Bears, Whales and Ice

What – MORE bears? Haven’t we seen enough already? (No, you haven’t.) We were on our way north up Chatham Strait, and just had to make a stop at Pavlov Harbor on Chichagof Island – it’s a good stopping point on the way to Juneau via the northern route. And Pavlov just happens to be a great place to see brown bears!

Sow and her two cubs

We only had one afternoon to hang out with the bears, and the action was a little slow at the falls, but still… bears!

We couldn’t stay longer – we were meeting friends in Juneau and had to keep going, but it’s a safe bet that there will be more encounters with large brown furry things before the summer is over. In the meantime, we saw another large mammal – the humpback kind. This one was pec-slapping – making a pretty good racket by slapping its long pectoral fins back and forth. In the video, you can hear the delayed “whomp” after the fin hits the water. We could feel it!

We continued on towards Juneau, rounding the top of Admiralty Island to see the lighthouse at Point Retreat.

Making the hairpin turn around the point, we could see a fog bank towards Juneau. It was pretty to see, and fortunately it cleared up before we got there.

We met dear friends from New Jersey in town – they were there on a cruise ship for the day, so it was pretty cool to spend a little time with them. On our way out of town, we passed by a huge private yacht that we saw a few times over the summer. “Dreamboat” is 295′ long, built in 2019 for $180 million, and is owned by Arthur Blank – owner of the Atlanta Falcons football team. Tough life. The tender (small boat) shown in the second photo is probably 45′ long, and it’s just one of a fleet of boats carried by the mother ship.


Preferring glaciers to yachts, we headed south down Stephens Passage towards Tracy Arm and the Sawyer Glaciers. As we crossed the shallow bar at the mouth of Tracy Arm, we could see the Sumdum hanging glacier. The name comes from the Tlingit language and represents the booming sound of ice breaking off.

We anchored nearby in a protected cove, and I headed out in the kayak to investigate some large blocks of glacier ice grounded in the shallows near the entrance bar. The colors and shapes are amazing, and the blue of the ice really stood out against the gloomy sky.

When you look closely, you can find some surreal formations and shapes, rocks trapped in the ice, crystal clear ice, blue ice, and all manner of textures. It’s mesmerizing.

Unfortunately, our plans to visit the Sawyer Glaciers were thwarted by the weather forecast. A big front was heading our way, and the wind was going to blow hard for days. We needed to move to a well-protected anchorage, and position ourselves for a planned trip up to Pack Creek a week later, so we cruised across Stephens Passage and tucked into Gambier Bay well in advance of the storm. It was an easy ride across, and we had a nice whale escort.

We’ve Been Too Busy…

…having adventures. Sorry about neglecting the Blog for so long. At some point, the pile of photos got pretty overwhelming, and it came down to choosing to stay on the boat and edit them, or go out in the kayak and shoot more.

We stopped in Wrangell to return the tent we borrowed from friends (and to visit them!), then decided to try a new (to us) route up to Frederick Sound – Rocky Pass. It’s shallow and has a good bit of current running through it, so there’s a certain amount of timing so one arrives at the infamous Devil’s Elbow at high slack current, and then the northbound traffic gets to buck a building current through The Summit. We decided to stage in Totem Bay while we waited for the right time, and I enjoyed a little paddle to see some of the weird rock formations that give the bay its name.

We managed to get through Rocky Pass without incident – glad to get that first experience behind us, so now we know what it looks like and what to expect. We tucked in behind a nameless island for a late supper and a pretty sky once we made it through the pass…

…and we stayed there an extra day since some weather moved in and it wasn’t very nice outside! From there, we cruised to Honeydo Cove, across from the village of Kake. Honeydo is a nice spot, tucked mostly out of sight, yet with a little view out to Frederick Sound. When it’s quiet we can hear whales blowing out there, and there are plenty of rocky islets to explore with the kayak.

I found a flock of pigeon guillemots, which are neat birds since they have very red-orange legs and, as you can see in the photo below, that same bright color inside their mouths.

I found a lone harbor seal napping in the “banana pose” – a funny position seals often adopt.

I spotted a group of river otters in the distance, and a sea otter cruised closer by, less interested in me than the seal was.

After a relaxing couple of days we cruised over to Baranof Island, to a favorite spot in Takatz Bay by the waterfalls. Earlier in the season I observed a brown bear and her three cubs, and I was wondering if they were still around. I paddled towards the low waterfall and the tidal flats, guessing that mid-way through the falling tide would be a good time for bears to look for fish. Bingo! I returned the next day at the same state of tide and found them again.

That water is cold!

The fishing wasn’t too successful, so they climbed out of the chilly water and munched on grass for a while. I had to pay attention to the falling tide – the kayak was briefly stuck on a rock when the sow was moving in my general direction, and that got my heart pounding a bit.

2nd year cub

Do you know how hard it is to get four bears to all look up at the same time???

Cubs play-fighting

More bears… sorry, but I just can’t resist. We actually saw other things this summer – stay tuned.