So much for mentioning that I didn’t have any new experiences to share! This week was full of them, from seeing a lumberjack show in Ketchikan, to seeing Juneau in sunlight for the first time, to taking my first official excursion with Princess Cruises! Bald eagles, rafting, more hiking…sit back, folks, because I’ve got a deluge of pictures once again.
Let’s start with that lumberjack show. If you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you probably saw that lovely photo (right) earlier this week. That’s from the Great Alaskan Lumberjack Show in Ketchikan. Those are professional lumberjack sports competitors – and yes, that is a real thing. All of the guys in the show are title-winning lumberjack sports athletes (I think that’s the best term for them), and the events in which they compete are no joke! Scampering up denuded tree trunks, carving with chainsaws, trying to outroll one another on a floating log…well, it was quite impressive.
I confess, I had prepared myself for a sort of hokey, kitschy show. It’s always awkward when athletes are asked to act (have you seen some of the commercials airing these days??), and so I was willing to cut them a lot of slack on entertainment value. But both Candace and I were genuinely delighted by the writing and the delivery! Sure, it was corny at moments, but they really embraced it, and that’s the best way to do comedy – ALL the way. We laughed, we booed, we cheered madly. I even won a prize for being one of the loudest, rowdiest fans! (Guess they couldn’t tell that I was lipsynching my “yelling” due to the fact that I had a show that night.)
I guess the moral of the story is, the next time you’re in Ketchikan, be sure to “ketch” this lumberjack show – it’s totally worth an hour of your day.
The next day, I woke up to one of the brightest, most beautiful mornings I’ve ever seen. And when we pulled into Juneau, I felt incredibly remorseful for thinking the town wasn’t as cool as the others we visit – because when it’s not shrouded in cloud and rain, it’s a breathtakingly beautiful city!!! Mountains on all sides, crisp fresh air, and a call from the hills to go hiking. So I did!
Now, remember that tram I saw my first week in Juneau, when I sat on the promenade deck and looked out into a drearily misty mountainside? Well, I thought it’d be fun to ride it up and then hike at the top. Except the line for the tram was something like an hour’s wait! We all know how patient I am (not), so I decided to ask the information booth people if there was a way to reach the top without the tram. Naturally, there was a lovely hike called the Mount Roberts Trail that connected with downtown Juneau, so, together with my fellow singer Caliph, off we set.
As with my favorite Ketchikan trail, just getting to the trailhead in Juneau was a workout. San Francisco-like hills were an excellent warm-up, and I was quite wowed by some of the gardens I saw along the way.
The views at the bottom of the trail were gorgeous. In fact, we got to see more than we intended, for I totally missed the beginning of the Mount Roberts Trail, and we did about a half-mile in the wrong direction. I’ve noticed how miserably a camera captures the sense of scale you feel standing in the shadows of these incredible mountains, but this picture (telephone pole and all) has the best approximation so far.
The trail itself was wonderfully challenging. It felt like a mix of Ketchikan’s rainforest and Skagway’s Colorado-y forest, even though all three are technically coastal temperate rainforests. We were surrounded by pines primarily, but the ground cover was lush and fertile. You’d go from this rootsy, piney feel…
About three quarters of the way up (I think), we hit a sweet little lookout point with a bench, with a neat view of the harbor and the mountains across the way. I was rather surprised that the park rangers hadn’t cleared some of the trees for a better view – the removal of about three trees would have been a very dramatic lookout point. But my guess is that they’re very serious about conservation out here, and that the narrow view that we had was naturally occurring.
Soon after that, with hamstrings and calves aching, we reached the summit, almost without realizing it! (Well, it had been almost two hours of hiking.) We checked out the visitors’ center and drank in the views.
Then we got in line to take the tram back down. A forty minute wait didn’t faze me by that point – I was so tired, I just wanted to go back to the ship without having to hike back down. While standing in line, we got more beautiful views of Juneau’s surroundings, including this one that captures to a small extent the scale you feel in Alaska. Breathtaking!
Today, I was excited to go on my first official Princess Cruises excursion: the Chilkoot Trail Hike and Float Adventure in Skagway! After our crew drill in the morning, I suited up in my standard hiking clothes and some extra warm layers and headed out to the pier to meet the tour guide.
You may have seen my Instagram demonstrating my excitement over going hiking again. That was the revised edition – this was the first (more honest) one:
For this had been the view en route to the Chilkoot trail:
That’s Nahku Bay. Absolutely stunning. Our guide, Mary, explained that most of the water in Skagway gets its unusual color from glacial silt, since the Taiya River that feeds the harbor comes from glacier melt and rainwater; however, she wasn’t sure what mineral caused that particularly striking blue of Nahku Bay. (A Google search didn’t yield any results, either.)
Soon after, we disembarked from the van and prepared to begin our hike along the Chilkoot Trail, one of the original routes prospectors used to get to the gold mining activity in Canada before 1900. This was our first view of the river we would eventually raft back down, with beautiful Alaskan fireweed in the foreground (I love wildflowers!):
I feel like I should frame that one! It manages to capture the tranquility of the entire excursion.
The hike itself was very relaxed. The trail was similar to the one yesterday in Juneau, with roots and rocks for a trailbed, and we had a group of eight, so there was no rush to get anywhere. There was tons of moss and lichen, which were bright green in real life but which my camera has rendered greyish.
We stopped often, with Mary explaining what the different kinds of trees and vegetation were; I now know the difference between Sitka spruce, Western hemlock, and birch, for example. My favorite part of the tour, however, was that Mary was really into helping us identify (and try!) the edible plants around us – as well as which ones were poisonous. I tried these high-bush cranberries for the first time, which are sort of a mix of pomegranites and gooseberries, marked by the three-tipped leaves (slightly hard to identify in the photo below) – delicious!
And then we were floating peacefully back towards our van. I tried to take a few pictures but quickly gave up, both because I wasn’t eager to lose my phone in the river and because no photo could capture the moment – it wasn’t the view that was inspiring but rather the environment. Being in such a quiet, natural world was deeply moving. I’ve often dreamed of living in a quiet forest by a river, though not seriously (I need family nearby, as well as a good shoe store), and this was very much my book-imagined dream come to life.
At one point, we saw a couple of bald eagles on the shore. See those two white dots in the tree above the woman’s head? Yup, those are their heads.
I have to say, though, my other favorite part of the tour was our group. I loved talking with every single person on the tour, from the nine-year-old dancer (can I hang out with her forever??) to the cruise director’s wife who had worked as an entertainer with Princess for 13 years! We hailed from Colorado, Michigan, Los Angeles, and Washington, and it was such fun to hear everyone’s stories. As such, this is one of my favorite pictures from this cruise adventure:
Though I am an employee of Princess Cruises, all opinions are mine only and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.