Port Althorp & cruising Inian Islands

Jun 27, 2019 - National Geographic Venture


As National Geographic Venture made her way north, there seemed to be a change in the motion of the ship; she was moving just a little slower. As many of us made our way to the lounge for coffee and early riser snacks, the cause was apparent – it was fog! Walking out onto the bow we found ourselves enveloped in a very thick fog bank. The foghorn continued to blow as our Captain carefully made his way toward our morning anchorage of Port Althorp. This gorgeous deep bay is located on the northern coast of Chichagof Island. As the fog began to lift, our bridge crew brought the ship as far into the channel as was allowed and gave the order to start dropping all the necessary smaller vessels that would complement our morning of kayaking and hiking. Our group was divided into two: one that would kayak the inner waters of Port Althorp, the other half would hike the open meadow, and the edges of the forest leading towards a well-used salmon river. Then the groups would switch.

Kayakers headed out into the misty world of the protected waters of Port Althorp while hikers made their way through tall beach ryegrass and a myriad of shore plants heading towards the edges of the forest. We were immediately aware of being in the “fortress of the bear.” First, we encountered perennial bear footprints just past our landing site. Brown bears are creatures of habit and to see well-defined bear footprints, one after another made for days, months and years...WOW! The bears were walking through very thick soil covered in wild strawberries, nagoon berries, northern rice lilies, five-leaf bramble berries, and so much more. One could see the long days of this short growing season produced a huge amount of wild food for harvesters, be it a bear or even a human. As our groups moved out across the mud flats just in front of a steep hill covered in western hemlock and Sitka spruce, we saw our first of hundreds of brown bear paw prints. Every pause on the mud flats showed more prints of varying ages, many from days past and definitely some from this morning. The paw prints were either heading towards the salmon river or back to the forest. One could feel those brown eyes watching us and waiting for our passage so they could return to their foraging among the tall grass at the edge of the mud flats.

Alaskan communities and wildlife alike eagerly await the arrival of the summer salmon population. From the start of our trip in Juneau to our visit in Petersburg, a small fishing town, anticipation is high for the return of this most important fish that nourish so many. Here, at Port Althorp brown bears feed on salmon as they begin their migration at the far end of the bay.

We returned to National Geographic Venture for lunch while our vessel made its way to our afternoon anchorage of the Inian Islands, located in the most western part of our trip. It is at this location that all the northern tidal waters of Southeast Alaska change every six hours. Its southern opening is known as the Dixon Entrance. Huge amounts of upwelling are caused by the water’s passage, and many species feed on the richness found within. Zodiac rides allowed everyone the opportunity to explore throughout the islands, finding minke and humpback whales, sea otters, and a very unusual feeding frenzy of a large group of bald eagles. Life has continued in this cycle for millennia. One can hope it continues into the future and be celebrated as it is here in Southeast Alaska.

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About the Author

Sharon Grainger

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Sharon’s degrees in Psychology and Anthropology from Eastern Washington University have given her a good base to pursue her profession as a naturalist and photographer. With five generations of artists behind her, she has developed a portfolio of images covering many interests including indigenous cultures, ethnobotany, natural and cultural history. Photography gives voice and interpretation to her experience of the world. Spending many years with Native peoples has dramatically affected her attitude towards how and what she sees. She recognized, through these experiences, the diversity of peoples around the world. This began a lifelong curiosity about the variety of ways in which different cultures relate to each other and this planet.

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