Alaska, Day Six

If you Google Mendenhall Glacier you’ll see breathtaking pictures of daredevils hiking underneath the constantly moving sheet of ice. Having been on a steady track of retreating back into the mountains where the beginnings are made, countless articles sway readers into seeing the glacier before it’s gone. Hoping to go near the ice, only one tour brought us close, and added a few miles of rowing to the itinerary. A few clicks later, Stef and I embarked on our first excursion without our group. Wanting to selfishly spend some alone time with her while in the presence of a limited time offer view, we made our way off the ship to explore Juneau. 

Fellow Utahn and adventure guide Miller and his cohort Meara took our group of six (a recent widow and her friend, two younger sisters from Chicago, and Stef and I) onto Lake Mendenhall to paddle the two and a half miles to reach a beach within a stone’s throw of the glacier. Hearing the stories of Curtis, a bear that hangs around the lake, eating seagull eggs (and seagulls themselves) helps paint a picture of why the birds make their nests in some of the most challenging places on the rocks. A baby porcupine poking its head out of its den to see the sights and wave at eight paddlers helps balance out the earlier tales of carnage. A wolf affectionately named Romeo and his tales of playing kindly with dogs and people near Nugget Falls warms the soul. 

Standing at the waterline of the glacier, Miller asks me how does it look. Staring into the deep crystalline blue face, I’m taken back to the memories of flying the North Atlantic, soaring high over the vast white-ness of Greenland. Peering through the clouds, catching glimpses of the glaciers below, wondering if their beauty from 39,000 feet is magnified at 0. Today, I’m finding the answer to that question, but can’t muster the words. Eyes glued to the azure blue, frozen water has me intrigued beyond my usual quick-wittedness. Sitting on a rock wearing borrowed rain gear, wearing a hiking helmet and using a trekking pole for the first time, I’m taking a few extra moments to just soak it all in. 

Returning back to the ship, once again we find ourselves staring off the lido deck glassing the horizon for critters, in the air, on the ground, and in the seas. Staring out to sea, dolphin-like creatures play near the surface of the water just a few hundred meters off the side of the Nieuw Amsterdam. Looking through my binoculars, my eyes discern a dark black color, certainly darker than any dolphin I’ve ever known. Bryan and his sweet glass see white spots. Immediately we think orca, but then we change our minds as we didn’t see any tall dorsal fin. Googling on the world’s slowest satellite internet, we learned about dall’s porpoises, and collectively Bryan and I had an “a-ha” moment when we realized that’s what we saw. Another specie to add to the list, albeit eBird isn’t going to care about this one. 

Slowly we started glassing for grizzlies, and we found em. Then we’d catch the occasional cloud come out of the blowhole of a whale, and we’d begin tracking them. Again Bryan steered the crowds from port to starboard, and soon there was hardly any elbow room left. One gentleman commented on Bryan’s setup, and remarked “I sell those at my shop.” “Where’s your shop?” Bryan asked. “Arizona.” Immediately, Bryan, Mark, Rob and I turned to the man and asked “Where?”

Turns out, Prescott is a popular place. Popular enough that Bryan, who’s borrowing parts of his scope setup from a friend, is business partners with that friend , works with that friend, or is somehow tied to that friend. We laughed commenting how apparently Bryan asked first, hence why the 115mm objective lens was not in the shop before this gentleman left the office. 

Again, random / serendipitous / magical things happening in Alaska. One wonders if we were to take moments away from these dumb rectangles we’re both holding at this moment, perhaps we could see the random / serendipitous / magical things happening right before our eyes. Just need to adjust our focus accordingly.