Who hasn’t dreamt of a trip to Alaska? It may not seem such a big deal for residents of west coast or NW USA, but for the rest of us it seems as far away as the moon. Even so, wherever we traveled we’d run into someone who waxed lyrical about their Alaskan cruise. Finally, the opportunity of snapping those images of bears catching leaping salmon was too much to resist.
Once I started researching the trip, it became apparent that a cruise wasn’t the best option for us – even though the entire tourist infrastructure seems geared to cruise ships, and travelling independently can be a real logistical nightmare.
So, everything eventually planned and booked – but what gear? There were a couple of journeys planned on small planes with weight and space restrictions, so I couldn’t pack everything. The final choice was my much-loved Nikon D800 for landscape duty, and D500 for wildlife. Lenses were the Nikon f/2.8 “trinity”: NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G for those amazing wide angle landscapes, NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G for “everyday” use, and NIKKOR 70-200 f/2.8G VR (i.e. 105-300mm effective on the D500) for the wildlife. The NIKKOR 200-500mm was no-go because of the weight. I’d also thought about the Sigma 24-35mm plus 50mm f/1.4 Art duo instead of the 24-70mm, but since each of them weighs as much as the Nikon…
Our first stop was Juneau (via Seattle) on the SE coast. Why they chose to build a state capital in a place where there are no roads in or out is anyone’s guess. And remember what I said about cruise ships? The cruise ship terminal is at the heart of downtown. The airport is 16 miles out of town (with no public transport), and the Marine Ferry terminal even further away. So if the city seems so determined to discourage independent visitors, why bother? Because Juneau is the jumping-off point for this:
The Tracy Arm fjord has two glaciers, but the glaciers are only part of the attraction, with plenty of photo-ops along the way:
The glaciers themselves are heralded by their short-lived cast-offs:
The cameras worked hard here. The weather was very dull and grey, and we were on the deck of a small boat, bobbing up and down – so juggling ISO and shutter speed to keep images sharp, yet reasonably noise-free, was a constant battle. I have to say I was very happy with the results – no NR used. And in many ways I found these ice-floes even more photogenic than their parents. Maybe next visit I’ll have time to take a paddle through the ice and get really close!
When you finally see the face of the glacier, it’s difficult to appreciate their size. That wall is over half a mile away:
Always useful to have another boat or creature to give you a sense of scale:
And of course, it’s not just the panorama. Each face is full of amazing shapes and details:
A ferry ride from Juneau to Skagway, and we enter a different world. Sadly, the little town – the main arrival point for prospectors joining the Klondike gold-rush – was shrouded in rain and mist. Luckily this didn’t detract too much from the stunning landscapes as we took the tourist train from Skagway up to Carcross in Canada:
The rail line was built towards the end of the gold-rush, closely following one of the foot ‘trails’. Not all of the original railway survived, providing some evocative ‘ghosts’:
The guides regaled us with stories of the hardships endured by the poor deluded prospectors, including the ‘ton of goods’ they had to haul up to the Canadian border before the Canadian authorities would let them in:
A fascinating history lesson, and on the way back to Skagway, something slightly different:
The next stage of our trip was centered on Anchorage, and this is where the cruise-ship option would have fallen short – but I’ll save that for the next post!