Join us on the journey

"two roads diverged in a wood, and I -- I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference." -- Robert Frost

Monday, February 4, 2013

Day Trip: Anchorage to Whittier

Distance and time: about 61 miles/at least 1 hour 30 minutes

Whittier is both a town of fewer than 300 people and an ice free port about 60 miles and one very long tunnel south of Anchorage. 

Whittier is a busy port for cruises and excursions
Cruise ships make Whittier on Prince William Sound a port of call, and it also supports all kinds of travel, recreation and commercial enterprise including the Alaska State Ferry, commercial fishing, the Alaska Railroad, freight barge service, a small boat harbor, and other recreation and tourism such as sea kayaking. While the town is small, with most people living in one building during winter, it handles visitors that number about 700,000 each year.

Weather is frequently wet, with the 20 feet of annual snowfall interrupted by about 15 feet of rain per year. In winter, the temperature range is from about 17 to 28 degrees. Summer average temperatures are usually from about 49 to 63 degrees.

The magnitude of Prince William Sound, like so much of Alaska, is hard to comprehend. It covers 2,100 square miles, with fjords reaching like long fingers and islands dotting the landscape. The area exceeds the size of all of Vermont in the lower 48. There is no other intact marine ecosystem in America that is larger. It is a rain forest, the northern-most one in all of North America.

Alaska’s glaciers fall into three categories:

  • Alpine or hanging glaciers are ice masses that form high on mountain slopes
  • Piedmont glaciers originate as glacial ice fans out at the foot or base of mountains
  • Tidewater glaciers, like rivers of ice, are under pressure from their own weight as they move toward the ocean. Where ice meets water, great chunks or slabs of tidewater glacier ice will break away and crash with tremendous force, a process called calving. The results of calving are icebergs.

Cruises out of Whittier are popular for glacier viewing, since so many can be seen in a single day outing.

Getting to Whittier
The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is often called the Portage tunnel or the Whittier tunnel by Alaskans. The tunnel wends through Maynard Mountain and connects the Seward Highway south of Anchorage with Whittier. In fact, it provides the only land access to Whittier. It is 13,300 feet long (4,050 meters). That makes it North America’s longest combined highway and rail tunnel in North America and second longest highway tunnel.

It is a controlled single lane tunnel with alternating vehicle and train use. Vehicles are required to wait in a staging area at each end of the tunnel until the fifteen minute interval elapses before the next scheduled departure in summer. During freezing temperatures and fixed winter openings, schedules are different.

There are vehicle size limits:

There are also schedule limits. Locals remind visitors to be sure to exit Whittier before the tunnel closes at night. If you are caught on the Whittier side, you become a POW, prisoner of Whittier, for the night.

1 comment:

  1. Great shots! Definitely looks as cold as I'd imagine.

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