End of Summer in Glacier Bay

Since we were back in Glacier Bay at the end of August for the Tribal House dedication we just had to spend some days enjoying the wilderness, especially with fewer visitors that late in the summer.20160821-1171-gbnp-burgee-view-rWe stopped at one of the big Steller sea lion haul-outs and we weren’t disappointed – there were hundreds of sea lions barking, groaning, napping, frolicking, and fussing at one another.  20160821-1304-gbnp-sea-lions-jabba-young-yell-r(We call that big one in the middle Jabba the Hut – if you’re a Star Wars fan, you’ll understand.)

The kittiwakes were still sitting on their cliff side nests, but the puffin burrows were empty – most of the puffins have returned to their life at sea.  A few were hanging around, but not many.20160821-1354-gbnp-tufted-puffin-rOn our way into the North Sandy anchorage, we spotted this sea otter eating a large orange something… we finally figured out that it was a good sized basket star.  They are absolutely adorable animals, but they will decimate all the sea life in an area in short order – so with no predators to control their numbers they are a problem.20160821-1366-gbnp-sea-otter-basket-star-1-r

We didn’t have the best weather for the next few days, though that doesn’t slow us down much.  We spotted the same brown bear and her three cubs from last summer, wandering along the shore and up a creek.  Last year we weren’t that hopeful for one of the cubs – he was pretty small compared to his siblings, but there he was – still a little smaller but healthy.  Rangers at the Park Headquarters confirmed that it was the same bear family.  It was pouring down rain so we couldn’t get any decent photos, but sometimes it’s good to just watch and enjoy.  Right around the corner from the bears in the creek we found some mountain goats on the cliffs, so we watched them for a while, in the rain.

The clouds obscured the distant Fairweather mountain range but they diffused the late day sunlight as we cruised farther up-bay to the Reid Glacier.20160821-1192-gbnp-sunset-mtns-2-rThe Reid Glacier is somewhat smaller than the most popular tidewater glaciers in the park, but we love going there since we can anchor in the cove created by the terminal moraine and spend time enjoying our own personal, private glacier.  One morning a skiff came in carrying about 6-8 people, and they cruised close to the face of the glacier.  It’s a great way to get some perspective on how big this “smaller” glacier really is!20160821-1379-gbnp-reid-glacier-r20160821-1377-gbnp-reid-glacier-closest-dinghy-rWe got the kayaks down and paddled ashore – we had been stuck aboard for a number of days and we were anxious to hike around and stretch our legs.  We always expect the temperature to be cooler around the glaciers, but the nip of fall was definitely in the air.20160822-1216-gbnp-jim-kayaks-reid-rLater in the afternoon I took the kayak all the way up to the glacier’s face at high tide, getting a close look at the details in the ice as well as the beautiful colors.20160822-1266-gbnp-reid-blue-ice-close-r20160822-1254-gbnp-reid-ice-cleft-blue-rThe colors don’t look real, but they are – the blue comes from ice that is so dense it absorbs every wavelength of light except blue.  So many shades of blue!  I loved getting so close, but I had to be mindful of calving ice.  Glaciers are neat to just listen to – they groan and pop and crack, and there’s always the sound of water – dripping meltwater and rushing, roaring melt streams coming out from underneath.  They may move slowly but they’re certainly active.

On our last evening in the park we finally had a nice sunset.  So many places in southeast Alaska are surrounded by tall mountains so the sun disappears behind them before it gets low enough for us to see that lovely warm light, and living in a rainforest a lot of days are overcast – so we really appreciate a nice sunset when we get one.20160826-1604-gbnp-sunset-r

Glacier Bay Tribal House Dedication

In the last post I described all the preparations for the big Homecoming of the Huna Tlingit to Glacier Bay National Park, and today I’ll show some of the festivities.

Three canoes left Hoonah on a Monday morning to make the 30 mile journey in Icy Strait.  The weather was not cooperative, and the paddlers had to endure a lot of rain and some fog, though the wind direction did allow them to sail for part of the way.  They arrived in plenty of time for the formal arrival on Thursday, August 25th, and we even got to watch them practicing the evening beforehand, chanting and paddling to the beat of a drum.

