Alaska – Day 6 Beartrack Cove and Bartlett Cove


Saturday, July 12, 2014

I parted the curtains this morning at 7:00, revealing torrential rain coming down in Beartrack Cove. They call it Alaskan liquid sunshine on the ship. Sounds a lot better than miserable, soul-sucking rain. The change from last night’s “dessert glacier” and the retreat from the glacier is striking.

IMG_3796Gone are the icy chunks, or growlers, and in their place, wide sandy gravel beaches, with small sedge grass meadows meeting the Sitka pine forest. The tide is out, and as our un-cruise interpreters like to say, “The table is set.”

I scratched my name off the sign up list for the 9:30 small boat tour this morning, opting instead to stay in the lounge in the dry warm comfort of my husband’s company for another half hour. Departure at 10:00AM.

I figured out that over the seven days of this trip, Jimmie will have done almost 1400 steps as in stairs, on the ship.

14 down from 300 level deck to Lounge x 4 daily x 7 days.

14 down from lounge to dining room x 3 daily x 7 days

14 up from dining room level x 3 daily x 7 days

14 up from lounge level x 4 daily x 7 days.

Total 1,372 steps. Not bad for 87 with no knees left.

At 87 (note to self) more attention needs to be paid to the construction of the ship and the conveyance from floor to floor for someone with limited mobility. It is Saturday, and Jimmie has slowed, but intrepidly climbs the stairs with his cane. We had them stow the walker when we boarded the Safari Endeavor because the cabins are small and there was nowhere to store it. He has been getting around with his cane and the use of the banisters on the ship.

Today is our second day in Glacier Bay, and our last day for “ops”, i.e. options, operations, and due to the rain we will go out in the small boat at 10:00. It will presumably be our last chance to see a bear or a moose, I figure, though  the weather doesn’t seem very hospitable for either. I don’t know – do bears like the rain? Does it keep them cool while they are fishing on the side of the banks?

So, at 9:45AM, Dad and Sally and I donned our life jackets and got into the zodiac, with Ken as our guide. We pulled away from the ship and went slowly and quietly- no talking!

Some very bedraggled bald eagles
Some very bedraggled bald eagles

We passed a few more bedraggled looking bald eagles- I am happy that even by today, the last day if the trip, I have not reached Alaska Judy’s anticipated “ho hum” phase of seeing too many bald eagles. They are thrilling each and every time I see one, either sitting, or winging along- truly majestic. What a good choice for a national symbol.

And to recap the day, here is the poem I wrote and read at the last dinner aboard the Safari Endeavor. What a wonderful week it was and I am so grateful to my Dad and his generosity in organizing this trip!

A Bear Tale

I warn you gentle listeners that we hail from

LA where imagineers often come.

But as I narrate this, my heart pounds still-

Today’s the day we had our fill

Of Alaska’s wildness felt firsthand

A tale we all can share again on land.

The rain was thick upon the bay,

And wispy fog trails crept up the piney slopes,

The tide was out, the table set,

And we were all so darned wet.

Our pontoon boat was filled with merriment,

Because we knew the bears were imminent.

Captain Shana pulled the cord,

And our boat glided slowly along the shore.

What’s that beside us? An Eagle or two,

And there a harbor seal and some loons.

Merganser ducks skip across the water

And we raise our binocs so that we can see farther.

The shoreline was still, no grasses bended,

Our arms grew tired as to the shore we wended.

Quite a distance we went, the rain still drenching,

Anticipation of the bears caused our teeth to be clenching.

To Beardsley islands we will go,

Spoke Ken in tones revered and low,

The motor revved, and off we sped

Liquid sunshine hitting us hard in the head.

We glided to a stop in a bay by a beach

The grasses near us almost within reach.

We cowered quaking in our boat,

Visions of bears crossing this little moat.

And then we waited

And waited some more

Keeping our eyes peeled on the shore.

Alas, it seems no bears appeared at all,

Intrepid Ken, giving an owl’s call.

