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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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. 

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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