Day 5 started sunny and the water was calm on the east side of Queen Inlet – great conditions for paddling off. We headed south past another delta before the shoreline steepened to a cliff with snow slopes down to the water level.
For the first time we noticed intertidal life like starfish, urchins and sea anemone’s in a range of vivid orange, purple and blacks. Passing a feature called ‘Gloomy Knob’ we entered back into the main channel of Glacier Bay and the water got noticeably choppier, but we saw some beautiful mountain goats on the rock slopes just above the water, thankfully oblivious to us passing by quietly.
We paddled into Tidal Inlet that day and camped at the south side of the mouth after I went for a short swim earlier in cold but refreshing conditions. I managed to scrape myself on rocks underwater and emerged with blood trickling down my thigh. Martina rushed to bandage me up which was great but I think the main reason was so that the blood wouldn’t attract bears! Still lots of bear signs around the camp…
There were strawberries flowering all around (no doubt the bears love the fruit). We paddled along the beach for a bit to fetch water from a stream. At around midnight I was woken by the sound of breaching humpbacks. I watched them for 30 minutes through the open tent door. At one point Brian poked his head out of his sleeping bag and asked me what I was looking at. “Whales” was my reply and he went straight back to sleep.
Day 6 The plan was to paddle out into the east arm of Glacier Bay today past a potentially exposed headland so were pleased to find the water flat and still in the morning. Paddling south east for the first seven miles along the coast, we saw our first sea lions from the kayaks- they are acrobatic creatures compared to harbor seals- almost like they are a dance troupe! Lots more humpback action as well, with one whale doing about 20 fluke slaps on the water in a row. It was almost as if it was floating vertically and continuously slapping- maybe to stun fish?
We reached the headland between the west and east arms of Glacier Bay, Tlingit Point, in the afternoon as the water flattened again and we rounded the nearby Sebree Island on its south side. There was a small bay here and the views were so extensive that we decided to set up camp early on a knoll about 20m above the sea. A dream ‘all time great’ camping location with humpbacks passing by!
Day 7 In the morning we watched the tourist boat with interest through our binoculars across ‘Muir Inlet’ to the east about 4 miles away – this was one of our potential pick up spots. Although last nights evening wind had dropped again, the water was still choppy when we were ready to paddle at 10:30 . Conditions were a bit too demanding for us and we only made it a couple of miles to Caroline Point before nipping into a bay to the west to get back on land. We walked a mile to a river to collect fresh drinking water. By the time we were back at the boats, sea conditions were still intimidating.
Martina had a cunning suggestion that we could portage/carry the gear and kayaks about 1/2 a mile across the narrow headland to avoid paddling around this exposed “Point” where the water was bound to be at its roughest. We went for it and it kept us busy for an hour and a half with two carries, but it was hard work! Portage completed, we had a big lunch and once more took to the water…but not for very long. We pitched for the night on the beach at the outlet of ‘Ice Valley’. Saw otter tracks on the beach.
Day 8 With the wind remaining high the next day we decided to stay put at Ice Valley and go for a hike north up the coast. During our pedestrian exploration we found a huge heavy moose antler and lots of paw prints in the mud: bear, otter, deer and wolf !!!! Despite the rough weather, the day was spent enjoying the raw wildness of the place.
Day 9 Only got 7.5 miles further up the coast today. Woke up to uninspiring drizzle but calmer seas. After 2.5 hours paddling we landed for a break at Hunter Cove. By that time the wind had picked up again and the waves were pushing us onward (good) but in a way that felt destabilising to the boat (bad) pushing at our stern. The drizzle had materialised into rain and we pitched the tent on the beach for shelter. What had been planned as a lunch stop developed into a cozy afternoon reading and listening to the sounds of the place: humpbacks , oystercatchers, raven calling and the pitter patter of rain on the tent.
For the next day we decided we would set the alarm for 4.30am and if the weather looked good we would head off early to make some progress before the chance of the wind picking up in the afternoon again, as that seemed to be the weather pattern.
Day 10 Thankfully it was calm if cloudy at dawn and we enjoyed paddling in flat waters again heading steadily northwards up Muir Inlet to see Riggs Glacier where it dips its toe right into the fjord. Passing Wachusett Inlet, a harbor porpoise followed us for a while diving subtly in and out of the water. And finally we encountered our first little icebergs floating by accompanied by a marked dip in the sea temperature.
Rounding Westdahl Point we noticed some interstadial tree stumps on the gravel slopes above. These are the upright remains of trees that have been burried in situ 4000-5000 years ago in deep silt deposits during the previous ice age and have thus been preserved. The silt is now eroding off to reveal these ancient trees again. John Muir saw these when he visited the area in the late 1800’s and recognised their glacial origins.
After a stop to collect more drinking water, the rain started again and we heard a rumble only to see rocks tumbling into the water from the cliff ahead of us- a reminder this is a dynamic environment! This was our cue to turn away east and head across the Muir Inlet for about 1 mile to reach the east shore and the Riggs – McBride glacier junction: two big tongues of ice decending down into the fjord.