Cruising and Hiking on Chichagof Island

Aug 23, 2019 - National Geographic Sea Lion


National Geographic Sea Lion continued cruising throughout the night, making her way toward our morning destination of Pavlof Harbor. This harbor was originally named Gavan Pavlof (Paul’s Harbor) by Russian fur traders in the mid-nineteenth century. It is also a summer camp site for Tlingit people from Angoon a nearby winter camp site. Indigenous peoples throughout the northwest coast used several summer campsites for harvesting of all the necessary and plentiful food of the area. Once fish, berries and seaweeds were dried and stored in containers entire families would move back to their permanent winter campsites.

Pavlof Harbor is very important due to Pavlof River a very short river leading to Pavlof Falls and the Pavlof Lake located above the falls. Four of the wild Pacific salmon runs use this area – one critical for feeding local wildlife, towns and tribes for hundreds of years.

Our morning was spent exploring the lower, short Pavlof River in hopes of spotting brown bears feasting on the plentiful pink and chum salmon splashing in the waters at the bottom of the falls. Those on Zodiacs took alternated, viewing the river entrance and exploring the saltwater channels in and around Pavlof Harbor. It was a misty grey on grey with shades of dark green day as Zodiacs continued their cruises. Common mergansers, Sitka black-tail deer, several river otters and a lone mink was seen by cruisers – the coastal brown bears continued to allude us!

Back aboard we were greeted with an enormous brunch prepared by our hotel staff! An amazing spread awaited everyone returning from a morning of cruising in the rain.  As Zodiacs were returned to the lido deck atop National Geographic Sea Lion, our vessel made her gradual way back out into Chatham Strait. This strait is one of the greatest fjords in North America, dividing the islands of the Alexander Archipelago. National Geographic Sea Lion continued cruising south to our afternoon destination of Sitko Bay, southeast of Chichagof Island.

Our afternoon was spent hiking in Sitko Bay. This area of Chichagof Island has been settled for several generations. A cannery, a logging operation and many cruisers come into Sitko to get some shelter from storms out in Chatham Strait. Several levels of hikes left our landing, walking along an old logging road heading for a meadow at the far end of the bay. Brown bears had been rarely seen throughout our journey, not so in Sitko! As the fast-paced group made its way towards the end of the road, a very large brown bear stepped out of the forest, looked over at a rather large group of people and took off running! Once the bear was at a safe distance everyone in the group was elated! The running comment from everyone was, yes, indeed, there are brown bears in Southeast Alaska!

The much needed rain continued to wash over the land nourishing the forests and help cool the slightly high sea temperatures. In this northern part of the planet where all life, be it animal or plant, benefit from the essential northwest rains, a blessing to behold.

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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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