First Time in Whittier

The next morning we all got up pretty early and headed out to Whittier.  Whittier is a weird town where the only access is a one lane tunnel, and even that lane is a railroad track. Both cars and trains share this single access in and out of town, so the direction of the traffic is scheduled.  There is one 20 minute window per hour and if you are late you are waiting until the next one, so between that schedule and the train schedule we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time. It also costs $13 for the trip through the tunnel (only paid going in, not going out) so we took two cars to the visitor center in Portage outside of town and left our truck there, and then jumped in with Bill and Kelly.

Portage Vistors Center

Portage Visitors Center

Beautiful Glacier Lake next door

Beautiful Glacier Lake next door

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Multiple glaciers

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The tunnel entrance

This area is full of glaciers and I think I saw at least 5 inside and outside of Whittier.  It was overcast, unfortunately, but easy to see how spectacular it would be in full sun, and the glacier lake had massive chunks of ice in it. We took a few pics, used the restroom, and got into line.  There are actually two tunnels, the first runs two ways, but you will see the signs clearly for the second.

Lee got a couple of pics for me, but it was super tight and he was afraid to stick out to far

Lee got a couple of pics for me, but it was super tight and he was afraid to stick out too far.  You have seen the lengths he will go to to “get the shot” so that should tell you something

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Everyone was worried about me and the claustrophobia , but it wasn’t that bad. Just tried not to think about it to much. On the other side there were more glaciers and a beautiful waterfall and then pretty immediately the town.

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This was one of my favorites of the day

The town of Whittier is very different than Seward, and absolutely more of a working fishing village.  It is also unique because everyone in the town lives in one large high rise, which also includes the post office and other things people need.  The town has about 2,000 people in the summer but reduces to only 200 in the winter, and the school is even connected to the high rise via an underground tunnel.  They get massive amounts of snow here so even the playground is inside, and initially I wasn’t a huge fan. The grey, overcast weather certainly didn’t help.

The high rise every lives in contains most of the local shops as well. It is not open to nonresidents

The high rise everyone lives in contains most of the local shops as well. It is not open to nonresidents.  Ocean views on one side and waterfall views on the other.  Not bad!

We would have loved to hike up to the big waterfall behind it but there wasn't really time

We would have loved to hike up to the big waterfall behind it but there wasn’t really time

This abandoned Military building is perfect for a Walking Dead episode

This abandoned military building is perfect for a Walking Dead episode

The town itself wasn’t nearly as picturesque as Seward, but Bill assured me that was largely due to weather.  He showed me some beautiful shots they had taken on a clear day there and I have to admit they were breathtaking.

The dock

The dock

Where we ate lunch

Where we ate lunch

Our views were grey and cloudy

Our views were grey and cloudy

Then we decided to walk back to the car and drive up to where the waterfalls were, which I was excited about.  And Lee found a geocache along the way, where we dropped off one of the trackables we have been carrying around.

Cool place for a geocache

Cool place for a geocache

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The hillside had tons of waterfalls which were really beautiful. I loved this part of Whittier

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Kelly and Bill

Then we drove up the road a bit and the sky brightened and we saw the beautiful cove.  The color of the water looked a lot like Lake Tahoe and the waterfalls along the coast line were really special.

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Whittier looks prettier from this angle

Whittier looks prettier from this angle

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Would love to take a boat ride here along the waterfalls

Would love to take a boat ride here along the waterfalls

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Huge Glacier

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We particularly liked the big section of rock

 

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A little truck porn. Bill said it reminded him of a Ford Commercial. Really beautiful spot and a can’t miss if you are in Whittier

After the waterfalls and views I was feeling much better about the town, and we drove back down to get on our train.  The train “depot” is actually a series of unmanned tents near the tracks.  After Kelly called we discovered the train personnel had our tickets and we didn’t actually have to be an hour early, we arrived about 15 minutes early which was plenty of time.  Although we had assigned seats the train was pretty empty and the staff didn’t seem to mind where we sat.  We all spent some time in the open air between the cars and wandered about as we wanted to.  The ride to Spencer Glacier came with a couple of different stops where we picked up some folks that were taking a rafting adventure and others who used the train to transport camping gear into the Chugach National Forest.  It was part local transportation and part tourist ride and we all really liked it.

Lee and Bill talking about ...trains!!

Lee and Bill talking about …trains!!

