Ford’s Terror

South of Juneau there are two opposing “arms” – large fjords that branch off in opposite directions, but sort-of connected at the bottom end.  Tracy Arm is the showy, better known fjord with the north and south Sawyer glaciers at its head, and Endicott Arm is more broad with the Dawes glacier at its head.  At this time of the summer Tracy Arm is often very choked with ice calved from the Sawyer glaciers.  It’s usually much safer to navigate starting around mid-July.  Right now some of the icebergs are the size of houses.We anchored for the night at the mouth of the fjords since there are almost no places to anchor farther up either arm – fjords are very deep and they have sheer walls.  We spotted a brown bear foraging on the beach while I was out in the kayak – always a treat to see.The next morning we headed up Endicott Arm, seeing some ice along the way……and a few humpbacks.Our destination was not the glacier at the head, instead we wanted to spend a couple of nights in Ford’s Terror – what a great name for a place!  Ford’s is a much narrower fjord that branches off Endicott Arm, with a big waterfall at its outer entrance……and when you turn away from this waterfall you have to navigate between two rock reefs that are very poorly charted, into a narrow blind dog-leg channel between sheer rock walls before the fjord opens up into a grand landscape of cliffs and waterfalls.  With our large tides you can imagine that the water can be very turbulent and violent when the current is at its strongest.  We can only enter at slack current and high tide.  The story of the name comes from the late 1800s when a hunter entered the fjord in a row boat and got stuck in there through a tide cycle while the water raged.  It’s an appropriate name!Can you see our boat in the photo above?  Ford’s is intimate, in terms of a fjord, but it’s a big magnificent place that reminds us how very small we are.  It’s breathtaking, and there’s no way to capture the feeling of the place in photos, though I keep trying.Waterfalls are everywhere – you can’t possibly count them all.  We took the dinghy on a little tour around the fjord and had a ball admiring all the different ways that falling water can be beautiful.One afternoon I was out in the kayak and I spotted a harbor seal following me.  This is pretty typical – they’re very curious but also shy, so they stay behind where you can’t see them.  I paddled backwards for a few strokes to get just the right angle for a photo, and heard a loud splash – I surprised the seal behind me.  From then on he started playing with the kayak, gently pushing it from behind.  At one point I heard the scratch of his nails on my boat – he put a flipper up to try and get a better look at what I had back there.  I didn’t move a muscle, though I talked quietly to him.  He gradually got more brave, making a big splash at me as he swam away, swimming under the kayak, and slowly making his way closer and closer to the front of the boat.  This game went on for about 20 minutes as he got bolder……resting his chin on the edge a few times and looking at me with those big eyes.  At one point he got a flipper farther up on the side of the boat and I was afraid he was going to try and haul out on the kayak so I paddled into the shallows where he couldn’t reach me.  It was great fun to get a visit like this from a seal, but he’s a wild animal and he should be more wary of humans.  I went ashore to take photographs and he swam off, but what a thrill!

On the way out of Ford’s we did some photo ops with the boat in front of a waterfall near the entrance, just to show the scale of one of the medium sized falls.

Wildlife Excitement in Hoonah

After the intense experiences in Glacier Bay we usually like to spend a few days in Hoonah decompressing (as well as doing laundry and a little grocery shopping).  We’re getting to know more people in town so it’s fun to catch up with what’s gone on over the winter.  And of course we have to spend time with the Tlingit carvers who created the magnificent Tribal House, and who continue to work on smaller projects for it.  The latest project is a “healing” totem pole, to be erected at the head of the dock in Glacier Bay.  It’s a pole that the carvers proposed to the Park Service several years ago, to tell the story of how the land was originally the “food basket” for the Huna Tlingit people, then the glacier came (in the 1750 little ice age) and pushed them out, then how the government took over the land, the difficulties and misunderstandings between the Park Service and the Huna, and finally the raising up of the Tribal House in an act of partnership.  It’s an important story to tell, and the current chapter has a happy ending… though the story in between has the important lessons that will hopefully not be repeated.The carvers are making progress on the pole – a massive yellow cedar log, and the drawing above is a rough sketch of the details.  The footsteps are those of the Huna’s ancestors, and the teardrops each contain a depiction of an animal or resource.  You can guess what the ugly face with many grabbing hands and chains represents.  It took the Park Service a long while to agree to this pole, and accepting their part in the story is a good sign of true healing.

