It feels so good to have National Geographic Resolution back in the ice! There are not enough superlatives in the English language to describe our day today. After a flat, calm crossing through the unprotected waters north of Norway, we awoke this morning to our first glimpses of the snow-topped landscape of Svalbard. The expedition team planned for a morning on the low headland of Russebukta on the western shore of Edgeøya, or “Edge Island.” Not long after the scout boat headed out to check the area for bears, there was an abrupt change of plans. A large, resting group of walruses were found tucked away in a little set of low-lying islands. Our morning was spent Zodiac cruising and admiring these grunting, snorting behemoths as they lazed about for our viewing pleasure. (Not so much for our olfactory pleasure, I might add.) King eiders were spotted, as well as nesting barnacle geese, adding two new species to our avian repertoire. Back aboard, we were treated to a delicious lunch as our ship cruised north, looking to explore our first sights of sea ice. As we plowed through the narrow channel between Edgeøya and Barents Island, the ice thickened, and we were unsure just how far we would get. I need to take a personal aside here to tell you just how impressed I was today by our bridge team and our incredible ship. With flat, calm seas and shining sun, we pushed through huge areas of “very close drift ice,” which translates to chunks of ice anywhere from car-sized to soccer-field-sized, and everything in between…all covering approximately 9/10ths of the sea’s surface. The ship maintained a respectable speed, and barely a shudder was felt as she steamed north. She truly is a fantastic ship, especially under sunny skies and in her true element – please see the photos! The energy on the bridge was contagious as all eyes were on deck to search for the kings and queens of the Arctic! Everyone was buzzing with anticipation and hope, and we were not disappointed. Our luck remained strong as a young male polar bear, the first of the trip, was spotted roaming the ice near our ship. We will go to bed tonight with exciting thoughts. What will tomorrow bring?
Today’s expedition began with National Geographic Venture cruising into Halleck Harbor on Kuiu Island. Guests were offered chances to hike along the rugged coast or kayak to explore the intertidal zone, which is perfectly exposed due to the extremely low tides often found in Southeast Alaska. Hikers in the temperate rainforest discussed the components of forest succession, and the intertidal groups explored the exposed rocks to find sea stars, small fish, and crabs. In the afternoon, the ship ventured north through Chatham Strait, coming across sea otters, humpback whales, and a variety of bird life on an unusually sunny Alaska afternoon.
In the early hours of June 5, a large number of guests joined the natural history staff of National Geographic Venture to hike at Cascade Creek. It was our first foray into the Tongass National Rainforest, and even though it was raining, it was a great pre-brunch adventure. After brunch we docked in Petersburg, Alaska, known as ‘the city of Vikings’ and ‘the town that fish built.’ Various activities were on offer, including walks through the muskeg, bike rides around town, and a cultural hiking tour.
Our morning excursion took us to the stunningly beautiful Hellmobotn, a tiny settlement at the end of a small fjord. The few houses are summer homes and occasional residences for a small Sami population, so we were careful to respect their privacy as we passed through to our various hiking options. The longer hikers took a route past cascading waterfalls and over the hilltops towards Sweden, which is only a few miles in the distance. The more moderate hikers walked to a smaller but no less beautiful waterfall. We all enjoyed the peace and solitude of the old mountain forests for one last time before we head north to Tromso and onwards to the ice. An afternoon of fascinating lectures on ecology, geology, and the Indigenous Sami people was enjoyed as we cruised out through the fjord complex.