Wilderness Cruise on Alaska's Inside Passage

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14015A, Sail

Highlights

  • Observe whales, seals, birds, and other wildlife while traveling on a small yacht
  • See bears fishing for salmon in their natural habitat
  • Hike through temperate rainforest to beaches, waterfalls, and wildflower-covered muskegs

Includes

  • Yacht lodging and all meals
  • On-trip naturalist/marine biologist
  • Use of sea kayaks

Details

DatesAug 4–13, 2014
Price$5,075
Deposit$200
Capacity11
StaffMark Larson

Trip Overview

The Trip

Join us as we explore the breathtaking beauty of this area, as well as the natural history and tribal heritage of southeast Alaska's Inside Passage from the comfort of a small yacht. We will watch humpback whales as they gather in these rich northern waters to feed on the herring and krill that thrive here. Once the most abundant whale species in the world, they are now on the endangered species list. Fortunately, their population is increasing. It is truly an amazing site to see pods of these whales feeding and frolicking.

We will also journey into fjords to see icebergs and a tidewater glacier and look for bears and other wildlife. Most of our voyage will take place in the Tongass National Forest -- the largest in North America. Each day, we'll go ashore to experience beautiful beaches and forests, tumbling waterfalls, alpine meadows, and wetlands filled with incredible plants. Accompanied by a naturalist, we'll comb the shoreline for intertidal creatures, birds, plants, and marine animals and go on some hikes to enjoy the lush forests and the wildlife that abounds there. Additionally, we have applied for a permit to include a visit to the Anan Creek Bear Observatory, where we’ll likely see bears feasting on salmon. This permit is a lottery, and we won't know the status until February 2014. However, we have excellent chances, as there are typically more permits than applications. We have not been disappointed yet!

We'll begin our voyage in picturesque Wrangell, Alaska. This was traditionally a logging town, but has evolved with tourism. Our group will gather the evening before the trip begins to get acquainted and take a look at the trip plan.

Our flexible daily itinerary will be based upon group interests, weather conditions, and, of course, animal sightings. Therefore, what follows is only a sample itinerary!

Itinerary

Days 1-2: The trip officially begins at 10 a.m. at Wrangell’s municipal harbor. We’ll board our new home (a 65-foot steel motor-vessel), assign cabins, have a safety talk, and then get underway. We’ll likely stop for a short hike, or perhaps visit Virginia Lake, where the hardy can enjoy a chilly swim.

We head for Anan Creek, which has the largest run of pink salmon in southeast Alaska. It has long been used by bears (both brown and black bears) and humans as a fishing and food-gathering site. Twenty-five years ago, the U.S. Forest Service improved a trail to the falls and built a simple observatory on the site of a former Tlingit village. The Forest Service has a half-mile boardwalk trail, deck area, and blind that give us an opportunity to watch the bears up close. We will take our time enjoying the Anan area and the Anan Bear Observatory.

Day 3: Heading north through the Wrangell Narrows, we may stop at some interesting petroglyph-inscribed rocks before stopping near Petersburg, an interesting small town. We may take a hike through a nearby bog full of fascinating plants that are native to that environment or take a hike out of Petersburg itself. We will then continue north on Fredrick Sound to Thomas Bay.

Days 4-5: With good weather, we’ll awake to see spectacular mountains, seascapes, and glaciers. Frederick Sound, Chatham Strait, and Stephens Passage are considered the best areas in southeast Alaska to see humpback whales. This area is the home of hundreds of humpback whales and is one of the only places in the world where it is possible to witness the feeding style known as "bubble-net feeding." We will be watching for the whales and this method of feeding. With luck, we'll see some spectacular whale behavior. We also likely observe sea otters, orcas, dolphins, porpoises, terns, and other interesting seabirds. We’ll spend a night at an island group called The Brothers, where we can take our skiff or kayaks to observe sea lions. A gorgeous hike through a rainforest also awaits us at these islands. 

Days 6-7: A treat is in store for us as we cruise up one of the fjords to the foot of a large tidewater glacier -- perhaps the Dawes Glacier. These glaciers extend hundreds of feet above the water and are constantly calving icebergs into the water below. Depending on schedule and interest, we may continue to Five Fingers lighthouse for a shore excursion or even go as far as Kake, one of the native villages in this part of Alaska.

Days 8-9: We'll visit Baranof Warm Springs for a relaxing soak and a chance to hike to a lake above the picturesque falls. During this time, we will also visit Admiralty Island National Monument, which has the highest concentration of brown bears (coastal grizzlies) and nesting bald eagles in North America.

