Baranof’s Southwest Coast

We’ve enjoyed amazing weather these past few weeks, with bright days, light winds and flat ocean conditions for traveling. It can’t last. You can see the southen part of Baranof Island on the map below, with those glorious deep fjords, myriad lakes, mountains and anchorages to visit. Too much to see in one season. The places I labeled in blue are the bays we visited, shortening our stays and skipping a couple of spots as the weather pattern started to change.

The last time we were on the outside coast here we made it as far as Whale Bay where we had to hunker down in the aptly named Still Harbor waiting for the weather to ease. It never improved much, but was predicted to get much worse in the coming days so we headed back towards Sitka and protected waters. This time we were determined to explore much more of Whale Bay, but a long finger of thick fog came off the ocean and extended up both arms of the fjord all day and into the next. We had clear weather in the anchorage, and enjoyed watching the dozen or so harbor seals dozing on the rocks, but we weren’t going to see anything if we headed farther into the bay. As soon as we got back out in the ocean the next morning the skies cleared to reveal sea otters…

…and birds – horned puffins, sooty shearwaters, red-throated loons, murrelets, common murres, cormorants and (of course) gulls.

Friends who were commercial trollers in this area recommended Sandy Bay, and wow – what a beautiful place! As we turned the corner into protected waters we saw a tall cascade waterfall and some rhinocerous auklets bobbing around (I didn’t get a good photo – they were pretty shy.)

I’ve had a few people complain lately that the only human they ever see on the Blog is Jim. I hate having my picture taken, but I took this one to silence the critics…

me (Robin)

…and Jim got one while I wasn’t looking.

I did my usual exploration by kayak, waiting for high tide so I could get up the creek near our anchored boat. No fish and no bears… but it was certainly beautiful.

The next day we headed farther south to anchor in No Name Bay, known in the Douglass cruising guidebook as “Reanne’s Terror”. In the video below you can see how nice and flat calm the ocean is on this overcast day, but look closely at the rocky entrance and notice that it’s scoured bare to a considerable height. Now imagine the ocean on a grumpy day and picture the waves crashing there!

I paddled the entire bay…

…savoring the silver snags on shore and the bright sea stars that really popped against the monochrome of the gloomy day.

I spotted a mink and an orange crowned warbler in my kayak travels – something special!

Our weather window was definitely starting to close in a couple of days so we skipped Redfish Bay and headed to Puffin Bay – the closest good anchorage before rounding Cape Ommaney. Right at the head of the bay we turned out of the fog into a gorgeous protected cove with a nice looking salmon stream. But no bears. The streams are no where near their normal levels because of the very dry summer (we’re in a drought), and the increased water temperature is impacting the salmon populations. Bad for the fish, bad for the fishermen, and bad for the bears.

Not surprising, we had a foggy trip down the coast and around Cape Ommaney… this month is “Fog-ust”, after all. As we got across the entrance to Chatham Strait, we spotted a number of trollers and whales, plus more rhinocerous auklets.

We tucked into the cove at Warren Island, and I’ll tell you about Warren and Sea Otter Sound next time.

A Bear Tale

Finally… we found a bear – the first one we’ve seen since Glacier Bay over a month ago! But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. First, let me show you where we are relative to Sitka, on the outer (west) coast of Baranof Island. You can see the mass of rocks, reefs and islands along the upper coast – offering some protection from ocean waves for traveling and an endless array of nooks and crannies to explore and anchor in. But now we’ve moved farther south and are cruising in the deep fjords that are more open to the ocean. Just stunning. We ran into some folks in Sitka who recommended that we check out the head of Necker Bay, and “Local Knowledge” is often worth its weight in gold.

The smaller bay at the head of Necker Bay is called Secluded Bay, and it was a spectacular spot. There’s a waterfall and mountain lake (hidden by the forest). Salmon were jumping all over the place. We anchored ADVENTURES around the corner from the waterfall, next to a tiny island, which turned out to be a great decision because the sunny weather meant that an onshore wind picked up in the afternoons, and we were protected from it.

I splashed the kayak and paddled around to investigate the waterfall and to see if I could spot the trail up to Benzeman Lake. This should be prime bear territory, with masses of salmon gathered at the mouth of the falls. (Salmon season is not the best time for hiking right next to a stream, but I wanted to make a note of it in case we’re back at a different time of the year.)

I also wanted to find a good spot to fly the drone from, since the boat was too far and I would have too much interference from the dense forest. The rocky fan at the mouth of the falls was the only decent spot, but by the time I was paddling back to the boat the afternoon wind suddenly started blowing and it continued for the rest of the day. The next morning we took advantage of the calm – Jim and I headed back to the waterfall with the dinghy and the drone… and we spotted a bear!

It appeared to be a young bear – probably a 3 year old, kicked out on its own by its mother this past spring, and it was wandering around the mouth of the falls occasionally catching a fish.

We watched it for a while, but we were anxious to make the drone flight since we knew the afternoon wind would come up fast and strong in that long, skinny inlet – our good flight conditions were not going to last.

We sat in the skiff in shallow water off to the side of the falls watching the bear catch fish, and I photographed him with the long lens. It didn’t seem concerned about us, since at one point it got curious and started moving towards us.  We both said “HEY BEAR!” and that didn’t seem to deter it – I started the outboard and was ready to back up fast, but it veered off and walked along the shoreline, playing with a feather (very cute) and cooling off in the water a bit. 

Eventually the bear hid in some shade under a tree a decent distance away from us, and I could see it watching us.

Jim tossed the drone landing pad on the rocky shore, set the drone down on it, and had me stay in the dinghy to fly.  He stood in the water next to the dinghy, ready to hop back in if the bear returned.  I’m normally a little nervous when I fly, and this day I was DOUBLY nervous!!!  Jim couldn’t see the bear, but I could – so I had to pay attention to flying as well as the bear and Jim.  I kept the flight short and sweet, but the sweeping view of that mountain lake was well worth the effort to get some video footage!  Stunning. 

I was working the drone down and towards us when the bear came back out of the woods onto the rocky fan.  I happened to have the drone camera pointed down and caught a little bit of him on video.  Jim kept the drone landing pad back in the boat – we didn’t want the bear to take an interest in it.  Once out of the woods the bear veered back towards the stream to fish, away from us.  As soon as it was far enough away Jim tossed the landing pad back on shore (not in a perfect spot, but I wasn’t about to ask him to adjust it!) and I brought the drone down for a landing as fast as I could.  Jim grabbed the drone and landing pad, and we got the dinghy away from there.  That was an adrenaline rush, for sure. 

Just as we backed the dinghy out of there the wind came up, and we had whitecaps by the time we were halfway back to our sheltered anchoring spot. Lucky timing!

It’s always hard to leave a beautiful place, but if we don’t leave we’ll miss all the other ones. We decided to anchor at the mouth of Necker Bay for a night, tucked behind Yamani Island. It’s a terrific place to explore by kayak, with little rocky passes open to the ocean. We had clear skies over the boat…

…but the fog was blowing in from the ocean, and here’s what it looked like right around the corner.

Such a contrast! The fog would come and go, sometimes giving me a nice view of the local wildlife.

Necker Bay was definitely worth the visit! Next stop, Whale Bay, Sandy Bay and Reanne’s Terror.