A ramble through Alaska – Portage Glacier, Anchorage

Concluding Anand Yegnaswami’s sojourn in Alaska, this episode sees him face to face with a Grizzly and learning something new about the gender of Santa’s red-nosed reindeer

Refreshed from a rather uneventful third day of our trip we emerged from our slumber gung-ho about what was to be our first experience of a fjord. We had read in school textbooks about Norwegian fjords and here
was our ticket to experience one from a cruise boat.
A brown bear

The cruise we had booked promised fascinating views of glaciers and wildlife that included sea-lions, puffins and whales. The Czech acquaintances Rajarshi made the previous day had shown us captivating images from the cruise taken a day earlier. Had someone heard us praying, they might have assumed us to be sexist expecting parents but we prayed hard for the sun.

As we emerged from the hotel still praying, the ice-cold drizzle left us bedraggled and washed away our hopes of the fjord experience. It wasn’t a surprise when the cruise operator told us it was impossible to provide cruise services on such a wet and windy day.  We were done with Seward and as we headed out I learned from chatting with the lady at the gas station that the day before had been the 14th sunny day of the year. I left grumbling about the weather. Zeus was off my worship list.

Portage Glacier with the Blue Ice visible
We opened the glove compartment to look at the guide and found Plan B smiling at us – we settled on Portage Glacier and the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. The weather seemed to have come out of its fickle bout and we enjoyed our drive until we reached the glacier. Having caught wind of my recent affront, Zeus sent a freezing downpour accompanied by a breeze so strong that the tandem strike could have frozen the marrow in our bones. We braved the weather and moved on to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
Bisons at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
At the Conservation Center we saw significant acreage allocated for the rehabilitation of wild animals. Moose, elk, brown bear, Bald Eagles, bison, coyote, musk ox and lynx formed the group of animals that have found refuge here. We heard about the injured Bald Eagle that was too hurt to be safely released back into the wild. I was pained at the plight of a bird of prey so majestic that was now hopping along a solitary branch of a tree stump and would never again spread its mighty wings. Having seen the commendable conservation efforts at the wildlife center we headed for Anchorage.
The Seward Highway 1 that flanks Cook Inlet is known to offer Beluga whale sightings and we kept our eyes wide open and shouted “Beluga” for everything that moved only to quickly realize our folly and melt into sheepish grins. By the time we reached Anchorage our throats were parched from the screaming while our eyes were dreary from having seen none.
Anchorage, Alaska
Anchorage is one of the coziest cities I have visited during the beginning of fall, not temperature-wise but temperament-wise. The city, built by army engineers, is organized well into streets and avenues with buildings bristling with character. The three previous days of recluse living with inadequate social interaction made the visit to Anchorage a treat. I have never enjoyed crowds so much.We lapped up the cultural gallimaufry with gusto as we saw different races, nationalities and ethnicity converge on the city while we went looking for souvenirs. We saw totem pole replicas with carvings of raven, bear, and whales. We saw artwork on ivory from whales and even baleen, which raised our eyebrows on the legality of the sale of these items. The trip to Alaska illustrated the power of nature to sustain communities in the severest of weather conditions.
There is, however, a thin line between sustenance and exploitation. Will the pressure of population take its toll on this paradise? From our interaction during the trip we learnt that most of the population in Alaska is transient, they travel to Alaska for work during the summer and leave before winter. Probably the inhospitable winter is in a way a boon for conservation.
We left for the airport, where we chatted up a gentleman from Colorado who was returning from a visit to his girlfriend’s family near Anchorage. He brought in a very interesting piece of information from the Caribou farm he had stayed in. He mentioned emphatically that “male Caribous lose their antlers by December 15.” Which means Rudolph is a female!
Sculpture in Anchorage asserting the significance of nature in Alaska
I took back more than just souvenirs, pictures and memories from Alaska.
Text and photos by Anand Yegnaswami

Posted from Anchorage, Alaska, United States.

