Alaska: Day 5 - Glaciers and Inlets

The sun was up well before we left the Reid Inlet at 5:15am and the beautiful glow of sunrise washed over the mountain tops and kissed the clouds. 

Sitting there, gazing at this glacier, it was hard to grasp that just over 100 years ago, this glacier filled the entire inlet. 

When we set our alarms the evening prior, we decided to return to the John Hopkins Inlet during early morning light to photograph the glacier.  

After traveling north for an hour, we reached the inlet and we were still surrounded by a lingering soft pink light, one of the many perks of summer days in the northern part of North America. 

Gilman Glacier

Gilman Glacier


John Hopkins Glacier

We photographed the glacier for a half hour before I, again, had the urge to hit the water on my SUP. 

It was not safe for our boat to be close to the ice, because the potential for quickly becoming surrounded by ice was too great, but on my board, I knew could paddle through the smaller chunks and get some unique compositions.  

I wrapped my Canon 5D Mark III in a waterproof bag and took to the water. I was nervous about taking the camera out of the bag, but my comfort level and confidence on the board gave me the courage to take a chance, so I kneeled down and snapped a few shots. 


Photo by: Casey McCallister

Tarr Inlet & Margerie Glacier

After 2 hours in the John Hopkins Inlet, we ventured a bit farther north, right to the Canadian border, into the Tarr Inlet with high hopes of seeing this advancing glacier calve. 

Margerie Glacier 7-image pano

Margerie Glacier 7-image pano

We hadn't been there long when a small boat greeted us; the first small boat we had seen outside of the small radius around Barlett Cove.  

For over 4 hours, we floated in the inlet, making breakfast and enjoying the abnormally warm day on the deck of the boat, while waiting for chunks of ice to splash into the sea, but we still longed to see a massive chunk fall, sending wakes our direction. 

Just as we began to think we should venture on, we witnessed the most incredible calving; a section of ice over 100 feet tall came crashing into the water. 

A few moments later, we were riding the wake. 

When we began to leave, we noticed a cruise ship had made its way up the Tarr Inlet. They floated for a few minutes before turning around to allow guests on both side of the ship a view of the glacier. We waved to everyone and then headed towards Bartlett Cove. 

Back to Bartlett Cove

Boating has never seemed tedious to me, even if it requires hours on the water to arrive at a destination.

I grew up with parents who would waterski over a dozen times a year, which means I spent countless hours on boats. I'm sure that's why I love being on the water. 

The ride back to Bartlett Cove was four hours, but there was so much beauty, and even a few critters, to stare at along the way. 


The End of a Day

We arrived at Bartlett Cove around 5:45pm, had dinner in the lodge and ended the day with a beautiful sunset. 

Photo: "Glacier Moon Rise"


Last July, during a boat trip to Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska, we anchored in Reid Inlet just before sunrise and ventured ashore to explore the beach around the base of the glacier. 

After returning to the boat and cracking open a few beers, we turned around to discover we were going to end an incredible day watching the full moon rise over the Reid glacier. 

Alaska: Day 4 - Glacier Bay National Park & Reid Inlet

Day 4 began at 4:30am with the alarm clock sounding in a Juneau hotel room. It was time for Casey and I to head to the airport and fly back to Gustavus to continue our adventures in Glacier Bay.

The Juneau airport is an interesting place. There's no such thing as a security check, and calling what we did a "check-in" feels exaggerated, but we were happy to get back on track with the original adventure.


Juneau To Gustavus, By Air

Leaving Juneau

Leaving Juneau


After a beautiful morning flight, one that Casey was actually able to photograph, we landed in Gustavus. It was only 6:15am, but we managed to negotiate a ride back to the dock with the Glacier Bay Lodge van taking guests to the hotel in Bartlett Cove. 

By 9:20am we were back in the boat, heading north towards the glaciers once again, almost as though we never even left the water. 


The Mountains

During the 4-hour trek north, I found myself staring at the snow and glacier capped mountains, imagining how cold it would be if my feet were planted deeply in the snow, rather than enjoying the warmth of the sea level temperatures.


