By Jane Cassie

Plodding the hiking trail

It's a cloudless day and I feel like I'm in a sauna instead of on a hiking trail. My thighs feel like silly putty, I'm panting like an old mare and I'm regretting having had that second helping at the breakfast buffet. But I continue to plod upward, toward the craggy peak, where a stunning panorama will be my reward.

Mt. Roberts towers over the state capital

Hiking boots weren't included when I packed my bags for this Alaska cruise, but they sure would have come in handy while hoofing the hills of Juneau . Mt Roberts towers like a sentinel over the state's capital city and is just one of the many scenic stops we make during this fabulous seven day excursion.

We're whisked via tram to top in five minutes

“This view takes my breath away,” I gasp, while trekking along the well trod route. Although the landlocked city and sliver-thin Lynn Canal sprawls far below, I can hardly blame my huffing and puffing on the ascent. The vertical gain by my Nikes has only been a thousand feet (325 meters). Access to the surrounding hundred miles (160 kms) of groomed trails has been made easy with the convenient tram ride that has whisked us from sea level to mid mark in under five minutes.

At the top, there's a restaurant, gift store and Chilkat Theater where a half hour award-winning flick, ‘ Seeing Daylight,' provides an overview of history and the Tlingit (thling-get) people. Local artists and actors are often on stage here as well. Whether it's sharing a story or carving a totem pole, a piece of the past comes alive through their gifts.

Elevating to the sub-alpine

Instead of retracing the steps of time, we check out the pathways of the present. We wind through the montane forest, a zone choked with small hemlock and spruce, then elevate to the sub-alpine, carpeted with wildflowers. Flaming fireweed and salmon-berries thrive next to herbal blends and perennials. There are alpine azalea, ground-hugging blueberries and even some corn lily, a medicinal plant that's used in the treatment of asthma. I wonder how effective it is as I wheeze on by.

The vegetative landscape not only creates a pretty picture, but is also a popular picnic ground for forest habitants. Our dusty byway is pocketed by protective burrows where hoary marmots hide out. Although none are showing their grizzled faces today, a few are serenading us with their shrilling call.

Viewing our cruise ship below

Panoramas are interspersed along the way. “Check out our cruise ship,” I comment while taking time to catch my breath on one of the lookout platforms. Our floating hotel in the silt-laden aquamarine waters below looks no larger than a tinker toy. The adjacent downtown core of Juneau is also dwarfed while nesting between the Gastineau Channel and lush Tongass National Forest .

Juneau's colourful streets

It's hard to believe that just an hour ago we'd been sauntering along the city's colourful streets, picking up souvenirs and peering into popular attractions. While ogling over St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church (1897) and The Red Dog Saloon, a popular gold rush watering hole, other cruise passengers were opting for adventure tours.

Mendenhall Glacier

The Mendenhall Glacier, just a few miles from town, is one of the state's top attractions. The impressive translucent blue mass cloaks the gouged out valley and is conveniently close to viewpoints and an information center. Icebergs that calve away from the glacial spectacle float ominously on Mendenhall Lake like chunks of styrofoam . Spawning salmon swim wildly up the adjacent Steep Creek. From protective boardwalks visitors can check out a few bears enjoying their daily catch.

Groomed trails are carved into the hillside

Our footpath traverses the steep mountainside, bisects thickets of low-lying alder, and shares expansive mountain vistas from every angle. I stop on a sturdy bluff to drink in the beauty and slow my respirations. Granite peaks create the scenic backdrop to flower-laden meadows. Their riveted craggy faces are dotted with glacial remains and fringed with evergreens. On the far hillside are more hiking pathways that have been carved into the verdant thickets.

Grand finale view

“How ‘bout trying Mt Gastineau,” Brent says, while checking out his map. Although my Olympic lean husband can easily scale cliff sides, I've had enough trekking for one day. I check my watch and glance down towards the ship. With any luck I'll get back to our luxury liner in time for lunch.


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PHOTOS by Brent Cassie