The log canoes built for the dedication ceremony last year are now seeing lots of use when cruise ships visit the town – demonstrating and taking visitors out for a paddle.So the title promised some excitement, and here are the stories. First we encountered a whale bubble net feeding right in front of the entrance to the harbor breakwater.  We heard that he had been there on and off for a few weeks.  What a show!  But at some point we needed to get into the harbor, so after watching his pattern for a while I knew I could get by when he did a deep dive.  We made our entry, but another boat failed to watch the whale’s pattern and the whale almost came up under the bow of the other boat!

The second bit of excitement was that there was a bear in town.  Normally we don’t carry our bear spray when we’re going to the post office, but we should have… we just hadn’t heard the news.  The day before a large grumpy boar (male) brown bear came down off the mountain and was wandering around the post office and airport end of town.  Now, this isn’t a very big town, and the airport isn’t more than a mile and half from the harbor.  The police went and shot off some noisemakers to encourage the bear away from populated areas, but no one had seen him the next day.  A local insisted on giving us a ride back to the harbor just to be safe.  Reports of the bear quieted down, but we still needed to pick up our mail so Jim went back up there the following day with bear spray in hand.  Our mail was in, and there was no bear – success!

While Jim opened mail I headed out with my camera to photograph the eagle sitting on a nest near the harbor.  I didn’t see the eaglet, but friends told me there is one in that deep nest.  Meanwhile, a normally noisy and hyperactive kingfisher perched on a wire right overhead as I walked out the dock.  She posed and stayed still for me, and let me get nice and close.  Then I walked to the breakwater to see if the whale might be back feeding.  I didn’t get any photos of him the first time because I was busy driving the boat.  The whale wasn’t there, but the bald eagles were gathering and fussing over some snapper carcasses.  I counted at least 24 adults and juveniles at one point.  They were close by, swooping and screeching at each other – yowza!The ravens were not impressed. You just never know what you’ll find.  The secret is to get out there and look.


Glacier Bay – Wildlife and Ice

We think about Glacier Bay as three distinct elements: Tlingit culture, abundant wildlife, and (of course) lots of glaciers.  The last post talked about how much the telling of the cultural story in Glacier Bay has blossomed, and this post will just show a little of the wildlife.  We did spot some bears on shore, but not too many and they were pretty far away.  We saw a few whales, though most were making miles up or down the bay.  But there was plenty of action to keep us happy… I think most of the photos speak for themselves.

Tufted puffins

Steller sea lions

Mountain goat nanny and kid

Sea otter

We had a lot of misty, gloomy weather up at the glaciers so the Fairweather mountain range was hidden from view, but the ice never disappoints.  Each glacier has distinct characteristics, colors and personality.  Some are low and hidden under rock grit like the Grand Pacific, and some are tall and dramatic, covered in seracs – pinnacles of ice like the Margerie and the Johns Hopkins.  We couldn’t get close to the Hopkins this month because it’s closed to protect newborn seal pups.  We spotted a few drifting on ice with their mothers, but kept our distance.  The Carroll glacier is a distant one, but as we cruised up the bay it really showed that a glacier is truly a “river” of ice, flowing slowly down from the mountains carrying stripes of grit ground off the mountain sides as it passes.  The Lamplugh has a lot of blue in it, and the Reid is a favorite simply because we can anchor near it, hike up to it, touch it and climb on its edge. 

I almost wept when I saw how much the Lamplugh and Reid glaciers have shrunk since last year. 

Glacier Bay and Native Culture

When people hear “Glacier Bay National Park” the obvious thing that comes to mind is ice, but there’s much more to it than just the glaciers.  If you’ve followed the blog for any length of time you will remember the story about the Huna Tlingit Tribal House that was dedicated last August – a significant landmark for the native people in the region as well as a celebration of the hard-won partnership between the Huna Tlingit and the Park Service. 

