Ice!

Since we were back in Petersburg we decided to visit the Le Conte Glacier – the southernmost tidewater glacier in North America – the glacier that was the reason Petersburg was founded.  It’s all about the ice!  Only 17 miles from Petersburg, the glacier provided a ready supply of ice to keep fish fresh for transporting to markets in Seattle around the turn of the 20th century.  20160708 3138 le conte inlet jagged berg rThe Le Conte inlet is usually so choked with brash ice that we can’t hope to get ADVENTURES anywhere close so we booked a trip with a local guide on a tough aluminum boat, and enjoyed the chance to focus on photographs and video instead of driving the boat for a change.

As we picked our way into the inlet we spotted some herring gulls and their chicks nesting on the rock faces.  Can you spot the two chicks in this photo?20160707 2932 le conte gull and chicks rThey’re just to the left of the parent – fluffy bits that look just like the rock.

The Le Conte Glacier is one of the best studied in the region, surveyed every year by a select group of high school students for the past 33 years.  The Le Conte is a stable glacier with ice 4400′ thick at its maximum, and a face that stands 200′ above the water.  As a tidewater glacier, this river of ice meets the sea, and 800′ of it hides under the water.  You may be familiar with glacier calving – where chunks of ice break off and crash into the water?  A tidewater glacier can also calve from underwater, and that’s known as a “shooter”.  I’ve always wanted to see one, and mentioned it to our guide… and we both laughed at the unlikelihood of that happening…

The boat in the foreground was about 1/4 mile from the glacier face, and they’re lucky the wave wasn’t bigger.  Our guide said that he witnessed a massive shooter there once – about 1200 feet wide that generated a 20′ wave.  He wasn’t sure they would survive it, but they were lucky that time.  20160708 3281 le conte face and brash rJust imagine a 20′ wave loaded with all that brash ice coming towards you…  20160707 3027 le conte face close r

…but it’s so beautiful to look at – hard to resist.20160708 3217 sparkly ice close rAs we finally started cruising out of the inlet we spotted lots of harbor seals hauled out on the ice.20160708 3094 le conte seals rMothers and pups were plentiful – the pups were probably born in June.20160708 3112 le conte seal mom and pup 3 rThis little pup was on his own while his mother was off feeding, though he had the company of some other adult seals to watch over him.  They’re very shy but also very curious, often following behind me in the kayak where they think I don’t see them.20160708 3118 seal pup rAt the entrance to the inlet is a bar – a shallow area that is the terminal moraine of the glacier – the farthest point that the glacier reached, plowing rocks and gravel ahead of it like a gigantic bulldozer.  Plenty of bergs were aground on the bar, though some make it across and we’ll find them drifting by in Frederick Sound or even sometimes right past the docks in the Narrows.20160708 3315 ice scape 6 rOn the way back to Petersburg we spotted a humpback sleeping on the surface…20160708 3198 frederick sound whale blow 2 r…and a lone male orca cruising along.20160708 3143 orca fin rAs we approached the buoys marking the entrance to Wrangell Narrows and the town of Petersburg, we were greeted with the usual groans and barks from the Steller’s sea lions that like to haul out there.20160708 3176 petersburg buoy sea lions rThe action around the buoys usually involves a fair bit of napping punctuated by a sea lion in the water who wants some space on the buoy, waking everyone up and causing a kerfuffle.  Usually no one wants to make space and the offenders are left to swim around and remain hopeful.20160708 3174 sea lion kissing rAs we headed into the Narrows we turned around to see a nice clear view of the Devil’s Thumb – a 9000′ tall mountain that sits on the US-Canada border, not too far away.  20160708 3160 devils thumb 1 rWe only get to see it on clear days, so it’s appreciated more.

Flowers and Fog

Once again things are a bit out of sequence as I try to catch up with all the adventures we’ve been having.  One reason is that we’ve been without any good connectivity for long periods of time, and another reason is that it’s very difficult to talk about wonderful things when friends are struggling.  One friend is in hospice.  Our town remains in great pain after the loss of the two teenage girls on July 4th.  And we recently learned that a very dear friend has been diagnosed with a terrible disease.  We’re crushed.  Our hearts are very broken.  Life is like the flowers and fog of today’s post – sometimes beautiful and sometimes opaque, gloomy and difficult.  We’ll share our adventures and the beauty of this wonderful place that we live in, but we do so with heavy hearts right now.

