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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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