A Glacier Bay Six-Pack

Drinking lots of beer in Glacier Bay National Park? No… this “six-pack” refers to the pack of wolves we spotted near Tidal Inlet in the park. Six black wolves, lounging on the beach. YOWZA! Wolves are so elusive – we’ve only seen them a couple of times in over six years up here, so it’s a huge deal to find a pack! Unfortunately they were very wary, and although we tried to angle the boat so it didn’t look like we were heading towards them, they bolted into the woods when we were still 3/4 mile away. No photos – too far away. But still… WOLVES. Awesome. Glacier Bay never disappoints.

We finally got a little break from the summer’s record-setting rain, enjoying three pretty days when we were up in the bay. Of course, the ranger station was mostly closed – we could talk to a ranger through a small plexiglass window, the Tribal House was locked up and the lodge was closed. We still strolled the Forest Trail and were happy to see the ponds nice and full after a couple of years of drought, and it was so nice to have it all to ourselves.

The bay was very quiet – there were very few boats, and we rarely saw any of them during a week in the park. The sea lions were fun as always – napping, lounging, rambunctious and noisy, and the setting just can’t be beat.

It was clear enough to see Mount Fairweather in the distance, over 60 miles away on the outer coast.

This late in the season we were happy to see a few tufted puffins still hanging around. By now most of them have headed back out to sea after nesting in burrows in the cliffs.

Gloomy Knob didn’t disappoint with mountain goats – we spotted just a couple, but that’s a treat that we don’t often see elsewhere. Gloomy Knob is a cliff that we can get very close to with the boat – the water is over 100′ deep when the anchor is almost scraping the rocks – so that allows us to get closer to goats scrambling on the heights…

…and looking around us we spotted pelagic cormorants, black-legged kittiwakes, and horned puffins – another happy surprise!

We see the impacts of Climate Change here in Alaska in many ways, and changes to the glaciers are one of the most dramatic reminders of how serious a problem this is. The Lamplugh Glacier is one example – we cruised the boat to within a 1/4 mile (minimum safe distance) of its face six years ago, and this year, the face has retreated so far back that there’s a wide dry silt flat exposed. We had to go ashore to explore and see all the grounded bergy bits. With no safe place to anchor, we took turns kayaking ashore.

Those chunks of ice were massive.

We spent time exploring several of the glaciers in the upper bay, and I’ll post more about them next.

Bear With Me

It’s finally salmon season – the fish have returned to their home streams and the bears are truly happy, feasting on the rich banquet. Because the bears are so focused on eating, they’re even less interested in humans – making it easier to sit on cold damp rocks and watch the action for hours.

It wasn’t unusual to find 7-9 bears in the stream at the same time, and it’s fascinating to see the unspoken social order, as bears might react when a new bear appears – sometimes bugging out, sometimes advancing to assert their dominance, often just ignoring them. It’s pretty civilized – we’ve only seen some bared teeth and a little growling once in the years we’ve been observing them.

Our days watching the bears were highlighted by a sow with three little first-year cubs.

Jim shot some video of their antics and their sincere attempts at hunting, as well as their excitement when mom caught a fish. “What’cha got there, Mom??”

Other bears came into the stream to fish – one employed the “snorkel” method…

…with success!

One sow had a pair of second year rolly-polly cubs, though they were less enthusiastic hunters than the little triplets. Another had a second year cub that seemed to be cold and not too happy to be standing in the stream.

There is a lot of just standing in the frigid water, waiting for a fish trapped in a shallow pool….

…but when something catches your eye it gets pretty exciting!

Sometimes it got downright crowded, though everyone kept their distance and there were plenty of fish to go around.

After a few hours in the stream, little bears get pretty tired… “can we go home now, Mom?”

One more fish, this one is just for Mom. She’s nursing three growing cubs, after all.

Sunshine?

Will it ever stop raining this summer?? The good news is that our mountain lakes are overflowing and that means hydro power for our town will be in good shape for a while, after a couple of years of drought. Yes, we live in a rainforest, but if it doesn’t get the usual over-100″ of rain every year, it’s still called a drought.

