Juneau, AK – Eleven guests from the Seven Seas Mariner participating on a dog sledding shore excursion were stranded overnight on a glacier when their return helicopter was unable to take off from Juneau due to foul weather. The group spent the night of August 16, in tents provided for the dog sled camp employees. According to an ERA Helicopters employee, this was the first time such a thing had happened in twenty-two years of operation.
Prior to leaving Juneau guests on the tour were given thick jackets and snow boots so during the long wait on the glacier everyone remained warm and dry. As evening approached and the clouds grew thicker, the camp employees started to make arrangements for the eventuality of overnight visitors. Communication from the heliport in Juneau confirmed that no more helicopters would go out that night. Tents were prepared while a hot dinner of meatloaf with spinach and green beans was served. There was even chocolate cake for dessert. The camp has a generator that pumps water through an on-demand heater for hot water which is used for dishes and basic hygiene and there is an eco-friendly chemical toilet. After word came through that all the guests’ family and friends back onboard had been advised that they were safe and comfortable, everyone settled in for an evening of what they described as “simple pleasures” - cards, chess, board games and real conversation. At ten o’clock they retired to their heavy canvas tents which had elevated wooden plank floors, raised cots with ample sleeping bags and small gas stoves – reminiscent of the same tents used by Alaska’s earliest prospectors and pioneers. As the dogs were fed and put down for the night, one of the guests reported that they howled in a progressive chorus that according to one of the handlers was a sign of appreciation; the dogs’ way of saying thank you and good-night.
The next day the clouds were still low, no helicopters flying. A hot “stick to your ribs” breakfast of baked oatmeal and fruit was served with piping hot coffee. The eleven guests used the time to get to know the dogs and take another whack at mushing while others hiked with the camp employees to look at the spot where water is collected from the glacier ice. By late afternoon concerns were rising that the eleven would have to spend another night on the glacier. From the standpoint of the ship this was getting problematic; the Mariner had already left Juneau and was now getting ready to leave Skagway. Were the guests not able to join the ship they would have to fly to our next port in Canada. Without passports this could be tricky.
Upon our departure from Skagway, Capt. Fichet-Delavault made an announcement that we would be proceeding to Auk Bay north of Juneau. There we would either pick-up our guests were they able to get off the glacier in time or leave their passports and personal belongings so that they could comfortably make their way to Vancouver the next day. Two hours before we arrived we heard that the group had been taken off the glacier but they were being waylaid at Taku Lodge. Just one hour before dark, to the relief of all, we received news that they were now in Juneau and on their way to the ship. Once onboard we learned that the pilot who picked-up the group from the dog sled camp was young and did not feel comfortable going beyond Taku Lodge. Knowing the situation ERA sent up a forty year veteran pilot to complete the transfer. He expertly surveyed the cloud cover and found a way to take everyone safely back to Juneau. Upon their arrival the group unanimously agreed that this was one of the best experiences they had ever had in their lives; they didn’t want to leave and they would pay to do it again. One of the young women was so moved by her experience she applied to work for the camp next year! What could have been a terrible disaster ended up being a wonderful experience that no one will ever forget.