Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Summer vacation, day 8

Heading south from Skagway you pass Vanderbilt Reef in the middle of the channel. It's a small, rocky, outcropping, with a visibility marker.

576 miles away, and much higher, is Denali, the tallest mountain in North America. It's 20,310 feet high, and the distance from base-to-peak (18,000 feet) is the highest of any mountain in the world entirely above sea level (yes Everest, that includes you).

It was first climbed in 1913, by a 4-man expedition of Hudson Stuck, Harry Karstens, Walter Harper, and Robert Tatum. Stuck, the leader, felt very strongly that the first man to reach the giant's summit should be a native Alaskan. Walter Harper was the son of a Koyukon mother and Irish immigrant. His father abandoned the family when Walter was 2, and the boy was raised by the tribe.

Walter Harper

In the early 20th century there were no roads in the area, and walking was the only way across the arctic terrain.

After a 3 month hike through the Alaskan wilds, then up the mountain, Walter Harper, age 20, became the first man to set foot on top of Denali, followed moments later by the rest of the expedition. It was June 7, 1913. Tatum described the view as "looking out of a window of heaven."

After the history-making climb, Harper returned to his regular job and continued his education. In 1918, at age 25, he was accepted to medical school in Philadelphia, and that same year married Frances Wells. Hudson Stuck, now an archdeacon, officiated at the ceremony.

For their honeymoon they planned to travel from Skagway to Seattle, then cross-country to Philadelphia for him to continue his studies. On October 23 they left Skagway on the S.S. Princess Sophia. 

They sailed into one of the northwest's greatest tragedies. In a story I've told before, the steamer struck Vanderbilt Reef in a gale, with the loss of all 343 on board. The only survivor was a dog. Walter and Francis Harpers' bodies were recovered, and buried together in Juneau.


The ship has a twice-daily program with the cruise directors. It is, I swear, called “The Wake Show,” which sounds more like coverage of funerals. It consists of William, the cruise director, talking about stuff on board while Lindsay (the assistant cruise director) nods and smiles. You get the impression he could be talking, cheerfully, about a huge engine fire that killed half the crew and she’d be smiling and nodding. Actually, I wonder if these were taped in advance, before we even left port, with a different pre-packaged one for each day of the trip. “Boy, wasn’t that a fun day in Sicily, Alaska? Plenty of sunshine!” after it was raining all day. It wasn't quite as much fun as the disastrous "Good Morning with Goose" show on our 2009 cruise, but still unintentionally entertaining.

As we headed off to breakfast, Mrs. Grumpy frantically ran back to the cabin to make the bed. She habitually does this EVERY day on EVERY trip for reasons that I still don’t understand. When asked she says “I don’t want the maid to think I’m a slob.” As a result, wherever we go the staff must believe we spend our evenings passed out on a bench (or deck chair) somewhere.

Today we sailed through Glacier Bay National Park.

Since it's a federal nature preserve, we had to stop to pick up a team of U.S. Park Service rangers to guide the ship. While getting coffee at a stand near to the purser’s desk, Mom and I overheard them talking about the number of passengers on board and how much the ship’s charges were to get into a National Park (several thousand dollars). My mother, trying to be helpful, rummaged around in her purse and pulled out her Park Service Golden Eagle pass. She handed it to the purser and said “this gets me in for free, I think it will take $10 off the total, if that helps.”

Then we slowly cruised through the fjord. It was spectacular, and sad to think that in my kids' lifetime (if not mine) these things won't exist anymore. It was sleeting on & off, but that didn't keep us inside. So we got soaked.

Look, people, I'm not Ansel Adams. You want real nature photography? Go to a gallery.

We went back inside for lunch. By the midship pool is a grill that serves standard hamburger & hot dog type fare, with a daily special. Today the special was the grilled halibut sandwich, or “halibut burger” as the chalkboard said.

So I was in line with Frank to get a burger, when the guy in front of us put on a remarkable display of stupidity.

Idiot: “What’s the halibut burger?”

Counter guy: “It’s grilled halibut on a hamburger bun, with lettuce.”

Idiot: “It doesn’t have a burger on it?”

Counter guy: “No, sir, just the halibut filet.”

Idiot: “That may be more than I want... I’ll have the halibut hot dog instead.”

Counter guy: “We don’t have a halibut hot dog. Just the burger.”

Idiot: “Well, if you have a halibut burger, shouldn’t you have a halibut hot dog, too? Like a smaller piece of halibut rolled up on a hot dog bun?”

Counter guy: “Well, I can cut the filet in half and serve it on a hot dog bun.”

Idiot: “Never mind, I’ll just go to the buffet.”

And people wonder why American travelers have a reputation as clods.

