DAY 3 – Aboard the Wilderness Discoverer in Southeast Alaska.
I can’t help but eavesdrop but I can’t quite make out the gist of the conversation.
Is the dad telling his child not to venture too far? Is the child telling his dad to lay off? The young one flies off.
Did I mention this father and child are Bald Eagles and we are listening to their conversation from kayaks in spectacular Saginaw Bay on Kuiu Island in Southeast Alaska? We are hugging the shore looking at the giant Gasper clams the bears love along with some of the other passengers from the InnerSeas Discovery Wilderness Discoverer. There are fewer than 70 passengers on our boat, which enables us to have wilderness experiences like this daily.
We heard ravens and saw tiny jellyfish. We kept hoping an otter would pop up in the kelp–they love to wrap their babies in the long strands—but no such luck. We don’t see the bears either. This is the true wilderness after all, not Disney World or SeaWorld where the animals pop up on cue.
For 12 year-old Miller Sinyard, traveling with his grandmother, aunt and uncle from Georgia, it is a week of firsts. He’s snorkeling for the first time—yes snorkeling excursions with wet suits are offered in the frigid water, kayaking for the first time, paddle boarding for the first time.
“I’ve never been on a cruise either,” he said. But this couldn’t be any more different than a big cruise ship. For one thing, there are so few of us. Our excursions might be just 10 people or so hiking or kayaking. We anchor in coves like this one rather than towns. And we change our itinerary depending on wildlife and what we see. “We can stop to look,” says expedition leader Chelsea Leven. “We have that flexibility.”
Miller reported that so far, one of his faves has been the small ship hot tubs . “You are nice and cozy and warm and you have the backdrop of the snowy mountains and the rainforest. It was amazing and cozy at the same time.
After his snorkel, Miller was back in the hot tub. “It was soooo cold,” he reported, sipping a hot chocolate. He saw starfish and kelp and hermit crabs and barnacles. “I’m not sure I’d snorkel again in Alaska,” he said, “at least not today.”
My husband Andy and his sister and brother-in-law, Mary and Jim Long went on the afternoon snorkel. “I can now say I snorkeled in Alaska,” Andy, a scuba diver, said. “The wet suits kept us nice and comfortable in the frigid water and the underwater colors were vibrant – greens and yellows from the kelp and seaweed, oranges, purples, blues from the starfish. Schools of salmon fry swam through. There was a spotted eel and one of the biggest starfish I’ve ever seen – at least 3-feet in diameter with 16 legs. I dubbed it the Sixteen-legged Swimming Purple Eater.”
I wonder what the Eagles would think about the way we amuse ourselves.
While they were snorkeling, I’m hiking. Turn left at the Fungus, our guide says. We are deep in the brush on Kuiu Island where the skiff left us off and we are bushwhacking our way to see a beaver dam. This makes some of the trail-less hikes in Denali National Park a walk in the park. We are ankle deep in mud (thank goodness for my rubber boots and LL Bean rain pants!). We cross creeks, clamor over logs and brush huge willows out of our faces, past giant skunk cabbages.
Did I mention the bears? Apparently this island has the highest density of black bears anywhere. We see plenty of evidence—bear scat, giant paw prints in the mud, nibbled leaves of skunk cabbage but (thankfully) no bears. We do what we are supposed to do, of course, make a lot of noise as we hike and stay in a group.
Did I mention the bugs? They are fierce. We are only going about a half mile but it certainly seems a lot longer.
Did I mention that on this rare clear day, we don’t get wet hiking? We made up for that on the 20-minute skiff ride back to our boat, the InnerSea Discoveries Wilderness Discoverer. We’re soaked! At least we’re laughing.
After a hot shower, we join the others for freshly shucked oysters on deck that came from an oyster farm near here in southeast Alaska.
I’m so pooped—kayaking in the morning—bushwhacking in the afternoon—I’m in bed by 9 pm, very happy I wasn’t one of the eight on board (including 12-year-old Miller) who elected to camp out on shore tonight.