Bear With Us

20150621 6970 brown bear 4 rWe have been cruising in very remote areas for a few weeks and have not had any chances to update the Blog, though we have many stories and photos and video to share!  We should have some decent connectivity in a few days, so stay tuned for lots of new posts.

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.

Ideal Cove

We headed out for our first shakedown cruise to Ideal Cove – a local spot about 15 nautical miles from Petersburg, directly across the Sound from the Le Conte Glacier Inlet. Leaving town going north we pass two navigational buoys that always have some Stellers sea lions draped on them, napping, groaning and barking.  I’m always amazed that the smaller ones can get up on the “shelf” in the tower part.  20150518 5503 steller sea lions on buoy rHeading out into Frederick Sound we were on the lookout for whales, and we saw a number of them – almost a guarantee in these waters in the summer season.20150522 5841 humpback 2 rWe got to Ideal Cove and found what I was hoping for – solitude, and we ended up having the cove all to ourselves for days.  Here’s what it looks like from the air, looking towards the south…20150505 5059 ideal cove and galatea r…and here’s the view looking across at the Coastal Mountains on the mainland to the north.20150519 5571 adventures in ideal cove 4 rWe loved the way the light changed the look of the mountains throughout the day, but the twilight pastels were my favorite.20150519 5742 ideal cove twilight mountains rWe saw black bears on shore every day, sometimes several times a day, eating sedge grass.  It’s too early for salmon in the streams and for berries to be ripe, so the bears have to eat grass for a little while longer – it’s not their favorite.20150521 5612 ideal cove black bear 2 rI got in the kayak to paddle just a little closer to a bear on shore, keeping a respectful distance, and on one of my forays I was rewarded with a second bear coming out of the woods to join in the munching.  I nicknamed that one “scarface”.20150521 5614 scarface bear closeup rBoth bears and I were startled by a flock of Barrow’s goldeneye ducks that landed nearby in a noisy mass, so the bears headed into the woods and I paddled off to get a closer look at the ducks.  They look spooky with their glowing gold eyes.20150521 5654 barrows goldeneye wide closer rSince the tide was very high (we were near a new moon) I paddled up a side creek, and was excited to see another bear amble out of the woods.  I nudged the kayak on the opposite shore to watch, and I noticed something strange on his face.  I gently moved farther up the creek to get a little closer, and the bear ignored me but kept a sharp eye on the woods behind him.  I could finally see what looked so odd – that poor bear had a snout full of porcupine quills!  I felt so bad for him – some were in his nose, and I wondered whether the attack had just happened since he always kept a wary eye on the woods.20150521 5696 porcupine bear closeup rThe bear was able to eat grass, and I eventually backed out of the creek to continue my exploration.  I still feel bad for that bear – with no one to help get those quills out.

The next day we hopped in the dinghy and explored the shoreline just outside the cove since we had heard there were some petroglyphs that could be seen at lower tides.  We never found the petroglyphs but we had fun exploring the beach, finding interesting shells, seams of pretty quartz, and some nice wildflowers – lupine and this scarlet paintbrush.20150521 5763 ideal cove beach r20150521 5819 ideal cove moonrise r

Part of the reason for a shakedown cruise is to find any gremlins hiding in the boat’s systems, and we did find a few things that needed parts and repair.  Reluctantly we decided to head back to town so we could get some phone and Internet service to research and order parts, pick up some fuses, and repair some things that are better disassembled at a dock with a hardware store conveniently nearby.  We had one last quiet evening – the small moon didn’t offer much light, but the days are so long right now that it never gets totally black-dark at night.  The sun rises around 4am and sets around 9:30pm.

The trip back to town was highlighted once again by humpbacks blowing and diving, and the sea lions were fighting for space on the outer channel buoys.  The view of the mountains and town are so beautiful – a consolation for having to leave the aptly named Ideal Cove.20150525 6029 returning to petersburg r


