ALASKA CAMPING HIKING Wildlife

Alaska | Juneau – Mendenhall Glacier

November 1, 2011

Our final day in Juneau can be summed up like this: rain, glaciers, ice, mushrooms, and bears.

We woke up to the unrelenting rain and debated if we should stay another night in the cozy comfort of our cabin. We had heard that the campground we were planning on camping at that night had been flooded (and closed) just a few days earlier. The idea of being cold and wet didn’t really appeal to me, but at the same time, I was curious about the campsite we had carefully chosen because of its view of the glacier.

I think we made the right choice.

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Sly set up camp, creating a nice rain shelter by rigging up a tarp between several trees so that we could have a fire that night. While Sly slaved away, I took multiple photos of mushrooms, and about a billion photos of our $10/night (actually, I think it was $7 since we got a discount using our National Parks pass) view.

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this is our standard couple shot

Our next stop was Mendenhall Glacier – the Cruiser and tourist epicenter of Juneau. Anyone that comes to Juneau visits this glacier, and even in the rain it was a total theme park atmosphere with tour buses dropping off hoards of tourists and the parking lots so filled that cars lined the streets miles away.

But, it was really really beautiful, and worth braving the crowds.

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Where’s Waldo?

When the freezing rain became unbearable, and the tourists became more frazzled, we made the executive decision to head into town and grab some lunch

Our return to Mendenhall was timed perfectly – just as we arrived, we encountered a bear foraging in the grass for some ground pine cones (according to the park ranger). Even though the crowds had diminished by that time, the bear sighting drew mobs of crazed photographers to the scene. It was our second bear spotting of the day – our first being on our way in when we saw a black bear running across the field. This time around, we were in extremely close proximity to the bear.

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damn you, autofocus

We have gotten really close to black bears on several occasions while camping in California, and were once woken up by the sound of a bear foraging in the trees near our tent. For the most part, the bear had been nonplussed by stupid humans unless there was food involved. The only time I saw a bear go nuts was when some stupid tourists left a cooler of food unattended. I’m not saying bears are tame or safe, but from what little I know, and from what encounters I’ve had with them, what the rangers say is true – if you leave them alone, they will leave you alone.

Unfortunately, it’s hard for people to resist getting that bear photo to show all their friends (for the record, we were close, but taking photos w/a long lens). Once the poor bear was spotted, people came flocking – men, women, and children scrambled down the hill to get “a good shot of the bear.” Several rangers arrived on the scene to try and push people back, but just when the ranger had the crowd under control, some sneaky tourist would tiptoe down the hill again, shaky camera in hand, to try and get a better photo. In parks like this, where bear sightings are common, if a tourist were to be injured because he/she was stupid and got too close, it’s the bear that would ultimately tend to pay the price.

Anyway – we now return to beautiful photos of Mendenhall…

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just do it

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If I have one tip of advice for those planning on visiting Mendenhall Glacier it would be to arrive late in the day. Despite the crowds at the bear sighting, the place had pretty much cleared out, leaving us alone in an amazing place, and free to explore the trails alone. We hiked to nugget falls, scrambling over boulders and wading through. mud since much of the trail had been washed out by flood waters. Earlier in the day, we saw throngs of people by the falls, but now the glacier was silent and peaceful, and that much more magnificent.

We took an out-of-the-way route back to our car, and once again, encountered a very sleepy bear. Once again, he was more interested in us leaving him alone than pursuing us as food.

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sly found his calling as a bear photographer

The rain started again and continued throughout the night. We gave up on the idea of sitting around a campfire and instead swung by Silverbow bakery (Alaska’s oldest continuously operating bakery) for coffee and a coconut chocolate chip cookie.

While at the bakery, we couldn’t resist taking these terrible photos:

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For dinner, we cheated, and ate deli food from the grocery store. That night’s exciting activities included checking out Fred Meyer – the most awesome store ever – it’s like a Wal-mart, Khols, jewelry and furniture store all under one massive roof. We found and tried on the Xtra Tuff rain boots we saw everyone wearing (didn’t have our size), and I bought a fuzzy lumberjack hat.

We returned to camp, ate dinner in our car, pulled on about 10 extra layers of clothing and crawled into our tent. I thought I heard bears growling near our tent some time during the middle of the night. After waxing poetic about bears all day, could it be possible that one had returned to finish us off?

Turned out, it was just Sly.

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