Nordic Quest 2014

As is my habit, I have produced a video summary of this summer’s voyage in the Nordic Quest. Take a few of the best photos, a little video, a snippet of timelapse, a decent tune, and mix well…

Nordic Quest 2014 from Andrew Cooper on Vimeo

Having done this more than a few times now it is getting harder to be creative. Still there are always unique shots that come back from any voyage, such as the mother grizzly and cubs. There is also a sequence I had always wanted to try, a timelapse of the huge Alaskan tide change. This time I had a chance to shoot it, and had some success.

Nordic Voyage

Ten days on the boat out of Juneau, our annual family trip fishing in Alaska is complete. This summer it was an all family affair… My mother and father, my brother and his wife, and their grandson Andre. Add Deb and myself for a total of seven aboard the Nordic Quest for ten days of fishing and exploring. The plan was to head south of Juneau, down Stephen’s Passage for the Frederick Sound area.

First stop was Taku Harbor for the night with the following day spent attempting to fish salmon in Stephen’s Passage. A pretty day, but no fish. The only luck we had was a single crab in one of the pots left overnight in Taku.

Dawes Glacier
The towering wall of ice that is Dawes Glacier in Endicott Arm
On to Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier. The weather was not great for visiting the ice, but we did arrive at low tide, the best time to see calving. We were rewarded by the sight of several ice-falls as the water level fell and the face of the glacier crumbled.

An afternoon spend fishing Halibut was rewarding as well, plenty of fish landed along with one hundred pound specimen caught by Andre. A halibut that big can not be gaffed and simply lifted into the cooler. Instead I harpooned the fish off the swim deck. My first harpoon shot was a bit off, hitting low, a second was much better, right through the spine behind the gills. Good this too, the fish promptly broke the steel leader. Two harpoon lines attached insured this fish was headed for the freezer.

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Postcard from Alaska – A Real Bookstore

The interior of Hearthside Books on Front Street, Juneau
Leaving the women behind I stride towards the one shop I want to look through. My wife, my mother and her best friend– their idea of shopping and mine do not mesh. We know this and have arranged a plan, I leave them for an hour, to meet again at the vehicle.

I rapidly pass storefront after storefront, fine jewelry and tourist kitsch have no attraction for me. A few pretty pieces in the galleries draw a glance or two, but I turn and walk on. Memory leads me down the street and away from the docks, towards a shop I have visited in years past and I only hope it is still there.

Leaving the waterfront district and the tourist shops behind, I climb another block, to a shop occupying an oddly shaped storefront where the street splits. The result is a pie wedge shaped building, the shop I want is in the point.

This is a place I will always enjoy, a store filled floor to ceiling in books. It is a small shop, no literary supermarket, there simply isn’t the space. But the book-buyer here carefully chooses the selections, there seems to be anything you could want in the one foot of shelf space devoted to each subject.

A single rack, three feet of wall, is Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I have either read most of what is available, or know the authors displayed are not ones I enjoy. I make a couple selections, a classic Heinlein I have not read since I was a young teenager and one by Ben Bova I do not know. These I will save for traveling, to pass the time during the trip home with a long layover in Seattle.

For the next selection I rely on the advice of the sales clerk, a field guide to Alaskan birds. Every vacation is marked by what you forget at home, for this trip one of the forgotten items was a well worn copy of Sibley’s Western Birds.

Purchases made, the clerk ushers me out the door, closing time had passed while we chatted and exchanged credit card slips. I have few minutes before I must meet the gals, so I stroll back towards the docks and back into the crowds from the cruise ships.

The Hanger

As it is my father’s favorite place to eat in Juneau, I expect to be having dinner at The Hanger this evening. Our usual stop after a day of checking the boat and shopping for supplies. It is just a few hops down the waterfront from the harbor where the Nordic Quest is docked, a great place to grab a bite after a busy day.

Fred Cooper
Fred Cooper enjoying a drink before dinner
The Hanger really is built in a hanger, a seaplane hanger that once serviced the aircraft of Alaska Coastal Airlines from the 1940’s on. Coastal Airways was purchased by Alaska Airlines in 1968. The planes of Wings of Alaska use the dock below the old hanger as the starting point for their ice field scenic flights. Today the building looks out on the busy harbor in front of downtown Juneau. While just down the waterfront the huge steel walls of the cruise ships block most of the view, here it is unobstructed.

The Kitchen
A dish waiting to be served from The Hangers kitchen
A long area with windows onto the harbor greet you after entering. About half the space is a regular dining area, with the other half set up in a bar format. You can choose to dine on an outside deck overlooking the harbor in good weather. There is also a loft with a couple pool tables upstairs. The kitchen sits to one side of the dining area, you can wander over and see the dishes being prepared. This is where you second guess your order as you see what is sitting on the counter waiting to be served.

The Hanger
Dining in The Hanger, Juneau
As one would expect, seafood dishes are the specialty of the house. There is a good selection of non-seafood as well if you prefer a steak or burger. This is not diet food, most dishes are rich and tasty. Expect it to be busy during the summer months, we ended up sitting in the bar area last time.

