe To Row To The Toe Of...

However, It Was Safe To Row Near The Floating Icebergs And We...

As We Moved Around From One Area Of The Lake To Another...

One Of Our Rafts Is Dwarfed By The Gravel-Coated Former Underbelly Of...

It Would Have Picked Up All That Rock And Sediment As The...

Here You See Some Very Pure Ice, You Can Tell By The...

I Used The Zoom On My Phone To Get This Shot Of...

We Were Told That We'd Be Third In Line To Leave The...

Here's A Screen Grab From Google Maps, Of The Toe Of The...

I Looked Back As We Entered The River And Boat Number Four...

Looking Ahead Our Guide Pointed Out The New Railway Bridge Up Ahead

There Are No Roads Into This Region, That's Why We Came In...

This Is The Only Part Of The Journey That Had Anything Resembling...

We Passed The Debris Of The Former Railway Bridge, Taken Out By...

I've Never Wanted To Try White Water Rafting, But I Was Disappointed...

We Spent Four Months In Chile And Argentina In Year Three Of...

I'd Seen Photos Of People Rafting At The Toe Of A Massive...

Now I Could Sit Back And Check 'Glacier Rafting' Off My Bucket...

We Pulled In Beside Boat Number Four, There'd Been A Bit Of...

We Waited By The Train Tracks While The Guides Pulled The Rafts...

And Before Long, We Could See The Train Arriving On Its Regular...

The Spencer Iceberg And Placer River Float Makes Use Of The Train's...


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BACKGROUND

Here’s some of what the AirBnB.com site has to say about the Spencer Iceberg and Placer River Float tour:

“Get up close to picturesque icebergs at Spencer Glacier Lake after your scenic train ride on the Alaska Railroad’s Glacier Discovery Train. Chugach Adventures’ was the original guide service at Spencer Glacier pioneering the area since 2001.

View panoramic mountain & glacial landscapes on a seven-mile river float down the pristine Placer River. This trip is one of the most scenic glacier river trips in Alaska:

Daily Chugach Adventures & Glacier Discovery Train Time & Itinerary:

9:45 AM – Glacier Discovery Train Departs Anchorage

11:00 AM Train Departs Girdwood

11:30 AM Train Arrives Portage 1st Stop

12:15 PM Train Arrives Whittier

12:45 PM Train Departs Whittier

1:15 PM Train Arrives Portage 2nd Stop

1:25 PM Train Departs Portage 2nd Stop

1:45 PM Train Arrives Spencer Whistle Stop

2- 4:45 PM Spencer Iceberg & Placer River Float – 2 Hours on the Water.

5-5:15 PM Return Via Train to Portage Station

5:30 PM Guests Board Motorcoach Bus for Return Journey To Anchorage”

KAPOORS ON THE ROAD

We were pleased that the tour didn’t start too early so that we could go to the Red Chair Café once again for a hearty breakfast and pick up some ready-made sandwiches and cookies for lunch. We had plenty of time to walk to the train depot, pick up our tour tickets and check out the Alaska Railways Gift Shop before the call came to board the train.

We noticed that the sky was rather smoky-looking as the train pulled out of the station and made its way south through some of the residential districts. At one point I was startled to see a number of small private planes parked behind some posh-looking houses. On closer examination I could see a wide strip of grass between the train tracks and the parked planes.

I took a moment to find the train’s conductor and asked him about what I’d seen. He explained that the residents of the houses had always been able to fly their planes in and land them on the narrow grassy runway and park them out back of their homes. This is no longer permitted, but these particular homes have been grandfathered in, and are allowed to continue as before. What a treat to see!

Shortly after seeing the small planes the train reached the water’s edge and the tracks ran along the ocean for the next several miles. The smoke was so heavy once we rounded the promontory and it was impossible to see across the Turnagain Arm to the mountains on the Kenai peninsula.

I asked the conductor about the smoke and he said that a huge forest fire had been burning for over a month already but the forest services were leaving it alone because it wasn’t threatening any built up areas at that point. It’s unfortunate that it had to happen while we were there because the smoke pretty much blocked out all the marvelous scenery. The tide was out and the muddy flats along the coastline, combined with the smoky air gave a surreal feeling to the views out the window.

However, a couple of hours into the train trip, we reached the entrance to the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. We were out of the path of the wind blowing the smoke towards Anchorage and the skies were clear blue and we could admire the glaciers on the mountains above us.

We paused to wait for the tunnel to clear before the train was given permission to proceed. Here’s what I learned about the tunnel from the Alaska.org website:

“Driving from Anchorage to Whittier to play in Prince William Sound? You’ll go through Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel - the longest (2.5 miles) highway tunnel in North America, and the first designed for -40 Fahrenheit temperatures and 150 mph winds!

