During week four things really picked up out here. With such unexpected and fantastic weather, I can definitely see why! I spent a majority of the week shadowing different tours to try to learn as much as possible not only about the area, but about different guiding personalities and techniques, and wow – did I learn a lot this week!
I was particularly excited about the wildlife activity picking up this week. I remember going out on tour with one of my favorite guides, Tom Ganner, who is a hell of a photographer. We were joking earlier that morning before heading out how he was the bear magnet, because he was the only one at the time seeing bears on any of the tours (as it was still early in the season for bear-viewing.) Wouldn’t you know, that afternoon during our tour, Tom spots his bear friend out at the Chilkoot River! For me, it was the first bear I’ve ever seen in my life – and it was incredibly exhilarating. We watched as the brown bear (Tom estimated it to be about 4 years old) moseyed around the river, fishing for the remainder of the hooligan, and literally slurping them up into it’s mouth. I couldn’t help but giggle out loud while watching this, it was quite the treat for me to witness. The hooligan had their big run about a week or two before this sighting, so we were a bit surprised at the resourcefulness the bear was using in digging up those last little guys left at the bottom of the river bed.
I also was lucky enough to accompany another guide, Deb, on a private wildlife tour. The women who joined us on the excursion were great, and by the end of the tour, it felt like four good friends trekking around Haines together. On this tour, we headed up to the Chilkoot Lake area (have I mentioned yet, that for obvious reasons this is my favorite place in all of Haines?) where Deb pointed out an active eagle’s nest. We set up a spotting scope on the nest, and as I looked through it, I exclaimed, “oh, I think I can see an egg!” Turns out the “egg” was actually the white head of an adult sitting on the eggs. Deb then went on to give us some fantastic insight about eagles – how they mate for life, and how they share the responsibilities of fishing, as well as taking care of the young. As she was telling us these magnificent details about the life of the bald eagle, with amazing timing, the male eagle (we concluded he was the male because he was a bit smaller than the other) returned from fishing (empty-taloned!) and landed gracefully into the nest. The two eagles then seemed to gently converse with one another before trading positions, and the female took off to try her luck finding some food. It was really a spectacular thing to witness!
I think, up to this point, my favorite experience however was the scenic flight tour I was lucky enough to go on. We needed a meet and greet for clients porting in Skagway, and then continuing onto a scenic flight through the Glacier Bay National Park before landing in Haines, for a wildlife tour. This is referred to as an “Ultimate Nature Combo Tour” by RGA, because they then take the ferry from Haines back to Skagway, experiencing this special piece of land from all vantage points. Early in the morning, we (my boss, Joe, and another wildlife guide, Jen) boarded a 4-passenger plane with our fantastic (and quite humorous) pilot, Paul. Now, I must note that I travel a lot and planes are no new experience to me, but this however, was an entirely different ball park. They helped load me up into the front seat, and placed a headset over my ears. It was so small that at first, I was incredibly nervous, but when Paul got us into the air, I immediately relaxed.
On the flight from Haines to Skagway, we saw a couple whales in the Lynn Canal from the air, and when we landed, we went to meet the wonderful family that would be joining us back to Haines for the scenic flight. Living across Mud Bay, I overlook the Chilkat Range and the Rainbow Glacier every day – but wow! Flying over and through them was an entirely new perspective, and I could hardly believe my eyes. We flew into the east arm of the Glacier Bay National Park (which, I’m told is more off the beaten path, as most boating tours go up through the west arm) and I was thrilled to see so many different glaciers – we viewed the Rainbow and Davidson glaciers, as well as the McBride glacier. It was really neat listening to Paul, the pilot, giving the history and interesting facts about the glaciers. I found myself picturing the land 10,000 years ago, during the last ice age. It was spectacular not only taking in these unparalleled views of the mountain ranges and glaciers, but imagining what it must have looked like while still covered in ice, and how radical a time in history it must have been as the ice began to melt, carving out the glaciers, mountains, and meandering rivers we are blessed with today.
Week four was really a breathtaking time of year, as everything was just starting to bloom, and the air began to smell fresh and crisp like spruce tip and the earliest stages of budding wildflowers. Quite possibly, it was one of the best weeks I’ve experienced since being out here, although – that’s a difficult thing to define, as it has all been so thrilling, informative, and unique.
This here is one of my favorite shots from the scenic flight through the east arm of Glacier Bay National Park with our fantastic pilot, Paul.