Since we were back in Petersburg we decided to visit the Le Conte Glacier – the southernmost tidewater glacier in North America – the glacier that was the reason Petersburg was founded.  It’s all about the ice!  Only 17 miles from Petersburg, the glacier provided a ready supply of ice to keep fish fresh for transporting to markets in Seattle around the turn of the 20th century.  20160708 3138 le conte inlet jagged berg rThe Le Conte inlet is usually so choked with brash ice that we can’t hope to get ADVENTURES anywhere close so we booked a trip with a local guide on a tough aluminum boat, and enjoyed the chance to focus on photographs and video instead of driving the boat for a change.

As we picked our way into the inlet we spotted some herring gulls and their chicks nesting on the rock faces.  Can you spot the two chicks in this photo?20160707 2932 le conte gull and chicks rThey’re just to the left of the parent – fluffy bits that look just like the rock.

The Le Conte Glacier is one of the best studied in the region, surveyed every year by a select group of high school students for the past 33 years.  The Le Conte is a stable glacier with ice 4400′ thick at its maximum, and a face that stands 200′ above the water.  As a tidewater glacier, this river of ice meets the sea, and 800′ of it hides under the water.  You may be familiar with glacier calving – where chunks of ice break off and crash into the water?  A tidewater glacier can also calve from underwater, and that’s known as a “shooter”.  I’ve always wanted to see one, and mentioned it to our guide… and we both laughed at the unlikelihood of that happening…

The boat in the foreground was about 1/4 mile from the glacier face, and they’re lucky the wave wasn’t bigger.  Our guide said that he witnessed a massive shooter there once – about 1200 feet wide that generated a 20′ wave.  He wasn’t sure they would survive it, but they were lucky that time.  20160708 3281 le conte face and brash rJust imagine a 20′ wave loaded with all that brash ice coming towards you…  20160707 3027 le conte face close r

…but it’s so beautiful to look at – hard to resist.20160708 3217 sparkly ice close rAs we finally started cruising out of the inlet we spotted lots of harbor seals hauled out on the ice.20160708 3094 le conte seals rMothers and pups were plentiful – the pups were probably born in June.20160708 3112 le conte seal mom and pup 3 rThis little pup was on his own while his mother was off feeding, though he had the company of some other adult seals to watch over him.  They’re very shy but also very curious, often following behind me in the kayak where they think I don’t see them.20160708 3118 seal pup rAt the entrance to the inlet is a bar – a shallow area that is the terminal moraine of the glacier – the farthest point that the glacier reached, plowing rocks and gravel ahead of it like a gigantic bulldozer.  Plenty of bergs were aground on the bar, though some make it across and we’ll find them drifting by in Frederick Sound or even sometimes right past the docks in the Narrows.20160708 3315 ice scape 6 rOn the way back to Petersburg we spotted a humpback sleeping on the surface…20160708 3198 frederick sound whale blow 2 r…and a lone male orca cruising along.20160708 3143 orca fin rAs we approached the buoys marking the entrance to Wrangell Narrows and the town of Petersburg, we were greeted with the usual groans and barks from the Steller’s sea lions that like to haul out there.20160708 3176 petersburg buoy sea lions rThe action around the buoys usually involves a fair bit of napping punctuated by a sea lion in the water who wants some space on the buoy, waking everyone up and causing a kerfuffle.  Usually no one wants to make space and the offenders are left to swim around and remain hopeful.20160708 3174 sea lion kissing rAs we headed into the Narrows we turned around to see a nice clear view of the Devil’s Thumb – a 9000′ tall mountain that sits on the US-Canada border, not too far away.  20160708 3160 devils thumb 1 rWe only get to see it on clear days, so it’s appreciated more.

Flowers and Fog

Once again things are a bit out of sequence as I try to catch up with all the adventures we’ve been having.  One reason is that we’ve been without any good connectivity for long periods of time, and another reason is that it’s very difficult to talk about wonderful things when friends are struggling.  One friend is in hospice.  Our town remains in great pain after the loss of the two teenage girls on July 4th.  And we recently learned that a very dear friend has been diagnosed with a terrible disease.  We’re crushed.  Our hearts are very broken.  Life is like the flowers and fog of today’s post – sometimes beautiful and sometimes opaque, gloomy and difficult.  We’ll share our adventures and the beauty of this wonderful place that we live in, but we do so with heavy hearts right now.

On our way to an anchorage one afternoon we encountered an adult humpback apparently teaching a calf how to breach.  The calf made a lot of half-hearted attempts, but finally started to get the hang of it. 20160623 2762 young whale breaching 1 r20160623 2737 breaching whale splash r - CopyEven a young whale makes a pretty big splash!  And the adult seemed to encourage the calf with lots of tail-slapping – it was a neat show as we headed into Portage Bay.20160623 2611 portage bay view r - CopyIt was a pretty spot – one we hadn’t been in before, but it was so big and open that we didn’t way to stay more than a night.  If the wind kicked up it wouldn’t be such a great spot, and there weren’t any good nooks and crannies to explore by kayak.  The next day we dashed across Frederick Sound to Farragut Bay to ride out a few windy days.  The wild flowers on shore were so pretty…

Scarlet Paintbrush

Scarlet Paintbrush



Once the wind settled we moved to Thomas Bay not far from Petersburg, and spent some time on the Cascade Creek hiking trail.20160706 2864 cascade creek cascade rThe trail follows the rushing water all the way up to a lake, though we didn’t go that far this time.  Some of the trail is a boardwalk over the muddiest places…20160706 2892 cascade creek boardwalk trail r…and the Forest Service trail crews have been making a lot of improvements to the upper trails, replacing old rotted wood and carving steps into the boulders.20160706 2906 cascade creek trail rock stairs rCan you imagine how difficult it is to chisel out these steps?  Whatever equipment they use must be big and heavy, and somehow they haul it up to the higher sections of the trail.  Very impressive – this is wild and rugged terrain.20160706 2908 cascade creek upper trail rAfter a couple of days we needed to return to town, and although the morning started bright and beautiful we noticed some tendrils of fog reaching into the anchorage.20160707 2916 thomas bay fog rWe hoped the fog was just in the bay, but it quickly socked in and we were in pea soup for most of the trip back to Petersburg.  We heard our fisherman friend Ray on the radio – he alerted us that there were gillnetters fishing out in the Sound and told us to hug the far shore to avoid them.  There would have been no way to miss their nets if we were out in the middle!

Ray has an interesting fishing boat – it’s a DeFever 40 that has been converted for commercial fishing.  He loves to brag about VIDA’s sea-keeping qualities, and her ability to throw off big waves.  We get to (mostly) choose the weather we venture out in, but the fishermen go out in all conditions.  We think Arthur DeFever designed superb sea boats, but it’s nice to hear it from the professionals.20160625 2768 vida in frederick sound wide rBack in town we did a little hiking – one of our favorite trails is the Ohmer Creek Trail, with a nice mix of forest, muskeg (Alaskan bog), a stream and pond.20160703 2799 ohmer creek pond reflection rThe water lilies are just starting to bloom – so beautiful.20160703 2798 water lily blossom r