Petersburg & Juneau
June 2-10, 2022

Following my communion with Mount Saint Elias, I landed in Juneau in the late afternoon with what I thought might be enough time to run up Thunder Mountain for sunset and then get back down to the airport for my flight to Petersburg the next morning. This plan didn’t quite materialize. I took the wrong trail on the way up the mountain, got slightly lost, could tell there was no way I’d make it up and find a good composition before sunset, and decided to just spend the night partway up the mountain on what I thought was National Forest land. As I found out the next morning, it was private land owned by a tourism company. I awoke to the sound of a golf cart in the distance, so at least I was awake by the time the first tour group showed up. The tour guide took a look at my disheveled appearance and stash of camping gear, and – not wanting to make a scene in front of the middle aged ladies he was shepherding through the forest – discretely made a phone call which presumably was about me. As soon as this group moved on, I hightailed it out of there and then ducked into the forest as another golf cart was approaching, figuring that they probably wouldn’t see me and that even if they did I was probably more adept at running through a dense rainforest on the side of a mountain than they were. The golf cart stopped for a minute and then drove away, and I thrashed my way through the forest down to the public road at the base of the mountain. Not exactly how I had expected to start my day. From there I walked back to the airport, picked up a bunch of gear I’d stashed in some dense shrubbery, and got on the flight to Petersburg.

The singular reason I wanted to go to Petersburg was to see Devil’s Thumb, a striking mountain bearing resemblance to Fitz Roy that towers above the icefields and fjords of the Boundary Ranges. The weather in Petersburg (and the rest of Southeast Alaska, and most other parts of Alaska) tends to be awful, so I built in enough time to be there for two weeks if needed to give myself a decent chance of seeing the mountain. The weather in Petersburg was perfect upon landing and I figured this might be the best opportunity I’d have to shoot Devil’s Thumb for quite a while. I walked along the shore for an hour until the closer mountains provided an ideal frame for Devil’s Thumb, and hung out down by the water shooting as the light changed throughout the evening. The next boat back to Juneau wasn’t leaving for another three days, during which it rained almost nonstop, so I just sat around in a park shelter on the outskirts of town for the next three days. Methods of entertainment included stretching, listening to a book about couples therapy and attachment theory, and streaming the NBA Finals to watch Steph Curry absolutely demolish the Celtics.

The boat from Petersburg meandered around different ports in Southeast Alaska before reaching Juneau 25 hours later. I mostly just tried to sleep, although we did pass some cool mountains on Baranof and Chichagof Islands. While enticing, these islands are teeming with grizzly bears, so an expected utility calculation probably doesn’t suggest any future overland exploration for me here. After finally getting off the boat in Juneau around 3am, I napped for a few hours on some grass by the ferry terminal and then texted Dan who I’d met on the initial ferry ride from Haines a couple weeks earlier. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone his age in such impressive physical condition. He drove me back to his house and we set off for Thunder Mountain together later that day. Great company, followed by incredible views of the Mendenhall Glacier and mountains of the Juneau Icefield. Dan turned around and headed down in the late afternoon, and I spent the night and the following day up there. The light I was hoping for never quite materialized, but I’m still happy with the photos I got. Following sunset at around 11pm, I began my journey back to the ferry terminal to get on a boat that was leaving for Haines at 7am. This entailed traversing 14 miles of varied terrain through the night, from alpine snowfields, to a dense rainforest with lots of mud and spiky plants, to the streets of Juneau. After making it down through the rainforest, I grabbed the gear I’d stashed at the trailhead and tried to call an Uber. None were available – unsurprising given that it was 2am. A couple miles down the road I found a shopping cart and loaded my gear into it. A gas station pit stop to devour several breakfast burritos was also in order. While pushing the shopping cart through Juneau all night, it occurred to me that I was living precisely as I wanted to.

I made it back to the ferry terminal with about an hour to spare and for the first time began to really reflect on the last couple weeks. This first leg of my Alaska adventure went better than I possibly could have hoped for (aside from probably having COVID the whole time), and I sat there in a tremendously satisfied daze recounting the experiences I’d had in Southeast Alaska. I slept on the boat, reunited with my home on wheels in Haines, and spent the next couple days mostly eating and sleeping before driving further north.
Devil's Thumb
Devil's Thumb
Mendenhall Glacier
Mendenhall Glacier

Landed in Juneau with my ultralight backpacking setup

Petersburg sunset

Ferry from Petersburg to Juneau

Going up Thunder Mountain with Dan

Steep "trail"

First views of the glacier


Gearing up for a long night


Building character

New mode of transportation

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