From the great bald eagles to the towering glaciers, everything in Alaska is big. If you don’t believe me, google an aerial photo of Southeast Alaska, the state’s panhandle– Alaska is synonymous to immense. Its cities are located in the heart of the dense Tongass National Forest, the largest old-growth temperate forest in the world; 6.8 million hectares of cedar, spruce and hemlock trees and many other flora, home to thousands of endemic and migratory fauna. Alaska is a haven for the nature lover.
(This article was written several months ago.)
It has been more than 5 months since I had peaked a mountain, and it would be an understatement to say that I miss it. Visiting Alaska has been a dream for me. For the first few cruises, I had contented myself with exploring its quiet towns and cities, but I’ve been longing for something more.
Two cruises ago, on our last Ketchikan visit, I finally found myself on one of Tongass’ trails.
The trailhead is located only 15 minutes away from the port, it was our perfect destination. We had only 3 hours to spare, so we decided to take a cab.
Via cab, it takes less than 10 minutes and costs only $7.00. The trail starts beside a parking lot at the University of Alaska Southeast Campus. It was already past 9:30 am when we started but the trail is only 1.3 miles long, which I estimated would take us about 2 hours on a leisurely pace, so we had plenty of time.
It is well-maintained and easy. The trees, heavily covered by the familiar lichen, are massive. The trail varies from gravel and wooden steps to boulders but hardly have any steep parts. We passed by wooden bridges over tiny creeks. The sound of the running water and the cooing of the big black ravens were a welcome disturbance to the silence. An interesting array of the famous Alaskan slugs were strewn along the trail. A red squirrel scurried away before we could take a photo; but luckily, we didn’t encounter a bear. The forest moved and talked, as if it was alive and had a heart of its own.
Like many Tongass trails, Rainbird offers a stunning panorama. About an hour into the trail, we reached a viewing deck with a wooden fence that ran along the face of the mountain, offering us front seats to a wonderful scenery. For several minutes, we watched seabirds flying over the vast water, the fishing boats moving to and fro, the floatplanes taking off, and the cruise ships that appeared miniature.
A walk downhill along a steel fenced basalt trail ended the hike. We finished about 30 minutes earlier than planned, so we walked back to town and we reached the cruise ship in only 15 minutes.
Today’s lesson: Spare time is still time. And every minute can be a minute spent discovering something beautiful.