Our eighth day in Alaska was, in a word, a wonderment. We drove from the Chugach Outdoor Center (after an awesome day white water rafting) to the secluded town of Whittier. After spending the night, we went on a full day of rafting with the Alaska Sea Kayaking company to the Blackstone glacier area (which I will discuss in a second posting). Whittier itself however deserves its own posting.
This town itself is perhaps the most curious place that I have ever visited. Whittier is located at the forest extreme of the Passage Canal and is home to less than 200 people (we were told that a man just died and dropped the number below 200). This was the portage route of the Chugach natives to Prince William Sound and it is almost continually shrouded in fog and a light rain commonly falls throughout the day. Everyone in the village lives in one apartment building. The other two large buildings were constructed by the U.S. Any in World War II when it was called Camp Sullivan.
You arrival in Whittier is through a long tunnel carved through the huge mountains surrounding much of Whittier. The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is a single lane, narrow, rough-hewed tunnel. A train goes through it and then cars are allowed to use the train track in “trains” every 30 minutes by alternately those coming to going into Whittier. At 2.6 miles, it is the longest such tunnel in North America and itself is an experience (though folks with claustrophobia are likely to be a bit uneasy).
Once you emerge from this bizarre tunnel, the tiny spat of land called Whittier appears. The huge amount of rock removed from the tunnel was used as the foundation for much of Whittier. This is a town that speaks of its harsh conditions and long winters. Buildings are tough structures and roads are largely gravel. We stayed at the Inn, which is a former Army building of cinderblock walls and industrial paint. You go into the restaurant/bar to check in. Do not expect conversation. The owners are natives of Whittier who say little. The restaurant has that lived in feel of a place people spend the long dark hours of winter. The door warns people to wear their snow cleats when leaving. While at first I was a bit uneasy of what this room would look like, we loved the place. The room was very very clean with a wonderful view. It has an excellent television and spacious bathroom. In Alaska, inns can be a frightening experience. Pete at the rafting company warned me during the planning of my trip to avoid any place with the words “economy” and “Alaska” in them. This however is a great place to stay and very affordable.
We ate dinner at the the Wild Catch Cafe (you have to walk around back for table as opposed to the take out in front). We had their Fish and Chips which was remarkably good. I also had their Reindeer Chili which was outstanding. We also stopped at the fudge shop a few doors down for some excellent fudge made at the shop.
This is a rugged place with rugged people. It is a huge amount of fun to visit. I expect that the harsh conditions would prove too much for most of us but these people live through the long dark and cold winter nights with the entire town in a single building. They are fascinating to speak to and watch over a couple of days.
It is a perfect spot to use as your passage into the Prince William Sound.