Ramble through Alaska – Exit Glacier

At Exit Glacier, not far from the top of the world as the puffin flies, we stayed at a historic hotel and stayed clear of bears
We were drained from the previous day’s drive to the Arctic that ended only at 3 AM on Day 3 of our trip at Seward, Alaska. Seward is a tiny town in the southern part of Alaska in the Kenai Peninsula, named after William H Seward who negotiated the purchase of Alaska. The town offers access to the Kenai Fjords National Park and the Exit Glacier, which were in our itinerary for the next two days. We had stayed at the Hotel Van Gilder — a historic hotel in Seward.
Exit Glacier
Built in the early 20th century, Hotel Van Gilder has seen the metamorphosis from an office building, hotel, women’s dormitory to its final use as a historic hotel. We were impressed with its interiors and furnishings, which gave us the feeling that we were indeed staying at a place of historic significance. The interiors, with their Italian feel, reminded me of another place where I had stayed at Miami Beach.
Hotel Van Gilder, Seward, Alaska
We had a three-hour nap as we had to get to the Harding Ice Field Trail to begin our hike. The weather was not benign and there was a continuous drizzle. A rather gloomy day compared to the heaps of sunlight we had received the day before. When we got to the visitor’s center for the Exit Glacier we could hear a lot of talk about bears in the area, and we made the necessary enquiries on how to evade bears, which included making a lot of noise and trying to look larger than the bear by spreading out the limbs high, or using a pepper spray (which we didn’t have). We then proceeded with caution. We passed a few hikers on the way back and some warned us about bears in the area. After about 30 minutes into the hike Raghavan and I decided we didn’t want to be hugged by any bears. I was reminded of a lesson my high school English text book about a hiker who was attacked by a bear that took out his scalp with one blow. Rajarshi was nonchalant about the bear threat and decided to continue all alone.
A cruise ship at Resurrection Bay
We hung around for short hikes at the base of the glacier and were pained to read about how it had receded over the past years. Back at Seward Raghavan and I ate and headed out to explore the town’s streets, a journey that took us to Resurrection Bay. Back at the hotel we were joined by Rajarshi who related his hike experience, the friends he had made, and a black bear he had spotted along the glacier.
Colorful mural on the wall of a restaurant
We ended the day with a visit to a local watering hole where we caught up with the friends Rajarshi had made during the trek — two from the Czech Republic and one from Japan — and we exchanged notes on our travels and headed back hoping we could catch glimpses of puffins, sea lions and whales during our cruise at the Kenai Fjords National Park.
Text and photos: Anand Yegnaswami
Lead Photo: Public DomainRead previous posts in the Alaska series

Posted from Seward, Alaska, United States.

Ramble through Alaska – the Arctic Circle

Leaving Mt Denali behind we left with optimism for the Arctic Circle, into the ragged latitude of the midnight sun
Disappointed with the weather at Denali National Park that denied us a view of Mt Denali on the first day of our trip to Alaska, we looked for an suitable alternative and found it in the Arctic Circle.
We headed out of Denali National Park early morning towards Fairbanks en route to the Arctic Circle. Aware that we could not hope for lavish feasts on the way we stocked up on food. It was a hastily planned jaunt with many unknowns, all of which added to the sense of adventure.
The unpaved road dotted with aspens
First, we had approximated distances as we had used paper maps for planning. Moreover, we had little knowledge of the pockets of civilization and amenities we might find on the way. Additionally, we did not have a complete picture of the road conditions. Yet, the temptation to seek exploratory salvation grabbed caution from our senses and threw it into the air. We were on our way to seek a place in the plaque for the ones who crossed over to the frontier of the midnight sun.
The tundra close to Denali National Park
The Arctic Circle is an imaginary circle of latitude that runs around the earth at 66 ½ degrees north of the equator. Due to the axial tilt of the earth the regions north of this circle experience at least one 24-hour day (in summers) and one 24-hour night (in winters) during the year. The Arctic Circle is not a single geo-spatial coordinate; it is a number of geo-spatial coordinates strung together, and we were hoping to cross over into the Arctic on the Dalton highway that connects Fairbanks with the offshore drilling region near Prudhoe Bay. All we could learn from our limited research was that there would be a signpost by the highway indicating the Arctic Circle.

We crossed Fairbanks and further north got onto an unpaved road that significantly slowed us down. Soon we were driving along the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, which connects the offshore platforms in Prudhoe Bay in the Northern extremity of Alaska with the Southern Alaskan port of Valdez (rather infamously known for the 1989 oil spill involving the tanker vessel Exxon Valdez at Prince William Sound). Raghavan added a trivia that the Mother Ship of the smokers in the movie Waterworld was named Exxon Valdez. The day was clear and sunny and our thoughts went back to Mt Denali, for on a day like this the peak would have been clearly visible, yet the landscape around our route specked with aspens made the drive to the Arctic a visual treat.

The Trans-Alaskan Pipeline
We crossed the mighty Yukon River and entered the tundra, which was dotted with fascinating land formations including a cluster of rocks shaped like fingers called Finger Mountain.
Rock formations on the way to the Arctic Circle
Finger Mountain
Just after noon we reached the rather nondescript Arctic Circle. We could not appreciate the faunal value of the region, though we were spellbound at the artistic landscape that told of nature’s craft of creating visual masterpieces. The vegetation in the tundra supports Caribou and with them follow Brown and Grizzly bears; yet the highway we took was a trifle compared to the expanse of the tundra and therefore diminished our chances of spotting wildlife.
Board indicating the Arctic Circle on the Dalton Highway
On the way back the sun painted the scenery with vivid hues and just before it went down we got a glimpse of the Northern peak of Denali from George Parks highway. Inundated with zeal infused by a lively day we looked forward with hope for the next day’s foray – the Exit Glacier in the Kenai Peninsula.
A glimpse of Mt Denali from George Parks Highway
Text and photos: Anand YegnaswamiPreviously in this series: Part 1 – Ramble through Alaska

Read all posts in the Alaska series

Posted from FAIRBANKS, Alaska, United States.

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