Posted on Monday, June 11, 2012 by Peter Knego
Continue with Peter Knego for part three of his latest trek aboard Lindblad Expedition’s 62 passenger, 152 foot MV NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION in the remote wilderness of Southeast Alaska.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2012 unless otherwise noted.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
SEA LION began her passage into Glacier Bay, known in Tlingit as “Sit Eeti Gheiyi” or “Bay in Place of a Glacier”, around 6:30 AM. A national park ranger (Linda Lieberman) and Tlingit and Cultural Guide (Bertha Franulovich) came aboard to provide commentary for the entire day. Skipping breakfast, I slept in a bit, ordered a double shot cappuccino, then went out on deck as the ship navigated the lower eastern end of the inlet past the gull and Steller Sea Lion habitats of South Marble Island.
Midway, we reached aptly named Gloomy Knob, a 1,331 foot outcrop of basalt with a frowning face.
Goats defied gravity, grazing on near vertical patches of shrubbery several hundred feet above the water. In a nearby thicket, a family of brown bears foraged. From the binocular-and-camera-festooned perspective of the diminutive SEA LION, it was “Rear Window”, nature style.
Lunch was a beef chili (with an excellent eggplant veggie alternative) and corn bread. I don’t generally like corn bread but the SEA LION’s chef John may have given me a good reason to reconsider.
As we continued on our journey to the top of Glacier Bay, I spent time in the cabin working on this blog and listening to the fascinating commentary on the ship’s PA system. Only 260 years ago, the entire valley was filled by a giant glacier that extended all the way into the Icy Strait. Now it is a bay with most of its tributary glaciers receding, with the one possible exception of Johns Hopkins (which was inaccessible due to excessive ice floes and seal “pupping” season).
With its sheer wall of crumbling blue ice, Margerie is the main attraction of Glacier Bay. Most of us braved the chill and wet camera lenses to try and capture a major calving. Margerie did not disappoint, although my frigid fingers and drained camera batteries did.
For those of us who continued to face the onslaught of wind and cold at Margerie’s mercy, SEA LION’s staff brewed up a brandy-laced chai.
After Margerie, there was a brief respite before we headed back on deck to photograph the bluer but smaller Lamplugh Glacier. Lamplugh didn’t offer much in way of dramatic calves, so I was content to head back down to the Lounge where our visiting lecturers provided more insight into the bay and Tlingit culture.
Every evening at the 6:00 “Happy Hour”, Chef John whipped up a new hot appetizer to augment the naturalists’ recaps of what was seen. Any number of treats, from baked brie and fruit to hummus and pita, to my particular favorite, chicken pot stickers with scallion aioli and/or soy ginger sauce.
After dinner, the SEA LION tied up at Bartlett Cove, where the rangers disembarked and we had a chance to stretch our legs on a variety of walks or visit the Glacier Bay Lodge. I joined a bear-resistant group of six for an aerobic hike along a trail in the adjacent woods.
We encountered a few trees with some fascinating Tlingit carvings. Before, long, it was “all aboard” as the SEA LION motored into Icy Strait.
Friday, June 8, 2012
Our planned morning kayak, hiking and zodiac excursions at Pavlof Harbor were postponed due to inclement weather, so SEA LION made her way down Chatham Strait towards an alternate location, Eva Lake on Baranoff Island. Instead of morning activities and afternoon cruising, we would do it all in reverse.
I mosied up to the bridge to find chief mate Billy at the helm again, attention focused between the waters around the ship, the nearby embankment, local charts and radar. A soothing soundtrack of classic country music and an iced soda were the easy-going South Carolinan’s constant companions when curious visitors weren’t dropping by.
By the time SEA LION anchored off the Lake Eva trail head, the rain had fizzled out and the temperature had warmed up a few pleasant degrees. As I ditched my knee-high rubber boots to join the aerobic hike to Lake Eva, Roslyn, Washington-based guide Larry Hobbs fished out a Dungeness Crab exoskeleton from the rising tide.
Two bear spray-equipped expedition leaders led a group of six determined hikers along a beautiful forest trail that meandered above and aside a gushing stream to Eva Lake.
On the way, we encountered the usual Alaskan rainforest plants (Devil’s Club, Skunk Cabbage, etc.) a new bird species (Red Breasted Sap Sucker) and many fallen spruce and hemlock trees.
After a brief rest to take in the sights, sounds and intoxicating scents of the trail, we made our way back to the zodiac. For my second excursion, I chose to ride a zodiac instead of kayaking. At first, I thought I may have chosen in error.
After nearly an hour of gliding along empty muskegs and into lagoons devoid of large land and sea mammals, on cue, a humpback surfaced with a gusty blow. We followed him towards the ship where he breached and fluked several times before heading into the shallows to gorge on schools of minnow-sized salmon.
Back on board SEA LION, there was barely a moment to pack before joining fellow guests and staff in the Lounge to watch a slide show of some of the amazing photos taken during the week. After that, undersea videographer Jeff Litton shared footage he had taken sixty feet below the SEA LION of tiny but brilliant shrimp, sea anemones, otherworldly-sea cucumbers and intensely-hued starfish.
The Dining Room was set for dinner one final time. As we dined away on risotto, salmon and steak, the setting sun finally pierced the clouds to cast a golden light on the snowy mountaintops. After a week of stunning sights, a breaching whale just outside the picture windows was almost taken for granted.
Following dinner, most everyone braved the chill to gather on deck as SEA LION entered tranquil-looking Peril Passage, take a few more photos and say goodbye to newfound friends.
Saturday, June 9, 2012
I managed to get up to deck just as SEA LION entered Sitka harbor on a stunner of a morning. Our good luck with the weather would provide a nice start for the ship’s next contingent of guests as the ship retraced her route to Juneau over the next week.
Most of us filed off on coaches for a half day four of the charming town. Our first stop was the raptor center, a non-profit organization founded in 1980 for the sole purpose of rescuing and rehabilitating injured or disabled eagles, owls and other birds of prey. One massive bald eagle named Halle (after Holland America Line, which helped fund the facility) had a deformed beak that would not allow her to survive in the wild.
A number of beautiful birds, including Red Tailed Hawks, Peregrine Falcons, Spotted Owls, Golden Eagles and even Ravens are both permanent and temporary residents of the Raptor Center.
Our next stop was Sitka Cultural Center, where a number of totem poles are on exhibit both at the visitors’ center and along a densely wooded trail.
We then had an hour or so to wander through friendly downtown Sitka, where there are a number of shops selling local crafts. I made the brief climb up Castle Hill for a view of the town.
Had our guide not told us, I might have missed the fake windows painted on the side of St. Michael’s Cathedral, intended to give the impression to ships in the harbor that Sitka was wealthy enough to afford prohibitively expensive glass window panes.
As the coach sped onward to the airport, there was one last parting view of the SEA LION, a small ship with a big heart and an even bigger soul.
End of Lindblad’s LION’s Share Of Alaska
Very special thanks: Patty Disken-Cahill, Marc Cappelletti, Martin Cox