Posted on Thursday, June 7, 2012 by Peter Knego
Continue with Peter Knego for part two of his latest trek aboard Lindblad Expedition’s 62 passenger, 152 foot MV NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION as the ship sails through the remote wilderness of Southeast Alaska.
All photos by and copyright Peter Knego 2012 unless otherwise noted.
Monday, June 4, 2012
No better way to kick start the day than with a genuine espresso (included in the fare) brewed up by a friendly barista. In addition to espresso, Lindblad provides very good coffee, a wide variety of teas, cider, soft drinks and filtered tap water (the latter can be taken ashore during expeditions in environmentally friendly stainless steel bottles) on a 24/7 basis.
We emerged to find the MV NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION anchored in Ideal Cove between Coney and Mitkof Islands in the southern reaches of Frederick Sound.
I would join naturalist Lee Moll (one of five on this expedition) and a hardy group of fellow passengers on an aerobic-paced “bog walk” along Three Lakes Trail, a single plank boardwalk that winds into the rainforest and across a series of streams.
Lee is a remarkable Boise, Idaho-based specialist with an encyclopedic knowledge of geology, flora and fauna. While forging a heart-healthy pace, she did alight at several vantages to point out specific plants and blossoms of photographic interest.
Near a wide stream, the forest cleared into what I would have once described as a meadow or marsh but is really a muskeg, a bog-like clearing atop peat moss created by a high tannin run-off that comprises almost 15% of Alaska’s wilderness.
At the end of the loop, a patient bald eagle lingered in a tree top as we edged closer for a photo before we re trekked our way back along the boardwalk.
During lunch, the SEA LION pulled into Petersburg, a friendly, Norwegian-influenced fishing village of 3,000 at the northern tip of Mitkof Island. Afternoon options included bike rides (Lindblad supplies a small fleet of bikes at no charge), a variety of hikes or optional flightseeing tours. I signed up for another aerobic hike but there were no other takers, so joined a more leisurely paced walk through the muskeg on Kupreanoff Island, directly across Wrangell Narrows from Petersburg.
At the trailhead, Lee explained how muskegs are created and posited that they could very well be the end stage process in the life of a forest.
The lighting was extraordinary as we made the gradual climb up the shoreline to the clearing.
This was a far less precipitous and challenging walk than the morning’s, with a wider, two plank “berth” to traverse.
Adding to the visual beauty were the sounds of birds and the occasional trickle of water.
After the bog walk, I had time to run over to the Petersburg public library to upload some photos on their high speed wifi, then returned to the ship, which sailed off into Frederick Sound.
Freshly caught by the fishermen of Petersburg that day, a feast of Dungeness Crab awaited us. The dining room buzzed with the din of cracking shells, enthusiastic conversation and clinking glasses.
A reluctant sun finally set on an extraordinary Alaskan day, its twilight afterglow hovering well into the night.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
As Venus prepared for its rare transition across the face of the sun, which remained cloaked in a veil of clouds all day, we boarded the zodiacs, aptly named for the signs of the zodiac (I was on AQUARIUS) for a ride around Kelp Bay in the shelter of Baranoff Island.
The forces of a full moon had assured a particularly low tide, allowing us to view exposed starfish, a variety of kelp and some fascinatingly Dali-esque wilting anemones.
As we sped around in zodiacs, underwater videographers Carlos and Jeff donned drysuits for a far more challenging adventure in the kelp. Their footage would be part of a special video documenting the cruise, made available to guests at the end of the voyage.
After the zodiac tour, I kayaked around Pond Island, as a family of curious seal pups poked their heads out of the water.
Even though the skies were gray, the mirror-like waters inspired yet another kayak encounter with the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SEA LION.
When our ship left the shelter of Kelp Bay and motored into Chatham Strait in search of cetaceans, Lee and the other naturalists gave presentations on an array of subjects from glaciers, to geology and whales.
The lounge was also utilized as the LEX (Lindblad Expeditions) Global Market featuring local crafts and special Lindblad souvenirs.
Alaska, the SEA LION and her crew never let us down. That evening in the gray waters of Chatham Strait, we encountered several humpbacks. An energetic display of blows, breaches and flukes soon surrounded us.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
On another brilliantly sunny but crisp morning, SEA LION dropped anchor in the shelter of the Inian Islands. I was on the second zodiac excursion, allowing plenty of time to utilize the exercise deck and its trio of cardio machines.
At times, the influx of tides and currents from the open Gulf of Alaska into the Inian Pass make it too treacherous to navigate but today it seemed more of a tranquil backwater. Normally obscured by clouds and mist, the jagged, snowy ridges of the Fairweather Mountains beckoned from the horizon.
It would be a veritable “Zoo’s Who” of animal sightings this morning on the zodiac. There were bald eagles, Cormorants, Guilermonts, Gray Gulls, Loons, sea lions and some frisky otters, including a mother who backpedaled with one of her pups on her belly.
The waters were calm enough to allow us to enter a grotto normally besieged by crashing waves.
We steered clear of a community of Steller sea lions inhabiting a rocky point at the far end of one of the Inian Islands. Their belching groans and gulps echoed across the water.
At one point the convergence of ocean and inner passage waters creates a surge of currents that brings the sea life to the surface, provoking a feeding frenzy for the sea lions, who pluck out huge fish, thrash them to bits and then gulp huge chunks before flocks of eagles and gulls swoop them away.
A few lions popped up within feet of the zodiac and swam alongside. It would take a pod of orcas leaping through a rainbow to top this Lindblad experience.
After lunch, I joined another kayaking expedition in Fox Creek for an unexpectedly splashy paddle around Shaw Island.
The third outing of the day was headed by naturalist Alberto Montauban and geologist Patrick who escorted the afternoon hike from the beach into the rainforest. On the beach, we followed a bear path.
Our first stop was under a bluff where a large brown bear met its fate, leaving a cluster of oversized bones. Alberto explained that it was most likely injured by a hunter and died a slow death if the bite marks on the nearby tree were from the same bear.
Meanwhile, Patrick Muffler chipped away a piece of granite from a large boulder and explained its geologic origins.
Alberto then quickly honed in on a fresh bear print.
As the trail entered the forest, several trees had some deep bear claw scars.
A number of plants with interesting traits, from odorous (Skunk Cabbage) to prickly (Devil’s Club) and poisonous (False Hellebore) were shown along the way. This nature hike provided yet another fascinating, in-depth look at an Alaska most visitors never get to see or learn about.
Back on board the SEA LION, a daily recap and dinner awaited.
Before anchoring in the waters off Glacier Bay, chief officer Billy O’Brien steered the ship in search of more sea and land mammals, giving us a last glimpse at a brown bear, a few dolphins, a distant humpback or two and several seals.
End of Lindblad’s LION’s Share Of Alaska, Part Two
More to come…
Very special thanks: Patty Disken-Cahill, Marc Cappelletti, Martin Cox