The ABC’s of Juneau

Linda Burton posting from Juneau, Alaska – “I’ll bet that was an avalanche,” I said to Sam. We’re peering out the window; our first glimpse of Mt Juneau in the Monday morning daylight. It’s straight-up steep and just a few blocks away; a guarding wall. Patches of snow dot the area near the top; dark green conifers cover most of the mountain; but the tell-tale bright green looks suspiciously new. A few questions throughout the day verified my assumption. Avalanches are a way of life in Juneau, along with bears, and cruise ships. “Don’t carry food around on your person,” we were advised. Bears wander the neighborhood streets, most often during evening hours on a food-scavenging prowl. Residents know to make noise when they’re outside; locked garbage cans are a requirement. And the town schedule pretty much revolves around the schedule of the cruise ships, which bring about 10,000 people into town every day during summer months.

We’ve got a lot to learn, Sam and I decide, as we begin to explore our two-week home. I wanted to know more about Mt Juneau first; I’ve never had a mountain-guard before. Mt Juneau is 3,576 feet high, that’s my first question answered, and it is in the Alaska Boundary Range. It was mined for gold and even named Gold Mountain in the 1800’s; in the 1970’s they started to build an aerial tramway to the top but that project was never finished. (Mt Roberts got the tram, eventually.) It gets a lot more precipitation than downtown, and downtown averages 90 inches a year.

A. That may explain the avalanches; a scan of the Juneau Empire on February 3 of this year shows a report of 12 avalanches falling the day before; crews were clearing a natural avalanche along Thane Road; the Cope Park area also saw an avalanche. All had stopped short of closed road gates and no structures or houses were affected; one large enough to reach the tide line had ripped down the side of Mt Roberts; 20 feet deep; 150 yards wide. This was “nothing out of the ordinary” according to the newspaper. People were advised to stay inside and the avalanche alert remained in effect.

Locking Garbage Can

B. Once the snow is gone and the bears wake up, the storyline changes. “I was 17 when the bears began to come into town,” June told us. A grandmother now, June was born in Juneau and has lived here all her life. “I have to climb steep steps to get to my house,” she said, “and some evenings I have to pause and wait for the bears to get off the steps.” She had bear pictures to show. “Living With Bears in Juneau” is a section of the City of Juneau website and offers information on the laws regarding bear-safe storage, and tips on how to avoid conflicts with bears.

C. “The cruise ships make our buildings look itty-bitty,” Katie told us at the Visitor Center on the dock, in the shadow of a Holland America behemoth. It’s true, these massive movable motorboats bring entire villages in for a day, their magnetic force causing this town of 31,000 to swing towards the waterfront. I’ll pursue this story and get current stats, but in 2010 over 875,000 persons stepped off those ships and wandered the summer streets of Juneau, pocketbooks at the ready.

Now we know our ABC’s. Then Sam asked “What is D?” We’ll have to find out.