Dinner in Juneau is a chance to sit and relax a bit. We can plan any remaining details that must be accomplished before we break dock, or consider the weather and the first day or two of cruising. The details involved in getting the boat ready seem endless, but at this point most of the list has been completed. It is a chance to sit and converse about the voyage ahead, a glimpse forward to a week spent with family.

Postcard from Alaska – Arriving Juneau

Arrival in Juneau is always pleasant. This is a very small airport, far smaller than even Kona or Hilo. As a result there are no long lines, no mile long walk to the rental car agency, no shuttle vans or snarled traffic awaiting once you do free yourself from the terminal. Walk from the gate down one flight of stairs to the single baggage claim. Forty feet from the luggage you find the rental desks, where you pick up a key and walk out into the parking lot just outside the terminal for your vehicle. As you load your luggage you can turn and see the plane sitting just the other side of the fence. A complete contrast to our experience with the enormous labyrinth that is SEA or PDX.

The jet was a 737-800 Combi model, the front half was air cargo, with a bulkhead just over the wing. We boarded and debarked by walking across the tarmac to stairs at the tail of the plane. I expect to walk across the flightline in Kona, but at SeaTac?!

Alaska Air Combi
Alaska Air flight 61 unloads cargo and passengers in Juneau

Back Home

It is pretty. It is a view I have spent all too much time staring at lately. Four times from the islands to the mainland in a bit over a month. Four times I have run the route from Kona, to Seattle, to Portland. Six times I have bounced through SeaTac airport when I add the run from Portland to Juneau and back.

I am back home for a while. Still dealing with the slightly disconnected feeling I often get after a long vacation. Living in a totally different world for a few weeks changes the definition of normal. It is back to work tomorrow and a resumption of the normal routine of life.

Pacific Wing
Looking out from the window of Alaska flight 843 from Seattle to Kona, 8Sep2013

Postcard from Alaska – Over the Ice

Over the Ice
The Juneau Ice Fields from a float plane air tour
Touring around a sunny Juneau you might not suspect that something completely different lies above the city. But here and there you can see hints. Atop the ridge that lies behind the city you can see ice, suggesting that what lies beyond Juneau is something a little more wild. Look above the Costco and there is a little glacier atop the ridge. Just a bit further north and you will find the Mendenhall Glacier, the terminus of a river of ice a mile wide with a photogenic lake at the face.

Take a plane or helicopter above the high ridge that rises above the city and you find ice, thousands of cubic kilometers of ice. The Juneau Ice Field is 140km (86miles) north to south and stretches almost 90km (55miles) into Canada. In places it is over 1400m (4600ft) thick, a sheet of ice that remains from a time when the world was colder.

When visiting Juneau it is worth the time to see this place. An air tour from town climbs over the ridge an into another world. Once over the ice the scenery is dramatically stark, ice everywhere, with bare rock and rugged mountain peaks punctuating the white. You would think you are over Antarctica, indeed the Juneau Ice Field has stood in for the south pole in a few movies.

The Two Juneaus

There are two cities of Juneau, Alaska. This is a city that has come to depend heavily on the tourist trade. Like many other places that have heavy tourist traffic, a second economy springs up, devoted to servicing the visitors.

Waterfront Juneau
Looking down Franklin Street in downtown Juneau on a quiet day, without the cruse ship crowds
In Juneau the tourists arrive primarily by cruise ship, the floating cities arrive in the morning at the dock along the waterfront that are built specifically to handle these enormous ships. Two to four ships per day are normally present during the height of the summer season, each potentially debarking thousands of people who either head out to one of several available excursions, or simply shop in the waterfront shopping district.

The result is a waterfront district of shops specifically designed to service this trade. Dozens upon dozens of small shops line the streets, each very different, each somewhat the same. Without the cruise ships none of this would exist.The streets are crowded with people and the sidewalks jammed, groups and couples stroll from shop to shop to look at everything from stuffed Eskimo dolls to diamond and ivory jewelry.

Away from the docks the shops thin, until a few blocks back from the waterfront another Juneau can be found. This city exists to service the local population. In Juneau the business is that of state government, timber and fishing. In places like the Hawai’i, where the tourists roam in rental cars the impact of tourism is spread out somewhat. In Juneau, where most simply walk from the ships, the tourist part of the city is more concentrated and the difference very stark.

There are odd days when no cruise ship comes in. On those days the waterfront shops are quiet, many do not even open, choosing to take those days off. Everyone knows when the ships will be coming in, the schedule is published in the local paper. For those who work the waterfront district, life revolves around the cruise schedule, for a few months at least. When the cold weather comes the ships depart for warmer waters and life slows to a less frenetic pace.

Postcard from Alaska – Mendenhall Glacier

A massive river of ice flowing down from the high ice fields above the city. When visiting Juneau go visit the glacier, only a few minutes drive from the airport and worth the visit. if you have the time and can make the arrangements take an air tour of the ice field. An fantastic flight, cross the ridge above the city and you are over the Juneau Ice Field, an enormous expanse of ice punctuated by spires of rock. From below there are only hints of the ice, from the air it becomes an unworldly experience.

Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier flowing into the lake of the same name, Juneau, Alaska