Alaska 2022 – National Geographic Expedition

Wednesday July 13, 2022

Washed clothes at hotel. Checked out, but left luggage at hotel. Walked through town. Not crazy busy, no cruise ships in the harbor. Hiked the park on east side of the river. Went through the Sitka Science Center, which was interesting. A young enthusiastic marine biologist led us through how the salmon hatchery works.

The National Geographic people were setup at the Sitka convention center. We took our Covid tests and walked to the Mean Queen for lunch and enjoyed the harbor view.

Grabbed our luggage from the hotel and checked in at the convention center for the cruise. Even with our package of tour stuff being delivered to our house in Wisconsin on Tuesday, the National Geographic folks handled everything very well.

2 people failed the Covid tests. So we have 42 passengers, 11 naturalist staff and 22 crew on the National Geographic Sea Lion. A 152 foot vessel with just 31 cabins.

Loaded a bus for a tour of Sitka and dropped us off at the National Park again. Walked through the exhibits and learned some photo tricks with the iPhone from Rich.

Back on the bus to board the ship. Room 219 is a little bigger. Having a queen bed, a small table, two chairs and two windows is nice. The bathroom/shower combination was small, but we had everything we need.

The staff introduced themselves, interesting group with a range of experiences. All very excited and passionate. The crew introduced themselves and covered the safety drills. Formed groups to practice putting on the big boxy life jackets.

The lounge has video screens so everyone can follow along during presentations. The dining room is very nice with a full kitchen and plenty of servers.

Nice dinner, I had chicken and Linda had salmon. Met some nice people from St. Paul, Portland, Chicago, Charlotte, Tucson, Texas, Palm Springs and San Francisco.

Traveled north of Sitka Sound through narrow channels to Salisbury Sound. Then east through the Sergius Narrows. Can’t believe this ship can travel through such narrow channels. Overnight the ship headed southeast through Peril Straights before turning north on the Chatham Straight. The map below shows the complete route.

Slept well.

Thursday July 14, 2022

With the ship in the mouth of Tenakee Inlet, Tour leader Don woke us up at 6:15 to say whales are feeding just ahead. We quickly dressed and went to the bow to watch 9 humpback whales feed using a coordinated “bubble net” technique to coral herring. All the whales were breaking water together, then swimming in a circle to trap the fish. Finally they blew mist into the air, often synchronized with each other, before driving down to start feeding again. Could not believe how close they were to the boat. Watch video.

Our first sunny day. Everything is so beautiful! After a hardy breakfast, we boarded Zodiac boats.

We went to shore for a nice guided hike along bear paths in the forest to a small stream where we saw a small Sitka black tailed deer along a river. Very cool!

Pretty easy hike on a well defined bear trail, with several sightings of bear scat. The ABC Brown bears are closely linked to Grizzly bears.

Our group included a 90 year old man with his 86 year old wife. They were amazing on the rocky trail.

With the full moon, low tide drops 18 feet from high tide. The tide rose dramatically during our morning hike.

After an amazing morning, we had a nice lunch of chili and tuna. Relaxed in our cabin for a while.

Rich held a more in-depth session on using all the features of your iPhone camera. Amazing!

More humpback whales were spotted near Point Adolphus (across the channel from the town of Gustavus).

We spotted a big brown bear stretched out on a rock along the shore. He didn’t move much, looked pretty comfortable.

Cocktail hour and dinner of huge beef tips and halibut. We are eating a lot more than at home!

Dessert was interrupted by the sighting of killer whales near shore inside Glacier Bay National Park. The ship is not permitted to get close to shore. Saw a harbor porpoise.

Just after we had gotten ready for bed, the announcement was made that the killer whales were feeding in front of the ship. I jumped up, got dressed, grabbed my iPhone and binoculars to watch quite a show. Saw 7 killer whales, including 2 small whales and 1 very large whale with a huge backfin.

Quite a day! In addition to the amazing scenery, we Saw humpback whales, killer whales, harbor porpoise, Sitka black tailed deer and a brown bear.