Since last year’s dedication the carvers from Hoonah have added two new totem poles outside, to represent more clans from around the region.  Inclusiveness is a major theme in the Tribal House carvings, including a canoe with nondescript people intended to represent all of us who come to visit, as well as the faces of ancestors in key places inside and out.We were lucky enough to be at the Tribal House for the first every-other-Monday special program presented by some of the carvers from Hoonah – Owen and Herb, who we have gotten to know over the past several years on our many visits to Hoonah.Owen was born in Petersburg and is from the Frog Clan, as you can see by his cedar bark hat.  He’s always working on something, with his sketching tools and one of his many adzes.  Note the texture on the wood wall in the photo above – it was created with an adze, and it’s amazing to learn that every board on the Tribal House, inside and out, was adzed to smooth and waterproof the wood.  It took a year and a half just for that part of the work!Owen and Herb gave a wonderful explanation of just some of the symbolism on the Tribal House carvings, showing us that the large face in the center inside panel represents the glacier that came down and pushed the Huna Tlingit out of the bay in the mid 1700s.  The woman in the center below the glacier was the one who is said to have taunted the glacier, encouraging it to come forward.  The abalone shell in her eyes represents the reflection of the glacier as it came bearing down on her.Herb and Owen donned some of their regalia and explained their clan and house symbols, and then they treated us to some drumming and dancing.  Herb danced with one of the amazing masks that he carved, and they generously shared more stories from their rich culture.The park has hired a new interpretive ranger for the Tribal House, a Tlingit lady who grew up in Hoonah, now an anthropologist.  Her stories and explanations came straight from the heart, and we love that we’re learning more things with every visit.  The Tribal House has added a major attraction to Glacier Bay, equal to the abundant wildlife and the amazing glaciers.

Speaking of wildlife, I can’t resist getting out in the kayak whether I venture near or far.  Not far from our anchored boat I noticed a pair of eagles flapping about on a sandbar, and I was lucky enough to catch the moment of mating.The pair stayed together for a long while afterwards, and I later found one of them perched in a nearby tree.Before heading up the bay we did a little hiking, enjoying the signs of spring slowly turning into summer, with flowers like these shooting stars blooming……though the lupine was only just beginning to open up……and the salmon berries have a long way to go before they become a delicious treat for people and bears.There’s just something special about a walk in the woods.

Crabs, Critters, and Spring

We arrived in Funter Bay at the top of Admiralty Island armed with Jim’s new fishing license, two crab traps, and herring for bait (caught by our friend Knut who kept insisting that Jim didn’t have enough!).  We put the Beastie (our dinghy) in the water and Jim headed out with his traps.While he was carefully checking water depths for the best place to drop his traps, I was watching the bears on the beach.  We saw a pair of younger brown bears, probably siblings, and probably in their third summer when they have recently been cast out on their own by their mother.  They were pretty wary and didn’t stay on the beach very long, but another brown bear hung around and munched on some grass.The lupine was in bloom on shore, but I just photographed it from the kayak, not wanting to disturb the bears.  They’re waiting for berries to ripen in July and for the salmon to start running in later July, so they’re hungry and grumpy since they’re mostly eating grass and foraging on the beach – not their favorite foods.  I think the lupine is just lovely from a distance, don’t you?Our friends Rick and Barb told Jim that it’s best to let his crab pots soak for at least one full tide cycle, so he waited until the next morning to see what he caught.  He had a few undersize and a few females that were all thrown back, but he got four nice big keepers – plenty for a boat where only one of us likes to eat seafood.He steamed them and picked out all the meat – a good bit of work for the afternoon, so now he’s a full-fledged Alaskan since he’s hunted and eaten his food.  He likes his new hobby, and came to understand why Knut kept telling him he didn’t have enough bait.  Those crabs ate everything!

