Archive for July, 2012

Outhouses and electric bear fences

Posted in alaska, bears, photography with tags , , on July 24, 2012 by polarguide

Our yurt with the solar powered electric fence.

A bear broke into our yurt and ate all the food.  while I was away on my National Geographic adventure, Zach’s girlfriend arrived in Gustavus with  a months worth of food and supplies from Juneau Packed in a large white cooler.  The cooler was inside the yurt and when no one was home a black bear came sneaking along and successfully broke into the yurt and ate every bit of the food.  About four hundred dollars worth.

Later that evening we built a big fire and a small party of people joined us to ward off the bears return. We armed ourselves with Bear spray, a .357 magnum and a twelve gauge shot gun.  The bear didn’t come back.  At least not that night.

We spoke to a friend in town who is the bear biologist for the national park.  She loaned us a 8,000 volt solar powered electric fence that we placed around the yurt to keep bears and unwanted guest out.  So far it has worked pretty well.  I saw a sow and two cubs two days later, they passed by the yurt but I didn’t notice if they had touched the fence.  Apparently this bear and her cubs have been causing all sorts of problems around town.  I have seen them before, walking down the middle of the road without a care in the world.  She completely ignored me as I followed her in the car honking the horn.  I watched her walk into someones yard and eat the ashes of burnt  food left in a fire pit.

sow with two cubs wandering down the road

bear in burn pile

Bears in the burn pile

Bears in the burn pile

And that’s not all!  The  night after the bear robbery, I was walking to Shelly’s house to meet some friends for dinner.  I was strolling along the dirt road that leads to her house, minding my own business, when I looked up there was a grizzly bear at the end of her driveway,  just standing there looking at me.  I thought ” you gotta be kidding me, are the bears taking over town?”  I yelled to the bear and waved my hands above my head, the bear looked at me with out concern.  I considered turning around and walking home to the yurt but remembered there might be a bear waiting there also, So I did what Ive done many times before  when a grizzly bear is standing in my way:  I walked straight at it, clapping my hands and saying loudly “hey bear!”

The bear calmly lowered its head and kept me in his sideways glance and pretended to munch on some shrubs around its feet, but I could tell he was trying to ignore me.  I continued forward and as I approached within twenty yards he finally yielded and walked into the brush and disappeared.  I made it to dinner, poured my self a tall glass of wine from a box and ate some fresh halibut with my friends.

I thought all of this was a pretty good bear story until I talked to my mother today.  she told me a bear was caught shoplifting at a sears store in New Jersey.

What was that bear doing at sears?  shopping for a new microwave, perhaps?

Any way..in the midst of all of this I built an out-house with a woodshed connected.  I don’t like out houses with doors, they are dark and smell bad.   So I left mine open and included a sun roof.  I prefer a view and the smell of real pine forest, not the fake stuff in a can.

outhouse front view

outhouse/woodshed side view

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National Geographic and the Whales of Point Adolphus

Posted in alaska, photography, whales with tags , , , , , , , , , on July 24, 2012 by polarguide

Point Adolphus is the northern most point of Chichagof Island.  It’s  jagged coastline protrudes north into Icy Straight, a forty mile long ten mile wide body of water that separates Chichagof Island from the Alaska mainland. The gulf of Alaska lies thirty miles  west of Point Adolphus, it fills and drains Icy Strait as the tide rises and falls creating strong currents and upwelling that combined with our extended summer sunlight produce a biological soup that makes point Adolphus one of Alaska’s most amazing humpback whale feeding areas.  National Geographic Adventures contracted us to guide a nine day kayaking adventure that visited Point Adolphus and the upper west arm of Glacier Bay National Park.

From the beach at Point Adolphus you can watch humpback whales feeding  twenty yards off shore.  They like to graze along the rips and eddy lines that are created when the tidal currents curl around the rocky point.  While in our kayaks we are sometimes surprised by an exhilarating close encounter with one of these forty foot long,  forty ton mammals when they unexpectedly break the surface and exhale a plume of water ten feet in the air just meters from our kayaks.