Watching the birds gambol overhead makes us jealous for the views that they have…20150514 5179 raven flying r…so we decided to take a flight around our “neighborhood” to see what the birds see.  We flew with Doug on Nordic Air, on a glorious clear day.20150505 4852 nordic air jim rThis is the NW corner of Mitkof Island, showing our downtown, the harbors, and the airport.  Hopefully you can see why we find it so beautiful here.  The waterway in front of the harbors is Wrangell Narrows, and the water on the far left is Frederick Sound, where you can see whales just about all the time in the summer.20150505 4843 downtown petersburg very wide rPetersburg has three harbors: North, Middle, and South.  We’re in the North Harbor (shown in the photo below), about half-way up the left dock.20150505 4922 north harbor rAcross from town on Kupreanof Island is Petersburg Creek, and it’s more dramatic to see at low tide as it wends its way through a glacier-cut valley, deep into the island.20150505 4916 petersburg creek low tide rWe turned to the north and headed into the Coastal Mountains on the mainland, soaring over the Patterson Glacier and it’s watershed, then near the Devil’s Thumb – a mountain landmark that sits along the US/Canada border.20150505 4961 devils thumb closeup rDoug flew us over the higher elevations of the Le Conte Glacier – the southernmost tidewater glacier in North America, and I loved to see all the patterns in the ice and snowfield.20150505 4940 snow textures rWe saw ripples, catspaws, seracs, and even waves like these…20150505 4981 glacial waves rIt was exciting to fly down the Le Conte Glacier and out over the water, and we appreciated a chance to see how ice-choked the inlet is.  While we’ve been able to get close to a lot of glaciers in SE Alaska, we won’t risk taking ADVENTURES in to see the Le Conte – there’s too much brash ice.  We’d rather pay the local tour boat to take us in – it’s a jet powered heavy duty aluminum boat, and it can bump through the ice safely.20150505 4997 le conte glacier and inlet rJust to the east of the Le Conte is the 370 mile long Stikine River, running from Canada into the US, terminating in an enormous delta.20150505 5047 stikine river delta rSalmon, moose, bears, wolves, and birds all make their home in and around the Stikine.  In spring and fall migrating birds stop along its shores.  The photo above was taken at low tide, and you can see the extensive mud flats that extend well into the sea, effectively blocking water passage over the top of Mitkof Island for all but small, shallow-draft boats.  Looking northwards you can see more of the grand Coastal Mountains as the river winds around.20150505 5041 stikine looking north rWe wrapped up our flight with a run down Frederick Sound past the Petersburg Airport, around downtown, and then a gentle landing.  We will DEFINITELY go flying with Doug again, to savor the birds-eye view of our island, glacier, river, town, and the mountains we see every day.20150505 5066 petersburg airport angle r

Spring in Petersburg

Spring in Petersburg is signaled by the steady stream of boats unloading halibut.  It’s amazing to see how big some of them are (note that there are two in this photo)…20150503 4864 2 big halibut 2 r…and not to be out-done, the annual Memorial Day King Salmon Derby didn’t disappoint with some good sized beasties.  This was the winning fish – 50.9 lbs and 47 inches long, which I happened to see as I was walking back to the harbor.0523151100a big fish r20150523 6020 salmon derby winner 47 inches rWith all the good weather I was able to work on some outside boat chores, and for about 2 weeks we had dozens of Bonaparte gulls in the harbor, often “dancing” on the surface of the water, delicately grabbing tiny fish at the surface.20150504 4905 bonaparte gull dancing 3 rI was also able to take a little time in between coats of paint to run across the Narrows to look for spring blossoms in the muskeg.  Muskeg is very acidic so the types of flowers that grow in the peat can be unusual.  Some of the buds hadn’t opened yet, but I found some buckbean – one of my favorites.  It’s such a strange-looking flower with all the little tendrils on each petal.20150514 5118 buckbean closeup 1 rThe skunk cabbage in the forest shed their yellow flowers and were unfurling their huge leaves.  20150514 5141 skunk cabbage closeup rThe Devil’s Club was still relatively small, but it’s already taller than the surrounding brush.  As the summer wears on it’s leaves will grow larger than the span of both my splayed hands, but you must be careful around it – those thorns are not to be trifled with.20150514 5162 devils club r20150505 5117 aml barge and tug rThe view of Petersburg as I headed back across the Narrows was pretty in the bright sunshine, and as I got to the other side I watched the tug and barge heading north. The barge is a very important service, stopping in town twice a week with stock for the grocery stores, hardware stores, as well as trucks, boats, heavy equipment – just about anything.  Friends who do major shopping “down south” (in Seattle or elsewhere in the Lower 48) often pack up their non-perishables on a pallet and send them up on the barge – it’s a much less expensive way to get things here.20150505 5116 aml barge boats bus and house rIn the photo above you can see a bus, boats, part of a building, , as well as many containers.  In the one below you can see a dump truck, pickup truck, boat, Jersey barriers, and another piece of a building.  The arrival of the barge means restocked shelves in the stores – always a good thing.20150505 5113 aml barge dump truck car boat barriers r