Kelly and Lee looking at the window

Kelly and Lee looking at the window and laughing

One of our glamorous stops :)

One of our glamorous stops 🙂

Beautiful scenery along the way

Beautiful scenery along the way

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And we made it to our destination in about an hour

And we made it to our destination in about an hour

I didn’t do a very good job of planning this excursion, or maybe I was just confused, because I thought Whistlestop was a town.  Uh..nope.  It is as it is called; a whistle stop for the train, and all it has is a campground, some restrooms, and a wooden shelter.  The train ride included a narrated hike to the glacier with a Forest Ranger, and since there was literally nothing else to do there, off on the hike we went.  Turns out it was lovely and Maia our ranger was awesome.  I actually learned quite a bit and the well maintained 1.25 mile hike each way was extremely easy. Maia stopped along the way to talk about the forest and the glaciers, and I learned several interesting things.  For example, did you know that the mountains with rounded tops mean that a glacier at one point was over them whereas the mountains with sharp peaks were never capped by a glacier?  She also explained that glaciers form U shaped canyons and rivers formed V shaped canyons in a way that actually made sense to me.  Plus, once again we were lucky with the weather and even though it was overcast it never rained.

First stop along the walk was a beautiful wooden pedestrian bridge

First stop along the walk was a beautiful wooden pedestrian bridge

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We were surrounded on all sides by beautiful mountains and forest

We were surrounded on all sides by beautiful mountains and forest.  See how the mountains in the forefront are rounded versus the more jagged peaks in the upper left?  The rounded ones used to be covered by glacier “like water in a bathtub.”

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The path was very nice and made for a pleasant hike

The path was very nice and made for a pleasant hike

Finally we turned a corner and were at the glacier lake.  We made a beautiful hike to Kintla Lake in Glacier, but Spencer Lake and Glacier are ten times as big.  Plus, when you looked in 360 degrees it was so beautiful everywhere.

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The glacier was massive

The glacier was massive

See the folks boating for scale

See the folks boating for scale as to how big the ice chunks were

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There was also this cool NAtional Forest cabin on the hillside which is accesible only by trail..and yes housekeeping walks the trail to clean them or if more supplies need brought in it's done by helicopter

There was also this cool National Forest cabin on the hillside which is accessible only by 2 1/2 hours on a switchback trail up the mountain..and yes, housekeeping walks the trail to clean them, or if more supplies are needed brought in it’s done by helicopter

Our terrific ranger Mia who was kind enough to take pictures for everyone

Our terrific ranger Mia who was kind enough to take pictures for everyone

And here we all are at the glacier! Kelly, Bill, me and Lee

And here we all are at the glacier! Kelly, Bill, me and Lee

Oh and I forgot to mention the global warning information. Glaciers reach a certain size and then start to retreat naturally. The speed at which they are retreating however is faster in current years than previous ones. Scientists believe the acceleration is due to global warning.,

Oh and I forgot to mention the global warming information. Glaciers reach a certain size and then start to retreat naturally. The speed at which they are retreating however is faster in current years than previous ones.  I liked how they presented the information and then left it up to you to draw your own conclusions.

After a little while Lee and I decided to walk back (there may have been some birthday kisses) and the views were equally beautiful.  I even found this little bench that had some spectacular views.

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View from the bench

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The wooden bridge from the other direction

 

We were the first ones back at the train area and Lee laid down on the bench and took a nap.  Kelly and Bill weren’t that far behind and we sat and talked until the train came.

Lee's siesta

Lee’s siesta

Turns out Kelly and I have the exact same pair of hiking shoes

Turns out Kelly and I have the exact same pair of hiking shoes

The train arrived and folks who had camped over the weekend were loading their stuff

The train arrived and folks who had camped over the weekend were loading their stuff

On the way back we sat on the second story of this train car which had huge glass windows

On the way back we sat on the second story of this train car which had huge glass windows

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I liked the train ride very much with the single caveat that if you see an animal you can’t stop and take pictures.  There was an active eagles nest and on the way out I saw the baby, but on the way back the best shot I could get was the following.

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We did have beautiful views all the way back though and by the time we got to Whittier there were only 7 of us on the train. Absolutely fantastic customer service and I highly recommend at least one  Alaska Trains ride to anyone who is visiting Alaska


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11 thoughts on “First Time in Whittier

  1. I’ve been noticing in your pictures short sleeves, long sleeves, and jackets. How are the temperatures in Alaska right now? Are they really variable? Does the temperatures change a lot in a days time? Some of the pictures it looks like it may be really cold for summer. How much longer do you have working in Alaska?

    • Hi…that’s a great question. We always layer up. The temps range from 50’s to 70’s on a normal day with the very occasional afternoon hitting 80. The reason for the layers is the sun feels really hot, so when it’s sunny out T-shirt is great but when it’s cloudy and same temp probably want a fleece. I put my jacket on and off all day long because of that. The heavy coat we have only used a few time generally when it is 100 percent overcast and raining, plus the wind can have a major bite sometimes, especially when you are close to a glacier. On the walk to the glacier the temp must have dropped 20 degrees the closer we got.

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