Travel Buddy hikes Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau


By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

The trio of helicopters maneuvered through the mountain valleys outside Juneau, Alaska. The Astars played tag as they jockeyed through the ice-covered peaks. We soared past several hanging glaciers on our way to Mendenhall Glacier.

The bright, blue helicopters ahead of us disappeared as they dropped into yet another valley or slipped around a corner of the towering mountains. Climbing slightly, we approached our target, a sheet of ice 1,000 feet deep.

The copters took turns hovering over the giant glacier before slowly alighting on the ice. Then one by one, the hikers clambered out of their flying machines to walk to the orange dome that served as base camp for NorthStar Trekking.

The Juneau company is the only one that offers one-, two- or three-hour hikes on the famous glacier. They offer a nice range of adventures, from easy hikes to climbing expeditions on the towering faces of the glacier.

The granular surface was surprisingly hard to walk on, even with the special boots that NorthStar had conveniently provided. Everyone slip-slided to the dome tent, trying to get their land legs after our 48-hour voyage from Seattle on Holland America’s Westerdam.

Our three guides called us over one by one to strap crampons on the bottom of our boots. The inch-long teeth would allow us to pierce the icy surface. Of course, we would have to march off, lifting our legs like soldiers on parade. No strolling here.

And we had to watch for the tiny fissures and holes where our walking poles would suddenly disappear. Little streams of ice cold glacier runoff flowed under our feet. But everyone made it safely to the glacier face.

The huge blocks of ice formed giant stair steps. The climbers above us looked like so many ants crawling on a sugar cube. They gave scale to the grandeur of the Mendenhall Glacier.

Several hikers stopped at a small ice outcropping to fill their water bottles with the pure, clean water flowing down the glacier to the sea. They said the 800-year-old water tasted great.

Peering into the side of the glacier, we were struck by the striking blue color of the ice. It reminded me of the Tidy Bowl tablets people use in their toilets.

But there weren’t any chemicals or dyes in the glacier to make it so blue. Our guide explained how the ice had been compressed by the weight of the snow above it.

“It takes 100 feet of snow to make one foot of glacier ice,” the guide continued. “The ice molecules become so dense that it reflects the shortest light wavelengths, which we see as a bright blue.”

Scientists drill out cores of glacier ice to study global warming. Which is readily apparent to any visitor who sees how far back the mighty glaciers have retreated as they yield to the warming atmosphere.

The first explorers found the glaciers more than 600 feet further out in the valleys. But we weren’t here to debate, we were here to explore.

Off to the side, the glacier was crisscrossed by crevasses. Some were cracks, some were canyons. Many took selfies while straddling the moving sheets of ice. But looking down into the blue fissures, I figured anything you dropped was long gone.

“Some of the crevasses are 800 to 1,000 feet deep,” the guide warned. “So if you drop your cellphone you’ll never see it again.”

Soon, it was time to report back to base camp for our flight out. But the returning helicopters turned their turbines off, the gleaming rotors slowly spooling down.

“Sorry, there’s been a delay. Fog has rolled into the airport and visibility has dropped below 1,000 feet so we can’t return yet,” the pilot explained.

As we stood shivering in the cold, we prayed that the fog would lift enough to get us off Mendenhall Glacier. And a half hour later, it did.


Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Reddit Digg Tumblr Email

Win a trip to Germany in this Iinstagram photo contest

As part of its the worldwide photo contest on Instagram, the German National Tourist Board is searching for the best pictures with the theme:  “My summer holiday in Germany – 25 years after the fall of the wall” until mid-August.

Travellers to Germany can tag and upload these using #germany25reunified on Facebook and Instagram. A first prize of a round-trip flight to Berlin with two nights at Hotel Lindner at Kurfürstendamm, will be present to the winner by the GNTB.

Further accommodation prizes include stays at Europa-Park in Rust, at Ringhotels and the German Youth Hostel Association. The GNTB will selects the best photos according to the creativity and relevance to the topic.

The current campaign and theme page are also being promoted additionally through a separate Facebook campaign.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Reddit Digg Tumblr Email

Mammoth Mountain: Beginning mountain bikers welcome

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

Beginning mountain bikers should head over to the Discovery Zone to learn the skills they’ll need on Mammoth Mountain. The Pioneer Practice Loop is an easy quarter-mile loop that can build riders’ confidence in being able to handle the mechanical marvels that are today’s mountain bikes.

