Saturday, June 29, 2019

Helicopter Glacier Trekking in Juneau, Alaska

  Over the last fifty days I have been implementing an expedition style program on one of Silversea's classic fleet ships called the Silver Muse. It can hold around 600 passengers and is far and away the largest ship I've ever worked on. Figuring out the logistics of where the expedition equipment would go, like all of the zodiacs and kayaks, and other gear was only one of the many challenges that my team and I faced with this assignment.

   Now that we are all packed up and can relish in the success I can finally look back at the few times I did get off the ship for some pretty fabulous adventures in Alaska. When the ship was in port, and not all the expedition team was needed for our excursions, I would try to send the team out as escorts on shore based trips. This was one of my favorites.

  On one rainy day in Juneau I watched the poor shore concierge team as flight after flight of sightseeing helicopters postponed and outright canceled. There was a lot of confusions as some of these calls to cancel come at the last minute. On this day though I would get very lucky. All of a sudden a young girl called my group to head towards a waiting van. I really couldn't believe my luck. We jumped in and drove north out of town towards the airport. Once there we got all geared up with waterproof layers, boots, survival packs in the form of fanny packs, gloves, and even waiters. We walked out to a waiting helicopter and off we went!

  The clouds were pretty dark and low, but we had enough of a ceiling to fly up the face of Mendenhall Glacier. After a few scenic turns we touched down on lookers left of the glacier. Here our guide Jaydan met us and equipped all of us with crampons that fit snugly underneath our boots. I had experienced wearing crampons once before when I walked on Franz Josef glacier in New Zealand. The grip they give you on the ice, and the ability to walk up and down almost vertical slopes gives you the feeling of being a wild animal.

   The adventure was called Glacier Trekking with NorthStar trekking based in Juneau. We climbed around the ice marveling at sky blue streams running through the glacier, holes that seemed to have no bottom, and caves just big enough to squeeze through. Even though it was raining back down in Juneau, it was nice enough up on the glacier to take my camera along for the ride and score some amazing photo opportunities.

 We walked and explored for about an hour and a half before the helicopter came back for our pickup. Instead of flying straight back to the airport we spent a good half hour flying up Mendenhall glacier, over a few dog sledding camps high on the ice field, and then down  Herbert glacier out to Auk Bay. The drizzly rain greeted us again down at the airport where apparently it had never stopped. We all felt quite lucky to have had such an amazing experience. 

  Enjoy scrolling through the rest of the pictures. Glaciers can be some of the most photogenic areas in nature. Juneau, Alaska happens to be a great place to access quite a few of them. I'm looking forward to more glacial mountaineering adventures in the future!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

From UnCruise to Silversea

Wilderness Discoverer next to Silver Muse in Ketchikan
Putting it into perspective

The Expedition Team
   I recently accepted a job as expedition leader with Silversea, an ultra luxury mid size cruise ship company. With close to 1,000 destinations visited by their fleet around the world and new challenges in store I was eager to set out on this new adventure. However, I was also quite sad to be parting ways with UnCruise, who I've had so many great experiences with over the last 4+ years. Luckily some of my uncruise crew mates are coming along for the ride as well.
View of the top deck

Silver Muse in Tracy Arm Fjord
Docked in Haines, Alaska
  My first rotation with silversea starts in Tokyo, Japan and ends in Vancouver, Canada. It will encompass four voyages. The first being a transoceanic trip from Tokyo to Seward, Alaska. I flew out to meet the ship in Tokyo where for the first time ever I was greeted by an agent before even going thru customs with my name on a sign. He whisked me through customs and sent me right to the hotel. Apparently cruise companies fly their staff around the world on these special tickets called 'seamans fares'. These are very reduced rates that you need a special booking agent to get, but it also means that you aren't allowed to come early and a local agent must make sure you get from airport to hotel to ship. I suppose in the past they may have had a problem with defectors? The last time I was in Japan outside of an airport was when I lived here from 2003-2005. Driving through Tokyo, past Odaiba towards the waiting Silver Muse brought back a lot of memories from that time in my life.

  But make it to the ship we did, and you should have seen all of our eyes. This was a big ship. During the interviews we had heard mostly about the expedition ships in the fleet that top out at around 240 passengers. This was a big ship. I came to find out that the Muse can handle close to 600 guests with around 400 crew. My surprise continued when we got onto the ship and found out that no one really knew what we did, because there had never been expedition staff onboard this style of Silversea ship before. I quickly found out that what my and my team of 9 expedition members were there to do was to figure out and implement a brand new program that had never been done before at this company.

  Its going to be a wild ride. We have a very nice floating home to house us as we hopefully rise to the challenge. Luckily the team is solid, I've worked with about half of them before, and the rest of the staff are delightful.