Day 10: Weather and sea conditions permitting, we’ll head to St. Lazaria Island, a wildlife refuge, where we should see tufted puffins, pigeon guillemots, rhinoceros auklets, and several other bird species. We will aim to reach our final destination, Sitka, by noon.

Occasionally, changes may occur in the trip -- either in advance or during the trip. Please be aware that we will make every attempt to stay within this itinerary. However, if weather, equipment, or any other condition causes a change, please be flexible and respect the decision of the leader. The safety of the group is our number one concern. While wildlife in the Alaska islands is tremendous, we cannot guarantee that you will see all species listed as examples.

Although the trip is officially over when we dock in Sitka, you may want to spend at least another day in this fascinating city. Sitka is rich in Native American (Tlingit), Russian, and American history. Visit the Sitka National Historic Park, which memorializes the battle of Sitka in 1804 between the Russians and the Tlingits and contains remarkable Tlingit and Haida totems. On the way, stop by wonderful native exhibits at the Sheldon Jackson Museum. Also within walking distance of the park is the Alaska Raptor Rehabilitation Center, which provides medical treatment to various birds of prey and allows you to see these creatures up close. 

Photos

Details

Getting There

This trip starts and ends in different cities. You will need to make your transportation arrangements to arrive in Wrangell and depart from Sitka. Alaska Airlines serves both cities. In both places, taxis are available between the harbor, airport, and town.

There are several reasons we always recommend that you plan to arrive at least one day before trip departure. One is because weather in Southeast Alaska is unpredictable, and bad weather causes flights to be delayed or cancelled. Another reason is that with a 10:00 a.m. departure, there are not many options other than to arrive the night before. There is much to do and see in Southeast Alaska, and this trip can serve as the centerpiece for an extended trip. Our gateway city, Wrangell, provides some interesting options for those curious about history and the Tlingit native culture. Visit Chief Shakes Island and Tribal House, Petroglyph Beach (with more than 40 petroglyphs), and Wrangell Museum (including Tlingit house posts and native baskets, history from Gold Rush to Russian occupation, fox farming, fishing, and the timber industry). Or take a day trip to the mighty Stikine River, experiencing the same incredible scenery, glaciers, wildlife, and adventures that John Muir did in 1879. The trip leader can provide you with additional suggestions for ways to extend your trip.

Accommodations and Food

Our home will be a 65-foot power vessel. Built in 1973 as a private yacht, this U.S. Coast Guard-certified passenger vessel has a motorized inflatable raft for shore excursions and several sea kayaks to allow any or all of the passengers to quietly explore islands and shorelines. The knowledgeable crew consists of a captain, a professional cook, and an experienced deckhand. We'll also have a naturalist onboard with expertise in marine biology, ornithology, or anthropology.

The yacht sleeps 12 passengers in six private (all double-occupancy) heated cabins and has three toilets and two hot showers. The main deck features an airy salon, a library, a galley, and a dining area. Large windows permit unobstructed views out all sides, and access to the outside is easy. The upper bridge deck provides a good vantage point for spotting wildlife and has comfortable seating for passengers who wish to learn about navigation. Please note that smoking is not permitted aboard the ship.

The small vessel allows access to shoreline areas inaccessible to larger ships. We will spend days traveling from place to place, observing marine life, and stopping for shore excursions one to three times every day.

All meals will be aboard the ship. We will have a social hour before dinner and evening discussions about our experiences that day. Most nights will be spent anchored in quiet coves. The trip price includes all meals, starting with lunch on the first day and ending with breakfast on the last day. A professional cook will prepare all the meals. Volunteer help is always welcome. There will be ample quantities of fresh vegetables, fruits, grains, and dairy products. Delicious, wholesome meals will be served family- or buffet-style. Complimentary wine is served before and with dinner. Otherwise, guests are responsible for bringing their own alcoholic beverages or soft drinks. Coffee and tea are also provided.

Trip Difficulty

This will be a leisurely trip. Hikes will be optional and generally easy, covering moderate terrain. Insects should not be a significant problem, although mosquito repellent will be useful on some hikes. You must be able to descend a short ladder to board an inflatable launch for shore excursions. You must be able to maneuver on the boat, descending and ascending stairs to the cabin level. Daytime temperatures usually range from 55-85 degrees. Although we should have days with sunshine, we must also be prepared for rain and gusty winds. The minimum age for the trip is 12 years.