Whale tail at sunset at point Adolphus

Point Adolphus

Evening sky over Point Adolphus

Many whale feeding behaviors can be observed while sitting on the beach at Point Adolphus.  Including Flukeing, tail slapping, pectoral fin slapping, lunge feeding, breaching and occasionally bubble net feeding .  On this trip we where fortunate enough to see all of these behaviors.

The rich sea life in this area attracts more than just humpback whales.  We counted one hundred bald eagles on our three day visit. Harbor seals are common and packs of curious stellar sea lions entertain and sometimes unnerve us by swimming close and porpoising along side our kayaks, belching and growling in what I hope are playful social displays.

Curious sea lions

Curious sea lions

Chichagof island is seventy five miles long, fifty miles wide and has a land area of about 2,000 square miles,  making it the fifth largest island in the United States.  The island has the highest population of  brown bears per square mile than any place else on earth.  Brown bears often walk the beaches of Point Adolphus in search of food.  The sedge grasses that grow on the beach are a common meal choice for bears after hibernation. When the tide is low, the intertidal zone is a great place to forage for small fish, clams and other protein rich intertidal animals.

After a delightful  morning of kayaking with playful sea lions and close encounters with whales we stopped for lunch on a long, arching pebble beach.  As I removed the smoked salmon, bagels and cream cheese from my kayak, I looked up and saw a beautiful brown bear slowly walking down the beach about fifty yard from us.  We packed up lunch, got back in our kayaks and drifted off shore. We watched quietly from the water as the bear grazed his way down the beach, carefully choosing the most tender grass and beach lovage,  giving us an amazing photographic opportunity.

Brown Bear near Point Adolphus

Bear eating beach lovage

On the last morning as we finished our breakfast a group of  seven whales where gathered off shore eating their breakfast. Four of them decided to breach. Four whales simultaneously launched their entire bodies from sea, pirouetted and crashed down on the surface creating a sound like rifle fire. Amazing!

We where transported back to Gustavus that after noon and spent the night at the Annie Mae lodge.  We had a wonderful dinner of fresh local caught king salmon and dungeness crab.  Everyone had a shower and prepared for our morning departure and three nights of camping in the upper west arm of Glacier Bay.

The next three nights where spent base camping at the foot of the unpredictable Reid glacier.  The glacier can turn a warm sunny day into a world of cold wind and crashing waves in a matter of moments.  The glacier was kind to us on this journey and the mild katabatic wind it created helped to keep the mosquitoes away.

We spent our time  in Glacier Bay exploring its rugged recently de-glaciated landscape and water ways.  We luxuriated on warm sunny beaches and on calm seas that created spectacular mountain reflections.  We paddled through pack ice and below blue tide water glaciers and towering granite cliffs. We even got a glimpse of the Johns Hopkins glacier, one of the few glaciers that is still advancing.

Ibach point reflection

View from Jaw Point, Glacier Bay

John Hopkins Glacier

Glacier Bay Expedition 1

Posted in photography with tags , , , , , , , , on July 1, 2012 by polarguide

I am back in Gustavus today after finishing my first guided trip of the season.  Glacier Bay Expedition #1 was a five night, six day sea kayak trip into the west arm of Glacier Bay National Park.  My co-guide John and I lead seven people on a journey that turned out to be one of the most adventure filled trips I have lead in a few years.

Our charter vessel left Bartlett cove at eight a.m. on the morning of June 22nd and took us past the Beardsley islands and the humpback whale feeding grounds of  lower Glacier bay.  We  stopped at the marble islands to see a stellar sea lion haul-out and cliff nesting colonies of  Kittiwakes and tufted puffin. We where transported sixty miles north,  then dropped on a beach at the foot of  Reid glacier.  We where blessed with clear blue skies and temperatures near eighty degrees. We made camp, ate lunch and set out on a short paddle around Reid inlet. My face and hands became sunburned and the dry glacial breeze stung my red, weathered cheeks.  A welcome change from the unstoppable cold rain we had received over the previous five weeks.

We ate dinner that night on the beach in the cold katabatic wind of Reid glacier.  Glaciers produce their own wind patterns by cooling the air above them,  the cold dense air sinks and rushes down the glacier and over the ocean sometimes with gale force.  The Warmer the day, the stronger the wind becomes.  In the evening as air temperatures cool  and equalize, the wind stops. Day one ended just like that.

