National Geographic Orion
After a night of swift navigation through the channels and fjords, National Geographic Orion arrived at anchor at the head of the long Almirante Sound. It was a serene morning, windless to start, with stunning views of mountain tops under fresh snowfall and alpenglow at sunrise. The calm weather convinced Lucho, our expedition leader, that we could offer both a landing for half the group while the others pursued a Zodiac cruise in Jackson Bay, with a switch between the groups later in the morning. Guests landed on a broad, shallow, sandy beach, fringed with storm-washed logs, heavy driftwood and other flotsam left as evidence of the much stronger weather common to this area. We were greeted by numerous elephant seals frolicking in the shallows, ranging from little more than wieners to juveniles to a few older males. Once onshore, some started on a guided walk to the waterfall, draped down the large exposed rock face on the “left” side of the valley extending inland from the beach. The walk started along the small river where hikers could view a wallow of elephant seals on the opposite bank and a large snorting adult male with a developed nasal trunk, trying to snooze among the tall grasses. The trail proved quite swampy at first, but continued into the mysterious forest, heavy with lichens and fallen trees, eventually leading to the slippery scree and bared rock at the base of the waterfall. Even from this distance, we could hear through the forest the low grunts and bellows of the larger seals at the beach! Some guests climbed higher to take in a view of the valley river bed and even a few guanacos grazing along the banks. Other guests chose to explore the beach area on a shorter walk, and to enjoy at close hand the feisty, jousting seals. The Zodiac cruises started in calm and sunny weather so that guests could explore the small rocky islands around the end of Almirante Bay. Here we spotted caracaras, flight formations of upland geese above, dolphin gulls, kelp geese and rock shags. The wind picked up, and, with the wind, the waves developed and grew. For the second round of Zodiac cruises, a number of guests opted to return to the ship in the worsening wind, but a few lucky Zodiacs were treated to close views of a pair of Andean condors on a rock face of small Albatross Island. The ship sailed after noon, and we made our exit from Almirante Sound in the same long Canal Gabriel that we had sailed in the night.Halfway through, a breathtaking vista appeared on our port side, with great expanses of recently exposed rock face left by receding glacier fields, and a myriad of streams across the rock face, a veil falls from the ledges and gushing cascades in a deeply cut, bowl-shaped ravine.Truly memorable.