We use a professional captain, cook, and naturalist for our Alaska Inland Passage cruise. The industry practice is that outfitters require participants to sign a waiver similar to the Sierra Club waiver you will be asked to sign. Your trip leader will provide you with the details for your trip.

Equipment and Clothing

Interests may vary from one person to another, so the equipment list may vary a bit too. You'll certainly want to bring layered clothing with excellent raingear and knee-length rubber boots, a camera, and binoculars. Photographers of all skill levels will have ample opportunities to take pictures of wildlife and scenery. For all except serious photographers, a point-and-shoot camera -- preferably with a zoom lens -- works quite well. Those who are particularly interested in bird-watching will have a treat in store, so good binoculars are essential. Although this is not a fishing trip, there may be some limited opportunities to fish. An Alaska fishing license is required and may be purchased in Wrangell or online before the trip. You will receive a detailed clothing and equipment list specific to this trip from the leader after signing up.

References

  • Otteson, Paul, Alaska Travel Smart. This guidebook gives excellent overviews of places of interest in Alaska.
  • Muir, John, Travels in Alaska. Discover Alaska through the eyes of the Sierra Club's founder.
  • Mitchner, James A., Alaska. Explore Alaska and its peoples from early times to the present day.
  • Reid, William, The Raven Steals the Light. Savor Reid's fascinating stories and legends of the Haida people.
  • L'Amour, Louis, Sitka. An early adventurer faces the dangers of Russian-owned Alaska.
  • McPhee, John, Coming into the Country. Alaska is far more complex geographically, culturally, ecologically, and politically than most Americans appreciate, and few writers are as capable of capturing this complexity as McPhee, who describes his travels through much of the state.
  • Wiley, Sally, Blue Ice in Motion, The Story of Alaska’s Glaciers. This book provides an illustrated introduction to Alaska's glaciers, with details on how they form, why they move, and the landforms that result.
  • Hedin, Robert and Gary Holthause, Alaska, Reflections on Land and Spirit. This book provides a collection of stories by writers who are native to Alaska or have traveled and lived in Alaska. It includes accounts of explorers, natives, naturalists, and others.
  • Heacox, Kim, The Only Kayak. An account of the past 25 years that the author has spent living in Glacier Bay. Includes a look at his own development as a conservationist.
  • Schooler, Lynn, The Blue Bear. Schooler worked for many years as a guide in the Alaska Panhandle. This book chronicles his search with photographer Michio Hoshino for the rare glacier bear, a blue-tinted variation of more common black bears.
  • Schooler, Lynn, The Last Shot. In breathtaking detail, author Lynn Schooler re-creates one of the most astonishing events in American military history -- a final act of war that brought about the near-demise of the New England whaling industry and effectively ended America's growing hegemony over worldwide shipping for the next 80 years.
  • Lende, Heather, If You Lived Here, I'd Know Your Name: News from Small-Town Alaska. Her offbeat chronicle brings us inside her busy life: we meet her family and a colorful assortment of friends and offbeat neighbors, including aging hippies, salty fishermen, native Tlingit Indians, Mormon spelunkers...as well as the moose, eagles, sea lions, and bears with whom they share this wild and perilous land.
  • Lende, Heather, Take Good Care of the Garden and the Dogs: A True Story of Bad Breaks and Small Miracles. Lende’s irrepressible spirit, her wry humor, and her commitment to living a life on the edge of the world resonate on every page. Like her own mother’s last wish -- take good care of the garden and dogs -- Lende’s writing, so honest and unadorned, deepens our understanding of what links all humanity.
  • Kantner, Seth, Ordinary Wolves. The readers experience life on the Alaskan plains through the character’s own words.
  • Jans, Nick, The Grizzly Maze: Timothy Treadwell's Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears. This book is about Timothy Treadwell, self-styled "bear whisperer" who dared to live among the grizzlies, seeking to overturn the perception of them as dangerously aggressive animals. When he and his girlfriend were mauled in October 2003, it created a media sensation.

Conservation

The Alaska Inside Passage is a vast and delightful wilderness, but human impacts increasingly affect this area. Drawing upon the knowledge of our crew and your trip leader, we will experience and discuss several environmental issues for Southeast Alaska, including logging in the Tongass National Forest, mining, and climate change. Further information will be coming as we prepare for our trip together.

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.

While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.

Staff

Leader:

Mark Larson has been leading Sierra Club outings in the western U.S. for the past 30 years. He just retired as a journalism professor and continues to lead photo workshops. He will be ready to help teach anyone interested in improving their photography. Living in northern California in the redwoods, he has had a life-long interest in John Muir and wilderness preservation.

Contact the Staff

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