Friday July 15, 2022

Don’s soothing school principal voice woke us up at 7:00. Breakfast at 7:30 and the announcement of the day’s activities. We will be in the second group of people to do a Zodiac tour. Need to wear all of our warm clothes to stay dry and warm while on the water.

Saw more birds here. Ducks, cormorants and sea gulls. Fishing boats look tiny in the grand scale of the mountains.

Sunshine and blue skies were a welcomed surprise! The Zodiac ride was amazing! We went around a corner and we looked straight into the snow covered mountains in Glacier Bay National Park.

When the tide rises, it creates strong currents from the Pacific Ocean as it fills the straights and channels. The Zodiac rode the currents like a river. The Sea Lions feed aggressively on all the fish brought in by the currents. Sea Lions catch fish and they come to the surface to shake the fish to break it up to swallow whole. Huge 2,000 lbs Sea Lions came right up to the Zodiac. We floated in the middle of a pack of Sea Lions. Incredible! Watch the video.

The Sea Gulls and other birds picked up any scraps left by the Sea Lions. Our friends Bennett and Christine got some great pictures!

We pulled into a quiet cove to watch Sea Otters in the kelp along shore. Some we wrestling each other, some were floating on their back. My pictures don’t show all of the activities of the Sea Otters, but George snapped a great picture with his telephoto lens.

Found another group of Sea Lions along shore. Young males, fighting and calling out to each other. Another climbed up on a rock shelf for a nap.

Bald Eagles were everywhere! Mature and immature. Diving down to the water to pick up fish pulled in by the currents. Watched a Bald Eagle fight off an immature eagle for his prime spot over the Sea Lions.

Headed back to the ship along the Mosquito Straight that is only passable during high tide. A great ride!

Next we took Zodiacs to George’s Island, the sight of a World War II outpost with artillery to protect the Inside Passage from Japanese attack. The Zodiac landed on a unique granite beach, with each stone worn smooth by the waves.

The “moderate” hike was a bit more strenuous than expected, but it was beautiful.

Views from the top of the island was incredible. The one big artillery piece shot 6” shells 7,000 yards, most likely a 155mm howitzer. How they got that big gun up that mountain is amazing. Click here is a little history of this big gun and the men stationed there during World War II.

42 men were stationed there for 3 years until the end of the war. They had barracks, mess hall, tool shop, ammo storage, fuel tanks and water tanks. This was the very important spot where the men buried the beer!

The Japanese took two islands in the Aleutian Islands, but never made an attempt to gain access to the Inner Passage.

Lots of spectacular views of glaciers, snow covered mountains and the blue Pacific Ocean.

Andy gave a lecture on the difference between Sea Lions that we saw today and Seals that we will see tomorrow (hopefully).

Al explained a mystery of how sealed plastic and aluminum bottles with Japanese printing washed up on George Island in 2012. They were dumped into the ocean after the Tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011. Al investigated the ocean currents and made a strong case that these bottles floated to Alaska. Mystery solved!

Nice dinner of Dungeness crab with complementary Alaskan Amber. Perfect!

Lauren gave an impassioned lecture on banana slugs. Here is a slug found by Rich.

A spectacular sunset behind the ship was an unexpected bonus.

Saturday July 16, 2022

Overnight, our ship made it up the Lynn Canal and anchored in the Chilkoot Inlet in front of the quaint town of Haines.

Up early to have breakfast at 6:30 and took the Zodiacs to the dock. Steady wind out of south made for a rough trip, but also brought very comfortable temperatures.

Loaded an old school bus for the hour long trip up the Chilkat River, past the village of Klukwan and exhibit hall, which was closed due to a power outage. Our tour guide Wiley was an energetic/hyper young guy that told several long rambling stories, generally around his love of the Alaskan wilderness.

We put on rubber boots and loaded into our raft, built for whitewater. Our guide was a tiny young woman named Raven who steered us down the river and often pulled us off of low spots. The river is fed from the glacier, so it was filled with small stones washed downstream from the glacier. Water levels change every day, depending upon how fast the glacier melts, so everyday is different for the river raft guides.