The Adventure and Discovery trails match a mellow slope with smooth turns and surfaces. Both are great beginner trails served by the Discovery chairlift behind the Main Lodge.

Once the beginner trails are mastered, riders move up to the Explorer Trail with its banked paver turns, slightly steeper pitch and skills park. This park introduces riders to the man-made features on the trails, from small drops to rainbow bridges.

Every Saturday, Woolly, the mountain-biking mascot — joins the riders on the Discovery Trail headed for the Adventure Center. How the rider in the bulky woolly mammoth costume can see where he is going is beyond me, but it is hilarious fun.

The Bike Park closes in late September, but it goes out with a bang with the Mammoth Kamikaze Bike Games Sept. 18-21. The ultimate mountain biking event features pro GRT downhill, the Kamikaze Downhill, enduro, gravity fed cyclo cross, cross country, dual slalom and kids races.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Reddit Digg Tumblr Email

Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort offers summer getaway in Phoenix

 The Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa is offering one last summer escape.  Gather with friends and family to reward yourselves for all of your hard work with one last water-soaked resort getaway this summer.

Offered at $129 per night, the Sip, Soak & Splash” package includes accommodations in a luxurious guestroom, complimentary upgrade to a deluxe view room (based on availability) and a total of four (4) wristbands granting entrance for two children and two adults into the resort’s Soak and Splash water lawn.

The “Sip, Soak and Splash” party will take place on Hemapik Lawn Saturday, August 30th and Sunday, August 31st from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. and includes; the Blue Crush 22 foot dual slip and slide, multiple sizes of inflatable water slides for kids of all ages, a water tag station, the Down Pour Derby, family-friendly Food Trucks for the ultimate in lawn-side gourmet creations and much more.

All guests on this VIP package will be given four (4) specialty wristbands at check-in, which they will be required to wear for entrance at the checkpoint on Hemapik Lawnon Saturday and Sunday. 

 The family fun continues at the resort’s pool area on Saturday, August 30th from 4:00 – 8:00 p.m. when the Sip, Soak and Splash 1st Annual Family Tournament kicks off.

Enter your family in age-ranked brackets and buckle up for a competitive evening of tournament style bocce ball, corn hole, watermelon eating contests, water balloon toss, live poolside music and much more.

Children of all ages are invited to bask in summer glory with snow cones; adult and child-themed flavors will be available.  Four (4) complimentary snow cone vouchers will be provided as part of the package for your sipping pleasure.

Poolside entertainment will be provided on Sunday from 12:00- 4:00 p.m. by the ultimate 80’s Retro cover band, local legends Rock Lobster.  Grab a bite between songs at Hanyo Poolside Bar & Grill which will offer scrumptious fare and beverages available for purchase.

To reserve your Sip, Soak and Splash” weekend experience please call: 1-866-837-4156 and mention rate plan LABOR14 or visit:

Reservations are required and guests are encouraged to act quickly.  This special promotion is available for $129.  All rates are exclusive of tax, gratuities and resort service charge.

A credit card guarantee is required at the time of booking and requires a 24- hour cancellation notice, with a one night penalty.

Guests are invited to reserve additional surrounding nights (valid for Thursday, Aug. 28, Friday, Aug. 29 and Monday, Sept. 1 only) on the LABOR14 rate plan, at $99 per night.  Guests not on the “Sip, Soak and Splash” package can buy individual entrance wristbands for $20 per person, based on availability.  

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Reddit Digg Tumblr Email

Mammoth Mountain: Bike park offers 80 miles of single track

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

Mammoth Mountain’s Bike Park boasts 80 miles of single track. With a vertical rise of more than 3,000 feet, the resort offers 3,500 acres of riding.

More than half of the 42 named trails can be handled by beginner and intermediate riders. Another third are reserved for advanced riders, while 20 percent is recommended for professional riders only. They can all be reached from the Panorama Gondola.

Some of the downhill trails have developed a cult following. Some brave riders take Kamikaze, the first trail dating back to 1987, which sends them barreling down 2,000 feet of fire road from the summit to the Main Lodge.

The Twilight Zone ski trail has carved-out berms and pavers. Then there’s Pipeline, a trail with many man-made features including dirt jumps, wooden ramps, trestles gaps and a great step-up jump.

A little less harrowing is Beach Cruiser, a wonderful 4-mile intermediate track. It climbs through large Lodgepole pines before looping around Reds Lake for a long roller coaster ride back to the Main Lodge.

