After cruising over 2700 nautical miles around SE Alaska and taking a side trip up to the interior to see Denali, we finally got the chance to spend a little time in the town of Petersburg (aka “Little Norway”) where we’ll settle for the winter months. We’ve been looking forward to exploring more of our new “back yard” and meeting people, and we were lucky to be in town for the Rainforest Festival. A marine mammal expert from Kodiak was on hand to give a talk about Steller sea lions – appropriate since we have a healthy population in the area, and a few that always hang around in the harbor.Stellers are much larger than their cousins, the California sea lions, and the Steller males can weigh up to 2000 lbs. Kate, a professor from the University of Alaska, gave an excellent talk about these animals, and relayed a number of great stories. Suffice it to say that neither one of us is inclined to go diving in the harbor since the sea lions love to harass divers.
In addition to the lecture, the Festival organized a boat trip to see the Le Conte glacier – Petersburg’s “local” glacier and one of the reasons the town was originally founded here. In the late 1800s it was very difficult to keep fish fresh to get it to market down in Seattle, but the ready supply of glacier ice solved the problem nicely and the town flourished.
The boat tour included commentary by Professor Kate so it was a rare treat to learn more about the marine mammals near the glacier – particularly the seals.The Le Conte is a difficult glacier to see since the approach has a lot of twists and turns, and it’s often choked with brash ice and bergy bits. There is no way we could have gotten ADVENTURES in close to see the Le Conte, but the nimble jet-drive aluminum tour boat was perfect for the job. Of course the day of the tour was foggy and it was raining hard, but since the tourist season was over and the participants were all locals, no one thought anything about the weather. We all just dressed in our rain gear and boots, and I brought “rain coats” for my cameras. There were lots of seals around the glacier and we enjoyed learning more about them. They prefer the ice over any other terrain to haul out on, and they even give birth to their pups on the ice. Here you can see the Le Conte glacier, and if you look closely you’ll see lots of little brown seals in front of the snout.The ice is so magical – it can have so many different colors, and I love the almost fake-looking turquoise blue that’s common in glacier ice. Some ice is perfectly clear, some is white, and some is black from the grit and rock ground from the mountains as the glacier makes its way down to the sea. The shapes and sizes boggle the mind, and I don’t get tired of looking at all the different formations. You just have to be careful about getting too close to the bergy bits since pieces sometimes calve off, changing the center of balance and causing the ice to roll over or pop up.As we headed back towards Petersburg the clouds got darker and some of the big bergy bits really stood out against the gray sky. Who says a rainy day can’t be a beautiful thing?