We saw many bald eagles feeding on the salmon that are just starting their run back to their spawning grounds. All 5 subspecies of salmon (coho, chinook, pink, drum and sockeye) use this river for spawning. In the peak of the fall spawning run, there are thousands of eagles in this area.

The thrill of the day was watch a big brown bear with two cubs walking towards our rafts. When they got too close, one of the guides stood up and yelled at the bears. The momma bear stood up and saw us and started running away, with the two cubs following behind. It was amazing to watch this big bear run so fast over rocks, mud and water. What a thrill! Watch the video.

A nice lunch along the river before boarding the bus back to Haines. Some people had other activities scheduled for the afternoon, so the bus dropped us off at the harbor. I asked Wiley if the bus could take us to the Haines Brewery, he said sure! 5 other people from our ship joined us.

Paul Wheeler owns Haines Brewing Company in Haines, AK. Paul graduated in 1977 from my alma mater, Owatonna High School with my brother Tim. Tim was one of the founders of Mineral Springs Brewery in Owatonna and Paul’s brother John, is now currently the assistant brewer at MSB. What a small world!

We had a chance to sample his outstanding beer (his Spruce Tip Ale is outstanding!) and talk to Paul on how he made his way from Owatonna Minnesota to Haines Alaska. He wanted to live in the woods and after trying forestry and working for the forest service in many locations, he found himself in Haines in 1984 and has never left. A home brew hobby turned into a small business with converted dairy tanks and it has grown into an impressive facility with a 7 barrel system.

Later that evening back on the ship, Andy gave a lecture on why glaciers are blue.

Sunday July 17, 2022

Woke up in Tracy Arm Fords Terror Wilderness. The ship was dodging icebergs as we approached South Sawyer Glacier. Cooler 45 and rain as we went past countless waterfalls coming down from the steep cliffs.

After breakfast, we boarded the first Zodiac to navigate around the icebergs towards the Glacier. A very impressive sight! A valley filled with blue ice topped with white snow.

The face of the glacier is massive!

Watched Harbor Seals swimming and laying on the smaller icebergs. The bigger icebergs were a deep blue, some clear and some white.

With a loud crack, we watched big sections of the glacier fall into the water, creating a huge wave. Penelope, a young girl from Texas recorded a big glacial calving event, a very cool video.

A Pirate Zodiac approached us, bringing hot chocolate and Baileys Irish Cream to take the edge of a cold wet morning in 34 degree water. They had some fun with their Pirate or Viking outfits!

The colors and designs in the rock exposed by the receding glacier was amazing.

Andy gave a lecture on tide pools while the second group were out seeing the glacier.

After lunch, everyone gave Rich their best photos for the evening slide show.

After lunch, we pulled into Williams Bay, a quiet cove, perfect for kayaking. The staff used a crane to lower the Zodiacs and kayaks from the roof. The crew used Zodiacs to haul the kayaks to the beach.

Despite the rain, several of us took the Zodiacs to shore to launch the kayaks. I paddled across the cove to take a close look at a beautiful waterfall.

As I paddled back towards shore, I noticed all the Zodiacs zooming towards shore. Something was up! A large bear came out of the woods to check out the kayaks and the staff on the beach. Even with all of yelling and the sound of the Zodiac motors, the bear was not scared away.

We were instructed to paddle to the back of the ship and get out of the kayak and into a Zodiac. I am not very flexible, but with the help of two staff members, I was able to get out of the kayak without getting wet.

We watched another bear, with a scar on its shoulder, walk along the shore during the Captain’s farewell dinner.

We ended the night watching a very cool slide show presentation of the best pictures from the trip.

Monday July 18, 2022

After sailing through some rough weather, we woke to 50 and rain in Juneau. After breakfast, we said our goodbyes to the staff and crew.

We boarded a tour bus for a trip to the Mendenhall Glacier. We hiked to the impressive Nugget waterfall at the base of the glacier.

After our hike, we boarded the bus and headed to the airport, where our luggage was waiting. TSA was no problem at this very small Juneau airport located at the base of snowcapped mountains. It has a long narrow lake along the runway for float planes. More helicopters seem to be landing than planes.

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