The day of the Dedication was cold, drizzly, and foggy but the mostly-Alaskan crowd is used to that kind of weather.  20160825-1444-th-hurry-up-and-wait-rThe Park Service had cameras set up around the site to live-stream the event since it wasn’t easy to be there in person.  A maximum of 24 private boats are permitted to be in Glacier Bay at any one time, plus a couple of smaller charter boats.  Some people came by air and were staying at the Lodge, and two big high-speed catamarans brought people from Hoonah.

Everything has a ritual, and the day began as we watched the elders donning their colorful regalia – explaining that the person helping them dress was from the opposite moiety (there are two Tlingit moieties – Raven and Eagle), and that helper was acting on behalf of one of their deceased ancestors.  Beautiful.

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The spectators created a wide path from the water’s edge to the Tribal House, and Hoonah’s school children came down to the tide line dressed in their regalia, waiting to greet the arriving canoes.  As the canoes began their approach, a number of elders joined the youngsters on the shore.20160825-1468-th-long-awaited-rOut of the gloom, the canoes began to appear…20160825-1474-th-canoe-arriving-bob-adventures-r…with our friend’s boat and ADVENTURES in the background.  The drum beat and the paddlers chanted…20160825-1493-th-canoes-r20160825-1516-th-three-canoes-have-arrived-rThe elders in the bow of each canoe asked permission to land, and they were greeted enthusiastically.20160825-1532-th-arrival-celebration-rThese people had worked so hard for so long to make this event happen, on top of the historic and cultural significance – it was very special for young and old.20160825-1528-th-little-welcomer-r20160825-1537-th-dancing-hand-r20160825-1574-th-canoe-baby-2-rYou’re never too young to have your own regalia for special occasions.20160825-1554-th-eagle-hat-and-little-gal-rEventually the paddlers were settled under the tents and the elders started making speeches and performing various ceremonies such as thanking the trees for their gift of the logs and wood to build the Tribal House.20160825-1565-th-speeches-r20160825-1569-th-elders-rWe’re learning that Tlingit ceremonies don’t have a schedule, except for the order of things.  They are a patient people, and very inclusive so other family members are often invited up to tell a story or acknowledge an ancestor – it can take quite a long time especially standing in the drizzle and cold for hours on end, but we stayed for it all – it was special to be present and to witness such a meaningful event for the Huna Tlingit.

20160825-1547-th-lead-carver-gordy-rEvery time we’ve been in Hoonah for the past three summers we’ve spent time with the carvers who created the 18’x45′ outside panel as well as the slightly smaller interior screen and house poles from cedar.  Gordon, one of the two lead carvers suffered an accident with a power tool about two weeks before the dedication, and we were worried that he might not be present.  We were so happy to see him, despite the bandages on his hand covering his damaged fingers.  He says he’s just a little “short handed” now.

Some private ceremonies were held in the later afternoon inside the Tribal House so the four clans represented in the House could perform their special rituals, but at the end of the day the newly-dedicated Tribal House was open for us to see.

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It’s a beautiful building, and although it was built in partnership with the Park Service, it clearly shows how very important the Tlingit people are to the story of Glacier Bay.  You can find more information and a short video of the ceremonies at the Glacier Bay National Park site.20160825-1551-th-button-blanket-r

Preparing for a Homecoming

We often talk about Glacier Bay National Park – a particular favorite of ours because it has a concentration of some of the best wildlife and grand scenery in one place, although it’s a very big place!  In addition to the ice, mountains and wildlife there’s also an important cultural story to tell about Glacier Bay.  It was home to some of the Tlingit native people for thousands of years until the Little Ice Age occurred around 1750.  At that time, the Grand Pacific Glacier rapidly advanced and covered the entire 65-mile long bay, literally pushing the Huna Tlingit off their land.glacier-bay-map-little-ice-ageThe red arrow shows the current position of the Grand Pacific Glacier – just over the US-Canada border, and the red circle shows the area where the Tlingit villages were located (near the present Park Service headquarters).  Imagine the entrance to the bay filled by a massive wall of ice!  If you look closely at the map you can see the line where the bay splits into two arms, and that’s the point where the ice had retreated by 1860.