On our way to an anchorage one afternoon we encountered an adult humpback apparently teaching a calf how to breach.  The calf made a lot of half-hearted attempts, but finally started to get the hang of it. 20160623 2762 young whale breaching 1 r20160623 2737 breaching whale splash r - CopyEven a young whale makes a pretty big splash!  And the adult seemed to encourage the calf with lots of tail-slapping – it was a neat show as we headed into Portage Bay.20160623 2611 portage bay view r - CopyIt was a pretty spot – one we hadn’t been in before, but it was so big and open that we didn’t way to stay more than a night.  If the wind kicked up it wouldn’t be such a great spot, and there weren’t any good nooks and crannies to explore by kayak.  The next day we dashed across Frederick Sound to Farragut Bay to ride out a few windy days.  The wild flowers on shore were so pretty…

Scarlet Paintbrush

Scarlet Paintbrush

Lupine

Lupine

Once the wind settled we moved to Thomas Bay not far from Petersburg, and spent some time on the Cascade Creek hiking trail.20160706 2864 cascade creek cascade rThe trail follows the rushing water all the way up to a lake, though we didn’t go that far this time.  Some of the trail is a boardwalk over the muddiest places…20160706 2892 cascade creek boardwalk trail r…and the Forest Service trail crews have been making a lot of improvements to the upper trails, replacing old rotted wood and carving steps into the boulders.20160706 2906 cascade creek trail rock stairs rCan you imagine how difficult it is to chisel out these steps?  Whatever equipment they use must be big and heavy, and somehow they haul it up to the higher sections of the trail.  Very impressive – this is wild and rugged terrain.20160706 2908 cascade creek upper trail rAfter a couple of days we needed to return to town, and although the morning started bright and beautiful we noticed some tendrils of fog reaching into the anchorage.20160707 2916 thomas bay fog rWe hoped the fog was just in the bay, but it quickly socked in and we were in pea soup for most of the trip back to Petersburg.  We heard our fisherman friend Ray on the radio – he alerted us that there were gillnetters fishing out in the Sound and told us to hug the far shore to avoid them.  There would have been no way to miss their nets if we were out in the middle!

Ray has an interesting fishing boat – it’s a DeFever 40 that has been converted for commercial fishing.  He loves to brag about VIDA’s sea-keeping qualities, and her ability to throw off big waves.  We get to (mostly) choose the weather we venture out in, but the fishermen go out in all conditions.  We think Arthur DeFever designed superb sea boats, but it’s nice to hear it from the professionals.20160625 2768 vida in frederick sound wide rBack in town we did a little hiking – one of our favorite trails is the Ohmer Creek Trail, with a nice mix of forest, muskeg (Alaskan bog), a stream and pond.20160703 2799 ohmer creek pond reflection rThe water lilies are just starting to bloom – so beautiful.20160703 2798 water lily blossom r

Waterfall Coast

Many of you have probably heard of Sitka – it’s located on the western side of Baranof Island.  What you may not know is that the eastern side of Baranof is known as the “waterfall coast”, with countless waterfalls at every turn: tall ones, short ones, wide ones, and silvery little ribbons.

We tucked into Ell Cove (Lat/Lon: 57 11.93 N / 134 50.98 W) to explore a new place, and loved the cozy protection this L-shaped pocket provided.  We were graced with beautiful weather, and flat seas out in Chatham Strait.20160618 2356 ell cove looking out rOf course the kayak hit the water the minute our anchor was set, and with the benign conditions outside the cove I could check out the rocky shoreline and little patches of white sandy beach.  Just to the north I played in the rushing creek from one waterfall, and just to the south I had a view of the dramatic Kasnyku Falls (located in the aptly named Waterfall Cove).20160618 2365 waterfall cove rKasnyku Falls drops over 400′ from a mountain lake, and it’s hard to grasp the scale of it without some point of reference.  Jim graciously volunteered to climb ashore and pose next to the falls for me, which was especially brave since we spotted a brown bear and two small cubs on the left side of the falls as we approached.  The bears moved into the woods when they spotted us and I dropped Jim ashore on the opposite side, but the falls were roaring so loudly that his clapping and “hey bear!” announcements were almost impossible to hear… we both kept a sharp lookout.20160619 2415 waterfall cove jim rThere’s brave Jim – circled in red.  He’s such a good sport about photo-ops.

