Juneau and Sitka are definitely two of the more touristy places I’ve visited in Alaska. Juneau had an armada of cruise ships in the harbor when I arrived and lots of cruise ship tourists waddling up and down the main street in pursuit of tacky Alaska souvenirs. Sitka is a little like a mini Juneau in that respect, only there’s only one cruise ship per day and their passengers stay ashore for less time. It’s also been raining pretty much nonstop for the past week with one day of sunshine just to keep me from going mad.
So that’s the bad news, the good news is that Juneau and Sitka are both awesome places! Once you get away from the invading cruise ship hordes both locations have a huge abundance of natural beauty. Even in the rain, I loved Juneau and Sitka. There were a few hikes in both places and lots of sightseeing as usual. The highlight of my visit to Juneau was Heli-hiking on the Mendenhall Glacier. The helicopter ride up was a little sketchy, as the weather was less than ideal. Our hiking guide said it was one of the “bumpier” rides she’d experienced this summer. Once up on the glacier, the weather cooperated and we had a fantastic trip.
I woke up this morning and saw the sun in Sitka so I decided to go on a kayaking trip. By the time I got all my stuff together and headed down to the dock which is about two blocks from my hotel, the sun was gone and had been replaced by rain! Oh well, it’s Alaska and you can’t plan your outdoor activities by the weather. Dana the guide was adorable and really sweet. It was just us and one other woman, a nice lady called Debbie. She’s a Native Alaskan and lives in a small village accessible only by plane or boat ( as are so many places in Alaska) and is living here in Sitka while her children go to boarding school. Despite the rain, we were really enjoying the trip. All of a sudden out of nowhere Debbie’s kayak was upside down and she was in the water. Remember it’s Alaska and even in the summer the water is freezing. Twenty minutes in the water and hypothermia is probable, an hour and there’s a good chance you’re dead. OK, enough with the dramatics. While it was dicey for a few minutes, our guide was a pro and no one panicked, especially Debbie who remained calm despite the fact she couldn’t get back in the kayak. We got Dana’s cell phone and called for help as we paddled toward a small island to get Debbie onto the rocks and out of the water. It turned out not to be necessary, the kayaking people on shore saw what was going on and sent a skiff to the rescue. Since it was pouring and there was a little bit of kayaking drama there are no photos except for one that I asked be taken of me and Dana in the kayak when we got back into the harbor. Props to Dana for remaining completely clam and and ensuring our safe return.
The last stop of the day was at a place called Fortress Of The Bear which is an amazing refuge for orphaned bears that would otherwise be euthanized by the authorities. This nonprofit was started by one man and has a dedicated staff of three. It’s such a grass roots effort supported completely by the nominal admission of $5 and donations. You all know how much I’ve enjoyed the bears of Alaska, so PLEASE visit their website and make a donation, just click on the link above. There are currently five beautiful bears at the facility. The photo of the bear roaring and looking ferocious was in response to the cool girl who works there (sadly I didn’t get her name) saying “Open wide” It’s a really special place and needs as much support as possible.