20160716-3419-gbnp-eagle-carving-close-rThe Huna Tlingit people resettled about 30 miles away in the town of Hoonah, but they have never forgotten their ancestral lands, which had been taken over by the US Park Service.  Developing an understanding and changing attitudes took many years, tremendous persistence, and a few different park superintendents before Glacier Bay National Park began to embrace the Huna Tlingit story as a significant aspect of the park.20160715-3365-gbnp-octopus-carving-rTo celebrate the hard-won embracing of the Tlingit’s historic place in the bay, the Park Service and Huna Tlingit embarked on a project to build a Tribal House in Glacier Bay – to provide a place for the tribe to gather for important events, and to share the Tlingit culture with visitors to the park.20160721-074-gbnp-tribal-house-closeup-rWe’ve been visiting the carvers in Hoonah for the past three years, watching them transform wood panels and logs into huge wall murals and totem poles that depict the two moities (raven and eagle) and the four clans.  The wall panels were not only designed, carved and painted, but the entire surface has been sealed against the weather by hand – using an adze to close the pores of the wood and push the surface grain downwards to shed rain.  Such talent, dedication, and skill!  20150626-7473-hoonah-carvers-rDuring the four years these carvers worked in Hoonah to create all the pieces for the Tribal House, they welcomed visitors to see their work and were incredibly generous with their time, sharing the story of their clans and of the challenges reaching some understanding with the Park Service.  Patience and persistence.20160715-3372-gbnp-tribal-house-work-1-rThe photo above shows the nearly completed Tribal House awaiting the installation of the last two house poles on the inside… in preparation for the Big Event – the formal ceremonies dedicating the Tribal House on August 25, 2016 – on the 100th anniversary of the Park Service.

Such a tribal homecoming requires more preparation though.  The Huna Tlingit left their lands in log canoes, singing songs of mourning in the 1750s; they wanted to return in log canoes, singing happy songs of celebration.  While the house carvers were finishing their work, the canoe carvers were transforming massive Sitka spruce logs into canoes to make the historic journey.20160722-0069-hoonah-canoe-3-rThe entire 40′ long canoe was hollowed out by hand using adzes, taking 4-6 months to complete.  Notice that the canoe above seems a bit too narrow to be very comfortable or seaworthy.  The final step in building the canoe is to carry it down to the water’s edge and fill it with sea water.  Large rocks are heated in a blazing fire and placed into the water-filled canoe, heating the water into steam.  At the same time, the two sides are wedged apart, gradually steaming the log canoe into a wider shape and causing the ends to rise.20160722-0070-hoonah-canoe-2-rThe transformation is startling, creating a stable canoe with high ends to throw off the waves.  Some canoes are fitted with sails as well.20160819-1140-hoonah-2-finished-log-canoes-2-rWe watched the residents of Hoonah practicing for the long trip to Glacier Bay on our whenever we stopped there throughout the summer.  Everyone got involved, and it was fun to watch people making their paddles – each one is a personal reflection of who they are to other people and to the creatures in the sea.20160819-1143-hoonah-painting-canoe-paddle-rThe excitement in Hoonah is palpable this summer, and we made sure to get our boater’s permit so we could be in Glacier Bay to witness the Tribal House Dedication.  20160819-1138-hoonah-totem-eagle-3-r

Bears, Bears, Bears

The miserable rainy weather continued and the wind and waves in the ocean were ugly, so we headed northwards in the protection of Peril Strait.  We had a lot of quiet time with all those rainy days, though at one point I dressed in my foulies and went out in the kayak despite the pouring rain.  As we headed north into Chatham Strait the weather started to ease and dry out a bit – some relief!  Pulling into an anchorage one day we remembered that it has a big stream that was probably full of salmon right now… meaning that we were likely to see bears too.  20160815 0737 pavlov bear 39 chase r

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This is the time of the year when the best food is available to the bears, and they have a short time to eat as much as they can before the long winter sets in.  For the bears, a salmon stream is all about survival so we make sure we stay far enough away so we don’t alter the bear’s feeding behavior.