No bushes parted as we waited there.

Fear began to wane as our gazes stared.

Disappointed, we turned to go in,

Shana giving the motor a spin.

But what was happening?

No motor was spinning.

And as we sat, the clouds suddenly cleared

And up on the beach, a sow and two cubs appeared.

And wait, behind them, the angry male

Standing to his full fearsome height, was wagging his tail?

Shana calmly radioed back to our captain,

That the boat was dead and we needed a tow.

Meanwhile on the shore, came a moose from the back

A pileated woodpecker sat up on his rack.

A rainbow emerged o’er the game-filled shore,

And everyone on the boat was so stunned that before

They could raise up their cameras to capture the thrill,

Shana started the boat and we puttered back through the krill.

It isn’t every day that the terrors are real

That expectations are high

And you see more than a seal.

But every once in a while on the Safari Endeavor

The game is so thick that in spite of the weather

You share something extraordinary with all your new friends

Often just as the voyage comes to an end.

Els Collins 7/12/14

The following clip is what didn’t happen to us and I think I’m feeling pretty happy about that!

Alaska – Day 4 – Where am I, in summer camp?

NB: Again, this post was delayed by the connectivity issues presented by being in the wilderness!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Yoga again this morning, my body cooperating to the extent that it is able.


Again, it is cold enough to see my breath in the air, and we are moored in a pine-fringed inlet called St. Thomas Bay, where the steep cliffs surround our ship. Activities today include several hiking options. I have opted to do the fast 3-4 mile Patterson River hike, along with 17 others.

The other hikes were described as a 5 hour strenuous hike – with a guide throwing his foot up onto the back of one of the dining chairs and saying – “we will be doing this kind of hiking.” Faces blanched around the dining room, and only about 8 people signed up for that. Or you could take the meandering Patterson River hike, which sounded too tame for me.

Led by Lindsey, we boarded one of the small boats and motored over to the banks adjacent to a rushing river. It is prime fishing territory and Jim, the retired soil engineer from Bozeman, MT, whose tanned weathered face belies his passion for outdoor pursuits, sits at the end of the boat salivating about lost fishing opportunities. We all are sporting our rubber boots, rain pants and rain slickers, as the day has already seen its first downpour.

Currently, the sun has broken out, but we are not sure what awaits us in the deep lush rainforest of Southeastern Alaska. We pull up to the shore, and the very competent staff helps us out of the boat onto the mucky grass, which sucks aggressively at our boots.

We gather on the banks, helping hold each other up while we exchange boots for hiking boots, I am ever so grateful for having picked up a hiking pole to carry on the hike, as it supports me during my change into the shoes.

Wendy and Jennifer on the Patterson River hike

We leave our PFDs and boots in the shore, and begin hiking into the woods along a very wet rutted path that speaks of some kind of vehicle having traveled there. Happily, there are gnats but not too many mosquitoes. I had heard that the mosquitoes would be formidable and am happy that they are not so far.

About twenty feet along the path, the group stops to look at something on the ground- the first, but most dramatic viewing, a baby moose carcass lies across the path, picked clean of any flesh, it’s whitish bones tinged green with the algae from lying in the water. It is about 3 feet long, looking almost  like the skeleton of a four year old child. Chris, the droll Englishman behind me remarks, “well, isn’t that reassuring that someone much more familiar with this place didn’t make it out.”

We laugh and then continue up the trail. The great thing about today’s hike is the necklace of shared intimacies by the people along the hike, as we get to know each other.

There are such interesting people on the cruise. There are a group of folks from the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago, but as you would expect on a wilderness luxury adventure cruise, everyone has some interest in the outdoors, and inquisitiveness about places other than those where they have lived and worked.

Jimmie and I had been sitting with Montana Jim and his wife Kathy last night at dinner, along with Bernie, the French born professor of Engineering from Carnegie Mellon and his Vietnamese wife, Huong, a French interpreter at the UN. As they talked about their various trips, I said, “Are you all retired that you can take the time for these trips?” I picked up my knife and began mock slashing of my wrists.

