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Fitness and Photography for Fun - A blog on staying fit by hiking and doing photography by David Mendosa

Alaska Ferry

November 5th, 2013 · 5 Comments

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Returning home on the ferry was one of the best parts of my nine-week trip to Alaska. I was able to totally relax, so much so that I took only a few pictures. Since for most of the voyage we were out at sea and away from land, I saw few birds or mammals that I wanted to photograph. Leaving the driving to the captain of the ship, I had plenty of time for socializing. I enjoyed many long and pleasant conversations with interesting people who also had no time pressures.

The 1,629 mile trip from Whittier, Alaska, to Bellingham, Washington, took us out to sea for four and one-half days. When I reached Bellingham, I had only 1,413 miles to go before reaching home. Had I instead driven from Marveen and Wayne’s home in Nikiski to Boulder, I would have had to drive at least 3,400 miles.

While most everyone calls this the Alaska Ferry, it’s really the Alaska Marine Highway System, which is a rare American example of a shipping line that offers regularly scheduled service more for transportation than for leisure or entertainment. I sailed on the M/V Kennicott, the newest ship of the line and the one that accommodates the most passengers. The ship has nine decks with a capacity of 748 passengers, including me, and about 100 vehicles, including mine. The Kennicott’s amenities include a hot-food cafeteria; a cocktail lounge and bar; a solarium; forward, aft, movie, and business lounges; a gift shop; 51 four-berth cabins; and 58 two-berth cabins.

The M/V Kennicott Arrives in Whittier, Alaska

The M/V Kennicott Arrives in Whittier, Alaska

Click on the picture above to enlarge

Some of the cabins had facilities, but mine was a “2 berth roomette without window, no facilities, or linens.” I was able to rent a blanket, sheets, and a pillow from the purser’s office, and since my cabin was approximately 4’x8’ I consider myself fortunate that I didn’t have to share it. Since I had made my reservations only five months in advance, I was lucky to get any room, and in fact, my roomette was all that I needed. But, otherwise, I would have had to sleep on deck with most of the passengers.

The ship stopped at three ports, Yakutat, Juneau, and Ketchikan. No roads connect any of these cities to the larger world. Juneau, the capital of Alaska, is the only state capital that can be reached only by ship or plane. Only about 32,000 people live in Juneau, but it is the second biggest city in the United States — by area. In my opinion, it is also the most attractive city in Alaska, particularly because of its spectacular setting between mountains and glaciers to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west.

The Natural Setting of Alaska’s Capital

The Natural Setting of Alaska’s Capital

Click on the picture above to enlarge

I had visited Juneau three times in 2011, and it was worth a fourth visit. I had more good luck than anyone could deserve. Not only did the Kennicott arrive in Juneau an hour ahead of schedule, giving us almost four hours in port, but the weather was awesome and I was able to get back to Juneau’s prime natural attraction quickly and in style.

Restricted only by the fact that the roads out of Juneau extend just six miles to the south and 36 miles to the north, I chose to go back to Mendenhall Glacier, which I had visited two years earlier. The glacier is just 12 miles north of town, and I got a ride there. The night purser, Ebenezer Michael Amponsah, was going into Juneau for some shopping and gave me a lift in his convertible all the way to the glacier. He is a tall thin young man originally from Ghana of the dominant Ashanti tribe, and we had a lot to talk about, since I had traveled all around that country when I was the desk officer for our Ghana aid program in the early 1970s. He drove me there in his big convertible, and the day was a perfect one to have the top down. Sunny and calm, the day’s temperature reached 73 degrees at the glacier’s visitor center.

Since I had explored the glacier on one of my previous trips to Juneau, the journey rather than the destination was what drew me there. But this time I was favored to see three black bears. Two of them, a sow and her cub, were sleeping at least 30 feet up in a big cottonwood tree, which mostly obstructed my view of them. But later when I hiked up the Nugget Falls Trail to the falls, I saw another black bear foraging nearby.

A Big Black Bear Crosses the Path to the Mendenhall Glacier

A Big Black Bear Crosses the Path to the Mendenhall Glacier

Click on the picture above to enlarge

When it left, I could see that it would cross the trail behind me, so I ran to catch up with it. They say that we aren’t supposed to run away from bears, but I thought that running toward them would be all right. When I caught up to it, a ranger down the trail nevertheless told me to stop. When I didn’t, she chastised me, saying “When I say stop, I mean stop!” Of course, I said I was sorry, although I was also happy that I got the photo I wanted.


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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 tim // Dec 3, 2013 at 5:38 am

    Just to let you know. Your trips, commentary, and photos are worth the read and viewing. I am happier, which is hard to believe because I am already pleased with life when your monthly news reaches me. Thanks Tim

  • 2 Sandra Selby // Dec 12, 2013 at 8:58 am

    Please send my mail to [email protected]
    I love your travels and always look forward to seeing your trips, I used to make a lot of trips myself, but I have had too many heart attacks now and serious diabetes, so I dont travel like I used to…usually just to the U.S. which I love as well.

  • 3 Steve // Dec 18, 2013 at 6:54 am

    Great articles and love your photos.

  • 4 Ebenezer Amponsah // Apr 3, 2014 at 3:46 pm

    This is Ebenezer Amponsah…gratitude for the recognition, traveling with the Alaska Marine Highway, commending the efforts of the system and sharing your experience with others. It was a pleasure to help and I have not the least doubt that you will in turn offer help in return to those in need. Come again.God bless you.

  • 5 David Mendosa // Apr 5, 2014 at 7:50 pm

    Dear Ebenezer,

    Thank you for leaving your comment here. I remember you well, particularly your generosity in giving me a ride all the way to Mendenhall Glacier. Meeting you on the Kennicott was one of the highlights of my journey back from Alaska.

    The other highlight was meeting a woman who got on the ship at Juneau. We talked most of the way to Bellingham, Washington. Right now we are vacationing in Moab, Utah, where we are visiting Arches National Park. We are engaged to be married this fall.

    The Alaska Marine Highway is wonderful! I highly recommend it to all!