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