Back on the trail, we proceeded, surrounded on both sides by the high Sitka spruces, Western Hemlock and Aspen tress, and on the side of the trail, low foot-high blue berry bushes, wild anemone plants, similar to trillium, and an astonishing array of different types of scat.

Lindsey informed us that the wolf will go right next to the bear to let them know they are nearby. Downright neighborly, I’d say.

Bear, moose, coyote or wolf, all in various stages of freshness, ranging from some that was “this morning’s” from a Moose, that had bedded down to the side of the trail before leaving his morning deposit to several day old bear scat, with wolf scat right beside it.

We spotted a large moose track in the center of the trail- about 7″ from tip of hoof to end. Having been warned about the craziness of moose, I was prepared to run should he be just up the trail.


We hiked for about 2 and a half hours delicately skirting the large puddles that obliterated the trail in front of us several times, until my tennis shoes were soaked and the rest of my body was wet with perspiration, my glasses fogging up. We returned to the grassy muck to reverse the boot/shoe process before re-embarking on the boat.

Lunch was followed by my second kayaking adventure with Dad, which went much better because our rudder was working and I was working it. This view afforded me the privilege of knowing that my contribution was impactful, noting that my dad was paddling about 45% of the time during our paddle. Hey, give the guy a break, Els – he’s 83! However our steering went better today, leading to a less curse-filled expedition. We saw a bald eagle soaring above us, and watched as other paddlers worked out the system of paddling together. I joked with Wendy, the retired family and marriage social worker from Tucson that her services could be used by Vivian and David in the kayak bring up the rear. Everyone has gifts that are useful, and I would be quite happy to be stranded with this group. We would do just fine and it would be entertaining as well.

Back at the ship and a hot shower later, after drying my shoes with the hair dryer, Jimmie and I took a private moment far from the crowds to chat about the trip and enjoy our surroundings. With a yoga session, strenuous hike and 2.5 hour kayak ride behind me, I was pretty pooped.

At 5:15, I took an engine room tour, which was fascinating and very loud in spite of the headphones Engineer Jeff gave us to use.

Dinner was delicious as usual, and after dinner at 9:30, we were feted with stories from one of the guides, Ken O’Brien who told us about the ABC islands we would be seeing in the next few days, Admiralty, Baranof and Chi….. Oh well, I’m on vacation.


Alaska – Day 3 – Kayaking with my Dad

NB: This post was delayed by lack of connectivity while in Alaska. Hope you enjoy!

This shows me in my extremely fashionable Un-Cruise beanie and the lovely lounge aboard the Safari Endeavor


Tuesday, July 8, 2014

I awoke this morning when Jimmie suddenly announced that it was 7:30, and we were late for breakfast. Sure enough the speaker bar under the TV said 7:35 and I leapt out of bed to check why my alarm had not gone off. I opened the desk drawer, touched the home button and read 4:10. I quickly informed Jimmie the actual time and then rolled over, relieved, to go back to sleep for another two hours.

Today’s activities included a wonderful hour long massage by Nikki (included) and a leisurely morning in the lounge watching as the various activities unfolded out the window.


There were the “bushwackers” who went off in the zodiac to their hike, the “beach combers”, who were gathered on the far shore, IMG_3498

the SUPs, six of them magestically stroking their way across the inlet,


the first group of kayakers paddling across to the point near Roberts Islands.


Lunchwas followed by the Kayaking 101 session where my father and I, two related-by-birth Type As got into a kayak and were shoved off into the 48 degree Alaskan water together, father in the stern with what proved to be extremely inaccurate steering peddles, daughter in the prow, paddling her brains out to try to point the kayak in the direction she wanted to go. Classic struggles. We had a blast.

Sadly, I have no pix because I didn’t take my camera in the kayak. Drat!

However, on our kayaking venture, we were fortunate to be in the company of our guide, Jackie Hedgepeth. We saw a fully grown female King salmon jumping in the water near the mouth of the river, slamming down on her side to loosen her roe prior to swimming up to spawn.

