One Amazing Day in Glacier Bay
We had been in Glacier Bay for a few days and already it had more than met our expectations. Upon arrival on a beautiful, sunny day, we had spotted a pod of humpback whales feeding along the shoreline only a few hundred yards from our boat and watched the sea lions and puffins on South Marble Island as we headed to our first overnight anchorage. Day two found us checking out the mountain goats on Gloomy Knob and on day three we explored Reid Glacier with friends. All that would have been enough for us to give Glacier Bay two thumbs up, but our next experience topped it all.
We motored into Blue Mouse Cove in the afternoon and, after testing one spot and carrying the rock we pulled up on our anchor to the other side of the cove, anchored in the northwest corner. The guidebook said this is the most popular anchorage in Glacier Bay so we were pleasantly surprised to have it to ourselves (likely the result of our early season visit).
The next day was 21 June, the summer solstice. After breakfast, Wags spotted two brown bears on the shore nearby. We watched them for several minutes until they disappeared back into the woods. Later in the morning we hopped in the kayaks to explore the next inlet over, a wilderness area open only to non-motorized vessels. No sooner had we rounded the point, the two bears from earlier walked out from among the trees and meandered along the shoreline, stopping to check under the rocks for clams. We sat watching in awe from our kayaks as they went about their activities 200 feet away, paying us no mind other than a cursory glance. At one point, one of the bears stood up to check out something in the distance then continued on. We were treated to an amazing show as they waded into the water, the smaller one taunting his buddy, biting him on the backside to encourage a bit of playtime. As they exited the water the taunting continued until, finally, the larger bear relented and a wrestling match far surpassing any WWF bout ensued.
Once the bears were gone and we were sure the coast was clear, we pulled our kayaks onto shore – the tide was still low so we would need to carry them to the other side of the bar to reach the inlet. We weren’t sure where exactly to cross so we needed to walk up to the top of the bar and figure it out. Our first try landed us in mud so deep and stinky we could barely walk. Our second try was better but as we walked up the bank we were a bit too close for comfort to the tree line where the bears had emerged earlier and, as we were walking I thought I spotted something a fair distance away – a coyote or, maybe, a wolf? We returned to the kayaks. Our third try was successful and we portaged our boats the short distance across the narrowest part of the bar and launched them on the other side.
Hugh Miller Inlet was beautiful. Majestic snow-capped mountains framed the background. Sea otters, porpoises and waterfowl went about their daily activities in a setting so serene and peaceful we didn’t want to disturb it with even a whisper. As we drifted along we suddenly heard a loud splashing. We looked across the bay and saw a large group of… what was it? We paddled closer and looked again through our binoculars, then realized, it was a raft of hundreds of sea otters, mothers on their backs with pups resting on their bellies. The splashing resulted when the entire group synchronized their paddling to move the raft, setting off a cacophony of squealing and mewing from the pups. We wished we could get a closer look but the mothers were very cautious and we definitely didn’t want to scare them or disturb their natural behavior. After snapping a few distant photos we turned around and headed back.
By the time we reached the bar, the tide had risen and we were able to paddle across, although it was not an easy feat against a flood current. I glanced over at the shoreline and noticed movement in the grass at the edge of the trees. I looked closer. “Wags!” I whispered loudly. “There’s a wolf!” It turns out it was a wolf I had seen earlier, and we’re pretty sure that’s exactly what the bear had been checking out, as well. What an incredible opportunity it was to see a wolf in its natural habitat.
He seemed more interested in us than the bears had been, looking at us frequently, though still unconcerned with our presence. As huge dog lovers, we were tempted to give him a milkbone and put a Seahawks t-shirt on him, but we decided he might not appreciate it as much as our other dogs have (although we’re sure he’s a Seahawks fan). He foraged along the edge of the woods for several minutes as we watched with mouths agape before making his way back out of view.
As we paddled back toward the boat, we couldn’t stop gushing about all we had seen in the last few hours… bears, otters, wolf. Wags commented nonchalantly that almost all the bears we’ve seen to date are brown bears. “I hope we’ll see a black bear.” The current was making paddling challenging so we dug in to gain some ground. At that moment, we both looked toward shore at the same time then back at each other and, excitedly pointing, mouthed the words, “Black bear!” As I tried my best to not go into some sort of sensory overload shock, we paddled furiously to reach the head of the cove where our boat was anchored and where a black bear was walking along the shore. Our urgency was unnecessary. The bear was in no hurry, grazing contentedly, occasionally glancing in our direction. After a few minutes we heard a rustling in the woods to our left. The bear heard it, too, and stopped his dining long enough to watch as a second, larger black bear emerged. After determining that the distance between them was not a threat, the first bear continued his feast. For the next half hour, at least, we sat transfixed, watching not one, but two black bears eating grass and foraging for berries on the edge of the shore a short distance off the bows of our kayaks. Hunger finally got the best of us and we turned to head back to Gadabout for lunch.
That evening at anchor in yet another beautiful cove we sorted through the hundreds of photos I had taken that morning. To say this day had been remarkable, even extraordinary, seems an understatement. Before being there, we couldn’t help having high expectations for Glacier Bay, but we wondered if the beauty, the experience, was over-hyped. It wasn’t, as we discovered on this one amazing day.