Pair of Bald Eagles perched near the Salt Chuck in Port Houghton area of SE Alaska

Pair of Bald Eagles perched near the Salt Chuck in Port Houghton area of SE Alaska

DAY 5 — The old couple was sitting on their porch welcoming us into their home.

At least I think they were welcoming us because they were two huge Bald Eagles watching us from a tree stump as we kayaked into an area of Port Houghton in Southeast Alaska known as the Salt Chuck.

The harbor seals popped up in the water as if on cue, to say come play! Birds flew overhead. The mist lifted over the mountains. It was quintessential Alaska wilderness and it wasn’t raining!

We were on a spectacular paddle that would take us six miles in all from our small ship, the InnerSea Discoveries Wilderness Discoverer that can take at most 78 passengers along with 26 crew.

Kayaking in the Salt Chuck near Port Houghton in SE Alaska

Kayaking in the Salt Chuck near Port Houghton in SE Alaska

Mornings like this make you realize why you can’t compare this Alaska cruise with just 60-plus passengers to a giant cruise ship with thousands.  Rather than docking in ports, we’ve anchored in a cove here in Southeast Alaska precisely so we can go off for a morning paddle while others hike to a waterfall and another group heads on a forest walk.

“A lot of bushwhacking,” 12 year old Miller Sinyard reported after his hike. “It was a lot of fun.” He planned to spend the afternoon trying stand-up paddle-boarding for the first time, capped off by a polar plunge—jumping off the boat into the cold (just 40 something degree) water.

As for us, we enjoyed the paddle of our trip.  The piece de resistance: A small black bear looked us right in the eye from the beach as we sat in our kayaks in the water. It was one of those I can’t believe what I’m seeing vacation moments—the bear chomping on grass, knowing we were there but not caring. “I’m too busy eating to be bothered by you folks,” the bear seemed to be saying as our camera shutters snapped. “That has to be the highlight of my trip,” Kirsty Digger, a nursing professor said.

Black bear munching on grass near Salt Chuck

Black bear munching on grass near Salt Chuck

I had to agree. The water was calm as glass; the mountains in front of us were snow covered. The mist lifted as we paddled along with the current. Even if we hadn’t seen the bear or the Bald Eagles—and there were many others flying overhead–or the other birds or the sea otters it still would have been a spectacular morning but put it all together and it was amazing. “You can’t even describe how wonderful it was,” Carol Harrison said after her first time in a kayak,

We came back with the pictures to show for our morning and the best lunch yet—fresh fish tacos.  I couldn’t’ help but reflect how different this experience is from a big ship. Yes, our cabins are half the size and yes we don’t always get our choice of hike or paddle (they seem to need to refine their system) and some of the food combinations are odd,  but there is no extra fee for these “excursions” nor do we have to go far from the boat to enjoy the real Alaskan wilderness—it is right outside our deck!

After lunch, when others headed out on their paddle, , we went for a “mini bushwhack,” first hiking through beautiful wildflowers—purple lupine, red Indian Paint Brush, brown chocolate lilies, yellow marigold. We made our way past a lot of bear and moose scat but this time, we were glad the animals who call this area home made themselves scarce. We sank up to our ankles in light green muskeg and climbed over nurse logs—so called because the forest just grows over them after they fall. We didn’t mind the rain—we were dressed for it. Check out the skunk cabbage that the bear had nibbled and the giant devil’s club with its prickles that you don’t want to touch.

Man, it’s tough making your way through the forest!  We’re out less than three hours and are all too glad to get back on the skiff headed to the boat for a hot shower.

But not all of us.  

One two three… Go! And into the icy water they go—Miller four times!–and come up smiling.

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