Alaska 2: Islands in the Wilderness

Southeast Alaska consists of a tiny strip of mainland, most of which is vertical, and an archipelago of about a thousand islands. Our informant claims that this number increases to 1500 at low tide, so high are the tidal surges.

I was not surprised when the light persisted behind the fog until 10 p.m., not growing full dark for another hour. I should not have been surprised when the light returned at 4. But I was.

Our Wilderness Explorer is designed for “un-cruise” adventure tours, ideal Hobbits. Sleep in a comfortable bed every night, and find yourself in a new adventure each day, beginning like so:

  • early breakfast (oatmeal and coffee) at 6
  • Stretches on upper deck at 7
  • Second breakfast at 7:30
  • Gourmet lunch and dinner, free bar drinks and snacks anytime.

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My traveling companion is Sandy Eastoak, the artist who worked with me on the packaging for River of All Possibilities. The trip was a long-term yearning of hers, and I was easily persuaded to accompany her.

 

We are headed into deep wilderness; we will see no sign of civilization, or other people, for days now. But we do see plenty of whales, orcas, eagles, and other wildlife during our first morning’s sail.

We anchor amongst a quiet cluster of islets, the Blashkee Islands. According to the chart, we are only a hair’s-breadth away from the busy Inside Passage, but there is no sign of any traffic, much less habitation. Other than our ship and the fleet of kayaks it spawns, there is no sign of humanity for miles in all directions, as far as the eye can see. After kayaking around the backs of several of these islets, I spot one lonely fishing boat.

01761 !-kayak

01772 !-kayak

The weather is grey, with occasional rain showers, no wind. Perfect for kayaking. (Okay, I wouldn’t mind a bit more sun).

There is lots of kelp growing here. That surprises me, since I’ve only seen it growing off the surf-driven California coast. As we paddle by, I grab a piece out of the crystal-clear water and take a big bite of the fresh, tasty leaf. We continue to see humpback spouts, but in the distance.

I think back on my kayaking day in Halong Bay. I thought at the time that must be the most perfect place in the world to enjoy by kayak. Now it has a rival. But Alaska, of course, as the home of the kayak, has the senior claim.

IMG_1799 later afternoon seascape
After a day of kayaking, sailing into the sunset for the next adventure!

I map

Our anchorage among the Blashkee islands was only a first taste of a paradise that seems to have no end. The next morning finds us in the Bay of Pillars, where the shoreline has so many deep indentations you can’t tell what’s an island and what’s a long peninsula. The scenery is even more stunning, with nearby mountains, and an occasional glimpse out toward higher, snow-capped peaks on distant Baranov Island.

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In the morning, a walk on the shore. The tide a low, leaving a vast carpet of seaweed covering a bed of crustaceans shells—and myriads of living creatures living among them, waiting for the returning tide.

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1818 mink
:Near our landing spot, a mink rummages for food in the tidepools

1850 pool

One pile of rocks stands above the tide pools, with its own little ecosystem: Indian paintbrush, yarrow, and rye grass, quite similar to coastal meadows in California. As the tide rises, this little hill becomes an island. There is even a little pool above what seems to be the high tide line, as some exceptional high tide has broken the boundary.

But along most of the shore, the high tide line marks the beginning of thick forest.

1854 Alder, Hemlock, Devils Club

In the afternoon, a little tour by motor-raft. The beach we studied this morning is vanished, completely underwater. The scenery looks so much like a mountain lake or river that I feel some cognitive dissonance seeing the big floating strands of kelp. These kelp mats make a comfy bed for a sea otter, who swims off leisurely after we’ve had a good look.

1871 otter
See the otter? Watch the videos!

Other wildlife sightings this afternoon: kingfisher, duck, eagle, black bear.

Stay tuned for more adventures!

 

 

 

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