While exploring with the dinghy we spotted about half a dozen purse seiners fishing for salmon, and at least two of the boats closest to us were Petersburg boats.  It was a treat to float near the seiners and watch the beautiful ODIN working up close.20160619 2467 odin 7 rThe purse seine is a net about 1200′ long that hangs approximately 40′ down and is drawn out from the boat by a powerful seine skiff.  (A brand new seine skiff like the one shown below can cost over $200,000.)20160619 2455 odin skiff rOnce the net is fully deployed, the skiff and the main boat work together to draw the net around in a circle to enclose the fish, and at the same time they draw the bottom of the net closed – forming the “purse”.  The seiner begins to raise the net, and the skiff moves around to the far side of the seiner to provide some pull and counter-balance.  If the net is very full of fish the seiner could topple over without some help from the skiff.20160619 2465 odin 8 rFishing is challenging, working in all weather conditions day or night but it also requires a great deal of knowledge and expertise in so many areas:  biology, oceanography, meteorology, mechanics, navigation, business, finance, and mastery of complex regulations.  Each successful purse seiner like the ODIN represents a multi-million dollar business, and we have many of them here in Petersburg.

We resumed our explorations with the dinghy, heading to spots I found earlier by kayak.  With such large tides (16-20′) it’s important to choose the timing and location to beach the dinghy so it’s not left high and dry by a falling tide.  Our dinghy weighs almost 600 lbs. so we would have to wait many hours (like a pair of “bear snacks”) for the tide to rise if we aren’t careful.20160619 2436 ell landscape jim rWe climbed around the small waterfall creek, wading into the icy cold water to pick up shells and pretty rocks.  (I refuse to admit how many rocks I have stashed aboard this boat.)

I ventured out in the kayak again, playing in the current near some bull kelp watching the long fronds swirl in the flowing water.  20160618 2385 ell kelp wide rA little seal popped up to spy on me – they are very shy but also very curious.  I sat still to watch him – he would dive and vanish for a few minutes and then reappear closer each time.  20160618 2160 ell seal face 4 rWe spotted a few deer on the shore, noticing that this one still hadn’t lost all his winter coat.  It’s interesting to see the difference between the brown-gray winter coat and the brighter orange-y summer one.20160618 2183 ell cove deer rWe loved Ell Cove but it was time to move on just a few miles farther south along the waterfall coast to Takatz Bay (Lat/Lon: 57 08.01 N / 134 51.39 W) – a large protected bowl surrounded by tall mountains.  The reflection in the early morning calm is magical.20160622 2598 takatz reflection 2 rDespite the mountains and the lack of any nearby civilization, we can get some decent Internet and voice signal in Takatz Bay so we were able to secure a permit to see the Tlingit Tribal House dedication in Glacier Bay in late August.  I also love some of the smaller waterfalls, experimenting with long exposures of the rushing water.  20160621 2592 takatz long exp 5 r

July Fourth Sadness

We returned to Petersburg to enjoy the three-day-long celebration for the Fourth of July – a real old-fashioned family event.  The highlights were to be the parade and the log rolling contest, capped off by fireworks later in the evening.

We went beachcombing in the morning on July 4th, rushing back to downtown in time for the parade at 11am, but there was no parade… just little groups of people looking somber or sad.  We finally found someone we knew and asked what was going on, and they told us that there had been a car accident earlier in the morning.  Two girls, aged 18 and 19 lost their lives and two others in the car were injured.  One of the girls who died just graduated from Petersburg High a month ago, and the other graduated last year.  These good, hard-working young people were working for Parks and Recreation, setting up for the day’s events when the accident occurred.  The anguish around town is overwhelming and heartbreaking.

All the day’s events were cancelled, of course, except for the fireworks which would create a safety challenge to disassemble.  The town organized a brief prayer service in the evening in the middle of downtown, and then we all – hundreds of people filling block after block of the streets – carried candles and walked up to the ball field where 80 sky lanterns were released into the night.  It was very moving and beautiful.  The fireworks followed – a little ease for heavy hearts.

So many people that we care about are struggling with difficult situations here and elsewhere, and every day we pray that they find healing and comfort.

