Posted on Sep 23, 2015 in Alumni News and News
My trip to Southeast Alaska was an adventure that didn’t disappoint. Once I landed in Sitka, we hit the ground running. I met up with Flying Jayhawks passengers who participated in the Denali National Park pre-trip option, and we joked that they were the last Jayhawks to see Mount McKinley. (The original name of Mount Denali was reinstated on August 30.)
There were four fellow Jayhawks on my trip: they were all good friends in college who still kept in touch. One couple met in the KU Marching Band; the men were members of the same fraternity and the women were sorority sisters while at KU. It was a lot of fun being able to spend time with them and see bonds that were first made on Mount Oread.
We watched a private Alaskan Native Tlingit performance from the Naa Kahidi Dancers before taking a ferry ride to embark on our ship, the Admiralty Dream. Our first day, we sailed the waters of Icy Strait to pick up our National Park Ranger and our Hoonah Tlingit Cultural Heritage Guide. They shared local stories and information about the area’s native inhabitants and the natural history and wildlife. We spotted sea lions, puffins, mountain goats, and a variety of birds on our way to see the stunning Margerie Glacier.
Next up we hiked Shaw Island on what they call a typical ‘silver’ Alaskan day, which means overcast, cold, and raining. The only stop we made at an actual dock was in Juneau where we visited Mendendall Glacier and hiked up to Nugget Falls. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking through downtown Juneau shopping, eating, and viewing the Sealaska Heritage exhibit. That evening brought an unexpected treat of whale watching. We saw humpback whales in close proximity, and one performed for us with pectoral waves. Then, just a short distance away, we saw a small pod of Orcas, or killer wales, including a large bull and a few females with calves.
Finally we had sun! Beginning with our trip to Tracy Arm, it was beautiful sunny weather for the rest of our trip. With the expert navigational skills of the Captain, we came within an eighth of a mile of the South Sawyer Glacier, which is the closest the boat came to the face of the Glacier out of fourteen trips this summer. No glacier calving, but we saw icebergs, growlers, and bergy bits (the size of ice that break off of the glaciers from largest to smallest).
Once we turned around, we stopped in Icy Falls to kayak and others went on a D.I.B. (Demaree Inflatable Boats) ride along the shore lines. The inflatable boats were the main way we were able to reach land—the areas we visited were so remote they either didn’t have a dock or there was a small area just large enough for the inflatable boats. Hidden Falls Hatchery, which seemed like a less-than-exciting attraction in the beginning, became one of the more interesting sights.
During our trip, we learned a lot about different types of salmon and how they migrate upstream to lay their eggs. We pulled up to the hatchery to see the pools of fish—and we saw bears. And not just a couple, but about twelve brown bears. No one from Orbridge or the ship had said anything about seeing bears on the trip, so it came as a complete surprise! A couple of cubs came close to our group, and people at the hatchery scared them off toward the other side of the stream so they wouldn’t get caught up in the net with the fish.
The trip ended with a hike on Lake Eva trail. One of my favorite pictures I took is of a blurry brown bear. It was coming up the path toward us, and I snapped the picture before getting out of his way. Thankfully the bear went a different direction! That evening was a wonderful Captain’s reception to celebrate the amazing ship crew, the naturalists from Orbridge, and the new friendships created on a memorable trip.
The final icing on the cake for this trip was waking in the middle of the night and going out on the boat’s deck to view the Northern Lights. I recommend visiting Alaska for anyone who loves to travel, it has natural beauty that will rival any place in the world.
—Tegan Thornberry, assistant director of membership, co-hosted the Flying Jayhawks trip through southeast Alaska in September. For more information about the Flying Jayhawks program, including the 2016 schedule, visit www.kualumni.org/flyingjayhawks.