Our last post had us tacking happily to windward on a cold but sunny day as we neared our first anchorage on the Alaska Peninsula. Turning the corner into the vast bay that was our destination shifted the wind onto Celeste‘s quarter, the perfect angle for setting her beautiful star-studded spinnaker! We glided in under a rampart of glaciated peaks, listening to the water gurgle under Celeste‘s bow and playing the ‘chute to keep it full. The perfect end to a perfect day. The wind died when we came into the inner bay so we doused the ‘chute and inched along the shore to find a place to drop the hook. A huge river delta emptied into the head of the bay, so we thought we’d easily find good mud holding. Yes, but only in 8 feet of water! The silt dropped off almost immediately from about 8 feet to 80 feet, so finding a happy medium wasn’t easy. We finally found a good spot about a mile from the western shore. After turning circles like a dog in tall grass, we anchored in 25 feet, satisfied that we wouldn’t swing into anything shallower than 15 feet.
We sat out in the cockpit a long time that evening, soaking in the incredible landscape. The entire place was deserted, a true wilderness as far as we could see. To the east were glaciers and rugged peaks, to the north the wide and empty delta, to the east scrub-covered hills and red cliffs, and to the south islets covered in low bushes. I couldn’t get over the untouched immensity of it.
As evening came on, we scanned the shore with binoculars for the huge Alaskan brown bears which our Kiwi friends had mentioned they’d seen here. The shade and the cold were about to force us below for dinner when we finally did spot one, pacing along the sand beneath the red cliffs. Too far away for a good photo, but we could tell he was enormous! Eager to explore the next morning, we launched the dinghy and rowed about a mile and a half to the delta, thinking we might be able to row up it and get further inland than we could by wading through the mud. Unfortunately the river splayed out in a thousand very shallow streams, so wading it was. As soon as we stepped ashore, we found that the whole deserted expanse of sand was covered in bear prints! We started upstream hoping to see the animals themselves (from a safe distance!) and my senses sharpened noticeably; I could tell that I was more acutely aware of my surroundings than almost ever before. At first I felt incredibly alive, but after several hours I noticed how fatiguing it is to be constantly alert. It certainly gave me a taste of what must have been a permanent state of being for the people who first crossed over from Siberia. And we only had bears to be wary of, not sabre-tooth tigers!
Further inland we came across the tracks of wolf packs, which of course increased my already high expectations for amazing wildlife viewing!
We also came across more “bear tunnels” through the thick bushes and, on our way back, we found a depression in some tall grass the exact size and shape of a sleeping bear. But we didn’t see the animals themselves. So we decided to row along the shore where we’d seen the bear the evening before. No bears, but a good dinghy adventure nonetheless. We especially enjoyed these foraging oystercatchers:
Sitting out on deck that evening, and looking out over the delta and mountains, I could almost see the mammoths and mastadons that once roamed this vast and wild peninsula….