August 23, 2016
I wasn’t sure what to wear on the excursion “Misty Fjords Wilderness Tour.” I ended up wearing a T-shirt with my hoodie over it. I packed the warmer of my two jackets, and my hat in case of rain. I also packed my little purse that help my key card, driver’s license, credit card, and my phone. At Dale’s suggestion, I stuck a pair of binoculars into my backpack. Those turned out to be unnecessary; the tour company provided everyone with a pair to use on the boat. The weather cooperated so I also never needed to wear my hat.
The excursion was exploring this national monument on a 4-hour round trip on the “St. Nona” , a catamaran – a boat which is quite stable and unlikely to tip over even if everyone stood on the same side!
We were given a map of the area with information about its history and wildlife, so we could follow along with the tour guide, a short woman with gray and black hair down to her waist named Sonja.
We set out at the first low tide of the day (there are two low tides and two high tides per day). I sat on the top level of the boat so I could take pictures without a window in between. Sonja gave a running commentary of the place we were going, what we were seeing off the sides of the boat, and the wildlife we encountered. It was hard to understand her through the speakers sometimes.
First we saw a black-tailed deer, which is native to Alaska. It is smaller than the white-tailed deer we are used to. it was hard to see at first, in the distance, but I spotted it when it moved. There was also a bald eagle sitting on the shore.
The captain slowed the boat down for wildlife – we would later see a group of harbor seals basking on a reef island and there were reports of a whale, although I didn’t see it myself.
The views of the mountains, islands and water were spectacular. The water was so still, allowing mirror-like reflections of the land on its surface. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where the border is between land and sea.
I had expected to see waterfalls but there were none – maybe it’s the dry season, but you could see where the waterfalls would be. According to the information we got, Ketchikan is the 4th wettest place on Earth! The greatest amount of rainfall occurs in the fall, especially October. We were lucky to have a beautiful day weatherwise.
Climate change is more visible in Alaska than most places. In the summer of 2004 they had a heat wave, with temperatures in the 90s (degrees Fahrenheit)! For fishermen, hot spells mean very few salmon are caught. Sonja pointed out a mountain that used to be covered with snow year round, but now it has only a few traces of snow.
The spectacular landscape in Misty Fjords, like the rest of the Inside Passage, was carved by glaciers. You can tell how a glacier moved to carve the landscape because of the direction of the striations (lines in the rock). Many rock faces have white marks, or scratches, on them caused by the scraping of boulders that were carried by the glacier.
When we reached Punchbowl Cove – a cove in which the rock face formed a curve in which the glacier had advanced and then receded – we turned around to go back. For some reason, I thought we’d have a chance to actually get off the boat and hike a little.
Instead, at 10:30, we were served a small lunch, either vegetarian chili or clam chowder; I chose chili. Shortly after that, I went downstairs and had a look at the galley where we could buy alcoholic drinks, soft drinks, smoked salmon, dried salmon (I call it “salmon jerky!”), and Alaskan jams and jellies. These had been described to us and there were samples to try. I bought a small jar each of the two most unusual: salmonberry – called this because they resemble salmon eggs – and Sitka spruce jelly, which was very sweet; it tasted almost like raspberries. There was also a sweet honey, also from a spruce tree that bees pollinate because it’s sweeter than other more common sources of honey.
Later they passed out samples of smoked salmon on a Ritz cracker to everyone on board, which was excellent!
On the way back, we had a good look at New Eddystone Rock, located near the entrance of Rudeyerd Bay. It was formed of basalt that rose from a volcanic vent. When glaciers moved in, they carried away most of the flow, leaving behind several islands including New Eddystone. In 1793, while searching for the Northwest Passage, Capt. George Vancouver sailed his ship up Behm Canal, which is now part of Misty Fjords National Monument. Vancouver wrote in his journal, “we saw the remarkable rock resembling a ship under sail. I called it New Eddystone.”
We returned to Ketchikan at nearly high tide, with plenty of time to spend a couple of hours shopping and/or sightseeing. Sonja gave us maps of the town as we got off the boat.