Haines Alaska kicked off the first tour of 2012

Written by RGA Guide, Holly Jo Parnell        HainesAlaskaTourguide.blogspot.com. Opinions may not be that of Rainbow Glacier Adventures.



Rainbow Glacier Adventures had our first tour on Friday, April 6th.  A few of us RGA Guides got to go along to help Joe Ordonez while he treated a group of 24 French Canadian high school students from Montreal to a highly entertaining two day tour.  He is a very knowledgeable guide.  I guess that is why he owns Rainbow Glacier Adventures Tour Company, which has the bragging rights of having solely Haines, Alaska locals as guides.  Joe O. is an animated man and tells Haines history with an adventurous spirit.

We started at Sheldon Museum where RGA Guide, Barb Blood, led the group through the informative displays of the museum while giving them an overview of Haines. Barb is a great historian and articulates it well.  The French speaking students were able to follow along with ease.

We drove toward our morning destination, the Chilkoot River, with a few scenic stops along the way. Picture Point is the pride and joy of Haines locals.  There may be more photos from that view point than any other in Haines.  The stop was packed with snow berms from the winter plowing but that didn’t stop Joe Ordonez.  He just climbed right on top of the snow berm to tell his fascinating stories of Haines, Alaska.

Next we drove to the Tanani Bay look out.  Joe shared geological knowledge as we looked out over Lynn Canal, which is really a fjord, the deepest fjord in North America at 2,000 feet (610 m).  Joe told how the fjord came from glaciers carving deep gashes out of the mountains, then melting and filling the gashes with glacial ice, causing the river water to meet the saltwater.  Joe made the area come to life as we could see what he was talking about before our very eyes.
Then we drove 7 miles to Chilkoot River.  That is a favorite area of mine for many reasons.  The group of 24 seemed to echo my feelings of joy as we stood out in the 45 degree (7 c) sunshine and listened to Joe’s compelling rendition of the Chilkoot and Chilkat Tlingits of Haines, Alaska.  These were the stories the group came specifically to hear.  They were journeying to places to hear the history of the “First Nations”, as the Canadians call the native people of this land.  Joe brought out his scope to give the group a close-up view of some bald eagles that were watching us from the trees.
We went back to town for a lunch break and gathered together that afternoon at the trailhead of Battery Point.
Luckily we had a group of healthy youth who could tackle the icy trail with athletic sure-footed abandonment. I myself wore ice grippers and used ski poles for support.  I saw a few falls, which were mainly performed by the chaperones of the group.
Battery Point is about an hour of forested trail that opens up to a beautiful beach on Lynn Canal.  The kids were having rock skipping contests by the time I got to the beach.
Tim Ackerman, a local Tlingit storyteller waited for us down by the beach with a log fire burning.  We didn’t need it for the heat as the day felt warm and bright, but it was great for the ambiance of good storytelling by the campfire.  Tim told us Tlingit stories passed down by his people orally.

Many of the stories I had not heard before, as only a Tlingit can tell them. I heard they do not like others telling certain stories of theirs. I can see why, there is something special about hearing of Tlingit warriors from their own descendant. Our imagination was ignited while sitting on logs at the beach, with Lynn Canal and mountains in the background, listening to a Tlingit sing and chant the stories of his ancestors.

The next day we continued learning about the culture of the Tlingit people by driving through the Bald Eagle Preserve, 22 miles from Haines, to the last active village of Haines Borough, called Klukwan. The Chilkat people still live off the land there and have much of their heritage preserved.  We were greeted by a villager, Daniel Klanott, who took us to their Long House for traditional songs and dance by some of the locals of Klukwan.


Lani Hotch, a local Chilkat blanket weaver/traditional artist, led the songs with her drum beats while they danced with beautiful Chilkat blankets wrapped around their shoulders showing the clan they each belonged to. At one point they invited our group to join in.  The French Canadian high schoolers were quick to comply, dancing in the circle like they were born doing it.

We also visited a talented local, Kim Strong, at the rivers edge.  She taught us how they cleaned the salmon which is rich and plentiful to the area.  All five types of salmon swim right up to the doorstep of Klukwan Village, which was ingeniously built next to an area where three rivers converge and do not completely freeze during the winter;  the Chilkat, Tsirku, and Klehini Rivers. Kim pulled a fish right from the water and showed us her skilled technique with the knife.  Then she asked if any of us wanted to try our hand at it, there were a number of takers.

She offered us smoked salmon samples and eulachon oil to dip it in to.

Eulachon is pronounced hooligan.  Eulachon oil was a rich commodity for the Tlingit people historically.  They used it to trade for goods and were very prosperous because of it.  It was used to preserve food and is full of minerals to keep people healthy. They still use it today.  Some claim it tastes good too.

I wanted to try it because I talk about it so much on my Gold Rush to Porcupine Tours.  I wanted to be knowledgable on what I was talking about.  I heard it was an acquired taste… but I was not prepared for the putrid fish taste that overcame me after first contact with the gooey oil.  Have you ever smelt decaying fish that have been laying in the sun rotting on the side of the river for weeks and weeks?  That is NOTHING compared to the repulsive offense of fermented fish that breached my mouth.


It was beyond disgusting.  I am sorry if I offend, but it was.  Even as I write this (two weeks later) the smell and taste come back to me with overwhelming repugnance.  WOW!  That stuff is not to be taken lightly.  No wonder it made people healthy, every living bacteria in Alaska would be scared to come within 30 feet of a person who ate hooligan oil.

John Schnabel once told me he would pick up hitch hikers and bring them into town on his way home from Big Nugget Gold Mine and he would always know when he got a person who was on a rich diet of hooligan oil.  John said he would roll the windows down, stick his head out and drive 75 mph all the way to Haines to try and escape the smell.  I appreciate that story much more now that I have partaken.

I’m sorry to say, that was the end of the tour for me.  I had to leave quickly and find the nearest store where I drank a bottle of the hottest salsa I could find, but the rotten fish taste and smell still didn’t leave me for another two days.


I heard the tour group got along fine without me.  They saw the totem pole carvers at work and they had a mighty fine salmon lunch.  Over all, it was a great two day tour to kick off our 2012 season.



Haines Alaska is a great place to visit…but proceed with caution when trying new foods.

Posted By: Holly Jo Parnell, RGA Guide & local blogger.  Opinions and views of this blog do not necessarily represent the opinions and views of Rainbow Glacier Adventures.

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