Our destination leaving Petersburg was only about 10 miles away, but it was all the incredible wilderness we could have asked for. We turned out of the northern entrance to Wrangell Narrows, passed a buoy covered in sea lions, and crossed the strait to mainland Alaska. Thomas Bay opened out in front of us and we threaded between the navigation markers across its bar entrance, the current taking us in. Suddenly the water turned from deep blue to milky green/gray/blue, a color close to what we’ve seen in glacial melt streams while hiking in Switzerland and New Zealand. The breeze off the water was also noticeably colder. We sailed up the bay, craning our necks to look up sheer cliffs and the 5000ft peaks beyond. When we turned the corner to the head of the bay, we could see the tongue of Baird Glacier reaching down to the sea and we saw our first bergy bit (small iceberg) floating just off Celeste‘s port side!
Baird Glacier isn’t a true tidewater glacier—its moraine is actually just above sea level so that the glacier itself doesn’t quite reach the ocean—but we found it impressive nonetheless and, not fearing that it would calve into the boat, I could jump into the dinghy and photograph Celeste sailing in these amazing surroundings. After I rejoined our little ship, we took in the sails and puttered into a fjord-like arm of the bay and then back out to an anchorage just off a waterfall.
A Forest Service trail led up from the anchorage, so the next day we packed a lunch and hiked up through the mossy forest to two lakes up around 2000 feet. Seth and I figured we gained and lost a lot more elevation than that during the day, though, because the trail was so up and down. The Forest Service had done an impressive job with cutting steps into logs, shoring up the track, and securing chains to difficult rock faces, especially considering the rain-drenched terrain they work with.
Being used to Swiss Alpine terrain, we were both surprised to find the ground above tree line soaked and covered in bog holes. The mud makes for easy spotting of animal tracks, though, and we decided to turn around when we saw a big bear print followed by a very small bear print, likely the cub. These are grizzlies up here (actually called Brown Bears because they’re coastal – grizzlies are the inland version of the same animal), no longer the black bears we’d seen on Vancouver Island. So we didn’t make it all the way to the upper lake. Back at the lower lake, however, we found a Forest Service boat put there for hikers, so we took it out and got an unexpected view of an incredible, booming waterfall.
The sky turned gray again the next day so we were thrilled to have had the opportunity to do our hike!