Salmon jumping
King Salmon slapping on her side to dislodge the roe prior to swimming up stream

Marbled murrelet
Marbled murrelet getting up in the air

We saw adorable marble murrelets who literally bounced across the top of the water, looking for traction to get their full bellies airborn,  pigeon guillemots, and a drenched bald eagle, huddling miserably in the top of the Sitka spruce tree.

Pigeon Guillemot with bring red feet
Pigeon Guillemot with bring red feet
Wet bald eagle
This is not my picture because I didn’t have my camera with me, but this eagle is doing just what the one we saw did, holding his wet wings behind himself to try to dry off.

The crew members of the Safari Endeavor are lovely. 34 in number, they think of all that you could need to be comfortable. Returning from the kayaking, we were greeted with the welcoming lounge, where hot water, decaf coffee and coffee are always available, hot chocolate and hot apple cider are only a packet away.

The bar is open, which is not my dealio, but a lovely thing for those who wanted a hot toddy after a kayaking outing.

All three meals are served at the table in the dining room, which is bordered by huge picture windows overlooking the water.

And every night, we’d have another interesting lecture about the glaciers, or the marine mammals, or the fauna we had seen that day. Spectacular!



Day 2 – Endicott Arm, Fords Terror, Dawes Glacier

Monday, July 7, 2014

NB: This post was delayed by lack of connectivity while in Alaska. Hope you enjoy!


Everything about this un-cruise is extraordinary. This morning, I took a yoga class, on the 300 deck aft, looking out over the water where we were floating just north of the Dawes Glacier, a 200 FT high edifice of ice. I am a long time stranger to yoga, having taken a semester in college, but only once class in the ensuing thirty plus years. Nikki, our yoga instructor was inclusive and helpful, making me feel like I had good form when I know I did not. It felt good to stretch my work weary joints, and I giggled to myself when she urged us to set our goals for the session and the first words flashing through my brain were “to not throw out my hip.”
At one point we stopped the class to peer over the ships railing at a curious harbor seal as he slipped by in the morning light.

We were parked about a half mile away from The Dawes Glacier, and throughout the morning, could heard occasional loud dynamite sounding bursts, following the calving events of ice falling from the glacier’s face by about five to ten seconds due to the distance between the ship and the glacier.


We were in the morning group, who rode the zodiac boats to within about a 1/4 mile of the glacier, maneuvering between the icy growls sloughing away from the face of the glacier on the currents from the under glacier rivers. The front of the glacier is marked by large brown lines, three in total, which show the junctures of several adjoining glaciers coming down from different directions, shoving their dirt and boulder acquisitions in front of them on their way to the waters edge.

Dawes Glacier


There were about 12 of us in the zodiac, all dressed in the suggested layers. I had on my long underwear, a long sleeved T-shirt, a cardigan, a windbreaker, and then the added cruise-provided black rubber windbreaker and pants, my hot pink hat and a pair of socks that I was glad I had brought to keep my hands warm.


The guide, Jackie Hedgepeth, a geologist and marine biologist, was along to tell us about the dramatic rock cliffs surrounding us, and large populations of arctic terms and harbor seals populating the small ice floes, or ‘growls’ around the boat.


Captain Shana powered the skiff, skillfully avoiding the ice, and cueing us to listen for the Rice Krispie sound as we passed close by the pieces, fallen from the glacier, as they released their centuries-old pockets of air into the atmosphere.


Of course it got much colder as we got closer to the glacier, and after parking to observe the glacier from this closer vantage point, Jackie cheerfully said, “who wants some hot chocolate?” I thought she was joking, but no, unbelievably, she passed out white paper cups and she handed around a bottle of peppermint schnapps followed by the steamy cocoa fom her green thermos. What a great idea it was, and so restorative. There is no misery associated with this cruise.