We sat for hours over two days, watching as many as 7 bears feeding in the stream.  Low tide seemed best, with mothers (sows) teaching their cubs to fish or sharing their catch.20160816 0901 pavlov sow 2yr cubs 2 r20160816 0979 pavlov sow 1yr cubs fish 3 rAt one point, a sow with cubs got into a fight with another sow.  The cubs retreated to shore and the two sows stood their ground, growling, baring teeth, and snapping at each other.  I will confess that the growling made my shutter finger shake!20160816 0913 pavlov sow fight 7 r20160815 0700 pavlov bear 26 teeth close rThere was so much action in the stream that it was hard to know where to focus the cameras – the bear running after a fish on the right, the sows fighting in the middle, or the cubs sitting on the shore.  These two cubs are 2nd year cubs, meaning that they were born in February-March of 2015.  20160816 0935 pavlov 2yr cubs sitting funny rWe also saw 1st year or spring cubs, born during hibernation this past winter.  20160816 1053 pavlov 1yr cub close rOne of the days we were watching for a while and the tide had fallen quite a bit during that time.  With so many bears in the stream and the bear pecking order re-sorting itself as various bears came and went, a good-sized bear started moving towards where I was sitting.  She was moving slowly, catching and eating a fish along the way, but she was getting closer.20160815 0875 stella face 2 rI took the photo when she was close enough, just before I had to wave my kayak paddle and talk to her to get her to move off.  She wasn’t threatening in any way, but a bear is a bear.  It seems that I was probably in the way of a path she wanted to take to get to a lower part of the stream, and she was looking to see if she could pass by.  Yes, it took a while for my heart rate to slow down.  I had bear spray at hand in case the situation changed.  People come to that particular spot to view the bears so they are exposed to humans sitting quietly nearby at this time of the year.

Our butts were pretty sore from sitting in the kayak or on rocks for two long days watching the bears, but it was worth every second!

Sitka

After our adventures in Kalinin Bay we decided that it was time to catch up on some laundry and pick up some fresh groceries, so we headed into Sitka for a few days.  We had a happy surprise there, finding our friends Knut and Gerry on the next dock.  Unhappily, the weather was not the best – gloomy and rainy, sometimes raining hard enough that a few fishermen actually broke out the umbrellas!

Although our main reason for stopping was practical, we always enjoy seeing the signs of Russian culture around town, especially the Orthodox church in the town center.20160807 0264 sitka church towers rWe enjoyed lunches or dinners out – always a treat after weeks of eating nothing but our own cooking, and I was happy to visit the yarn shop to see what’s new (though I resisted buying anything this time).  In between chores we decided to re-visit the National Park Service totem park, talking with a Tlingit lady tanning and sewing with various types of fish skins, talking with a master carver whose designs come to him in dreams, and visiting the carving shed where some young guys were working on a log canoe.20160809 0531 sitka totem carvers rThe Tlingit log canoes are carved from a single log, hollowed out by hand using an adze.  Unfortunately this log developed several cracks, and the carvers were spending a lot of time making plugs to repair them.  When a log canoe like this is completed it’s soaked in salt water, then filled with water and extremely hot rocks to steam the wood.  The sides of the canoe are slowly spread apart to make the canoe much wider, also causing the ends to rise up.  It’s time-consuming and requires a lot of work by a lot of people – in the spirit of cooperation that’s integral to the culture of the tribe.

