Nugget Falls roars into Mendenhall Lake, Juneau, Alaska. Follow the creek as it flows into Mendenhall Lake (frozen), and you can see the foot of the Mendenhall Glacier in the distance.
The snowy peak prodding the blue sky is Mount Stroller White (1,570 m; 5,150 ft). The forested ridgeline in front of Stroller White that ascends to the left is one of the shoulders of Mt. McGinnis (1,289 m; 4,228 ft).
Nugget Creek arises from Nugget Glacier, flowing down a valley that separates Mount Bullard (1,288 meters; 4,225 ft.) from Heintzleman Ridge. My IG Post from 11/27/2017 shows me on cross country skis with Mount Bullard in the background.
A dam and a 198-meter (650-foot) long tunnel were constructed by the Treadwell Company during the heyday of early hardrock gold mining in Juneau. This hydroelectric facility provided electricity from 1912 to 1943, just one of a number of hydroelectric plants that put Juneau at the forefront of early industrial use of electricity, including electric locomotives.
Nugget Falls is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Juneau along with the Mendenhall Glacier. It’s also one of our favorite 30-minute hikes of exceptional beauty and the power of the waterfall.
The sun sets behind the Chilkat Range of mountains as my 18-foot (5.5 meter) skiff named “Footloose” floats at Handtroller Cove, Southeast Alaska. Click the picture for my video taken from Shelter Island, our base for camping and kayaking. The dark low island beyond the skiff is Lincoln Island.
The Chilkat Range in the distance is inaccessible wilderness once you get past the narrow shoreline. Westward, the vast sharp mountains and glaciers give way to Glacier Bay. Fly beyond Glacier Bay, and you’re looking at the Alsek River watershed, the largest continuous designated wilderness in the world. Browse my blog to find a variety of posts about reefs and ecology of the Handtroller Cover area, and also about the spectacular beauty of the Alsek River.
Handtroller Cove is a dimple of an indentation on Favorite Channel, but the junction of Chatham Strait and Lynn Canal, two of the largest channels in Southeast Alaska, must be crossed to reach the Chilkat Mountains from here.
All of the major sea channels in Southeast Alaska follow geological fault lines that run from the southeast to the northwest. The channels have been carved by glaciers during the ice ages, giving them steep shorelines and surprising depths.
The water under the boat is only 6 ft (1.8 m) deep. But between the boat the Chilkat Mountains in the distance, the depth reaches 1,900 ft (579 m). If you imagine what the landscape would look like if there was no water, you would be standing on top of a mountain with steep slopes leading down into a 1900 ft (579 m) valley!
Kate Troll (@katetroll) shares a moment of peace and beauty among the icebergs of Alsek Lake, Southeast Alaska, near Dry Bay on the Lost Coast. Kate & I have been living in & exploring Alaska for 40 years. She combines her adventures here and around the world with her long career as a leader in environmental conservation, and her thoughts about hope in the face of climate change, in her book: “The Great Unconformity: Reflections on Hope in an Imperiled World”.
Just one more magnificent highlight on our float trip down the Tatshenshini River to the Alsek River, which runs through Alsek Lake before emptying into the Gulf of Alaska at Dry Bay. 11-day trip with 10 friends through 3 Canadian and USA national parks that combine into largest designated wilderness in world.
The powerful Alsek River flows under the mile-wide ice berg jam from huge glaciers that calve into the lake, and exits around a large island. The ice can completely block the exit, forcing rafters to get picked up here by bush plane. We hiked in to scout a route, and were able to find an open channel between the shoreline the ice jam, the eerie growl of river going under the ice off to our port side, forcing us to row far out into Alsek lake.
Video-Juneau Icefield viewed from Astar 119 helicopter just above Taku Inlet, probably over Norris Glacier. The helicopter pilot is our son, Rion Hanson. Although named the Juneau Icefield, it extends 140 km (87 mi) north to south and 75 km (47 mi) east to west, making it the 4th largest icefield in the Northern Hemisphere.
Era Helicopters has a dog sledding camp on the icefield for summertime tours, with access only by helicopter. I’ve flown over different parts of the icefield during the last 40 years, and it remains one of the most astoundingly beautiful places I’ve seen. At its thickest, the ice is 1,400-meters (4,590 ft.) deep!
While valley glaciers like the Mendenhall, Eagle, Herbert, and Taku Glaciers near Juneau flow down close to sea level, the vast ice field is completely invisible from saltwater and cities.
