We woke up to eerie but beautiful gray skies and mist in the mountains surrounding us in Thomas Bay after a fascinating navigational feat through Wrangell Narrows at dawn. The light rain this morning didn’t deter us from exploring the verdant and lush coastal temperate rainforest at Cascade Creek. For many of us, this was the first and only visit to the jungle-like rainforest. We were fascinated not only by the big trees that make the forest, such as the Sitka spruce and the Western hemlock, but also the little things like the delicate and colorful mushrooms, mosses, and multi-colored lichens, adding some red and orange into the sea of different hues of green. We loved tasting wild blueberries and wild salmonberries on the trail. The photographers among us took to experimenting, applying some of the lessons we learned from our photo instructor, trying different viewpoints and compositions of colors and shapes and textures in the forest. We were all treated to a spectacular waterfall at Cascade Creek that really made us feel we were in a tropical jungle. A third of all the remaining coastal temperate rainforest in the world is protected here in the Tongass National Forest, and we were lucky to spend some time in it today.
In the afternoon, we were treated to a spectacular humpback whale sighting. We were able to find a group of probably 15-20 individual whales feeding in shallow waters all around us. It was an incredible feeling as you looked to one side and saw a whale fluke and at the same time there would be two or three coming up for a breath on the other side of the ship. And when you turned your head that way, a few more would pop up in a different spot—it somehow reminded you of “Where’s Waldo?” Remarkable to see such healthy populations of whales up here and a vibrant positive relationship between people and whales after a troubled history of exploiting whales. We said goodbye to the whales after a delightful hour with them and thought about how some of them will soon begin to make their long journeys back to Hawai’i or Baja Mexico for the winter. Another very special day in Southeast Alaska!