Walking the docks in Juneau, the anticipation can be felt with all the new arrivals. Everyone was in high spirits as cart loads of luggage and provisions are loaded onto the Grand Banks of Mother Goose for the third leg of our 2017 cruise. There was action everywhere as schools of herring brought in an array of wildlife. Bonaparte’s gulls, arctic terns, large bald eagles, and even a humpback came within a few feet of the docks at Statter’s Harbor in Auke Bay. It was impressive to see a humpback whale so close, and slightly ironic as troves of whale watching boats full of tourists sped away only to miss the excitement brought on by the schooling herring in the marina.
Juneau offers a hike to one Alaska’s thickest glaciers in Mendenhall Valley. The Steele brothers, Joe, Mark, and David on Bonum Vitae accompanied by Jordan Roderick, the naturalist aboard Deception hiked to Nugget Falls. A beautiful waterfall spilling adjacent to a beach composed of boulders, cobbles, gravel, sand, and silt transported by the glacier as it erodes an impressive path through the valley. Mendenhall glacier has been receding for a long time now. In fact, for over five hundred years the glacier has retreated more than four miles, however since 1929 the glacier has rapidly retreated 1.75 miles as our climate continues to warm. Interestingly, the glacier is still over a thousand feet thick and almost out of sight from the visitor center. Freshly eroded cliffs and bare rock outcrops can be seen near the terminus which was cover by ice for thousands of years prior. Now, the Sitka forest full of alder bushes, wildflowers like chocolate lilies, and shooting stars advance up the valley as the glacier loses the battle on climate change.
The lake was magnificent, full of suspended sediment (glacial flour) giving a teal, pastel-like color to the vibrant, rich, green valley. The sun was out and shining bright, as Bonaparte’s gulls, the long journeyed arctic terns, and bald eagles cast shadows over the avid hikers and nature seekers of Mendenhall Valley. A beautiful day to kick off our orientation for the start of Leg 3 of our 2017 Mother Goose Flotilla cruise through Southeast Alaska!