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.


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.


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