Saturday, September 8, 2007

Portage Glacier Area

Three years ago when we visited the Portage Glacier, it was one of the highlights of the month we spent in Alaska. This time it had to have been the biggest disappointment of our trip, which is why I didn't even take a picture of it. The glacier above is the Byron Glacier, which can be reached by a .8 mile easy hike. The Portage Glacier is well-known because it was a major supply route between Prince William Sound and Anchorage in the early days of the state. Portage Glacier is receding quickly, and when we visited 3 years ago we were able to walk on a paved path to within feet of the glacier. Now there is a lake where the road used to be, and you can pay to take a boatride on the lake to see the glacier up close. Since that wasn't the experience we or the kids wanted, we opted to go to Whittier, whose tunnel entrance is right by the glacier. That was a really cool experience!

The tunnel is 2 1/2 miles long, one lane. Trains run through it as well, so the tracks are embedded in the road. The walls are rough-hewn stone. While the tunnel is narrow, it is also high to allow for the height of the trains going through. It was $12 round trip to drive through the tunnel, which we thought was a bit steep. The tunnel is on half hour schedules, so for one half hour the traffic can go through one way; the next half hour vehicles can come through from Whittier. It runs from early morning to late night, and is closed throughout the nighttime. Besides boat, this is the only way to get to Whittier. It is the alternate route to the Portage Pass (the pass is basically going over the Portage Glacier). The tunnel and Whittier were built during the war, so Whittier is basically a military base. I'll cover more on Whittier in that blog entry!

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