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Alaska Wilderness Adventure

all photos © Kristianne Koch Riddle

Alaska Wilderness Adventure

We just returned from a great trip to Southeast Alaska. Flew into Juneau Alaska Monday -June 4th and spent one night -it was foggy but light until 11PM- so walked around town a bit- Not too big- the roads only go into the back country 10 miles. Juneau had 200 inches of snow this last winter- usually is about 100 in the surrounding area and 80 inches of rain. - boy couldn't we use some of that!

Tuesday morning we took a float plane up and over 4 glaciers around the Juneau Area- beautiful colors and clear skies in places- otherwise we were flying under the clouds. Our 100 passenger Cruise West ship - the Spirit of Endeavour- sailed about 5PM Delightful well traveled passengers - cabins were small but each with big windows for easy viewing- even from bed! ha! Our doorway opened to the deck so it was easy to get out when animals or waterfall or glaciers were spotted.

The first morning we awakened at 645am (every day wake up call time) at the base of a huge Waterfall- Our ship's nose was right up next to the mist! A bit later we spotted Otters, whales, dolphins, and lots of waterfowl. We sailed to both North and South Sawyer Glaciers- Unbelieveable color and size!

We cruised through icebergs (big ones!!! remembering 10 percent is all that shows above water)- up to about 1,000 feet of the base of the glacier. Each time they 'calved' or some of the ice broke loose, you could feel the ship rock with the surge. They make a large groaning and crackling noise. The glaciers and icebergs are a beautiful Glacial blue in color All along the way - there would be ice bergs - and smaller "bergie-bits" with harbor seals onboard - mommies and babies that were just born. The dad's were off somewhere else playing - The mothers give birth in about 8-9 months - they care for the babies only about 4 weeks, then they are off on their own. They weigh about 25 pounds at birth

We saw so many Humpback Whales - Mothers and babies - just returning from Maui - about a 3,000 mile trip- They come to Alaska to feed -they call it the kitchen - and to Maui Channel from Nov -March for fun and games (the bedroom) One evening at dinner we were surrounded by the whales playing and diving and breeching - it was quite phenominal !!

Each day the waters were smooth and the skies were clear and blue - for 8 days we enjoyed beautiful weather- another rarity in Alaska.

There were pods of Sea Otters- 20-30 in a group - they would all be on their backs - looking up at us -as we looked down on them - Many had their food on their bellies cracking it with 6" Oyster shells. Then they would all go under the water and disappear- So much fun to watch. They are about 5 feet long. big eyes, long whiskers- very cute!

One day we used the zodiacs to go ashore on an island to see the sealife along the shore - many many clam shells - about 3-8" across, the live ones were making cute watershoots -cleaning their food. We walked into the woods a few steps until someone spotted bear scat- so scurried out of there.

We stopped at Sitka - only about 60 air miles from Juneau - but 2 days to reach it because of many optional beautiful detours in Icy Straits etc. Sitka was founded by the Russians and the place where Seward purchased Alaska - Very interesting community - Under 9,000 population. They do not have as many cruise ships call here (There were 4 in port in Juneau 2,000-3,000 on each ship) because they do not have a deep-water port and the Sitkans do not want one- I don't blame them - it is really a great port of call. They only had 2 days of sunshine all of last summer - so they were delighted with the warm weather.

One of the highlights was a visit to Elfin Cove- a small fishing village - with only 10 Winter residents last year - and about 250 seasonal summer residents that service the 6-8 fishing lodges. Fishermen fly in by float plane for a week or so at a time to catch salmon and halibut among other fish- It was so warm there that day that the locals kidded that it was Summer- just that day probably! it was close to 75 degrees - HOT for them!

The water was so smooth there was a guy water skiing when we left. This little village is all built on boardwalks and has many commercial fishing boats as well as the lodges. It faces the open Pacific Waters- so I'm sure they see some brutal weather at times. Only on the small Cruise West boats can you visit places like this.

When we arrived in Glacier Bay National Park we were met by a Park Ranger, Linda, and Curator- Howard, a Tlinquit Alaskan Native. They joined us for an overnight on the boat to spot animals and tell us the history and customs of the lands and their people. We also did some walking tours through the Glacier Park lands. There is a very nice Lodge here- you can access the park by flying into Gustavus - in the summer - or float planes or boat. No roads some into the park. The large ships do not stop here- they just cruise the bay - only very limited numbers of vessels are allowed in the bay.

We saw Brown/Grizzly Bears, Black Bears, more whales, dolphins, Sea Lions puffins, many many other sea birds and Eagles- galore!!!!, Mountain Goats, porcupines at the park, as well as red squirrels. We even evidenced a Brown Bear swimming from an island to the mainland-only viewed once before by our Tlinquit friend. Lots of Sea Lions and more otters as we cruised Glacier Bay. The only animals we missed were the Orcas and Moose-

We visited 4 more glaciers in Glacier Bay - and had sunshine - again - 8 days straight!

It was truly a relaxing, educational, enjoyable vacation - There were 12 of us traveling toghether, and we laughed and had a really great time. The crew on the ship worked very hard and did a great job- We had two Naturalists onboard at all times that were very informed and managed to entertain us in the evening as well! Our Captain Mike and his crew made sure we were safe at all times. We really were fortunate in all we got to see and all the wonderful experiences.

If ever I return to Alaska- it would definetly be on one of these small boats- A great Experience to the Great Land - known to locals as "Southeast"

Til next time- Bonnie and Ralph

SLIDESHOW >>> view a brief slideshow of our trip

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BONNIE KOCH, CTC MCC
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