Port Althorp and the Inian Islands

Jul 06, 2018 - National Geographic Sea Bird


We woke this morning to clouds drifting low over ridges and brushing against treetops. For the first time on this trip, the weather reflected a more typical Southeast Alaskan day. The temperature had dropped to a tepid 58F/14.5C. Calm, glassy waters greeted us as we pulled into Port Althorp on the northern end of Chichagof Island. After breakfast, we began our morning’s excursions to kayak on the placid waters or head into the Tongass National Forest.

As soon as we set foot on the beach, the presence of coastal brown bears was obvious. Well-worn paths through the thick beach grass, intermittent piles of scat, and large prints in soft mud spoke of the frequent and recent passing of bears. Explorers quickly found their own footprints mixing with old and new prints of bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, and humans alike along the fringe of the forest. But while bear signs were many, only a few of us were able to spot a pair of brown fuzzy ears poking up above the grass in the distance.

Western hemlock and Sitka spruce reign supreme in Southeast Alaska. Their slender trunks rise above the beach grasses and sedges, providing a sheltered and shaded canopy for plants and animals alike. Following trails broken by countless paws and hooves, we broke through the dense Sitka alder and prickly devil’s club brush, entering into the verdant understory of the forest. Here the air was calm, disturbed only by the faintest of breezes that flickered the leaves along the branches of blueberry bushes. We followed meandering game trails, finding many signs of recent browsing, digging, and foraging.

Emerging from the forest, we were greeted by sunlight and blue skies once more. After recounting our morning adventures over lunch, we geared up for our second outing of the day. We donned our rain gear, grabbed our cameras and binoculars, and headed out on expedition landing craft to explore the Inian Islands.

Situated at the mouth of Cross Sound, the Inian Islands rise above the northernmost entrance to the Inside Passage. Every six hours, the tide changes in Southeast Alaska, and the water from the sound moves in and out through a few narrow passages. Such an immense volume of water funneling through these inlets creates immense currents and all the features of a large river. We found eddies in coves, navigated rapids of convoluted waves, ran against four-knot currents and spotted a menagerie of marine mammals. Steller sea lions swam easily against the current, leaping and frolicking through the water looking for fish. Sea otters floated along lazily with their pups, looking for calm nooks. Humpback whales worked the current lines, breaking the surface with deep, bellowing breaths.

The Inian Islands and northern Chichagof Island are always spectacular, but fantastic wildlife paired with the amazing weather made for an unforgettable day.

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About the Author

Tamsen Peeples

Naturalist

Tamsen was born and raised among the wild woods and shorelines of Juneau, Alaska. The ocean and mountains became an integral part of all aspects of her life, and she has never been far from either. Growing up in Alaska gave her a deep love of exploring the natural world and piqued her scientific curiosity at a young age.

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