This Glacier is Amazing But Did Someone Say Puppies?

I woke up Thursday morning realizing that I had many, many muscles previously unknown to me.  Kayaking cross current had seemed difficult but doable yesterday.  But today, hmm … So I started the morning in search of the Aleve and, having found that, coffee.

Most of my mornings are spent in the Sun’s sports bar, which is empty that time of day, set for breakfast, and—for whatever reason—completely unknown to those in the super-crowded, super-loud Garden Café just across the hallway.  So, I get to catch up on the blog with incredible views and Wimbledon on the TVs.  At some point, the rest of Kress-Davis troop shows up, and we eat, catch-up on emails while in port, and generally enjoy the comfy chairs and relative quiet.  I’ll note that the only time we’ve felt the press of the more than 1,900 people on board has been at the breakfast buffet; at all other times, the Sun, classified as a small ship, works some ocean magic to make the ship feel spacious.

Our port today is Juneau, Alaska’s capital with a population less than Brighton: 32K to 37K.  Know also that the entire state’s population is 738K spread over a land mass the size of ND+SD+NE+OK+MN+IA+MO+WI+IL.  Monroe County also is home to 750K people.  So, if you’re a Rochesterian reading this, reflect on that.  The arrival of the three to five cruise ships during high season plus general summer tourists likely doubles the population of each town, from Ketchikan to Seward.

After a hearty breakfast (supplemented by Harper with burgers because they’re always there, people), we made our way off the Sun and into another perfect blue sky day. 

A word on the weather: apparently up until this week, it has been nonstop rain in every port of call.  We don’t want to take credit but the correlation is undeniable 😊

Our family life has already been filled with a dozen once-in-a-lifetime adventures.  Today, we were adding another to this list: helicoptering over the snow-capped mountains to Mendenhall Glacier where we would dog sled.  Let me repeat some key words: helicopter, mountains, glacier, sled dogs.  Unbelievable.  It’s all happening.

That age old adage of a picture being worth a thousand words fits in right here.  The sky couldn’t have been any bluer; the day couldn’t have been any clearer. Scenes from the trip up high above the mountains:

How high up were we?  Those little dots are sled dogs and a driver:

We had packed everything for the trip: parkas, gloves, hats, layers.  It was so warm on the glacier that we quickly dumped all that upon landing; the cognitive dissonance of stripping down to a t-shirt ON A GLACIER just added to our amazement about all aspects of this journey.  The bluest blue of the sky was just unbelievable and made every photo look like it was shot against a special effects green screen.

We met our guide, Eli.  There are four dog “families” on the glacier; each has an owner to stay with them on the glacier throughout the summer season.  We rode with Eli’s dogs.  The owners live in barrel-shaped white tents and clearly love their dogs, who have similar white dog houses. It’s also clear that these dogs are bred and trained to run.  The first sound we heard once past the helicopter was of hundreds of dogs barking—not angry barks or sad barks but hyper “let’s get going” barks, happy “I get to run” barks.

And, run they did—pulling us along with them in a full circle around the glacier with stops for pictures, petting, and play.  The wow-factor shot through the roof of the sky on this one.  Ned, Penn, and Harper took turns steering the sled, and I gave up my turn to Ned to have a second go.  The slushy shush of the snow, the majestic mountains soaring up as hard dark rock and ended with soft white frosting tips, the slightly scary bumps and hard curves: just wow!

Harper and Penn would have been happy to spend every remaining day of our vacation with the sled dogs, with whom they nuzzled, hugged, rolled around, and became forever friends.  Penn developed a special bond with a dog named Turkey, which surprised Eli and others because Turkey is apparently the team troublemaker.  Both kids were delighted that even the shyest dog came around to their affectionate entreaties.  Fun upon fun upon fun!

Because a helicopter landing on a glacier and going on a dog sled run was just not enough, the guides brought out the small, squirmy, warm, snuggly Alaska version of “taking it to eleven”: puppies!  Glacier puppies—seriously, it began to feel like a fever dream of joy … cause nothing like this could be happening, but it was.  My new theory: the snow on the glacier was so soft because it was constantly being warmed by the hearts of every tourist holding a sled dog puppy.

Wait … there are even smaller puppies in there?!?

Then, it was over.

We all thought long and hard about sneaking one of the teeny puppies back with us.  Who would miss one in such a large litter?  Then, this reminded us of a movie with about the same theme, and we left the toddler where he belonged.  The ride back down was just as lovely.

When we got back to Juneau, we wandered around the small downtown looking for crab legs, GF food, ice cream, almond milk coffees, and Capri Suns (Penn became obsessed with his ability to buy one for .59 at a pop-up stall on Juneau’s main drag). 

We were also waiting for the delivery of my iPhone, which I had forgotten on a chair at the Temsco Tours while changing out of my glacier boots.  They found it and brought it back to town for us within 90 min.  Thank you!  This offers me the chance to say that every single person we have interacted with in Alaska has been just wonderful: kind, generous, welcoming, and more.  Perhaps it’s because most of the state relies on tourism; regardless, they have been just lovely.

After a quick round of souvenir hunting—some Christmas ornaments and an ULU knife—we were back on the Sun with many plans for the night, but in the end, we grabbed some sushi and some late night pizza and celebrated another once-in-a-lifetime day for our family in the deep blue-black of the falling night..

Good night, sled dogs (especially you, Turkey), you have left us with very, very sweet dreams.

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