Mawlers’ Big Adventure ’04:
Haines Junction to Haines

Thursday, 12 August 2004

By the Numbers
  • Distance Driven Today: 280 km
  • Gas Purchased Today: 46.5 litres at Source Motors
  • Total Cracks in Windshield: uh oh... we made the mistake of washing it
Wild Woolies
  • Tourons: a whole cruise ship full
  • Goats: 2
  • Marmots: many

Last night, we picked up a brochure from a small company offering flights over the Kluane ice fields. Since there are really only two ways into the center of the park – flight and foot – we decide to go check out this company today. We head up to the Haines Junction Airport (a wide dirt spot, mostly level) and find that the company in question is housed in the main "terminal".

We are not entirely convinced this is a good idea since there is a very low ceiling this morning and the hoped-for sunshine is not materializing, mostly due to smoke (again). We are thinking that the pilots might be able to give us a better idea of the potential for visibility over the ice fields themselves.

A young kid meets us inside and asks us if we are looking to fly over the glaciers. When we say yes, he sets about describing the various flight paths and relative expense, etc. He keeps saying "we". Odd.

The main problem is that this kid cannot tell us anything more solid about the weather over the ice fields, so we stand and debate for a few minutes when a couple more folks show up. The minimum charge for the trip covers three people, so the additional two folks will defray the cost a bit. Well, that settles it; we decide to take the trip.

The young kid takes our money (well, plastic really), then says, "follow me", going out to the plane. As it turns out, the young kid with the hooded sweatshirt, jeans, and sneakers is the pilot. And he is pretty good, too. Looks can be deceiving.

Stuart gets to sit up front and is practically giggly as a result. Children, I swear.

The first part of the flight is uneventful and pretty darn smoky, though it makes for some interestingly hazy images of the glaciers and the blue ice deep down in the glacier is just that much more striking.

At one point, the smoke and haze is so bad, it looks as though we are just flying into a giant dirty cotton ball. You know, like after you have cleaned off your face. C’mon, you know what I am talking about.

Anyway, the kid, uh, pilot banks us around in another direction to find some place to fly without relying solely on instruments. Eventually, we find ourselves out in a patch of really bright sunlight, which is almost too much for the digital camera, but I try anyway.

But the best part is when fly over the end of one of the glaciers. It is calving into a big lake and just seems to drop off suddenly.

After the glacier, we manage to see a couple of goats, but they are basically just white dots on a mountain side. I took a picture.

Gotta have proof, right?

The kid, uh, pilot, landed the plane better than most airliners, bringing a soft end to a good trip. The only thing that would have made it better is clear weather.

With the flight over, we need to address a pressing issue: the lack of a spare tire. You might recall that it blew out somewhat spectacularly while I was driving a couple of days ago. So, we venture over to Source Motors, just west of town. These are great guys, who have quite a selection of tires packed in that place. They outfit us with a tire that is probably better than what came off the thing originally. The also straighten our jack…

The trouble with airborne photography
I would not deny that aerial photography allows for dramatic angles and stunning vistas. Just look at this picture:

The trouble is, as you might notice in the larger version, that it also allows for the wings to enter the picture and, more troubling, the window scratches that make it look like Zorro was on my lens.

Oh well, it is still a good picture!

Considering the difficulty we had with the flimsy jack that came with the car, we decide to buy some insurance… We buy a bottle jack that is far less likely to bend under the jeep. Not sure what we are going to do with it, but it was only CDN$15, which will be a small price to pay if we need to change a tire out in the middle of nowhere.

Finally, we are done with Haines Junction (mostly). Because of the flight and the tire repair, we are leaving late for Haines. Is this a theme for us?

As we go south on the Haines Highway, things start to clear up. Turns out to be a beautiful drive. We stop and take some pictures of some silly marmots in a road-side turnout and generally enjoy the drive.

Arriving in Haines, it is not hard to find the hotel, which is in one of the officer’s quarters at the old Fort Seward. The hotel is really nice and our room looks out over the old parade ground, graced now by a native lodge. We can also see down to the very blue fjord. This is pretty much perfect.

We decide to pack up our books and computers and take a walk around town. There is a native artists’ collective across the parade ground and they are carving a totem pole, so we take a look at that, but generally wander aimlessly until we end up in downtown, which is slightly to the east of the old fort.

It is quickly apparent, to even the untrained eye, that the sidewalks roll up pretty quickly in this town. Some calls around to local businesses, including the internet café (of course), reveal that most places are closed by 6pm (Alaska Time). The current time is half-past- everything-closed.

Not all it is cracked up to be
While getting gas at Source Motors in Haines Junction, we decide to wash the windows. Wow, what a mistake.

Cleaning the front windshield, I notice several cracks that you cannot see from the inside, out in those tinted areas along the edges of modern windshields. Hmm. Seems like something I did not really need to know.

Better yet, with the windows cleaned, I can see lots of specks of ground-on dirt. The problem is that those are not dirt specks. After scraping at a few, it becomes apparent that there are thousands of tiny pits in the windshield.

We have had the windshield sand blasted. Just one more service we offer.

We only have one option at this point. Go have dinner and drink beer at the restaurant down by the harbor. This is about the only place open (besides a bar) at this point, so the choice is made for us, through circumstances.

As we are seated, we are not convinced this is the best choice. The wait staff possess a certain frosty outlook, and not through the bottom of a beer glass, either. The menus confirm that this is not our favorite place, considering that the prices are higher here than anywhere else on the trip so far. Did I happen to mention that the exchange rate between Alaska and the lower 48 is pretty rotten?

Despite all that, the beer is good; they have local brews on tap (for high prices). The food is difficult for Stuart, who makes do with a somewhat limited salad bar, but the fish is actually very good. I offer him some, but he keeps saying something about being a vegetarian. Oh well, more for me!

After dinner, we take pictures in the dark. What? I balance the camera on the dock and take long exposures of the boats by night. I love doing this anyway, but it is much easier with a digital camera, where you are not at all concerned about wasting film

Finally, we wander back to the hotel and look at the pictures on the bigger screen of the computer. When we were working on the web site earlier when we noticed a wireless network connection, but could not log-on. This evening, Stuart gets the bright idea to go looking for a better signal, on the assumption that he can connect. Turns out he is right. He posts his paper using the wireless network from the hotel. Ssshhh, don’t tell them. It is not exactly a service they offer. I suppose they do not imagine people will be wandering around Haines with wireless-enabled laptops, which is, for the most part, true.

It is an interesting image: Stuart sitting on the stairs just above the front desk, surfing the web. When he comes back to the room, grinning about having posted his paper, I ask if he looked up the weather report and the aurora borealis report. He didn’t, so he goes back out to the stairs to surf a bit more.

Finally he gets tired and comes to bed. This hotel would have been perfect if we had managed to get a private bath…

see it on a map

The previous installment:
Border City to Haines Junction - The Pictures

The next installment:
Haines to Haines Junction

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All materials © 2004 Lea Ann Mawler & Stuart Mawler