Whittier is an Alaskan city and ice-free port on Prince William Sound. It has a deepwater harbor used by cruise ships, day cruises, and the Alaska Marine Highway. We visited Whittier to board the 26 Glaciers Cruise.
The town was created when the United States Military constructed a military facility and port here during World War II and named it Camp Sullivan. It was connected to the Alaska Railroad in 1943, and the port became the entrance into Alaska for United States soldiers. The port remained an active army facility until 1960, and Whittier was incorporated as a town in 1969. Two huge buildings dominate the skyline: the Buckner Building on the left, and the Begich Building on the right, which is now a condominium that houses nearly all of Whittier’s residents.
The Buckner Building has an interesting story. It was once the largest building in Alaska but was seriously damaged in the 1964 earthquake. It has remained empty ever since but is cost prohibitive to demolish because it contains a dangerous amount of asbestos, all of which would have to carried out through the tunnel or on ships. The building is considered a safety hazard, full of ice, wires and pipes dangling, every floor flooded with at least one inch of water, and a questionable substructure. In spite of that, it’s a popular hangout for local kids and unique destination for tourists.
There are only two ways to get to Whittier: by boat, or through the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel through the Maynard Mountain. At 2.5 miles long, it is the second-longest highway tunnel and longest highway-rail tunnel in North America. The toll tunnel is only one lane and costs $12 per automobile, more for larger vehicles. Traffic passes through the tunnel to Whittier on the half hour and returns on the hour. Occasionally traffic is delayed when a train passes through. The U.S. Military built the tunnel in the mid-50s for trains, and the State of Alaska upgraded it to support vehicles in the year 2000.
Whittier has a relatively temperate climate for an Alaskan town. At its coldest in January, the average high temperature is 31 and average low is 23. But what’s truly amazing is the precipitation. Whittier averages 300 inches of snow per year and another 200 inches of rain. Thus we were quite happy to arrive in Whittier on a totally clear day. One other interesting aspect about Whittier is that the sun does not rise above the mountains from November through February, so even though it does get light out, Whittier residents never see the sun during winter unless they leave town. The photo above shows the Whittier skyline beneath the mountains and glaciers.