Farragut and Thomas Bays

After a brief stop in town to order some parts, pick up some parts, and make a few small repairs we headed back out to explore some other local spots while we waited for a few more parts to be shipped.  Our first stop was Farragut Bay, and here’s a little map showing Petersburg, Ideal Cove, Farragut Bay, Thomas Bay, and a few of the highlights from our flightseeing trip.petersburg area mapYou can see the huge ice field over the mountains between the Baird and Le Conte Glaciers, and the US/Canada border bisects it.  This ice field runs almost to Juneau, separated from the massive 1500 square mile Juneau ice field by the Taku River.

Our first anchorage was in Farragut Bay, the topmost marker on the map above.  We tucked in next to Read Island and once again had complete solitude, which was magical.  We never saw any bears on the island, but there were quite a few eagles.  This one in the photo below must be about 3-4 years old since that’s when eagles develop their white heads and tails.  Prior to that they are dark brown speckled with white, and you can still see some of that coloring on its forehead.20150527 5977 transitioning bald eagle rThe surprise wildlife in our anchorage were mink – lots of them.  20150526 5884 mink feet eye contact rI was paddling at low tide and noticed one running down the beach.  When he noticed me he turned around and headed back towards the woods, though I looked back over my shoulder a few minutes later and he was back.  Coming around some rocks I spotted one scampering across the top, and then came face to face with this fellow – he stopped to look at me for a brief few moments, then ran off.  As I continued to paddle I saw a few more, and in the last little cove I met Mr. Charming.20150526 5910 mink whole rThis guy was energetically rooting under the green-yellow rock weed looking for food, getting his face very muddy.  I nudged the kayak bow up on shore and just sat still to watch and photograph him for about 20 minutes.  He was not afraid of me, sometimes coming down and stopping just a few feet from the bow to pause and look at me, then dashing off to dive under the weeds, exposed at low tide, occasionally coming up with a mussel or one of these big worms.20150526 5899 muddy mink and worm rHe was a lot of fun to watch, and I loved the opportunity to spend some time watching these little critters in action.  I also saw some shorebirds, though these spotter sandpipers can be hard to catch.  Sometimes called “teeter tails”, they rock back and forth as they hunt among the rocks, often camouflaged by their coloring.  When I got too close to them they stopped moving, and it was hard to spot them without the tell-tale movement.20150526 5886 spotter sandpiper rHigh tide is fun because the 17-20+’ change makes a lot more shoreline accessible for paddling or exploring by dinghy, but low tide is when birds and animals come down to feed.

We explored the farther parts of the Bay by dinghy, finding a colony of seals hauled up on a small rock island, and a few remote cabins in the shallow upper bay.  Some of the cabins were easy to spot from the reflection off their solar panels – such remote retreats are completely off the grid – no power, water, or sewer.

We hated to leave our little mink-haven but we wanted to explore Thomas Bay – a few miles to the southeast.  Thomas is quite large, with the Baird Glacier in the upper arm.  The best anchorage is a good distance from the glacier, but we had plenty of gas for the dinghy to visit it and the view in the anchorage was very pretty.  20150531 6150 adventures in thomas bay r 20150531 6136 black bear down to beach r

The first early morning I watched a black bear come out of the woods and work his way down the rock face to the beach at low tide.  He turned over a few rocks but seemed to be intent on walking somewhere.  He passed within 10′ of some mallard ducks on shore but never gave them a look, and I was surprised that they didn’t fly off – they would never let me get that close.

The shoreline had pretty clusters of lupine wildflowers, and we also saw some up towards the glacier when we loaded cameras and a picnic lunch into the dinghy and headed up the bay.  We knew that the Baird Glacier doesn’t come right to the edge of the water, but friends told us about a channel in the mud flats that might get us closer.  We began our exploration on a rising tide, knowing that the area in front of a glacier can be very shallow with a fine silty mud that you can’t walk on – it’s like quicksand.  We found a channel, but were lucky to see a row of rocks across it that were soon covered by the rising tide.  30 minutes later we might have taken the dinghy farther up the channel and run into those rocks with the prop.  The challenge of exploring near glaciers is that the runoff water is full of that flour-like fine silt which makes the water opaque – so you never know what’s lurking even a millimeter under the surface.  We just tied off to the rocks on a huge rocky bar that showed clear signs of never being submerged – so we knew we would be safe as the tide rose.20150531 6083 jim at baird glacier 2 rThe bar was covered by granite – rocks of all size from boulders to small rocks, all worn smooth and rounded.  Occasionally we’d see some bright orange rocks – ferrous and rusty.  Patches of lupine in bloom decorated the speckled rocks, and you can see part of the glacier in the distance past Jim.  There were a number of water channels – all run-off from the glacier, but we couldn’t see if any of them would allow us to navigate much closer to the ice safely.  20150531 6092 lupine glacier and mtns rWe saw some wolf tracks in a sandy area, and some signs of birds.  The peeping of a little shorebird had us going crazy trying to spot him, and finally we did… though we kept losing sight of him unless he moved.  Can you spot the semi-palmated plover among the rocks?  Without that red circle he’s almost impossible to see.20150531 6109 can you spot the bird rAfter climbing around the rocks and exploring the large bar for a while we took the dinghy to nearby Scenery Cove – a small but very deep pocket just south of the glacier that is very aptly named.20150531 6129 scenery cove thomas bay rThe shape of the cove is the classic U-shape of a glacier carved valley.  The walls are sheer and the water is deep right up to the shore, except for a little meadow at the head with a stream.  It’s probably too deep for us to be comfortable anchored overnight, but it would be a great place to take the big boat for a day to savor the exceptional beauty.

20150531 6156 arctic tern flying closer rReturning to the anchorage we learned about the down-side of warm, dry weather:  black flies and no-see-ums.  Last summer we never saw a single insect – but it was a wetter and cooler summer than usual.  This summer is starting off warm and nice, but the bugs are a pain.  All I wanted is to be outside – knitting, working on little projects, whatever – but the flies were relentless during the day, and the no-see-ums replaced them at dusk.  The only good thing was that arctic terns arrived around dusk every evening – fun to watch.

20150529 6054 farragut twilight silhouette rI tried to photograph ADVENTURES with the full moon in the background, but by the time I paddled ashore with tripod, camera, and bear spray, made sure to tie off the kayak high enough (it was a rising tide and it comes up fast), and set up, a few clouds appeared out of nowhere and promptly covered the moon while I scrambled to don my head net to keep the no-see-ums out of my face.  Hopefully I’ll have better luck another time.  My consolation was the pretty silhouette of the trees against the twilight sky by the time I got back to the boat.

We had a great time exploring these two bays, and have planned further exploration and some hiking the next time we can get back there.  It was time to return to town to pick up the last parts and packages to complete our shake-down repairs before we head out for the rest of the summer.

3 thoughts on “Farragut and Thomas Bays

  1. Your stories and unbelievable photos make it hard to reply. “Wow!” comes to mind but doesn’t pay sufficient homage to the wonder and awe of all you two are seeing, doing, photographing and writing about. If you don’t write a book when (if) you’re done with Alaska, it will be a bit of a crime. HOPE to see you up there this summer! We leave in 10 days. Hugs to you both.

  2. Loved the pic of the glacier in the background & flowers in foreground! Do you have a bug zapper? Fun to zap horse flies with but not good for no see ums! We splash Mon., newly painted Moby deck, LED lights on spreaders & anchor light, couple coats varnish, hull painted, new oven that died after 55 yrs.! Sure wish we could find a buyer that loves her as much as we do!

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