Then there’s Paper Route/Skid Marks/Manzanita, the intermediate course used for the resort’s 8/24 Endurance Race. This rolling loop offers fast downhills and technical sections, as well as a couple switchbacks at the far end. (This year’s race, originally scheduled for this weekend, was cancelled.)

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Reddit Digg Tumblr Email

Ireland brews up holiday tour of artisan beers


The Emerald Isle is brewing up a storm through an explosion of craft breweries producing unique, quality beers to tempt the most temperate of tasters.

In the last year alone, 13 new breweries have opened bringing the total number on the island to 35, each with a different brew to sell and a different tale to tell.

One of the best ways of sampling these artisan beers and hearing about what inspired them is on a Brewery Hops of Ireland three or five-day holiday tour.  Starting and finishing in Dublin, these small group tours visit established and emerging micro-breweries as they travel south towards Waterford and Cork and, on the longer tour, west to Galway.

The tour stops at up to 10 breweries for a visit and look behind the label to the see the skill, love and enthusiasm that make every beer distinct. And of course there’s a chance to sample the golden, red and dark brews.

Along the way are visits to O’ Hara’s Brewery, Ireland’s largest craft brewer situated in the heart of the country’s hop and malt-growing ‘Barrow Valley’ region in Carlow. In this brewery each beer is crafted using classic brewing methods to create the traditional Irish beers styles.

You can meet the brewing team and walk through the brewing process with them.  The famous Kilbeggan distillery, home of the oldest working still in the country, is also on the tour agenda, as is the White Gypsy Brewery, Templemore, considered to be one of Ireland’s most progressive independent breweries.

Newer breweries on the tour include Metalman Brewing, whose pale ale was voted best beer in Ireland at the 2013 Beoir Beer Awards, the multi-award-winning Galway Hooker, and Blacks of Kinsale which opened last year.  But it’s not all about the beer.

Led by Mia Tobin of Brewery Hops, her tours offer a multi-dimensional experience embracing Irish history, culture, music and food while travelling through some of Ireland’s most scenic areas.

There is time between brewery stops to visit the historic city of Cork with its famous English market and for those on the five-day tour, a chance to visit the magnificent Cliffs of Moher in County Clare and the cultural glories of Galway.
There are also artisan food tastings including a visit to the Burren Smokehouse near the Burren Brewery and, on the last day, a gourmet artisan lunch on site at White Gypsy Brewery.

Overnights are in small, boutique type accommodation and evenings are generally spent in local pubs or eateries enjoying traditional Irish music and the local craic.

Private group tours combining other activities, such as golf, can also be arranged.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Reddit Digg Tumblr Email

Mammoth Mountain: Ventura family rolls Off the Top

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

Visitors can take the gondola up to the peak for the scenic view, and some passengers bring their mountain bikes along. Once on the top, mountain bikers can go rolling down the steep slopes, navigating around the boulders that are usually hidden deep in the snow.

A Ventura family rolled their bikes off the gondola, ready to tackle the mountain. The Boudreaux clan, including mom Tina, her husband and their two teenage sons, Tyler and Trevor, had spent the morning riding around the lower trails and were ready for a big ride.

“It’s really, really fun so far,” said Tina Boudreaux. “The weather is perfect.”

The adventurous family was going Off the Top. That’s the name of the intermediate trail zigzagging down the back of the mountain. Just as it does for ski trails, the resort has classified the bike trails from beginner to expert.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Reddit Digg Tumblr Email

Mammoth Mountain: Dodger the Bulldog frolics in the snow

By Richard Irwin, Staff Writer

Mammoth Mountain can be a lot of fun in the summer if given a chance. I’ve only been there skiing in the winter — it is one of my favorite ski resorts — so I didn’t have a clue about what it offers in the sunny summer months.

To my surprise, there were still patches of snow on the 11,000-foot summit. Which made for some fun for Dodger, a burly English bulldog, who hadn’t seen snow before.

The Shryne family of Whittier brought Dodger along with their sons, Nathan and Brady. The family of four was vacationing at nearby June Lake to get some trout fishing in, and decided to take a break and visit the mountain.

“I wanted to show them the great views, and show Dodger some snow,” said Joe Shryne.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Reddit Digg Tumblr Email

Air New Zealand announces discount flights from LAX to Cook Islands

Now it’s easier than ever to fulfill the dream of flying from LAX to the jewel of the South Pacific — the Cook Islands — aboard one of the world’s most highly acclaimed airlines, Air New Zealand.

