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Alaaska Glacier Bay

by G. Palmer, AdventureSmith Traveler

Our longest day – Up early exploring and photographing just about everything Sitka had to offer the visitor and window shopping every Sitka shop. After having a lovely Chowder and fresh bread lunch and purchasing a pair of rubber boots, we dropped off our luggage
and rubber boots at the Westmark Hotel before 2.00pm and went straight back to the shops for a little souvenir shopping.
Note: The Raptor Recovery Centre was very interesting and informative on what injuries the birds had suffered and what their recovery involved. Also the Sheldon Jackson Museum was an excellent introduction to the First Nations Natives.

Yak'ei haat yigoodee! (Welcome in Tlingit!)

Then it was back to the Westmark for the initial booking in and Cruise Briefing at 4.45pm.
After the briefing we were bussed to our Cruise ship, the 76 passenger Wilderness Explorer, where we were photographed for recognition by all on board and met by the crew members and welcomed aboard by the captain then escorted by one of the crew to our room, Pathfinder Cabin 204, where our bags had already been delivered. We were also asked to wear our name tags to meet and remember the other passengers.  We unpacked our bags and ambled into the Lounge for drinks and nibblies and the official welcome and introduction of the full crew.

We had dinner on board and we set sail at Midnight for our overnight destination.
It was exciting to be on our way.

Our longest day with many hours of daylight even after the sun went down.

Sunday 22nd July

In the early hours of Sunday morning while everyone was sleeping the Wilderness Explorer navigated its way from Sitka on the western side of the Baranof Island into a quiet little sheltered bay near Beehive Island in South Nakwasina Sound. Everyone awoke to the silence of a low misty cloudy first morning.  But no wind. Whales sighted off the Port bow in the distance. A quiet welcome to the Northern Passages.

After a hardy breakfast we raised the anchor and set sail across Nakwasina Sound via Neva Strait and into the very peaceful and quiet Sukoi Inlet where we dropped anchor for our choice of the days activity.

Helen and I chose the group to canoe the shoreline for a few hours.  We found this little  creek running into a small bay where there were signs that fishermen camped here during the Salmon run up this little creek.  A sight to see at the right time of year. During our 3 hour paddle we sighted Sitka deer, very shy, and of course lots of Bald Eagles.

When everyone was back on board the days experiences were discussed and swapped over drinks and nibblies again in the Lounge.

We then set sail via Salisbury Sound, the narrow waters of Peril Strait, dodging some small islands, Hoonah Sound, Chatham Strait for the next days adventure. We slept well this night after all that paddling.

Monday 23rd June
Arriving from Chatham Strait into Freshwater Bay and after breakfast we prepared for our choice of group excursion. Helen and I chose the canoe – hike – canoe day. Paddling along the shore looking for any wild life and taking photos. We found a stretch of shoreline to stop for lunch before our shoreline walk. Very light drizzling rain on and off but not cold. The hot soup was a welcome start to our lunch. After lunch we walked along the shoreline taking in the nature and looking for any animal activity. With the shoreline rocks crunching under our feet we came over some large rocks and startled a seal colony.
They scattered into the water, but were ever vigilant of our presence. We got our photos but as we returned along the shoreline to the canoes, one seal followed us, just a safe distance out in the water from us popping up regularly to keep his eye on us.  Still no wind. We paddled up to the Seal colony for more photos before returning “home”.

Once again on our return we reflected with our fellow passengers on each others
activity over drinks and nibblies.

It was a physical day, with no aches or pains that night, but very rewarding.  Getting fitter.
After a big dinner we all adjourned to the lounge for Bird Charades.This was harder for the 14 Australians in the room to identify American birds. Some of us Aussies wanted to do Aussie birds but the wives said no. The Robin Redbreast and Blue Tit were suggested.

Freshwater Bay via Chatham Strait into Icy Strait overnight.

Tuesday 24th  July  
Icy Strait into Inian Passage into the sheltered bay of Fern Harbour. Todays choices of activities were canoeing around the shoreline, a trip on the Skiff or walking trips either through the misty and very wet forest and soggy highlands or walk the flat land at the end of the bay. I chose the misty highlands walk. It was as though you were in another world up on the higher ground. Helen chose the bay flatlands discovering the wide variety of wild flowers being encouraged to bloom for summer. Also there were signs of bear activity with paw prints and animal scat. A great mornings activity for all. Had lunch and activities and experiences were swapped as we set sail for our next destination.

A short trip across the Inian Passage to the Inian Islands and dropped anchor.This afternoon we had free canoeing the shoreline and alternating trips in the Skiff around the Inian islands looking for whales and visiting a sea lion colony.We were lucky to have a Puffin land on the water near our Skiff.

So far this day we got close to Humpback Whales, Sea Lions, Otters and a Puffin.

Already a great and rewarding day, but wait there is more.

