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Alaska’s glaciers and The inside passage

Alaska is a land of natural beauty and diversity which includes fjords, forests, mountain ranges, glaciers, and islands where whales claim the ocean, polar bears occupy the land, and sea lions own the islands. The natural and diversified landscape makes Alaska a nature lover’s paradise and a photographer’s dreamland, and we are on our way to this intriguing land.

Alaska is the largest state in the USA and covers 591,000 square miles. 99% of the area is forested where a number of settlers reside, and its cities are interspersed with mountains and the sea. Inside Passage is an ultimate cruise experience to get up close and personal to Alaska.

Take the Inside Passage Nature Cruise

Inside Passage is a classic primary route for ships covering the area from Seattle, Washington (USA) or Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada), and all points north in Alaska. This ocean route is used to avoid severe weather conditions.

Seattle: Beginning of the Journey

May through September is the time cruise lines attract a lot of passengers. The cruise departs from the port of Seattle, gateway to Alaska, leaving Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound and its majestic backdrop. The cruise takes in the beautiful coastline of the San Juan Islands, and if you are lucky, you will spot killer whales.

See the Indigenous Culture at Comox

We arrived at Comox, a city on the east coast of Vancouver Island, after cruising along the Georgia Strait. A noticeable large herd of seals lay basking on the buoys while the cruise ship was docking. The next morning, we joined the bi-annual Tribal Canoe Journey with hundreds of families from British Columbia and other regions to join the peoples of the Pacific Northwest and strengthen ties between indigenous groups. The city was not on the itinerary, but the unexpected made the trip more interesting.

Relax at Paradise Beach Waterfall at Marine Park

From Comox, we cruised to Calvert Island, about 400 km from downtown Vancouver. We followed a nature trail for about 15 minutes from the Hakai Institute Marine Research Center through a deciduous and pine forest to West Beach, where hiking trails in the south connect to seven other beaches. Strolling along the uncrowded sandy beach and looking at beautiful reefs through the clear crystal water made it feel like being alone on a private beach, and was a great place to take in the wonders of nature.

We continued to the Fjordland Conservancy, a large rainforest marine conservatory. It is located near beautiful, steep granite cliffs over 1,000 meters high, and below the Coast Mountains with waterfalls flowing down from numerous high gorges. In the evening, we moored in a small bay at the abandoned town of Butedale. The next morning, after a pause to look at the Butedale Falls, we continued the cruise and saw a spray of water rising from the sea, realizing it was humpback whales feeding on small fish. We had to be at least 100 meters away so they would not panic.

Prince Rupert: A Historic Port City

The cruise arrived at Prince Rupert, Canada’s last port of call before entering Alaska. Without navigating radar, the cruise would have had to wait for the fog to lift and visibility to improve. We landed at Cow Bay’s marina and wandered the town until we reached Kazu Maru Memorial, a Japanese fishing boat that sailed as far as Canada’s coast in 1985. Strolling further afield, we reached the large cedar wood Museum of Northern British Columbia, a collection of rare and must-see indigenous artifacts and exhibits.

Ketchikan: Capital of Salmon

Next day, the ship cruised through the Dixon Entrance, between the Canadian and USA borders. We finally arrived at Ketchikan, the first port of Alaska, and the salmon capital of the World. During the spawning season, you can watch the salmon herds swim upstream to lay their eggs at Creek Street. Besides salmon, you can see the centuries-old famous totem pole sculptures – carvings on large wooden columns which the indigenous people built to express their cultural beliefs. We went out of the city, in touch with nature, at Deer Mountain which is the viewpoint for Revillagigedo Island to see the Togass Narrows and its islands. They are so beautiful, you will forget how tired you are.

A Herd of Whales at Petersburg

Then, we cruised through the Wrangell Narrows. While approaching Petersburg, we saw a large floating buoy crowded with sea lions. In addition to the cuteness of these wonderful animals, Petersburg offers panoramic views of LeConte Glacier and the crystal blue ice floats drifting into Frederick Sound which help to beautify the city. It is also home to hundreds of humpback whales where they perform bubble-net feeding, i.e., as they encounter schools of small fish, they dive down to herd the fish by emitting air bubbles to force the herd to surface. As the fish rise, the whales open their mouths and swallow the fish. It was an amazing and thrilling experience.

Glacier at Juneau

The highlight of our trip was when we arrived in Juneau, Alaska’s capital city. Mendenhall Glacier is one of the major glaciers connecting the vast Juno blue ice field floating in a lake amid the glare of the surrounding, high, coastal mountains, spanning the remaining 1,500 square miles from the last ice age. Another unmissable trip is to Tracy Arm Fjord where the turquoise waters reflect light amid the chunks of ice breaking away from the Sawyer Glacier. The coastline is carved out by glacial erosion into the canyon.

Soak in the Baranov Hot Springs

Before heading home, we visited a natural hot spring located near a waterfall on Baranov Island. After soaking in the hot springs, we walked down to explore the waterfalls that flow into the sea and saw hordes of salmon trying to swim upstream to the waterfall. Regardless of our excitement, we had to exercise caution and watch from a distance as we realized we were standing in an area that was the food source of grizzly bears.

The impression of being with nature on the Inside Passage cruise is a truly unforgettable experience. But with global warming and the damaging effects of human activities, nature’s ecosystems are undergoing a great deal of stressful change. Glaciers melt faster when we humans continue to lack a sense of responsibility for nature. All living beings in this ‘big house’, including our own species, will certainly be affected in a harmful way.

TRAVELER’S TIPS

-Best time to visit Alaska is between May to September.

-Always pack a raincoat and a jacket to stay warm.

-Bear spray is an essential item for hiking.

-If you visit Alaska in summer, mosquitoes spray or lotion is a must.

-7 days sailing trip and ferry reservation: www.bcferries.com