Today, we woke up in front of Margerie Glacier, where we were treated to a small calving event. The incredible sound of “white thunder” broke the serene silence, and we watched a small tidal wave flip a few small pieces of ice. We moved to Russell Cut to get a peek at Johns Hopkins Glacier. Harbor seals were pupping. We kept our distance, so we didn’t disturb the mom/pup pairs. Continuing our wildlife outing, we stopped at Gloomy Knob, where we successfully looked for mountain goats. A few even had kids. Upon approach to South Marble Island, we spotted over 50 northern sea otters before we stopped at a hot spot for Steller sea lions and puffins. We ended our day by stretching our legs off the ship at Bartlett Cove, where we were treated to sightings of a spruce grouse with chicks and a sleeping porcupine sitting low in a tree. Today was a photographer’s dream.
National Geographic Quest
Morning fog swallowed the Southeast Alaskan wilderness. As we cruised into Ushk Bay, anticipation seized the vessel. This morning’s hikes and Zodiac cruises were to be our final operations of the trip; every last one of us was eager to be ensconced in the wonders of the Tongass once again. Following a delicious breakfast — prepared by head chef Paul Cotta and his dedicated team — we set out for shore. Through a light rain we cruised on Zodiacs toward our landing, scattering bald eagles and common mergansers that had congregated along the shore. Ushk Bay’s annual salmon run was nearing its conclusion —and we could smell it. The shoreline was littered with rotting carcasses of pink and chum salmon, many of which were picked apart by corvids, gulls, and bears. Whether or not any of these individuals survived long enough to spawn is a mystery, but there is one certainty amidst this carnage — their sacrifice is not in vain. Their carcasses will enrich this place, injecting the forest with nutrients from the sea. Our last afternoon was spent cruising toward our anchorage near Sitka. The final day of a Lindblad Expeditions cruise is always a hard day. We have all forged new bonds in the fires of wilderness. Every one of us has found ourselves challenged and rewarded, humbled and humored, inspired and inspirational throughout this week. Our new bonds will, thanks to modern technology, be preserved in photographs and videos. Many will be carried on through photos and emails, but this group will never be reconstituted. Though it’s hard to say goodbye, the impermanence of this troupe makes the experience all the more poignant. These adventurers will surely be missed.