That was actually one of my favorite things about traveling on the boat, gazing at the surroundings, because unlike a car, there are things to look at every few feet. In those moments traveling freely, surrounded by landscapes of grand scale, it was difficult not to feel small. There were no roads, lanes or other vehicles to distract from the beauty, and in Glacier Bay National Park, it was no shock there were glaciers everywhere. 



The Cerulean Waters

Photo by Natalia Stone

Photo by Natalia Stone

The further we advanced into the bay, the lighter and more teal the water became. Once we rounded the last mountain and began our trek into the John Hopkins Inlet, we began to see icebergs. 

I had to get closer, so while the boat floated around and everyone was snapping photos of the glacier, icebergs and seals, I hopped in the water. 

Photo Casey McCallister

Photo Casey McCallister


When I made it back to the boat, it didn't take much convincing to get Joe in the water. It was only his second time on a paddle board and fortunately for him, his balance and skill allowed him to stay dry. 

Reid Inlet 

Most of the trip is difficult to put into words. I felt alive, unlike I ever have before. My mind constantly felt stimulated and my soul was filled with a fire that was burning hot. 

If I had to pick the strongest, most vivid memory, it would probably be the 12 hours we spent in the Reid Inlet. 

We dropped anchor 100 feet from the shore inside the inlet at 6:10pm. It took a few moments before I was able to grasp what I was seeing. At the end of the cove, down to the water's edge, was an enormous glacier. 

The four of us wandered around the deck of the boat for only a few minutes before we decided we needed to head to shore, grabbing only our iPhones as we stepped onto the paddle board and into the skiff. 


We wandered the rocky shoreline for almost a mile, discovering flowers, wildlife and even a few small icebergs, but the entire time I was focused on standing next to the glacier at the end of the cove. 

I had seen glaciers before, but never so close to feel crisp air and mist on my face and the roar of the melting glacial ice, louder than the thoughts inside my head. There were also sounds mimicking explosions, sounds of thousand year old ice cracking and breaking, creating history as I stood a few feet away. 


Nearly two hours had passed by the time we started the walk back. It was nearing 9:00pm and golden hour had just begun. The sunlight kissed the mountains and clouds with a beautiful glowing amber and we had the entire shoreline to ourselves. 


For a moment, while walking back towards the boat, we all looked at each other, almost as if to say, "I wish I grabbed my other camera."

We all said it aloud a few moments later and laughed, but we knew the freedom and experience we had without our gear was worth more than the images we would have taken.

The light was perfect. The landscape was breathtaking and we were alone; the whole cove and shoreline to ourselves, but we actually lived and breathed in the moment. 

In an instant, the dream-like state vanished when we realized the tide had come in and the skiff had floated into the middle of the bay. 

Casey began to run and I followed. As I got closer, I could see that the paddle board was resting safely on the shore, though just barely, which meant we at least had a way of retrieving the skiff that didn't involve a swim in some very cold water. 

Photo by Casey McCallister

Photo by Casey McCallister

After returning to the boat and cracking open a few beers, we turned around to discover we were going to end the incredible day watching the full moon rise over the Reid glacier. 

Photo: "John Hopkins Glacier, Glacier Bay National Park"

Since I started paddle boarding back in 2013, I have always wanted to paddle in icy waters and my recent trip to Alaska allowed me to do that.

It was exhilarating and also a bit nerve racking because the ice was moving incredibly quickly around me, despite not much of a measurable current being present.

The icebergs you see in the water here all fell from the John Hopkins Glacier in the background. Over time, the ice leaves the inlet and makes the way out into open water where it is broken up into smaller and smaller pieces, melting until the pieces have vanished.

I took my DSLR onto my paddle board this morning to get a few unique shots amongst the ice. I was nervous to say the least, but the camera was inside a protected and inflated dry bag until the moment I was ready to take a photograph.

Alaska: Day 3 - Glacier Bay National Park & Unexpected "Adventures"

At 4:10pm on Saturday, July 16, the Marguerite made a radio call to Bartlett Cove, to announce our approach to the Glacier Bay National Park waters. 