Cars and trains travelling in both directions must share the one-lane tunnel, and it usually needs to be aired out in between trips (with jet turbine ventilation, another first!). This unique design that enables a single lane of traffic to travel directly over the railroad track saved tens of millions of dollars over the cost of constructing a new tunnel.”

Once through the tunnel we carried on to Whittier, a tiny community of 218 on the shores of Prince William Sound. Thousands of visitors pass through the village each summer, arriving my ship, train and car. Remarkably, they all live in one apartment building near the harbour and work to support the Alaska State Ferry, the Alaska Railroad, commercial fishing, freight barge, as well as recreation and tourism. The annual visiting population is over 700,000.

We got off and stretched our legs, enjoying the bright sunshine and the fresh air for about a half hour while some of the people on our tour headed to the Whittier Hotel to pick up some fast food for their lunch. We were well supplied with our sandwiches and cookies from the Red Chair Café in anchorage, so had time to appreciate the surrounding glaciers and chat with some of the locals on a charter fishing boat.

The train whistle called us to board the train and then it backed up all the way through the tunnel and then switched tracks to start travelling south towards Seward. The tour company makes use of the regularly scheduled trains in order to reach the remote Spencer Glacier. The rafting tours are timed to coincide with the comings and goings of the trains to Whittier and Seward.

It was another hour before the train stopped at the Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop in the Chugach National Forest. We had been supplied with rubber gumboots while we were on the train and were able to leave any unnecessary belongings in the train car while we were on the river. Anil and I paused to have our photo taken by the Whistle Stop sign; we could hardly contain our excitement.

Moments later a rough and tumble bus arrived to transport us the short distance to the large lake at the toe of the glacier. It was driven by a very lively young woman who seemed full of excitement herself. You would have though this was her first trip, but the rafting begins earlier in June so she was an old hand at handling the bus for sure. When we came over a small rise and the glacier and the lake came into view, the driver and her sidekick let out a big ‘Whoop’! They spotted a huge iceberg that had recently calved off the glacier – it was massive!

We stopped for a van pulling a trailer-load of eight rafts to pass ahead of us and then followed in its wake. The bus pulled up near the shore, life jackets were distributed, and after safety instructions were delivered by the man responsible for the tour; we were sent off to our respective rafts – approximately six people per raft. It seemed most of the guides were women, strong, enthusiastic and clearly lovers of the great outdoors.

Our guide explained that she would get us up close and personal to some of the icebergs, that we could be able to touch some of the ice and after approximately forty-five minutes, we were turn out attention from the glacier to the Placer River and spend a couple of hours travelling down to a spot where we would meet up with the train returning from Seward.

Our guide was one tough gal; it’s no easy task rowing that large heavy raft around the lake but she made it even more fun by having a bit of a race with another feisty guide. She took us up close to several big icebergs and Anil got his hands on a large chunk of glacial ice. At one point we heard a very loud boom and we learned that was the ice moving and cracking near the toe.

We thought that we would probably get a lot closer to the actual glacier than we did but our guide explained that it wasn’t very safe and besides, though the toe didn’t look that far off, it was at least two miles distant and it would take a long time to row that far and back.

I thought you might be interested in seeing a video taken two months after we were at the Spencer Glacier. Two kayakers got up too close to the toe of the glacier and were lucky to have survived when tons of ice broke away while they were filming: Lucky To Be Alive!

When it was time to think about heading to the river, our guide was told that we could be boat number three so she turned the bow around and we had out last look at the glacier and the surrounding mountains. It had been a dream fulfilled and the unfortunate factor was the heavy smoke obscuring the clear views of the mountain features. I was looking forward to the river portion of the tour because we’d never done any river rafting before.

I’d always been afraid of white-water rafting but the Placer River is considered a Level One at best, so we weren’t too concerned. There was a little bit of rushing water as we left the lake and entered the river and under the railway bridge. Our guide turned the boat around so we had a view of those following us as they came through the mild rapids and then the remainder of the trip was a gentle cruise with nothing to be concerned about.

It was great to be out in the wilderness, on a sunny day in June. Apparently the tours run daily throughout the summer, rain or shine. I can’t imagine having the bad luck to have booked the trip and arriving to find the skies overcast and a heavy rain falling. Apparently they do provide rain ponchos when this happens, but once again, Kapoor luck kept us comfortable and dry.

There were no signs indicating where we would finish up and leave the rafts. We managed to catch up with the guide with the pink hat, and there were a few words of rivalry between our guide and her. Everyone had a few laughs and then it was time to get onto dry land again. The boats were pulled out of the water, the lifejackets piled in a heap and we looked down the line and eventually saw the train approaching.

The train took us to the Portage Train Station where we moved onto bus for a quicker return to Anchorage.

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