Eagles and Bears in Pavlov Harbor

Pavlov Harbor Location: 57 50.544 N  135 01.599 W

We had a sunny day for our departure from Funter Bay, but the wind was up and the waves were getting big so we decided to divert to Pavlov Harbor in Freshwater Bay on the east side of Baranof Island to get some relief and to check out a new place.20160616 2281 pavlov harbor view rThe photo shows something that continues to amaze us – everything is so big up here.  Anchorages often look a little small on the chart, but when we measure distances it’s clear that the place is huge… and we are made to feel so very tiny.

Pavlov Harbor has a wide waterfall that is the outflow of Pavlov Lake located a short hike through the woods.  It always feels good to stretch our legs and get ashore since weather or lack of good shore access sometimes keeps us aboard.20160616 2348 pavlov kayak jim r20160616 2328 pavlov lake meadow trail rSurrounded by meadow grasses, the lake was very pretty with clear views of the mountains.  You can see a “social trail” on the far right – used by wildlife as well as humans…. and it’s always important to be aware of bears.20160616 2327 watch out for bears rThe bear scat wasn’t fresh, but it reinforces the need for good habits on the trails – talk loudly, clap sharply, and make our presence known so we don’t surprise anything.  Bears don’t want to be around humans so if you let them know you’re around, they will stay away.

There was a good sized beaver lodge on the creek, and it’s amazing to see how efficient the beavers are in cutting down trees.  Their cuts are consistent, neat, and precise.  This was a small tree, but their lodge had some larger ones – imagine the power of those jaws!20160616 2337 pavlov beaver cut tree 2 rA redbreasted sapsucker entertained us for a while in the forest, though it was a bit dark for a good photo of him.  The devil’s club is growing well, with leaves about twice the size of my hand.  Devil’s club isn’t something you want to bump into – it’s covered in fine prickles, but it’s a valuable medicinal plant for the natives, and you can brew tea from the roots.  The cone of green in the center will turn a beautiful bright red in late summer.20160616 2321 devils club leaves r20160616 2314 yarrow rWe’re having a nice warm summer so the berries are already starting to ripen, and the wildflowers are plentiful everywhere you look.  This is yarrow – another good medicinal plant, rumored to help knock out a cold in 24 hours… though the book I have doesn’t say what part of the plant to use or how to prepare it.

After two days of exploring we were ready to head farther south along the east side of Baranof Island, but the wind had other ideas.  The forecast on NOAA weather radio is often for 15 knots of wind and 3′ seas.  They’re forecasting for fairly large areas with significant mountain ranges that tend to funnel the wind, as well as big tidal currents that create nasty stacked waves when the tide is running hard against the wind.  Sometimes that forecast ends up giving us a frisky ride, and sometimes the water is a mill pond… though everything is subject to change fairly quickly.  That morning, the forecast was an understatement of the conditions so we decided to head back to the anchorage and wait for another day or two.  There’s just no reason to get beat up for hours.

As we settled back in our spot we were rewarded with a brown bear sow and her two second-year cubs foraging on the beach for about half an hour.  They were too far away to photograph well, but binoculars gave us a fine view.  Bear cubs are born in late winter – February-March, and the cubs stay with the mother until they are about 3 years old.  The second-year cubs would have been born in the late winter of 2015.

Shortly after the bears wandered back into the forest, an eagle landed at the water’s edge to investigate something uncovered by the falling tide… trying to take off with it.  That eagle was one of the pair sitting on a nest overlooking the anchorage.20160617 2113 eagle taking off with food rIt didn’t take more than a moment before the Interesting Thing attracted several other eagles, prompting some tussles and a lot of screeching from the eagle still sitting on the nest.20160617 2127 pavlov eagle confab 4 rAt one point there were 9 eagles around the Interesting Thing – 8 adults and one juvenile.  One “alpha” eagle spread its wings around the Thing to try and keep others away while it ate, though eventually more fights ensued and various eagles tried to fly off with it.  In the end, the nesting eagle won the prize and took it back to the nest.  As soon as the eagles flew away, a hummingbird buzzed by to look at me sitting in the cockpit – a wildlife bonanza reward for turning back!

We could hear whales blowing on the far shore of Freshwater Bay, and at dinnertime a whale was breaching repeatedly – the huge splashes were impossible to miss.