The conversation was brief, but we were reminded to maintain a one mile distance from shoreline and a maximum speed of 13 knots, as we were in whale waters. Half an hour later, we docked in Bartlett Cove and headed for the Ranger Station, where Joe took a mandatory boating orientation and the rest of us showered.


We anchored in Bartlett Cove overnight and the next morning, we awoke at 6:00am and ventured into the bay to head deeper into Glacier Bay. 


South Marble Island

Two hours later, we reached Marble Island, a protected island where otters, puffins and hundreds of Stellar Sea Lions lounge around and fish. 


When we got within 1/4 mile of the island, the stench was overwhelming, but just as the smell began to take over, I picked up my camera and started shooting, forgetting it had even bothered me to begin with. 


Grizzly Bear Sighting

From there, we continued north and stopped a few hours later when I spotted a Grizzly Bear, through binoculars, along the shoreline. 


He ducked into the shrubs shortly after he was spotted and remained mostly out of sight, but we always knew where he was because the trees and brush shook at the mercy of his strength as he continued to search for food. In the hopes he would eventually emerge from the thick shrubs, we stuck around for almost an hour and just as we were about to leave, he walked the shoreline for a few hundred feet before disappearing again. 


Paddle Boarding

After our bear spotting, I was hoping to get the paddle board in the water for my first paddle in Alaska. 

We approached a very tall rock face, called Gloomy Knob, where I inflated the paddle board and dropped it in the water.


The water was very calm and a light wind rippled the top of the water. It was perfect.


Unexpected Adventures

While I was out paddling, Casey McCallister was getting ready for his polar plunge, something he had mentioned wanting to do prior to us landing in Sitka, and he had created an elaborate plan to capture the moment. I would sit on my paddle board and snap photos. Natalia would take photos from the boat and Joe would also remain on the boat, capturing it with his GoPro.

Joe made sure the boat was positioned well, with the snow-capped mountains in the background, while Casey debated over which type of jump he would take. The backflip idea was tossed around first, but he was slightly worried he might injure his shoulder, so he went with the tried and true swan dive.

Casey's feet left the boat and all I heard were shutter snaps, followed by us all hollering, "Yeah!" as he hit the water. 

When he came up for air, we noticed he wasn't swimming well.

I heard him say, "I dislocated my shoulder."  

At first I thought he was kidding, because there was no way he could have dislocated it when he shied away from a backflip to prevent injury, but he was definitely hurt.  

We barely got Casey into the boat, the Marguerite has no actual swim step, then gave him a chance to rest. Casey quickly realized he wasn't going to be able to pop his shoulder back into socket, and nobody else onboard had experience with this kind of injury, so we headed toward Bartlett Cove at maximum speed. 


Casey was in pain and cold, sitting in wet board shorts, for the entire 2 hour trek back to the harbor. As we neared Bartlett Cove we were able to radio in the emergency and the Harbormaster responded with three options; (1) having a nurse practitioner waiting at the dock upon our arrival, (2) a bush plane flight to the Juneau emergency room and (3) a MedEvac to Juneau, Anchorage or Seattle. 

Casey admitted that the third option sounded ridiculous and even the second option sounded a bit unnecessary, so we asked to have the nurse meet us at the dock.  

About 5 minutes later, we received a call on the radio that the nurse didn't feel comfortable handling his shoulder and the next option was a 4:00pm bush flight to Juneau for ER care. 

Within a few minutes, Casey and I were sitting in a Ranger truck, heading for the Gustavus airport, on the other side of the island. 

I had never been in a small plane before, but there was no opportunity to feel uneasy about it, so we carefully climbed in the back of the plane and the pilot warned Casey it could be a bumpy and uncomfortable take-off and landing. 

The flight was a quick 30 minutes to Juneau, with a short "layover" in Hoonah. We flew at low altitude over the stunning landscape and small towns. Casey was urging me to take tons of photos as he sat in discomfort, watching out the window, trying to distract himself. 

