Thursday, July 24, 2014

East Coasts of Baranof and Chichagof Islands & Icy Strait

July 3-14, 2014

After leaving Sitka, we transited Sergius Narrows and the rest of Peril Strait to arrive on the east coast of Baranof Island on Chatham Strait. Southern Chatham Strait is, incongruously, more scenic and ice-covered than northern Chatham Strait, and we enjoyed the snowy peaks and hanging glaciers en route to Red Bluff Bay. 

S-curves in Peril Strait:  our wake
Hanging glacier in southern Chatham Strait

Patrick has already eloquently described our setting in Red Bluff Bay, easily our favorite spot on Baranof Island. To his description, I will only add a few pictures and some of my first impressions. 

As we entered the narrow entrance to the bay, protected by a series of small islets, I was overwhelmed by the vanilla-scent of yellow cedar. Going back deeper and deeper into the bay was like going back into time primordial.

High peaks and red bluff at the entrance to Red Bluff Bay

Dry waterfall inside Red Bluff Bay
Cascades in Red Bluff Bay

Ode to Green:  the temperate zone's equivalent of the shades of blue we saw in the tropics
For a few blessed days, we were permitted to live in the midst of wild animals. It is a privilege to live alongside wildlife and watch other creatures go about their daily business. To think that living in the midst of other animals was once our daily business:  Now, we live with our pets---domesticated, wonderful companions---several degrees removed from the wild.  Habitat degradation and destruction have become so prevalent, we really don’t know what it means anymore to live with wildlife. When you visit Alaska, you are reminded of how we used to live. 

Eagle overlooking Red Bluff Bay

Seal in Red Bluff Bay

The only drawback to Red Bluff Bay was that even in a remote, spectacular anchorage such as that, small cruise ships and National Geographic Eco-Adventure ships did enter. They didn’t anchor overnight, but they came in to show their clients the magnificient waterfall, sweeping down one of the granite faces like the grand staircase of a ballroom. They unloaded a flotilla of inflatables or an infantry of kayaks, just as the brown bears we had been patiently watching and waiting for all day came out in the bear meadow for an extended feeding period. In a whirlwind, they left again.   

Base of the waterfall in Red Bluff Bay
After our visit to Red Bluff Bay, we began to work our way north again. We stopped at Baranof Warm Springs Bay to visit the hot springs. Although there is a community at Baranof, there are no facilities for cruisers (other than a public float and public baths) either at Baranof or at Baranof (fishing) Lodge. The hot springs are located in a scenic setting next to a waterfall, accessed by a boardwalk trail through somewhat swampy forest. From the hot springs, you can continue on to Baranof Lake, home to cutthroat trout.

Cabins falling downhill in Baranof
The hot springs and waterfall at Baranoff
When I conjure up a term to describe some of the communities we visited in southeast Alaska, the term is “funky.” Tenakee Springs is quintessential funk. Although I’m told it is no longer a haven for old hippies and has turned into a retirement community, Tenakee Springs retains some of its former spirit. The main street is a gravel path through town on which the only vehicles are ATVs (All Terrain Vehicles, looking like golf carts). People drive around town on their ATVs as if they were part of an amusement park ride. The only reason ATVs are required at all is because the town is built along the waterfront; thus, the road and town are several miles long and not very deep.  

Part of the community at Tenakee Springs
The Post Office at Tenakee Springs

Landscaping is done with a splash of whimsy:   a pink bicycle in a garden bed with a basket full of flowers, rainboot planters, decorative benches placed here and there along the walk through town that don’t seem to be public or private property. And the hot springs in Tenakee take the form of a public bath---where you bathe first and then soak---with separate hours for men and women. A mural from The Wind in the Willows decorates the outside wall of the bath house. I regret that I never saw the inside, because I was at the drippiest stage of a cold when we arrived in Tenakee Springs.

Roadside flowers, Tenakee
Tenakee Inlet is alive with salmon and I hooked  two.

Our next stop was Hoonah, a Tlingit community on Chichagof Island that is surprisingly well appointed compared to the other communities we visited on the east coasts of Baranof and Chichagof. The harbor had both a Travel lift and a tidal grid, and the grocery store was the best stocked since Sitka. Unfortunately, we were there over a weekend, so we didn’t get a chance to visit the carving shed. Cruise ships do go in and out of Hoonah, and they are thriving on the tourist trade. 

Tidal grid and transient dock at Hoonah:  The angle of the blue cover over the pedestrian ramp indicates the huge tidal fluxes in Alaska

Cemetery on Pitt Island
In Icy Strait, we whale-watched at Point Adolpholus (in the company of whale-watching tour boats) and visited Dundas Bay in mist and rain. 

Whale spouts and fog, Icy Strait
We did not visit the boardwalk communities of Elfin Cove and Pelican, nor did we visit Glacier Bay. We will have to visit them on a future trip. We realized that we were running short on cruising time, and that we were going to have to leave some destinations off our itinerary.  The best way to save time was to cut out some transits up and back long inlets.  Along with Glacier Bay, Lynn Canal and Haines, as well as Endicott Arm,  also hit the cutting room floor.  We retained planned stops in Tracy Arm and Misty Fiords.  In addition to running short on time, we were tiring of the cold, rainy, and foggy weather that had plagued us since our last day in Red Bluff Bay. We decided to cut our losses and head south for better weather. We headed for Juneau to begin our trip down the Inside Passage in earnest.    

1 comment:

  1. I'll try this again. Last time I may have mistakenly published as The Captain.

    I am in love with the photos on this blog and am truly inspired to go to Alaska.

    I tweeted and google+ this to my followers.

    Don't stop sailing!!!!!