We enjoy seeing all the different totems, and I like to study the many details in each pole’s design.  20160809 0550 sitka big totem r20160809 0563 sitka totem 9 r20160809 0539 sitka totem 4 r20160809 0545 sitka totem 1 rThe rain held off long enough for us to enjoy the totems and a nice walk through the woods, and we even got to see a little bit of the sunset one evening, looking over the harbor.20160807 0265 sitka cloudy sunset 2 r

Rocks, Bears, and Mud

Leaving Pelican, we were once again exploring new territory – something I particularly like for the challenge and the unexpected.  Here’s our path southwards from Pelican down to Portlock Harbor on Chichagof Island.chart yakobi island to portlock hbrEven though we were cruising the ocean or “outside” coast of these big islands, there are a number of routes and passages that offer some protection from the ocean swells.  One such passage requires winding through rocks – which looks pretty daunting on the chart!chart run the rocks closeupThe blue areas are shallow water and all those little asterisks and dots are rocks, yet this is a good passage used by fishing boats all the time.  The worst part was at the beginning when we had to pass very very close to a rocky island, but the depth sounder confirmed that we had plenty of deep water.  Watching the waves breaking on the outer rocks made us glad for the protection of this wiggly passage, and I felt much better about it when we passed a 91′ fishing tender.  Part of the trip we were in the open ocean, and we’ve learned to stay out in deeper water where the waves are smaller.  Our reward was a gorgeous anchorage that we had all to ourselves for a couple of days.  And my first kayak exploration of the creek right in front of us revealed salmon and bears!20160802 0202 bear looking 2 r20160802 0147 didrickson bear encounter rBears have a definite pecking order, and they’re always looking around to check for other bears arriving.  The sow and her two cubs in the background didn’t want to be around with the bear in the foreground, so they scampered back into the woods.

Our favorite was this bear that sat on a rock at low tide for ages, not really hunting for fish… just watching the world go by.20160802 0162 bear on rock stare r20160802 0138 didrickson bear and cubs rWe’ve watched bears long enough to appreciate how expressive they are with their ears – amazing animals.  But the weather was going to change and we had a good window to run further south down the coast.  20160804 0473 baranof ocean view rWe decided to check out Kalinin Bay on Baranof Island, about 20 miles north of Sitka.20160804 0479 kalinin bay rKalinin Bay, like so many of the anchorages up here, is surrounded by beautiful mountains.  It has a large estuary at the head, and at high tide I could paddle farther up the salmon stream and get even better views.  There were many obvious signs of bear activity on the shoreline – not surprising since it was a good salmon stream.  The fishing would be better for the bears at low tide, though I made sure to be noisy and watchful and carry bear spray.  20160805 0494 kalinin estuary trail rYou can see part of the estuary here, since one of the reasons we came to Kalinin was to hike the trail over the ridge to Sea Lion Cove on the ocean side.  The first section of the trail runs along the estuary and it was a muddy slog, walking next to bear nests and the flattened grass where the bears like to fish.  What we didn’t realize was how steep the trail is – it’s 5 miles round trip, and we figure we hiked about 1500′ in ups and downs each way.  The trail crews even created a nice staircase from huge logs…20160805 0524 kalinin log steps 2 rWhen you hike in bear country, you carry bear spray, stick together, and you make a lot of noise the whole time – bears will very happily avoid you if they know where you are.  We were hoarse from saying “Hey Bear!!” for hours on end, but it’s worth the effort.  Besides, we had a bear escort on the trail – there were rather fresh bear prints in the mud, going the same direction we were, for the entire length of the trail.  That’s Jim’s big hand, for comparison.20160805 0509 kalinin trail bear tracks and hand rThe view at Sea Lion Cove was dramatic – with hundreds of logs flung high up on the beach from vicious storms.20160805 0511 seal cove north 2 rWe’ve heard that the surfing can be good here, and that some people from Sitka will hide their surf boards in the woods.  As we finished the hike we ran into two guys who were heading over the ridge to surf, dragging rather large surfboards with them – I can’t imagine making the difficult hike dragging a surfboard!  Jim found this boogie board and thought about giving it a try…  but he said he forgot his bathing suit.  Maybe next time. 20160805 0523 seal cove surfer jim rIt was an interesting hike, but a hard one with all the vertical and then the muddy finish.  I was so tired by the end that I managed to slip into two deep mud holes – thank goodness we took the kayaks ashore.  I had to hose myself off on the swim platform – such a mess!  We sat an extra day afterwards since the weather was nasty, and then it was time to catch up on some laundry and groceries in Sitka.