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.
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.