The nine-day trip in late June included seven days aboard the 50-foot boat, the Delphinus, which featured hot showers (okay, they were SHORT showers because of a limited water supply), family-style gourmet meals and simple, cozy accommodations for up to eight passengers. On this trip we had six passengers and four crew. From Juneau, we voyaged west to Glacier Bay and Icy Strait. As we headed south on Gastineau Channel and then north along Stephens Passage, mist and rain gradually cleared from snow-capped peaks so that by afternoon we had shed our wool jackets to enjoy the sunshine. Lulled by the warm weather, we were observing a bald eagle on Rocky Island when --whoosh!-- humpback whales surfaced nearby. As we tweaked camera equipment, a sudden "explosion" of several whales burst from the water right in front of the boat. The whales were bubble feeding--herding herring and krill together using a confusing net of bubbles, then coming from beneath to gulp down the food. For two hours we watched this spectacle over and over, then motored on to Glacier Bay's Bartlett Cove while dining on fresh salmon and ice cream with wild berries.
In the long summer twilight, we anchored, slept soundly in the gentle swells, and rose early the next morning for a nature walk led by our shipboard naturalist Tom Johnson through the moss-draped rainforest of Bartlett Cove. Then, through mists and sunlight we voyaged north, stopping at islands in Glacier Bay to view Steller sea lions, harbor seals and black-legged kittiwakes. That evening, we went ashore in an inflatable dinghy--after stern warnings about bears-- at Reid Glacier, a tidewater sensation with the bluest of blue ice, with blues augmented by overcast weather. A huge chunk of ice fell while we were on the beach, creating a worrisome wave.
Exhausted, we anchored in a gentle rain in the lee of Russell Island. The next morning we arose to sunshine, with lingering mists curved around rugged peaks. We motored to Margerie Glacier, watching cruise ships come and go, and we spent the morning savoring bird rookeries, iceberg sculptures and startling topography. In the distance Grand Pacific Glacier presented a huge spectacle. We then traveled to the mouth of John Hopkins Inlet (we were not allowed to go any further in June due to seals giving birth to their pups here) and observed stark terrain recently uncovered by shrinking glacial ice. Then on to Lamplugh Glacier, where a waterfall jetted out of the middle of the glacier's tidewater terminus.
Finally we anchored in Blue Mouse Cove, where a float plane met us, transporting us in an awe-inspiring flight over the Brady Icefield and past huge peaks and glaciers. Quiet Berg Bay was a welcome anchorage after the busy day. Harbor porpoises, eagles and a black bear provided evening entertainment.
Early the next morning from Berg Bay (pictured below, left) we made for Dundas Bay, a relatively unknown region of Glacier National Park and Preserve that offers old-growth rainforest and rugged peaks. Few boats travel here because of shallow, uncharted waters, but over the past 16 years Delphinus captain Ronn Patterson has developed his own charts and navigates the bay with confidence. 1999 was a heavy snow year in Alaska, so even by our visit in late June little was available in the way of wildflowers. However, we marveled at newly sprouting skunk cabbage, false hellebore and muskeg mosses. As we hiked back toward our skiff, a black bear feeding on sedges (the only easily available food at this time of year) came our way. Hushed, we gathered into a small, still group and the bear casually munched its way past us.
The next morning, the Delphinus picked her way to the head of the east arm of Dundas Bay. Waterfalls thundered into the misty cove as we made our way to shore. Great rocks blended into the intertidal zone here, providing plenty of grist for the camera mills. Wolf and bear tracks punctuated nearby trails. After a couple of hours ashore, we embarked in our skiff, anticipating a return to Megan's great homemade cookies and other delectables. However, far away we saw a black bear on shore and chose to make our way in that direction. Captain Ronn motored close, cut the outboard engine, and for nearly an hour we sat offshore as close as 50 feet from the nonplussed bear, who was busy feeding on shoreline grasses.
Reluctantly, we left Dundas Bay and made for Elfin Cove, a "real-life" fishing village perched on islands linked by boardwalks (indeed, one of the wooden walkways in this automobile-free town is an official state highway). Here, our cook Megan stocked up on smoked salmon and fruit, and we headed back out. Misty skies and seas blended together as we drifted among feeding humpback whales, all of us enjoying gourmet dining.
For most of the next day, near Mud Bay and Point Adolphus along Icy Strait, we celebrated whales as they breached, blew and ate, ate, ate. On one occasion, they were so close that their exhalations misted our camera lenses. We were additionally blessed with sun and especially Megan's fabulous caesar salads (augmented by smoked salmon, hot biscuits and homemade garlic croutons) served buffet style so we could savor every moment of whales. Then it was on to the Tlingit Native American village of Hoonah, a bustling center for commercial fishing and logging.
The next morning, in hot sunshine, we began our long journey back to Juneau. Then, those "pesky whales"--as naturalist Tom Johnson liked to joke--appeared again. This was the same group we saw on the first day, and they performed the same bubble-feeding pyrotechnics. Exhausted and exhilarated, we finally docked in Juneau on a gloriously sunny summer evening. Many of us spent part of the next day savoring Juneau's museums, historic structures and gift shops before reluctantly flying back to so-called "civilization."
For more information on Glacier Bay: Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve
For suggestions on clothing and other personal supplies, click here.
For suggested photo equipment for the trip, please click here.
Order selected Alaska books recommended by Betty from amazon.com
Ronn Patterson, Dolphin Charters: (800) 472-9942; email@example.com; www.dolphincharters.com