Saturday, June 21, 2014

Alaska Day 11: Baird Glacier


We started the morning with a beautiful, albeit very wet, kayak in the bay where we were anchored. We kept our eyes peeled for wildlife, but alas, our luck on that front was not to be (other passengers reported seeing a mink, harbor seal, and porpoise). That said, due to the geography of the bay, where we were positioned in it, and the boundaries we were allowed to kayak, the activity was very beautiful. And tranquil, even with the rain - maybe even because of the rain.

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Today was the day we hiked to Baird Glacier, one of the things I was most looking forward to on this leg of the trip. 

Because of the way the tides were on that particular day, and how they effected the ability for the skiff to land, the morning schedule featured an all-day hike at the glacier, where they'd bring bagged lunches and stay out for 4+ hours. We opted out of this adventure, and were thankful to have done so given the weather. That said, this particular group was treated to a very rare - and very up close and personal - visit from a wolverine, one of the more elusive animals in Southeast Alaska. In fact, when we had spent time with the ranger in Glacier National Park, Alan asked her what the most iconic animal was that few travelers had a chance to see - without missing a beat she answered that it was definitely the wolverine. Because wolverines are so elusive, even the guides were confused at first about what they were seeing. At one point there was conjecture that the beast was trying to herd the group due to the way he was moving about them. At that point, Phil called everyone into a circle and pulled out his bear spray. Thankfully the wolverine had enough of them and made his way back from whence he came. (We've learned from passengers that continued on after docking in Ketchikan, that Phil is now more affectionately known as Philverine.)

We were on the 1:30 p.m. hike to the glacier with Alex and Kris as our guides. We had some trouble finding a smooth landing spot, but after repositioning the skiff a few times, we were finally on our way, gingerly hiking over slippery boulders, up to a glacial plane where the landscape went from rocky to soft and silty. I'm not going to lie to you - with bad knees, a cumbersome digital camera swinging from my neck, a jacked up tailbone, and overall bad balance getting from the skiff to the glacial plain was a bit of a challenge for me. Slow and steady folks, that's the way to do with it. I got the impression that our guides might have been annoyed with how slow I was going, but as they don't have to live with the pain from my tailbone, or the scar tissue surrounding my knees from all the times I've torn various ligaments and whatnot, they could just keep looking back to make sure I was coming along. After all, getting off a boat quickly onto a slick dock is what got me into this whole tailbone mess in the first place. Upon seeing the glacier, all I could think was "wow." It really is one of those landscapes that leaves you at a loss for words, just looking around you dumbstruck, taking it all in. Whereas the glaciers in Glacier Bay, and even Sawyer Glacier the day before, were bright blue, craggy walls of ice, during our visit Baird was a barren gray landscape, with the path to the glacier itself now blocked by small lakes that had formed with the melting of icebergs. The guides indicated that even from the year before the landscape had changed so dramatically that the theme of this particular trip - their first of the season - was going to be about discovery for them as well.

Before we got to the glacial lake, Alan took over the camera to make my trekking easier (when you need to be careful about where you place your feet, having them obscured by a big old camera isn't the best plan). He wrapped it - at my urging - in a plastic bag we brought for protection from the rain, and along we went. When we got to the stopping point on our glacier trek, I took the camera out of the bag only to find that it was pretty much floating in an inch of rain water. The screen was fogged up, and it wouldn't turn on. In a word, it was dead. I was so, so bummed, especially since we hadn't brought our iPhones either. One of the most other-worldly scenic stops on this leg of the adventure and I was without a camera to document everything around me. I'm talking serious funk, y'all. Thankfully Kris was taking pictures and Un-Cruise shared a good amount of them with the passengers a few weeks later.


As you can imagine, the little adventure above did not end well. Let's just say that two more people made their way onto the ice, the little berg acting as the stepping stone to the larger berg flipped, and our 6-foot-plus guide found himself in the water up to his neck. After falling in several more times in an effort to right the stepping stone berg, he and Kris (with the help of the male passengers holding onto Kris for dear life at the edge of the glacial silt) were able to  "rescue" the passengers stuck on the berg. The older ladies on the trip wanted to end our walk and go back to the boat so that Alex could change into warm clothes but he was having none of it. It's quite interesting to see old ladies from Australia bullying a young guy intent on manning up. In the end, he switched tours with Sarah - whose group was heading back - and we continued our walk for another hour or so.


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Back on the boat it was time to warm up and bid adieu to my lovely Nikon DSLR and figure out if my fritzy Olympus was going to be usable for the remainder of the trip.