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Alaska (1): just behind Juneau – an amazing, short walk

Start in Juneau’s tourist-kitsch-horror-show waterfront. Ascend 1,800 feet/550 metres in 5 minutes, via Mt Roberts Tramway. Admire the view down into the fiord – and above it, as pictured above. Relatively speaking, you ain’t seen nothing, yet!  Yes, you really should walk up to the top of the ridge behind you…

Juneau’s urban area is the third largest in the USA.

Alaska’s capital city  is, however, a small town of not many more than 30,000 “permanent” residents, of whom many head south in winter.

In “the season”, on any one day several megacruiseships will be in town – each, for less than one full day, carrying thousands of passengers.

Juneau’s fiord then becomes the runway for a prodigious number of seaplane flights.

The sheer crapulousness of Juneau’s downtown shopping precinct defies belief.

Almost all tacky, its shops and their wares are variously “Alaska-relevant” or stunningly irrelevant.

The latter category includes an entire emporium selling overpriced bamboo fabrics.

The former embraces a zillion tacky t-shirts, babushka dolls and not-at-all-precious “gems”.

Most of this seasonal dreckfest is owned by or associated with the cruising companies.

All of this notwithstanding, I’d urge anyone to visit Juneau…but not via cruise ship.

The town becomes suddenly-likeable once you walk just a few streets up from the waterfront; like North Queensland’s Cairns, Southeastern Alaska’s Juneau is a “real” place, only a few streets away from its tourist precinct.

And – like Cairns – Juneau is stunningly located, midst some of our planet’s most beautiful country.

Near the sea – and sea level – the Southeast Alaskan climate is much milder and the vegetation much lusher than most people expect.

If you walk up from downtown Juneau, within a few minutes you will be walking in temperate rainforest.

Almost all of the aforementioned tramway’s short, steep ascent is through forest.

This changes, almost immediately, above the tramway.

One remarkably warm day – one of a worryingly long run of warm, dry days in May 2015 – my beloved and I were among hundreds or thousands of Mt Roberts Tramway passengers.

We were also among the handful who walked up to the top of the ridge, nearly as far above the tramway as the tramway is above Juneau.

At the time of year – that year, on a day like that day – this walk would not have fazed any reasonably fit septuagenarian who had available 3 or 4 unhurried hours.

On the way up we saw a ptarmigan, still in white plumage.

In a “normal” year this would have still been appropriate, in May.

In May 2015 the ptarmigan was not dressed for success.

We also heard and saw a very big marmot – so big, we initially mistook it for a goat!

I/my camera were not quick enough to capture either, but here is a little of the “still life”.

A western skunk cabbage? All photos copyright Doug Spencer
A western skunk cabbage?
All photos copyright Doug Spencer




When we neared the top of the ridge there were snowdrifts, but they were not difficult to walk across and the air temperature was still very pleasant.

approaching the ridge top, behind Juneau, May 2015
approaching the ridge top, behind Juneau, May 2015

When you reach the inland-facing ridge top, you are suddenly looking across to this:



It is a long way down, as well as up – this is the “vertical slice”, photographed from almost exactly the same vantage point.

All photos copyright Doug Spencer
All photos copyright Doug Spencer

As we turned back, the afternoon sun was lighting up the slopes just across from “our” ridge. We were back in Juneau well before sunset.



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