Alaska Inside Passage - Western Coves
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On my eight-day active adventure trip through the Inside Passage, between Ketchikan and Juneau, there were so many memorable incidences that made time stand still.
I'll always remember the furry little sea otter faces as they bobbed up all around my kayak while I paddled down various inlets and bays in Southeast Alaska. Sea otters tend to cluster in groups on top of kelp beds, resting until the next dive for food. Occasionally, they scatter around so you never know where they'll make their next appearance, their little heads popping up out of nowhere, staring.
The motorized boats called Zodiacs can travel farther in a shorter amount of time and hone in on many wildlife sightings. However, there is something about the stark silence of a kayak slicing through water that seems to make the wildlife you do see, more curious.
Choose Your Adventure
This trip is so unique in that there is an enormous amount of things to do and see. You really get to pick and choose what the best options are for you!
We had the option to hike in parts of El Capitan Cave, hike around little Port Walter, an old cannery with lots of history; explore Mist Cove by kayak or foot, kayak unguided at nearly any time of day, or journey on zodiac rides. Thank goodness there will be a massage therapist on board and a Tempur-Pedic mattress to relax on at the end of every day!
There is an opportunity to visit a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) hatchery, as well as a private hatchery with the most amazing scenic views. You may opt for a full-day fishing charter or perhaps a fly-fishing adventure.
Also, this would be terrific trip for a multi-generational family where the grandparents could opt for a shorter land hike, take zodiac boat rides or stay on board to enjoy the scenery. The parents and children could stay more active on longer hikes and kayaking trips.
Whether you are embarking on the eight-day Eastern Coves, the eight-day Western Coves, or both trips in the 15-day Ultimate Adventure, I can almost guarantee that you will come back renewed and perhaps changed a bit as well. There is an unmistakable draw to Alaska that keeps people coming back over and over, and I believe these trips aboard small ships are the only way to experience the true Alaska!
On my overnight kayaking trip, we camped at the point of a small island, and could hear the humpbacks all night long as they passed by. The kayak guide was a real gem of an Alaskan woman who had been leading kayak trips for 20 years in the area. She skillfully guided us through passages, assisted us with kayaking technique (I had only "paddled" once or twice before in my life!), cooked up a mean beef stew for dinner that was accompanied by a cold beer and a warm fire, and she regaled us with tremendous stories of encounters with bears and other wildlife. I trusted her instantly due to the real bear claws on her hat and the fact that she could play a banjo like no other!
There were black bears scavenging for spring berries on shore, as we woke up one morning in Devilfish Bay. Dawes glacier in Endicott Arm was so close that you could hear the hissing and crackling like it was right beside you, and then it would sometimes calve, thundering down into the water. The Bald Eagles were high up in the trees, flying overhead, and so very near and majestic! I could have marveled at the giant Stellar Sea Lion colony forever with all of the sea lions, big and small, crawling over each other and sounding like a crazy symphony of sorts.
I did, however, lose count of how many humpback whales we saw, along with Orcas, but I will definitely remember the sound of them blowing out their blowhole. Once you know what that sound is, I don't think you can ever forget it.
Education was not overlooked at all! I thought that the immensity of the Alaskan landscape and the wildlife would be the high points of the trip, so I was surprised that the education program on board was so thorough. The expedition leader and guides were extremely knowledgeable, detailed and had years of experience in the area. There were several detailed lectures during the week about geology, glaciology and whales. Two college professors were on board and afterwards we discussed how everyone felt included and all questions were answered. We all disembarked feeling our curiosity had been satisfied!
Park rangers came on board for a lecture as well. The rangers travel in kayaks around different parts of Alaska waterways for nine days at a time, sometimes bivouacking on fjord walls before returning to land for two weeks. It sounds like a fascinating, but cold, job to me!
The trip was more than wildlife and great education though. An amazing cultural experience was ahead of us! In Ketchikan, we had a previous mayor of the town, a native Klingit, give us a delightful and humorous talk about the traditions of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian native people. The previous major returned on our second day of traveling when we visited the small native town of Klawock.
We hiked about a mile through old growth forest to a small woodshed where we watched a native Tlingit artisan craft totems and observed an array of specialized tools for carving wood. The local school has a wood program from which the craftsman will choose his young apprentices to be the upcoming artisans of the town. There was a totem carving demonstration, as well as a walk around to a lodge and handmade canoes. We felt honored to be part of this as the craftsman showed us the hash marks on the side of his woodshed that represented how many visitors had ever been there. I counted 35.
The motto of the guides on board and the expedition leader seemed to be, "Let nature guide the way!" They know, from their vast experience in the area, where the wildlife tends to be at what particular time of year. They will get you to the best spots that Alaska has to offer with an experience of the real Alaska. The small-ship experience is in stark contrast to the cruise ship ports that sport countless souvenir shops and where glaciers viewed through binoculars are so far away that hissing and crackling sounds are missed. And, of course, the amazing up-close encounters with the wildlife that occur over and over again add immensely to the small-ship journey. You come away from this trip realizing that the earth is alive!