Stellar sea lions at south marble island

Tufted Puffins at south marble island

Paddling at Reid glacier

Day two began with deep blue skies and a sea so still that mountains reflected perfect mirror images on the surface.  I had coffee and breakfast ready by seven thirty and began our day of paddling around  ten a.m.  As we paddled away I turned and inspected our campsite from the water.  A few rain fly’s had been left unzipped but in general camp looked quite tidy.  The wispiest of clouds where beginning to form over the glacier to the west. I considered going back to camp to double check every ones tie lines and tent stakes but we where already an hour late and a quarter mile away from camp so I decided to paddle on.

Morning reflections in Reid inlet

We spent the day paddling to the Lamplough glacier about five miles to the north west of our campsite.  We stopped half way for lunch and lounged in the  sun on a warm  pebble beach.  We kayaked to the face of the glacier and spent some time floating there and enjoyed the majestic blue ice and steep granite walls.

Later, we landed and hiked a ridge line along the south end of the glacier to get a view over the top of the ice.  We took some photos and then hiked down to begin our paddle back to Reid inlet.  The temperature had dropped and new gray clouds covered the sky .

Floating in front of Lamplough glacier

Hiking the ridge above Lamplough glacier

The group overlooking Lamplough and the upper-west arm of Glacier Bay.

We felt the effects of the katabatic before we reached Reid inlet. Rolling waves lifted our kayaks as we rounded the steep cliff  just before turning south toward the glacier.  It started as a stiff but manageable wind and within minutes it began to blow so hard it was almost impossible to make any headway.  My kayakers where almost being blown backwards so I waved everyone into shore.  We tucked into a protected  cove and once everyone was on the beach, we hunkered down in a line of brush out of the cold wind.  John got out our lunch left-overs and made turkey sandwiches and I went out to the beach to assess the conditions.

White caps broke in line across the mouth of the inlet.  The wind whipped across the surface creating waterspouts and spindrift’s of foamy sea water.  Based on the Beaufort wind scale I approximated the wind at thirty to forty miles per hour and gusting higher.  From where I stood, I could see a mile down the inlet toward our camp. With binoculars I could make out three tents on the beach, we started with five. It was six p.m. and we where one and a half miles from camp.

It was eleven thirty p.m. before the wind died down enough that we could attempt to cross Reid inlet.  We arrived just after midnight to find all of our tents where blow down the beach into a tangle of willow bushes. Miraculously nothing was lost into the ocean. We spent an hour rescuing our tents from the shrubbery, staking them down and getting everyone settled in.

John and I where not as fortunate.  Our tent landed in a stream and a current was running through it. All of our gear was submerged including our sleeping bags and sleeping pads.  We where last to get our scene organized and just as we did, it began to rain.  We crawled into our wet tent, still in our rain gear, we slopped into our wet sleeping bags and spend a cold, wet night sleeping in front of Reid glacier.

We where moving camp on day three but no one had made it to bed before one a.m. so in the morning everyone was slow to start.   I had coffee and breakfast ready early but it was well after noon before we started our paddle.  We paddled south into fog and driving rain.  John and I had barley slept so we decided to make camp early.  We found a good site and had camp up and dinner complete by seven that night.  We slept better and got a early start in the morning.

We began paddling by nine in the morning on day four into a fifteen mile per-hour headwind.  Waves tried to buck us backward but we persisted for five long hours until we reached Blue Mouse Cove, where we made a base camp for the last two nights.  The next day the wind died and though it remained cloudy and rained intermittently, the weather was quite pleasant.  we paddled into Hugh Miller inlet and watched a humpback whale cow with her calf breach repeatedly for over and hour. We saw another whale lunge feeding and watched a brown bear, black bear and a moose walking on the beach.

Humpback whale breaching

On the last day the weather was pleasant but the mosquitoes where horrendous.  Breakfast was a new form of diet/exercise we dubbed “take bite and take a walk” because you couldn’t stand still while eating.  Our Charter boat picked us up about one in the afternoon and we made a quick trip back to Bartlett cove.  We transported all of our clients to the airport to be shuttled home or on to other exotic destinations. Leaving john and I to clean up the mess of wet gear.