Thanks to those of you who have commented favorably on the photos I’ve been sharing of Alaska, and thanks also to those of you who could care less but have kindly kept quiet until I’m done. I feel a little guilty and worried that I’m not accurately capturing and displaying the true beauty of the places we visited. First of all, no picture can compare with the image you actually see with your eyes, and that which stays in your mind. Especially not when the person is as amateur of a photographer as I am. Also, I’d argue that the photos are downgraded even more by viewing them via a computer screen instead of in person … but let’s be honest. All those excuses don’t hold water when you see the amazing photos that Pioneer Woman is able to get on *her* site. So, you’ll just have to believe me when I say no matter how good the pictures here might (or might NOT) be, it’s a hundred times prettier and more colorful in real life.
After finishing our whale-watching excursion, we caught a shuttle to Mendenhall Glacier, a glacier about 12 miles long located in Mendenhall Valley, about 12 miles from downtown Juneau. The United States Forest Service administers the Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center as part of the Tongass National Forest (thank you, Wikepedia.)
The weather was holding for the day, warm and sunny, and we had some great views from the various visitor center platforms.
And of course what glacier view would be complete without the sight of two dorky tourists posing right in front?
I had read online about an off-the-beaten-path path, not actually sanctioned by the Forestry Department, or Game and Fish Guides, or Park Rangers, or whoever it is in charge up there, that would take us to the waterfall to the immediate right of the glacier. The waterfall looked cute and quaint, and we thought it would give us the best chance to see the glacier from a closer distance, as well. Although it wasn’t an approved trail, we could see plenty of people down by the waterfall (hmmm, they actually looked much smaller, and much farther away, than I thought they would) so I figured the trail couldn’t be *that* hard.
Keith wouldn’t join us for two reasons. One, well, bears. You should know that if you’ve been reading at all. Two, I’m pretty sure he was an Eagle Scout by the time he was five, so if the trail wasn’t approved, he wasn’t going. I was disappointed, partly because I knew he was most likely disapproving of *US* going, and partly because if I’d fallen and broken my ankle, he was the only one strong enough to carry me back from the damn waterfall. But Blaine and I set off anyway.
Although it was a pretty brisk ten or fifteen minute hike, it was all level ground and not difficult at all, until we got to The Place of the Rocks, which itself took me a good ten minutes to cross. The place where I thought I was proving my athletic prowess and showing Blaine what a kick-ass physical specimen I was, until the old guy with the cane passed me. In my defense, not only did I have my big, cumbersome camera bag slung over my shoulder …. but thanks to the beautiful weather, and the fact that even that minor exhertion had me sweating like crazy, I had my ginormous puffy winter coat wrapped around my waist. So I’m TOTALLY blaming that extra weight and bulk for slowing me down. (Old guy. Cane. PASSED ME.)
It was well worth the hike, though, as the waterfall was much bigger and louder and more powerful than I imagined. Not cute and quaint at all, but an amazing force. Just standing there next to it was exhilarating, although every time I tried to get a picture, the spray from the falls would blow on my camera lens (yet another excuse for these pictures not being as marvelous as I would like.)
Then, while Blaine and I stood there a moment, admiring the lake and the glacier, and breathing in the spray of the falls (and catching my breath, ahem) and commenting on the novelty of seeing tiny icebergs floating in the water below the glacier (so very, very Titanic-esque) I noticed a few small specks on the rocks next to the waterfall and realized it was three boys, climbing. Not rock climbers, with any kind of special gear or equipment, but three teenage boys, laughing, obviously there on vacation, like us.
Their mother was on the ground near me, giving extremely clear hand motions (pointing directly at the boys, then pointing emphatically to the ground next to her) that should have been obvious, and which clearly meant “Get your asses down from there NOW” but which the two older boys chose to ignore. The falls were loud and they wouldn’t have been able to hear her if she had yelled, but the hand motions, again, were crystal clear. The youngest of the three, who had made it to about twenty-five feet at this point, reluctantly climbed back down, but the older two kept going.
I watched for a few minutes, thinking to myself that if either of those boys, who by now had gotten up to about fifty feet, were to slip on the wet rocks and fall, they could be killed. Not sprained-ankle-killed, or even broken-leg-killed, but actual-dead-body-broken-neck-killed. And I started getting very stressed out. I looked over at Blaine and realized he was watching them, also. He turned to me and said, “If those were my boys, I would kick their asses.” And I thought, “Thank you! He gets it, and understands how very dangerous that is!” at which point Blaine said, “What do they think this is, their own personal rock climbing expedition? And they’re going to get killed if one of them slips.”
Which is about when I realized, I couldn’t stand there and watch it happen. So I told Blaine (truthfully) that we were supposed to meet Renee and Keith in half an hour to catch our shuttle bus back to the cruise ship, so we should probably go. And although I was totally stressed about the boys, at least the adrenaline rush from watching their foolhardiness made it so the old guy with the cane didn’t pass me again on the way back.