There’s nothing quite like two weeks in Alaska to make you feel small.
As in puny, insignificant, vulnerable and awed. The sheer scale of the 49th State takes your breath away before you arrive. It has its own time zone, various climates and is the largest yet least populated state in the US (under 2% per square mile). Fun fact: Alaskans refer to the rest of the USA as The Lower 48.
You already know it’s going to be amazing. And then you get there.
Monday: Sailed up Tracy Arm to see the massive glacier. We got into kayaks for a closer look and just then, it calved (which to you and me means a bit broke off and fell in the sea). But that ‘bit’ is a huge chunk of ice which causes massive waves to roil across the water, tossing tiddly little kayaks about like toys. Thought process: This is way bigger than me.
Wednesday: A few of us ventured out in a motorboat to get close to an iceberg. We cruised beside to one almighty turquoise lump, close enough to touch. One tiny ice spar beside it seemed harmless enough until it burst upwards to tower over us, then rotated with enough force to batter the stern. Hasty retreat.
Thursday: En route to our next location, we spotted a pod of humpback whales bubble-feeding. One of those moments you give up trying to capture on film and just watch. The sight of those enormous graceful creatures arcing and slapping their tails, the sound of their blowholes resonating through chests the size of cathedrals and the sense of excitement from the birds, seals and seasoned crew members gave me tears and goosebumps.
Friday: Hot pools. Volcanic water streams down the mountain and collects in rocky pockets. In the chilly Alaskan air, we slipped into a steamy pool, gasping at the heat. Moments later we crawled out, each the colour of lobsters, to watch bald eagles fish in the waterfall.
Saturday: Three men, two ladies and a dog clambered up some scary rustic steps to a waterfall. Spectacular scenery but slippery rocks persuaded ladies to sit and chat while blokes ascended further to the lake. Thought process: Beautiful rainbow, lovely weather, how far is the nearest hospital if I twist an ankle?
Sunday: The Hatchery. Human intervention at its best. The salmon stream dries up in the hot weather, so the hatchery provides a place for salmon to spawn, protecting their eggs from predators and releasing them into the wild to return again. No chemicals, humane treatment and genuine passion for their job. And our first sighting of a brown bear.
Monday: Up a creek full of sea otters floating on their backs to the ancient caves. Up 400 wooden steps to the mouth of the cave and into a dangerous and dramatic geologist’s dream. Fascinating insight into the state’s history, but also cold, damp, dark and as our guides reminded us, potentially deadly.
Wednesday: Bears! A guide took us to a trail alongside a creek. Right where black and brown bears fish for salmon, there’s a viewing hide. Turns out bears are quite polite, waiting for each other to finish fishing before taking their turn. Although one youngster wasn’t above stealing a too-heavy catch from a bald eagle. Seeing those claws and teeth up close was an education. Humbled, we returned to the platform, where the guide pointed out the bear sleeping beneath our feet.
Friday: First time in a seaplane. The pilot took us on a tour of the Misty Fjords. Geography I cannot begin to describe, but something like a wedding cake crossed with a sea bed. We stopped off at No-Name Lake to gasp at the colour of the water. But my lasting memory is of wide open space. No one for miles and miles, just Alaskan nature.
I’ve visited and lived in countries where I need to adjust myself to fit its climate and creatures.
Yet nowhere in the world have I ever felt less capable and more impressed than Alaska.
Methinks Beatrice Stubbs may soon venture out of Europe for her next adventure …