After all this we then sailed south into Idaho Inlet and we were rewarded with
many Humpback whale pods feeding slowly up the Inlet. We were even fortunate to hear the whales trumpeting  with the surrounding mountains echoing the call.  Oh, and we did see one sea otter floating on his back looking at us as he passed by on the current. We over-nighted closer to Bartlett Cove for an early arrival to pick up the Park Ranger for Glacier Bay.

A day never to be forgotten. A whale of a day.  Still no wind.

Wednesday 25th June
Across Icy Strait and into Bartlett Cove, a three hour stop, to pick-up the National Parks Ranger and time to discover the area.  This is Tlingit Native region. A group of seven of us decided to take  the Rainforest walk to Bartlett river. Walking through the wet moss covered Spruce and Hemlock forest was an experience. Always on the lookout for a bear.  Just a little early for the Salmon Spawning. Back on the ship and we meet the Ranger. He was available to answer our questions.We travel out and around into Glacier Bay and head for the Glaciers.

Note: Around 1794 the Glacier was at this point – Barlett Cove. It has receded over 60klm.
We cruise slowly passed South Marble Island with its Seal colonies and bird sanctuary.
We sight Killer Whales off in the distance. We stopped in a small tidal inlet and sight a wolf on the shore.We cruise past Gloomy Knob and see Goats. We pass 3 Tourist Liners exiting the Bay.We enter Tarr Inlet and come face to face with the Grand Pacific Glacier on our right and Marjerie Glacier straight ahead.
Note: These glaciers were connected up until 1912.
We have arrived. We stopped here for quite a while witnessing lots of glacier ice falling into the water. The birds we see continually are Kittiwakes.
They feed on bait fish disturbed by the falling ice.
We have to decide on our choice of activity for tomorrow.   Still no wind.
Another unforgettable day of sights and sounds.    We sheltered behind Russell island for the night.
Thursday 26th June
After breakfast we moved across to the John Hopkins Inlet and dropped anchor just past
the Lamplugh glacier.
The activities for today’s groups were canoeing around the Inlet, walking on the shore at
the edge of the Lamplugh glacier, out around the Inlet in the Skiff and hiking up the ridge
beside the Lamplugh glacier.
Helen and I walked on the shore at the Lamplugh glacier in the morning.
You couldn’t get any closer to a glacier than this.  Closer than those distant high rise passengers.

In the afternoon I joined the hike up the side of the glacier and Helen paddled around the Inlet noting Seals with pups on float ice.
On the hike many varieties of flowers, including Lupins and Dwarf fireweed, birds, the Golden Crown and Fox sparrow and a Hoary Marmot
Note: The Seals have their pups on the float ice because the ice helps protect them from the Killer whales.
When the anchor came up we had one last look at the John Hopkins glacier
and all the float ice then back to Bartlett cove to drop off the Ranger then we
stopped for the night in a sheltered spot along Icy Strait.  Another exciting and adventurous day.
What is planned for us tomorrow?   Snorkelling, a beach party and a swim????
Friday 27th June
Arrived at a small sheltered bay in the George Islands after breakfast.
Paddling around the small islands or diving were the activities this morning for most of the passengers.
We are close to the open sea at these islands with a breeze and a little current to paddle against.
Lots of Kelp floating and waving on the surface in the outgoing current. The odd snippet of
information from our knowledgeable guide on Star fish and other sea things along the way.
Also a very distant view of the Mountain range that forms the Brady Icefield on the other side
of Cross Sound.

After the mornings activity it was lunch at the Beach Party in a small bay very near by.Food, drinks, games, even Tai-chi, plus the walking trails to see the WWII
gun site and sundry dilapidated and rusty out buildings and relics of the past.

After all this geography and geology a little history didn’t hurt.

The temperature of the water for some crew and young and old passengers, not me, was tested
with the Polar jump after we returned to our “floating base camp” for the last time.
Then I had a thought, this was our last day.  How sad to be finishing up the most fantastic week
of our life.    Overnight towards Juneau.

Saturday 28th June
Woke up to the Wilderness Explorer cruising past Admiralty Island and
up the Gastineau Channel to dock in Juneau.
Pack our bags, have breakfast, put bags outside cabin and be ready to disembark.
Say good bye to many new friends.

Helen and I would like to thank Chris Harter from Adventure Smith, great service Chris.
The adventure cruise ship M/V Wilderness Explorer for only catering for 76 guests.
The Captain and all the ships crew, especially the Chef and galley staff and all the food
that came out of it. Excellent variety and excellent service.
A big thank you to all of the guides for their friendliness, knowledge and some hidden talents.
Also whoever is responsible for the variety and interest of the itinerary for the seven days.
The best seven days of our lives.  Still no wind.

If you are still young at heart the small cruise ship is the way to see this amazing region.

Helen and I thank you all

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