Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Prince Williams Sound

We wake everyone up at 6am, dress, disconnect the RV, and drive to the ferry house. They check that the RV gas tank is shutdown and then tell us to wait in the waiting list lane. The other lanes start filling up with cars, they are sorted by size, big RVs, small RVs, vans, SUVs, and normal cars. At some point the crew starts to load the ferry. This is the weirdest ferry loading as the cars go down a ramp entering the ferry from the side at its rear. We wait as all the lanes are starting to empty out.

The tension grows, will they have space for us? The captain is having discussion with the crewman on the dock on the walkie talkie and we hear the discussion. They survey the different cars on the waiting line, and eventually we get the sign to get on. The ramp is very narrow and at the end we meet with crewmen who expertly signals to us how to park (we move back and forth three times). This is very scary as from the driver seat it seems we are should have already bumped into the cars around us. After we are parked, we barely manage to squeeze out and then make our way to the stairway up to the deck. All the seats up front are taken, but we do find some nice seats. The ferry has a large cafeteria that serves breakfast (waffles, ommletes, etc.) and later lunch. The outer decks are all around the boat and so we can view things from outside.

It is beautiful clear day with blue sky. There is fog on the water that is slowly dissipating. Standing up front we get the wind in the face and it is quite cold.

Morning fog in Valdez Sound

The exit from Valdez is through a narrow foggy passage and for a moment it seems that we will be lost in the fog. However, once we get closer, it dissipates.

Into the foggy passage

We continue to pass between towering mountains and small islands. At
some point we see a company of porpoises (type of dolphins) swimming by.

Clear views

Sea Lions

After about an hour we round the corner and starting seeing the Columbia glacier. This is a big glacier that is fast receding from the sea, and thus break off many iceberg. The front of the glacier is supposed to be several km across and more than 60m high above the water. We see it from afar and so it is hard to appreciate the magnitude.

Colombia Glacier

Yael enjoying the views

At this stage we started to see many icebergs in the water. Some were very large, the size of house above the water, others very small, almost looking like a seal. The icebergs where sculptured by the sea and the rain in unique shapes. It was interesting to watch them from different angles.


After awhile there is an announcement that the captain spotted a humpback whale. We all move out and try to see it. We were a bit far from it, but it was nice to be able to call "there she blows" and see the fluke as the whale dives (the rythme is three blows and then a dive for few minutes).

Humpback Whale!

And another dive

After 5 hours of ferry ride we approach Whittier.

Whittier Sound (sea view)

This is a port town at the end of a long fjord. Originally it was a small community of fisherman. During World War II the navy decided that it has strategic importance as it was a protected port that didn't freeze in the summer. So they built a big garrison building, enlarged the port, and dug a long tunnel (over 2 miles) for a train line leading in land. This rail line made Whittier a commercial port following the war. Today the old garrison building is deserted, and most residents live into big apartment buildings that according to the book are connected to each by underground tunnels, making life in the winter easier. Few years ago the tunnel was converted to also allow for road traffic. This means that there is one lane that is also railway line, and the tunnel alternates between road traffic and trains. Aside from a port and the three large complexes (one deserted and two active), there is also a harbor for small boats and along it several tourist memorabilia.

Deserted old garrison

After landing in town most cars from the ferry headed to the tunnel leading toward Anchorage. We decided to for a picnic, and so headed the other direction to a trailhead that was supposed have a nice stream with picnic spot. We got there and found out that the parking lot is being reworked and so the pastoral place was noisy with tractors moving gravel and digging the earth.

We returned to town and explore the different businesses that offer excursions. They didn't look very promising. Since it was getting to be an afternoon, we drove to the tunnel and parked next to it, prepared sandwiches and headed on a trail leading to a pass that used to be the site of a glacier above town.

The trail lead up very steeply and it was a sunny day. Soon we were sweating and hot. We climbed almost 100m up and got very close to the snowline. We stopped at the top of the pass to cool down and watch on one side the glacier and on the other the whittier fjord below us. The sun was out and everything around us was green, with pools of water in the "groves" left by the glacier action.

Portage Pass

The only problem is that the place was swarming with mosquitos. We put on massive mosquito protection, but still got some bites, and allot of annoyance from the mosquitos.

Picnic in Portage Pass

After a while we had enough, and hiked the steep descent down.

Portage Pass (way down)

Salmon berry

When we reached the RV the line of cars waiting on our side started to go through the tunnel.

Whittier Tunnel entrance

We decided not to wait another cycle, and hurried to the RV and managed to be the last ones in the tunnel. The tunnel itself was very very long and narrow.

Whittier tunnel

It was a weird experience. When we came out we saw a train headlight at the end of the tunnel, and hoped that it will wait for us to get out...

We managed to get out of the tunnel alive and proceeded to watch the views of the glacier lake from the other side of the mountain.

Placer lake

We then continued two miles down the road to a very sweet camp ground in the woods. The weather was nice and each site was secluded from the others, making it a treat. We lighted up a campfire and prepared dinner. and ate dinner outside on the picnic table. The only problem was the abundance of mosquitos of different shapes and sizes. They kept coming at us throughout dinner, and although the repellents did their jobs, this was very annoying, We finished dinner, cleaned up and escaped into the RV.

Camping in the woods


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