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By Jane Cassie
Photos by Brent Cassie

It's a cloudless day and I feel like I'm in a sauna instead of on a hiking trail. I strip off my fleece and wipe the sweat that trickles from my brow. 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 onward and upward, toward the craggy peak, where a stunning panorama will be my reward.

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 watchful sentinel over the state's capital city and is just one of the many scenic stops we make during this fabulous seven day excursion.

"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 that has whisked us from sea level to mid mark in under five minutes.

/p> 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 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 piece of the past comes alive through their gifts.

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 hemlock and spruce, then elevate to the sub-alpine, carpeted with wildflowers. Flaming fireweed and salmon-berries thrive next to herbs and perennials. There are alpine azalea, blueberries and even corn lily, a medicinal plant 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.

Far below, the Carnival Spirit, floating in the silt-laden aquamarine waters below, looks no larger than a Tinkertoy. The adjacent downtown core of Juneau is also dwarfed while nestling between the Gastineau Channel and lush Tongass National Forest.

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 we took time to gaze into St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church (1897) and The Red Dog Saloon, a once popular gold rush watering hole, other cruise passengers were opting for adventure tours.

The Mendenhall Glacier, just a few miles from town, is one of the state's top attractions. The impressive translucent blue mass cloaks 12 miles of the gouged out valley and is conveniently close to viewpoints and an information center. Spawning salmon swim wildly up the adjacent Steep Creek and beneath protective boardwalks bears enjoy their daily catch. For assured sightings, the nearby Admiralty Island is home to the largest concentration of black bears in North America -approximately sixteen hundred for every square wilderness mile.

But on this clear day, we don't need to stray that far. From our dusty trail on Mt Roberts we capture two of the black beauties with our telephoto lens. And yes, thankfully, they're at a distance. Our footpath traverses the steep mountain side and shares vistas from every angle. I stop on a bluff to drink in the beauty. Granite peaks are dotted with glacial remains and fringed with evergreens. On the far hillside more hiking pathways are carved into the thickets. "Let's try Mt Gastineau," Brent says, while glancing at his map. Although my Olympic lean husband could scale cliffs alongside agile mountain goats, I've had enough tramming and trekking for one day. I check my watch and glance down towards the Carnival Spirit. With any luck I'll get back in time for lunch. If not, there's always 24 hour room service and round the clock pizza!

Carnival Cruise Lines:

Photos by Brent Cassie
1. Alaska 423 - We're whisked via tram to the top in under five minutes
2. Alaska 451 - The Carnival Spirit and downtown core of Juneau far below
3. Alaska 508 - Surreal splendor of Mendenhall Glacier
4. Alaska 457 - Groomed trails are carved into the hillside
5. Alaska 455 - A scenic back drop to the winding trail.
6. Juneau Hike Mt Roberts -Grand finale with a grand view!

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