I first visited Glacier Bay in 1981. Later, I was a ranger in the park, but today was my first opportunity to visit Fern Harbor on the park’s outer coast. What an extraordinary spot!

First, let’s move back in time to the early morning as National Geographic Sea Lion made her way through Icy Strait and into Cross Sound. Calm water and early morning light made for excellent conditions to view a variety of seabirds and marine mammals, including humpback whales. The Fairweather Mountains were in full view, including the majestic 15,325-foot-high Mount Fairweather, which we saw from sixty miles distant. To the south, the snow-covered mountains of Chichagof Island added to the scene.

Making our way towards our anchorage, we felt ocean motion for about twenty minutes. This reminded us that we were approaching the northern terminus of Southeast Alaska’s Inside Passage and nearing the entrance to the often-turbulent waters of the Gulf of Alaska. Shortly, we reached our calm, well-protected anchorage in Fern Harbor.

We dedicated the morning to Zodiac explorations of the rugged and scenic coastlines of Fern Harbor and neighboring Taylor Bay. Bald eagles soared over us, and pigeon guillemots, pelagic cormorants, and marbled murrelets flew closely above the water. Sea otters, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, and harbor porpoises shared the water with us.

Leading into lunch, naturalist Tim Martin’s excellent presentation, “The Construction and Deconstruction of the Mountains of Southeast Alaska,” helped us unravel some of the complexities of the geology of Southeast Alaska.

We continued our exploration of Fern Bay after lunch. Hikers made their way through this wilderness area, walking through meadows and forest. We saw a great bouquet of wildflowers.  Kayakers paddled through the calm water in ideal conditions. Many of us took advantage of the hiking and kayaking opportunities. Zodiac cruisers moved to different areas from the morning. In addition to great looks at sea otters and puffins, the real highlight was having a Steller sea lion join us in the Zodiac!

As a highlight of our wide-ranging evening recap, undersea specialist Kelly Morgan used the projecting microscope to introduce us to many of the organisms temporarily captured in the plankton tow she took this evening. The variety and abundance of life in the rich biological brew from the waters of the Inside Passage is extraordinary.

A great time was had by all.