We stopped back in town for a few days to re-provision then headed back out to the beautiful wild places. Portage Bay on Kupreanof Island is a good place to anchor for the night when heading out of Petersburg, and we ended up spending two nights there because of a nasty weather front passing through. Before the front arrived, conditions were perfect to put the drone in the air to shoot video of the bay and a few photos of two DeFever 49s – ours and another one owned by friends.

The dock is adjacent to an abandoned log dump, from a time when Portage Bay was an active logging site. Now it’s home to a handful of old beater cars and trucks, brought over by landing craft and left there so their owners can use the old logging roads to explore or to hunt.

We saw 41 knots peak wind as the storm came through, as well as some very rare thunder and lightning! We were used to seeing lightning on the east coast (and always hoped that something taller would anchor nearby), but lightning… here? Really??

The storm front didn’t clear the weather as we had hoped; instead the skies resumed their gray overcast, and rain and mist were our companions again. Regardless, the mist rising from the forested mountains can be beautiful, and it didn’t stop us from enjoying quiet places…

…and looking for bears. Found a brown one! The bear was around for a while scavenging in the tide line, but the real entertainment came from a mink. We spotted it from the boat, and he only paused his hunting for a moment when I came to visit in the kayak.

The early morning mist reflected in the calm water was so beautiful… It’s good that we can appreciate the many moods the weather and the landscape combine to show us. Brooding and misty (and rainy) is the norm this summer.

On our way to the next anchorage we spotted some humpbacks feeding closer to shore. We turned towards them and stopped the boat a conservative distance away. Drifting with the engines out of gear, we stood on the bow and watched a large group diving in all directions…

Whales to the left of us… whales to the right of us… a mother and calf diving in unison…

Mother and calf

…and the whales kept moving closer to us, some swimming towards the boat…

…until we were surrounded! It was amazing – we didn’t know where to point the cameras.

It began to rain quite hard, and we waited until the whales passed by us before we put the engines back in gear and continued on our way, exhilarated.

We headed back to a favorite spot – Takatz Bay on the east side of Baranof Island, where we waited for some more weather to pass. We enjoyed the waterfalls…

…picking ripe salmonberries and blueberries…

…and of course, looking for bears.

This bear was unusual because it was a black bear, and they are not at all common on Baranof Island. I’ve never seen one here before – only brown bears. This one was making snorting noises at us, so we kept our distance and let it eat in peace. We may be having a cold, wet summer, but we’re still seeing a lot of wildlife and sublime landscapes.

Kuiu – Tebenkof Bay

Tebenkof Bay is a big place with a number of smaller bays, creeks and anchorages to explore. We checked out a few spots at the end of last summer, and added a few more to our list this time… but we left plenty of spots to investigate some other time. There’s just never enough days and weeks to explore all that we’d like.

Fortunately, the trend of seeing lots of bears continued.

The first morning in a new anchorage was a three-bear bonanza. I watched two of them while drinking my coffee, then I decided to jump in the kayak and get a closer look.

This bear (above) was more skittish than the others, and as I drifted in the kayak he suddenly decided that he didn’t like having me around.

In the meantime, the first bear (the one reflected in the water in the first photo) meandered back into the forest, but I spotted a third bear turning over rocks a little farther away. This one looked like an old bear – its face was gray and it was a little skinny compared to others I’ve seen.

Sitka blacktailed deer were plentiful too – bedding down in the grass or walking around and watching me paddle.

We’ve had so much rain all summer and it has been very overcast much of the time, but on this day the wind was feather light and the sky was gorgeous. We savor every day we can spend out here in nature, but we really appreciate the pretty days.

A friend was in the area, and he needed to check on a cabin that his friend was building on a small island nearby, so we jumped into his skiff and had a fun ride zipping among the little islets. The cabin is new, but the site had some older buildings from a past owner that were neat to see, as well as a skull from a medium sized marine mammal of some sort.

It was a perfectly protected spot from the weather in any direction, with lovely views out the channels.

Our friend left us back at our boat, and by then it was time to start heading back towards town so we could re-provision for the next jaunt. Once again, a pod of Dall’s porpoise graced us with their acrobatics and amazing speed. You don’t see them as much as you see their rooster-tail splashes!