If you haven’t noticed by now, I kind of have a thing for Alaska. A few weeks ago Passage to Juneau watched me from the seatback pocket as I was once again giddy with joy on an airplane headed north. I had every intention of reading a good chunk of the book during the flight but I couldn’t tear my darn forehead from the window. I know. I should have been contemplating the epic journeys of Captain Vancouver and Jonathon Raban via sailboat from my hometown of Seattle along the inside passage to Juneau as that same brilliant blue water snaked along below me. After all, I was watching their entire route condensed in a few hour flight. But I wasn’t thinking of them.
I was thinking of my husband. He’s flown this exact route countless times and has never taken a single photo! He never calls me upon landing and exclaims the joys of the great fjords and glaciers he just witnessed! This I will never understand. But it didn’t really matter much, I was coming to see him. His work shift was ending and I had quit my job three weeks earlier. My quick trip to Juneau was my last hoorah before starting a new job. And the forecast was all sun and 75 degrees.
There were really only two things on my list to do in Juneau: visit the Mendenhall glacier and climb Mt Juneau. I left the rest up to my husband. We set up camp at Mendenhall Lake Campground (which is amazing) and headed out for an afternoon hike to Spaulding Meadow. The trail starts out on an old courderoy road and then quickly narrows into a muddy mess. But the views from the meadows are lovely, enticing us to explore more.
Later we had a barbeque dinner with friends on the beach. We chatted about life in Juneau and the differences between it and Seattle, and of course, the weather. A fishing boat pulled up on the beach and some more people joined us (sadly empty handed), and we watched the most beautiful sunset that seemed to go on forever.
The next morning we ate breakfast on the lakeshore near our campsite and then headed to the glacier. We were early enough to beat the crowds and enjoyed the short hike to the waterfall with only a few others. We slowly wandered back along the shoreline looking for an iceberg we could catch. We found one just a few feet out and my husband picked it up and raised it like a trophy as I snapped photos.
Later we headed out on the same boat that had visited us the night before. We spent the day chasing whale spouts and flukes and changing bait as we crept around the shoreline looking for the elusive king salmon. Late in the day we finally had a bite. Our captain friend reeled in a monster 35lb king salmon! He said it was the biggest fish he ever caught. On the way back we spotted two whales breaching and splashing about with their tails. They appeared to be playing in the water in front of us. We watched for awhile, mesmerized.
The last morning we headed downtown and up the tiny narrow streets to the Mt Juneau trailhead. The trail starts out on the Perseverance Trail. This trail was originally used by the native people as a hunting and berry picking route and later became the first road ever built in Alaska. It was constructed after gold was found in the Silverbow Basin in the 1880’s. As we climbed up to the Mt Juneau trailhead, we passed an abandoned mine shaft and looked down on an old mining building turned into a museum and even spotted some tourists panning for gold in the creek.
From here the trail climbs quite abruptly to the meadows below the summit. The trail then weaves and eases ever so slightly into switchbacks. There were only a few patches of snow along the trail and at the summit, quite unheard of typically in early June. From the top we counted the cruise boats below and spotted the airport. We pondered the abandoned shack and cables that were built in the 1970’s intended for an aerial tramway from town. The tram project was cancelled for some reason (probably because it proved an impossible task) but was revitalized in the 1990’s. This time the tram was built on the adjacent Mt Roberts where it still operates today.
We took off that night for Seattle and climbed through rain clouds. The forecast in Juneau for the foreseeable future was rain and 60 degrees. I thought about how incredible the trip had been. Everything was perfect: the campsite, the glacier, sunsets, playful whales, king salmon catch, weather and, most importantly, the company.
Bonus Camp Read!
Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban
Raban’s journey in the 1990’s was not quite as happy and romantic as mine, but then he did choose to sail from Seattle to Juneau alone on a 35-foot sailboat. His journey was more dark and foggy, riddled with loss and the realities of the hard hit logging and fishing towns of coastal Canada. Raban weaves his own narrative with the stories of Captain Vancouver and the first peoples of this once rich land. It’s long and contemplative and easy to get lost in, just like the inside passage.
Car Camp, Day Hike or Backpack? Day Hike or Sail
I think this book would best be enjoyed on a sailboat or on the shores of Puget Sound north of Seattle or Vancouver Island. Raban spends a good portion of the beginning of this book in these places and explores their histories.
See Also: A Wolf Called Romeo by Nick Jans (A plaque about Romeo is on a rock along the short path to Mendenhall Glacier)
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