The Town of Hoonah

The Town of Hoonah

Landing in Juneau

Landing in Juneau

Once we landed in Juneau, we headed straight for the ER in a cab. By the time we had completed the hospital paperwork and Casey was admitted to a room, it had already been 4 hours since the accident. Casey's arm was now numb, but he was finally in the right spot to receive care. 


Around 7:00pm, two hours after we arrived at the hospital, Casey was released, and though his shoulder was sore, it was back in place. 

We took a cab downtown to grab a much needed beer and then caught a few hours sleep before the very early flight back to Gustavus the next morning to reunite with the boat. 

Alaska: Day 1 & 2 - Traveling to Glacier Bay National Park

We left Sitka, Alaska at 12:48pm on Thursday, July 14. 

I have spent many years longing to travel to the beautiful state of Alaska, but I knew that if I visited, the experience would need to be unique. When the opportunity to see Southeast Alaska on a private boat was presented to me, I had to say yes because I knew it would be an adventure that would have a significant impact on my life. 

That being said, I would be lying if I didn't say I was a bit nervous about spending a week on a boat, since I have experienced some sea sickness in the past. I was determined not to let my nerves get the best of me and I also packed a variety of medication to help combat the motion sickness, should it ever decide to creep up.

What transpired over the next seven days was nothing short of amazing. We spent hours observing some of the most incredible shorelines, beautiful mountains, glaciers calving, critters meandering the shoreline in the water and on land, calm and rough waters and misty sunrises.


The Crew

I met Natalia Stone, Joe Azure and Casey McCallister on Google+, back when the social media network was thriving. We have remained close friends over the last few years and continue to drink together, shoot together and travel together. 

We had no doubt the boat quarters would be tight on this trip, but even by the seventh day, we were still laughing and enjoying each other's company. 

Joe was our fearless captain who made sure the Marguerite and crew stayed safe during the week long trip. He navigated our boat to some incredible locations, thanks to weeks of research prior to our departure, and stayed calm during a few stressful times (you'll read more about this later).


Tenakee Springs, Alaska 

We arrived in Tenakee Springs just before 8:00pm and the sun was still high in the sky, though masked by clouds. As we entered the harbor, I heard a few gun shots and spotted a few people wandering below the tide line.  

Once we docked, we had one mission for the evening, to find the bar Joe had visited years prior. As we walked the streets, Joe explained to us that the town was free of cars and at that moment, we heard the sound of an engine behind us and stepped aside to watch an ATV pass us. One woman was driving and a second woman was sitting in the trailer, pulled by the ATV, both carrying shot guns, slung over their shoulders. 

Arriving in Tenakee Springs

Arriving in Tenakee Springs


Dozens of homes line the shoreline of this town, many with vegetable gardens surrounded by chicken wire to protect the crops from wildlife. The town is small, with a population under 150, but complete with a post office, bakery, general store and a bathhouse, but no bar. After chatting with a local, she informed us the hotel and bar burnt down a number of years ago.  

Inside the bakery, where they served coffee, tea, cinnamon rolls and quiche. 

Inside the bakery, where they served coffee, tea, cinnamon rolls and quiche. 

The public restroom

The public restroom

Tied up at the Transient Dock in Tenakee Springs, where we spent the night

Tied up at the Transient Dock in Tenakee Springs, where we spent the night


Humpback Whales

When we left Tenakee Springs and headed for Glacier Bay, we re-entered the Icy Strait, which is whale territory, so we continued our search for Humpbacks. As we rounded Point Augusta, we finally spotted half a dozen whales. 

We had been watching the whales for about 5 minutes when we observed them swim away from one another, then dive and flip their flukes to the sky. About 3 minutes later, we witnessed an amazing and rare behavior known as bubble feeding. 

Bubble Feeding   

Bubble Feeding 

Bubble feeding occurs when a pod of whales swims below a school of fish, blowing bubbles, forcing the fish up to the surface. The whales then swim up through the bubbles with their mouths open, catching hundreds of fish.  We were very lucky to have seen this performed four times. 

Bubble Feeding

Bubble Feeding

Bubble Feeding

Bubble Feeding