We left Anchorage mid-morning for a leisurely drive down Route 1, an beautiful scenic route that goes along the coat of Turnagain Arm, which separated us from a parade of glaciated mountains. We were so enthralled with the scenery that we drove straight past the turn for the reconstructed town of Girdwood, which was relocated after a 9.0 earthquake (the second most powerful in recorded history) in 1964 sank the land by 9 feet, which subjected the little that was left of the town to periodic flooding.
Actually, we passed the turnoff on purpose. Before Alyeska, we drove another 15 minutes to the Begich-Boggs Visitors Center at the Portage Glacier. Although we have been to a lot of visitor centers, this one is special. As would be expected, it is situated at the foot of Portage Lake, with a postcard view of the mountains and glacier. The inside of the modern building, however, is filled with video displays that provide detailed information on virtually all aspects of the park, while letting the users select those they want, while passing over the rest.
Although the view from the visitor was beautiful, we were looking for a little (albeit not too much) more. The Byron Glacier Trail provided it—a 0.8 mile trail that took us to the foot of a glacier, or at least the snowfield at the foot. (Although we certainly wanted to spend more time with glaciers, we felt that a future stop, two days in Glacier Bay, would provide it.
The Day at Alyeska
So, instead of more time at Portage, we raced back to Girdwood to the Alyeska Resort. This chateau-style hotel had very comfortable rooms in a beautiful setting. As it was lunch time, we ended up at the Aurora Grill, the only full-service resort restaurant open for lunch. It was certainly not a hardship. We started sharing the steamed Kenai Peninsula clams in a rich broth that seemed to consume our extra serving of toast. Then came the smoked fish plate with three types of Alaskan salmon (Redneck Copper River—our favorite—house-smoked belly and lox), one halibut and accompaniments.
After checking in, it was time for some exercise. We decided to hike the 2.2 mile, 2,500-foot elevation gain North Face trail to the Mount Alyeska’s upper tram terminal. After 1.25 hours of hiking up some impossibly steep terrain in the slight rain, and a seemingly endless series of switchbacks, we reached our destination.
Then came the easy part—taking the tram down.
After much needed showers and clothes changes, we made a brief stop at the hotel’s bar and then took some time to get up close and personal with some of the resort’s “wildlife”.
We were then ready for another ascent up the mountain for dinner. This time, however, we did it by tram. (Amazing how the hike that took us 1.25 hours took the tram only 2.5 minutes. Guess we have to work on our stamina.)
Dinner at the mountaintop-based Seven Glaciers restaurant got off to a poor start, with the restaurant out of the first two wines we ordered. We wish we could say that our experience improved as the dinner progressed. Unfortunately, it didn’t. While our server was nice, service left much to be desired. The food was also lacking. The poached halibut had little taste. While the Copper River salmon was tasty, the forbidden rice cake was overly salty and the tempura salt and pepper crab leg was dry. Still, the views from our 2,500-foot high window table, overlooking continually changing cloud patterns, were almost enough to distract us from the food and the service. But not quite. Bottom line, stay at the Resort, climb (or take the tram) to the top of the mountain, but eat back at the hotel rather than in Seven Glaciers. Oh yes, and don’t forget to visit the PacMan machine in the hotel’s game arcade.