For a limited time only – book by July 31, 2014 for travel commencing between August 14, 2014 and January 25, 2015 – take advantage of great value round trip travel from the US at only $838 Economy class, and $1,998 Business Class.

 Travelers will enjoy an easy overnight flight of a little more than nine hours on Air New Zealand’s non-stop service from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) every Sunday night to Rarotonga (RAR) in the Cooks Islands.

With the announcement of these special airfares, paradise is within easy reach of almost anyone. Rarotonga, the main island, is an easily accessible and bewitchingly beautiful tropical South Pacific paradise.

It is essentially an “all in one” island resort, and upon arrival, visitors find themselves in a lagoon-side resort in next to no time. Getting around is also easy by renting a scooter, car, or commuting on the local bus.

Just a 45-minute flight away from Rarotonga is the alluring island of Aitutaki, referred to by many notable travel writers as having “the most beautiful lagoon in the world.”

Once in the Cook Islands, the time of discovery begins, with many options for the adventurous: paddle boarding, kite surfing, diving, snorkeling, interior-island hiking tours, swimming in crystal blue lagoons, and lively local craft and food markets held each Saturday morning.

According to General Manager Cook Islands Tourism North America, John Petersen, “Cook Islanders just love to hang out with visitors, and what a truly unique experience that is for North Americans who are fortunate enough to have discovered this paradise.”

Boutique accommodation choices in the Cook Islands range from first class indulgence to “live like a local” holiday homes and everything in between. No hotel is taller than a palm tree. Excellent restaurants are everywhere – Thai, seafood, island, Chinese, Italian – to suit all tastes and budgets. Tipping is not expected and tax is included in menu prices.

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Reddit Digg Tumblr Email

Disney Cruise Line plans special Halloween cruises

Photo by Disney Cruise Line

Photo by Disney Cruise Line

Disney Cruise Line will treat guests sailing this fall to a wickedly good time as the Disney ships transform into a ghoulish wonderland filled with frightfully fun events and activities, special decorations, unique menu items in the restaurants and themed parties on deck.

In 2014, Halloween on the High Seas takes place on most voyages aboard all Disney Cruise Line ships from September through October. This extra-spooky celebration features Halloween-themed parties, lively entertainment and elaborate décor, including The Pumpkin Tree, which magically transforms throughout the cruise. Other special experiences include:

  • Mickey’s Mouse-querade Party, a celebration in addition to Pirate Night with games, dancing and lots of candy! Beloved Disney characters, wearing special Halloween costumes just for the occasion, will join guests for this fun-filled costume party.
  • A Nightmare Before Christmas—Sing and Scream, an interactive movie experience where guests are part of the action, followed by a meet-and-greet with Jack Skellington and Sally.
  • Haunted Stories of the Sea, where the bravest cruisers gather under the stars to hear some true—or not so true—tales of the sea told by a mysterious sea captain storyteller.
  • Creepy Cabaret, a party in the atrium featuring favorite Halloween-themed music performed live by a band of ghostly musicians.
  • Halloween Isn’t Just For Kids: For adults, the nighttime entertainment district on each Disney ship becomes the ghoulish setting for a costume contest and a Villainous Takeover on the dance floor.
  • Spooky Movies: To get guests into the spirit of the season, Halloween-themed movies will be shown in Buena Vista Theatre, on Funnel Vision by the family pool and in guest staterooms.
  • Ghoulish Delights: Disney Cruise Line chefs have conjured some very special treats for Halloween, including chocolate cake with pumpkin filling, spider cakes and “Spooky Juice.”
  • More spooky fun includes mask-making and a ghostly takeover of the ship announcements!

To celebrate Halloween, the Disney Magic sails three-, five- and seven-night Bahamian and Caribbean cruises departing Sept. 27 to Oct. 26; the Disney Wonder sails four-, five- and six-night Bahamian cruises departing Sept. 26 to Oct. 31; the Disney Dream sails three- and four-night Bahamian cruises departing Sept. 7 to Oct. 31; and the Disney Fantasy sails seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises departing Sept. 6 to Oct. 25.

To learn more about Disney Cruise Line or to book a vacation, guests can visit, call Disney Cruise Line at 888-DCL-2500 or contact their travel agent.

– See more at:

Facebook Twitter Pinterest Plusone Reddit Digg Tumblr Email