Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Enroute to Redding - August 20 & 21, 2012

I am writing this as the MV Columbia steams south through Peril Strait toward Sitka.  It is morning and I have just breakfasted in the dining room.  Baranof and its surrounding islands are a particularly lovely part of the Alexander Archipelago, and Peril Strait one of the loveliest and most interesting.

Peril Strait is narrow -- in some places, very narrow.  As I finished my breakfast we were quite close to the rocks.  I could easily have softball pitched to the forested shore.  Low hills and higher peaks marched away from my view into the cloud-shrouded distance.

Around another turn in the narrow passage is a view to the west and the open Pacific.  Fishing boats dot the horizon. This is fishing country and commercial and sport fishermen work hard and play hard in the summer months when the silvery salmon are returning to natal streams.  Here and there, salmon jump completely put of the water. There is a sense of energy and purpose in the air.

We had boarded Columbia the previous afternoon in Haines, and we had started that day in Haines Junction, Yukon Territory.  We had awoken that morning at the Raven Hotel, and the very nice complimentary breakfast added to my already stratospheric estimation of this impressive small hotel.  One does not expect to find places of this calibre along the Alaska Highway. Clean is usually about as good as it gets.

We also did not expect the highway from Haines Junction to Haines to be so smooth.  Our first trip over is this road had been 40 years earlier, and it was gravel and dirt at that time, with some asphalt on the American side.  This time, we traveled  on a broad, smoothly-paved highway that left more time for sightseeing as so little effort was needed for pothole avoidance.  Kluane National and Tatshenshini Provincial parks are immediately west of the road, and their mountains are stunning.  Only an under-construction stretch of gravel near the middle of the trip slowed us down.

The treeless high country near the Haines Road summit was our first look into such country as newly minted married folk.  I recalled to Linda the small lake where we had stopped to allow me to identify a bird -- a Barrows goldeneye -- a life bird for me back then. We talked about the excitement in our hearts of those days.  It only takes passing through this beautiful country to fan it into flame once again!

We did listen to a sermon as we drove along.  The tall mountains, late summer snowfields and wild creeks seemed to punctuate the preacher's words as he spoke about hearing the voice of God.  When we strain to hear Him, the preacher said, we are using logic and usually fail to hear.   It is often when we are about other "non-religious activity" that His voice comes.

I have always liked the downhill trip from the Haines Road summit.  It feels like a quick slice of the north, from the high mountain tundra through the coastal forest to tidewater.

Haines was more difficult for us than in the past, but people were very willing to help.  We stopped at the local IGA grocery, and a friendly checker brought out a ramp for us to get over the high step into the building.  Sidewalk curbs and construction made it feel a bit forbidding.

That Alaska friendliness extended to the ferry.  When I asked at the terminal about parking close to the onboard elevator, we wound up on the upper car deck with our car's trunk next to the door into pursers office area!

UPPER car deck???  Yep.  First time ever for us riding a car elevator.  They had two such elevators.  There was room up there for about 25 vehicles.   It was tight, but an easy trip for our gear out of the car up one flight of stairs or elevator trip to the stateroom.

And when we got to the purser's desk, the purser asked if we would prefer a handicap-accessible cabin.  Wow!  Thanks, Lord!   It had not been available when I booked many weeks earlier.   It is perfect for us.

We stopped in Sitka for several hours.  Because the ferry most easily navigates Sergius Narrows near high or low slack tide, it stays longer at this port than most others.  The crew used the time for fire and lifesaving drills.

If you miss the tight passageway into Sitka, you can see it again on the way out, as it is the only protected waterway in and out of Sitka.  Linda and I sat in the observation lounge and watched the verdant shores glide by.

Later, we ate dinner in the restaurant as the Columbia steamed south in Chatham Strait.  We could easily see the ABC islands - Admiralty to the east, Baranof to the west, and dimly to the north, Chichagof.  Interestingly, we had cell phone coverage - probably from the community of Angoon - for a couple of hours. As we turned the corner into Frederick Sound, we had coverage from Kake.  Those who installed the cell phone systems in these communities....did they know their work would allow travelers along the inside Passage to keep in touch with friends and family?


Enroute to Redding - August 18 & 19, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 20 & 21, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 22, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 23 & 24, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 25, 26 and 27, 2012
Enroute to Redding - August 28, 29, 30 & 31, 2012
Enroute to Redding - September 1, 2012

All pictures
Enroute to Redding

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