Under low-hanging clouds and through dense fog, National Geographic Quest made her way through the Tracy Arm Fjord system. With slow strolls past one gushing cascade after another, trees coated in a heavy, gray mist, and mountaintops that seemed to disappear into nothingness the higher we looked, we finally caught our first sight of a brilliant blue glacier face. Sitting about a half-mile from the glacier itself, our guests were in awe at the size and beauty of the Sawyer Glacier. After a few moments on the deck, we turned the ship and found a spot to float near Sawyer Island. From here, we dropped Zodiacs and ran guests up through a maze of blue-white icebergs, past a sea of curious harbor seals, and finally, to the face of the massive South Sawyer Glacier. After spending the morning among the giants of ice, we turned back again and made our way to the entrance and on to our next stop.
National Geographic Quest
Morning fog swallowed the Southeast Alaskan wilderness. As we cruised into Ushk Bay, anticipation seized the vessel. This morning’s hikes and Zodiac cruises were to be our final operations of the trip; every last one of us was eager to be ensconced in the wonders of the Tongass once again. Following a delicious breakfast — prepared by head chef Paul Cotta and his dedicated team — we set out for shore. Through a light rain we cruised on Zodiacs toward our landing, scattering bald eagles and common mergansers that had congregated along the shore. Ushk Bay’s annual salmon run was nearing its conclusion —and we could smell it. The shoreline was littered with rotting carcasses of pink and chum salmon, many of which were picked apart by corvids, gulls, and bears. Whether or not any of these individuals survived long enough to spawn is a mystery, but there is one certainty amidst this carnage — their sacrifice is not in vain. Their carcasses will enrich this place, injecting the forest with nutrients from the sea. Our last afternoon was spent cruising toward our anchorage near Sitka. The final day of a Lindblad Expeditions cruise is always a hard day. We have all forged new bonds in the fires of wilderness. Every one of us has found ourselves challenged and rewarded, humbled and humored, inspired and inspirational throughout this week. Our new bonds will, thanks to modern technology, be preserved in photographs and videos. Many will be carried on through photos and emails, but this group will never be reconstituted. Though it’s hard to say goodbye, the impermanence of this troupe makes the experience all the more poignant. These adventurers will surely be missed.