We left Funter Bay and headed west in Icy Strait, bound for Glacier Bay National Park – one of our very favorite places.  Along the way we saw plenty of sea otters – very adorable creatures, but the arch enemy of fisherman since they will wipe out all the crabs and clams in a given area before moving on to devour everything in the next area.Once again we were joined by some Dall’s porpoise riding the pressure wave in front of our bulbous bow – zipping from side to side and zooming along so fast that they leave a rooster tail of spray.We arrived in Glacier Bay, enjoying the fact that spring occurs a bit later up there.  Ferns were just opening, slowly uncoiling their fern fiddles……and the spruce and hemlock were sprouting lots of bright green “tips” that are popular for making beer and as a seasonal ingredient in chef’s creations.If you pick the spruce tips when they’re just emerging from their light brown skin you can eat them – they taste a little lemon-y and a bit bitter, but good.  They’re loaded with vitamin C, but you have to chew them well.  Devil’s club leaves were just unfolding, the lupine was ready to bloom, young bears recently turned out on their own by their mothers were confused and occasionally wandered into areas near people, and the Lodge was relatively quiet in its first few days after opening for the season.  To cap our first day in the bay, we had clear skies so we could see the mountains and a sort-of sunset with some warm light around 10:15pm.

Summer Cruising Begins

We’re back afloat, cruising, and it feels good.  I remember a wine called “Goats Do Roam” that we used to see in the local wine store when we lived in Annapolis, and Roxy and I would buy it and change the G to a B.  Boats do roam.  They’re supposed to be moving, not tied to a dock so much.  Jim and I are wanderers, and we’re not good at sitting still for too long.

We took a short shakedown cruise to nearby Ideal Cove, meeting up with liveaboard friends Barb and Rick.Rick was kind enough to take Jim out and show him some tricks and tips for crabbing and processing the catch.  I don’t eat seafood, but Jim likes it – so it’s silly not to take advantage of the bounty that lives underneath us.  Tammy and Russell were giving away their old small crab pots (because they got bigger ones), so now Jim has two pots, accessories, and bait.  Knut was catching herring off the dock right up until we were about to cast off the lines to make sure Jim had more bait.  “You don’t have enough!!”, he insisted.  (We have such sweet friends!)

The day was brilliant and beautiful as we headed out to start summer cruising.  It’s momentous since the cruising season is so much shorter than we’re used to.  In our east coast life we cruised almost all year, taking about three months off to winter in the Florida Keys and catch up on boat maintenance.  Up here, we wait for good weather to either do maintenance, or to cruise.  We savor every minute on the water that much more.We spotted a number of humpbacks as we cruised along, and were happy to see a few pods of Dall’s porpoise – compact black and white rockets in the water.They liked to ride the pressure wave in front of the bulbous bow, but they’re so hard to photograph because they move so fast and don’t come out of the water very much.  It’s exciting to see them – even more fun than dolphins riding our bow on the east coast.We also spotted some of the other black and white marine mammals in the area – orcas.  As we headed north in Stephens Passage from one anchorage to the next, we heard a significant change in the weather forecast so we headed for Taku Harbor to sit tight for an extra day to wait for the storm to pass.  We were tucked into a protected spot, but even there we had wind gusts of 50 knots all day Sunday.  Late in the day a French sailboat came into the harbor with three young guys aboard.  They had their mainsail reefed down to the tiniest bit of sail, and they said they had a great sail up the passage (ah, youth).  They also said they were going below for a strong drink!

The next day the weather cleared, the winds abated, and this was the view that greeted us as we emerged from Taku…We were heading to Juneau – the big city – to do some shopping at Costco and Fred Meyer to fill our freezers for the summer.  Food is quite expensive here since everything comes up by barge, but it’s cheaper in Juneau than on our island.  Some things are almost half the price, so it’s worth a trip to civilization once in a while.  We stocked up, vacuum packed, stowed and inventoried and finished a few boat chores that are far easier to do while tied to a dock. 

Jim spotted a large humpback (about 50′ long) swimming under and around the docks, feasting on the little fish that are everywhere in the harbor.  The harbormaster told us that the whale spent the winter here, rubbing on the bottoms of boats to scratch itches, and sleeping next to the 65′ tug on the outside dock.  There are also a few harbor seals who stay well fed here. 

Once the weather cleared and the clouds lifted, we could see the mountains surrounding the Mendenhall Glacier from the pilothouse.  We’ll get to see the big glacier as we head out this morning, and we hope to see some whales feeding since the tide will be flooding – their favorite time to feed.Now we’re all finished with docks for a while, and that suits me fine.  Next stop: Funter Bay where Jim heard there’s good crabbing.  I know there’s good kayaking, so we’ll both be happy!