Fog rises as the Mendenhall River flows out of Mendenhall Lake. The water is clearing up now that winter is setting in. Kate Troll, Nellie the Sheltie, and I skied around the shoreline of Mendenhall Lake to the outlet where the Mendenhall River originates.
Glacial rivers change radically from summer to winter. With summer warming, the melting glacier greatly increases the river flow, making the Mendenhall River a whitewater rafting destination for tourists. Silt from the glacier turns the water an opaque gray, and rafters can hear the hiss of silt against the rafts. In winter, flow is much less, and water more clear.
Mendenhall Glacier also causes jökulhlaups (an Icelandic term), glacial outburst floods. Meltwater builds up under the glacier, trapped by ice dams. When the ice dam melts away or breaks, the water bursts out, causing the Mendenhall River rise to flood stage very quickly. These jökulhlaups have become more predictable with sensors placed under the glacier to monitor water build-up.
Our home sits on a steep hill above the saltwater, so we don’t have a back yard. I grow a few veggies in 0.9 x 2.4 m (3 x 8 ft.) box beds in our driveway.
To make room for snowplowing, I move them back from the road. They’re around 1,000 kg (2,200 lbs.) each so it takes a bit of finagling with a floor jack, pvc pipe, a couple of heavy pry bars, maul, and heavy rope.
Fortunately, @katetroll is very strong. The two of us can hand push, coax, pry, and torture the beds into safety adjacent to our flower garden. With lots of travel this year, we moved beds during the first snowfall of the year.
Nellie the Sheltie, Dog of the North Woods (northern Southeast Alaska coastal temperate rainforest). Thanksgiving: I’m so very thankful that Nellie the Sheltie is still our effervescent companion at home and in the woods… Thanks to Lindsay and Andre, she added kayaking credentials this summer!
Last spring, we learned Nellie had an aggressive tumor in her bladder. Thought we’d lose her, but medication and diet (and no doubt love and exercise) have reduced it by half. Still zipping along, barking in circles, and giving us happiness every day at age 10.
Gulls feeding on salmon eggs and carcasses, Juneau, Alaska. Chum Salmon (aka “Dog Salmon”) and Pink Salmon (aka “Humpies”) spawning in Sheep Creek estuary. CLICK THE PHOTO BELOW TO SEE VIDEO: 10 seconds into video, a chum salmon with red and purple stripes thrashes into shallows. Past this chum salmon out in the channel, see the humped backs of pink salmon in spawning frenzy.
Pinks and Chums are the only two species of salmon whose fry (newly hatched young) migrate immediately back to saltwater. They become “smolt”: their bodies and metabolism change so they can live in saltwater. The young of the other 3 species (Chinook, Coho, and Sockeye) stay in streams and lakes for 1 or more years before they go out to sea.
Once in the ocean, their life histories diverge. Pink salmon spend only 1 year feeding in saltwater, migrating back into the streams as 2-year-old adults, the smallest of the salmon at 2.2 kg (4.8 lbs.). Chum Salmon remain in the ocean for 2-4 years, so return as 3 to 5-year-olds. Their longer life of feeding and growing results in weights of 4.4 to 10.0 kg (9.7 to 22.0 lbs.)
The high protein-high fat salmon and their eggs are super-foods for predators like gulls, shorebirds, bears, and humans. As they die, the nutrients from their bodies feed aquatic and terrestrial plants and invertebrates from crab to insects in the Coastal Temperate Rainforest. These are critical habitats and migratory passages that require protection from pollutants, destruction, and blockage.
In the photo above, I stood on the left shoreline, the edge of the North American continent. The shore and mountains of Douglas Island form the right shoreline. Gray mountains at the far end are on Admiralty Island, 12-14 miles away.
Good eyesight? Can you see a cruise ship, sandbar, navigational aid, and a research vessel in in the saltwater of Gastineau Channel? Try it and then zoom in (if using phone). When boating, I constantly search the water ahead for other vessels, navigation markers, and hazards like logs or rocks. I scan the water for any shapes, spots, or projections from the water’s surface, starting closest to me, and gradually sliding my view look down channel until I reach the horizon.
Searching the water along the left shoreline, look for rocks, sand bars, and a navigational marker on pilings. In the channel, you’ll the small research vessel operated by NOAA (National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration) heading away from us. You’ll also see a cruise ship coming toward us that must pass between the navigation aid and Douglas Island to avoid the sand bar the extends from the left shore.