Walking back to our cabin to change, we passed the floor’s laundry room. There were 3 kids in there doing their family’s wash. I made sure to tell my kids this, to make them appreciate us more.

You can have the crew do your laundry for you. They have a bag in your cabin closet that you fill up, and it's $10-$20 per bag to get it cleaned. The bag, however, is about the size of one you'd pack your lunch sandwich in. So unless you want to do laundry, or have the ability to compress your undies to the subatomic scale, just bring more clothes.

This evening they had “Shipboard Idol” where anyone with enough confidence and/or alcohol could belt out a number and hope to go on to the finals on the last night. They did this 3-4 times during the cruise, resulting in some horribly untalented people trying repeatedly, thinking they’d be better next time. This is the musical equivalent of putting rotten milk back in the fridge hoping it will freshen up.

Some people were legitimately talented, but most were not. The highlight was a guy named Victor, who every night showed up to belt out a Sinatra tune, each time apparently believing the audience would see the remarkable talent that was so obvious to him. He gets an “A” for effort... But that’s about it.

The lady who feels the need to belt out “Memories,” from Cats, is on this ship, too. WHY? I have never been on a cruise, EVER, that didn’t have this woman.

The worst performer of the whole trip was a guy who picked the Beatles’ “Happiness is a Warm Gun.” Before starting he said he’d seen the name in the ship’s songbook, and thought it sounded cool.

Unfortunately, this is absolutely one of the WORST pieces to do if you’re unfamiliar with it, as it’s a sequence of surprising chord and lyric changes (Lennon actually combined 3 different pieces when writing it). So this guy was frantically trying to keep up with the unfamiliar, and rapidly changing, music. His inability to do so was so profound that, about halfway through, his horribly embarrassed wife climbed on stage, grabbed the microphone from him, handed it to the nearest staff member, and walked out.


Anonymous said...

Karaoke guy shoulda stuck with Yellow Submarine. That one is supposed to be sung off-key.

Candida Gomez said...

Those pictures of the glaciers are very nice. Amateur or not, you did a good job.

That halibut guy should go on Not Always Right. He'd fit right in with the other can't-read special-orders of things that won't/can't be made folks.

I feel sorry for the families of the people who just would not give up trying on the song stage. There comes a point where you need to realize that, no matter how much you may want something, you just don't have the talent, and to sit down and enjoy the performance of those who do.

And trying "Memories" if you can't hit the notes properly is a crime against the musical.

Stacey Gordon said...

Aren't you glad that halibut guy wasn't filling out a patient satisfaction survey on you?

Anonymous said...

The fjords & glaciers are amazing. I already see a difference since I was there eight years ago!

Did you guys go white water rafting? We went in Anchorahe & it was amazing; except for the concussion!

Anonymous said...

Bless Mrs. Grumpy for not wanting to make more work for the maid. That's refreshingly thoughtful.

Bless your mother and her good heart for pulling out her senior's pass.

Anonymous said...

Your mother's story reminds me of mine. We were flying my 3-year old, Mother, and I to visit Memere, my grandmother on the east coast, and the airline attendant asked my mother if we'd like something to drink like a secrewdriver, and my mothers says, Eh, what did you say, dearie? You need a screwdriver. I think I have one in my purse." Shhh, Mom, why would the stewardess be going down the aisle asking people for a screwdriver?

You did great with the photos. The peculiar ethereal shade of blue is the color of the sky trapped for thousands of years beneath the snow pack, y'know? Well, maybe, not, but it's beautiful nevertheless.

When I was a kid growing up about 260 miles south of Denali, my father build our home on a hill facing the mountain, with the front 'picture window' framing it. All alone in its glory, summer, fall, winter (with a pink sunrise tinge), spring, clouds, mystery. That's like the distance from Indianapolis to Chicago. I don't think I could see anything that far despite the enormous flatness of wheat and cornfields in the Midwest. (But like the shoemaker's kids and no shoes, living in AK for childhood, I never visited Skagway or much further than the major highways. And, I knew about Karstens Ridge but certainly knew nothing about anyone in that first climbing party.)

An outdoors family, my siblings skied, hiked, biked, etc. and attempted the Great One several times. My sister climbed the highest peaks in the Chugach Range Marcus Baker. What a gal. She never summitted but my father escorted her ashes on a small plane flown by Lowell Thomas Jr.--one of the pilots from Talkeetna that serves as a climber staging location. What was fun was hearing about my nephew and his son on their two attempts.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like some sensitively trained musical ears in your group, and less so in others aboard that ship!

Hattie said...

Fun to get your angle on an Alaska cruise. We did it last summer.

Anonymous said...

Be thankful he didn't do "Revolution 9."

Locations of visitors to this page