A lunch of arugula salad with whitefish and a yogurt chick pea dill dressing, and some spaghetti with a veggie sauce made of tomatoes and beets. For the meat eaters, the spaghetti was dressed with an elk sugo. Afterwards, we had a key lime tart which was yummy. Back to the cabin for a nap while the afternoon team got ready to go on the zodiacs. The Morning boat group will in turn have a lesson in how to kayak for tomorrow’s expedition. This is an extremely organized tour.

Tonight at 5 we will see Jackie’s slides how and geology talk.
I am love love loving this experience.

July 6,2014 departing Juneau on the Safari Endeavor

The Safari Endeavor at it's dock.
The Safari Endeavor at it’s dock.


NB: The following posts were delayed due to lack of connectivity. Blessed lack of connectivity!

We boarded the ship at about 5:30 tonight, docked on the
North side of the Gastineau Channel. After meeting the captain and his staff, having a brief happy hour, doing the Abandon ship drill, which always fills me with a terror much more vivid than the seatbelt demonstration on the airplane elicits, we settled down for a civilized dinner on the first deck of the ship. This trip, so generously offered to us by my Dad, came out of our discussion last summer at the Cape, when Jimmie said, I’d like to go to Alaska sometime. And my Dad, ever game for an adventure, said, “we’ll do it!” I at the time thought, “Yeah that won’t happen.”
I was thinking that I would not be able to get away, but here we are steaming out of the channel, past the three super sized cruise ships and toward the snow covered mountains surrounding Juneau.
The passage is lovely, lined on both sides with pines, it is the largest rainforest left on the planet, in southeastern Alaska, constituting 80% of the remaining rainforest in the world. Alaska’s population is 700,000, less than 1 person per square mile. The state is about equal to 1/5th of the continental US.
(I decided to read James Michener’s Alaska on the trip, and what a great idea that has been.)


I saw a beautiful sunset tonight off the back deck. We are situated on the back muster deck, and if I roll out of bed tomorrow at 6:30, I can attend the yoga class before breakfast. We will see how that goes.
Also, the hot tubs are on the back deck.
My brother Larry, the fisherman, was sitting at dinner and grinning from ear to ear as we watched the scenery gliding by.


How fast are we going? I asked him, because it seemed like we were going at quite a clip. About 12 knots, he replied.
Traveling with three octogenarians has its challenges. After boarding the ship up the gangplank, which was quite steep, we climbed three flights to our room, dropped our bags, then came down to the second level for the cocktails, up to the third level for the muster drill, down to the first level for dinner; up to the second level for the slides how about coming events, then finally back to the third level for bedtime. Jimmie is exhausted, and after our night last night at the Baronof Hotel (we call it the bare enough hotel), where the outside street noises were present enough to hear all the colorful sodden language of the passers by, we should sleep well tonight.
I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Juneau, Alaska Day 2


In the land of the midnight sun, you should not assume that restful sleep will follow. Last night we had minimal sleep but were still ready to rock and roll today.

I took an exploratory junket this morning around downtown Juneau. I found a lovely park right down the hill from the hotel which is called Gunakadeit Park featuring artwork depicting a Tingit legend interpreted by Ray Peck.
Later posts from somewhere where it doesn’t require a PhD in wifi technology (to get the pictures from my camera to my iPhone to my iPad via email) will depict this colorful tale. I know, it is also a disappointment to me that I am not masterful at these things….

IMG_3278 IMG_3279 IMG_3280  IMG_3281 IMG_3282 IMG_3284 IMG_3285 IMG_3286 IMG_3287 IMG_3288 IMG_3289 IMG_3290 IMG_3291

We had a very tasty lunch at Tracey’s Crab Shack, in the shadow of two huge cruise vessels. Our more modestly sized ship is moored further down the Gastineau channel (inaccurately described by me yesterday as the Salmon River.)

My big brother Larry and his wife Barbara arrive in a few minutes and then we will all be met. Ready to leave from the hotel. We have already met two lovely women, Jennifer and Nancy who hail from Chicago and who will be on the same cruise with us.

It should be a lot of fun.