My current home the Coral Princess left Alaska a few weeks ago and we are now on a sixty day cruise that is headed to Japan, South Korea, China, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Guam Hawaii and back to our port of original Los Angeles.
After spending six summers in Alaska on various cruise ships in Alaska it is time to say goodbye, at least for now. I have already confirmed my next ship the Diamond Princess for next summer that will home port in Yokohama. Instead of my usual summer in Alaska I will be enjoying Japan, South Korea and Russia.
I want to take the time to give a special thanks to some special friends that I have made over the years while in Alaska…
I’d first like to thank the owner/captain David Lethin, his wife “the Commodore”, Shauna Lee the Chief Operation Officer and the crew for the many trips taken on the Aleutian Ballad. Also for the privilege of providing many of the photographs for their book and the cover photograph.
I would also like to thank Paul and Amy of the Mountain Flying Service in Skagway for the handful of flights that I was able to take over the summers. Being able to soar over mountains, glaciers and Glacier Bay National Park was truly remarkable and something I will never forget.
I’d like to say thank you to Kathy Shen who took a special interest in my book for her store Broadway Jewelry in Skagway and for inviting me to also supply her with not only my book but also photographs for next summer. I’d also like to congratulate her on her new store and location in Skagway next year.
Another thanks to Ken Decker and his wife Monica the owners of Crazy Wolf Studio in Ketchikan for carrying my book in their store, for their friendship and for the unique gift of a salmon leather wallet.
In closing I’d like to say a very special thank you to my good friend Rich Lee the owner/operator of Aurora Birds and Bears Tours of Ketchikan. I have become very close to Rich over the years, taken many tours to photograph bears and sat in his van shooting the breeze and enjoying his friendship. Rich has welcomed me into his family and I will miss him the most.
I am sure that I will someday go back to the mountains and streams of Alaska as it just gets in your blood. My son once told me when he was young “dad you are a mountain man not a beach boy”.
With that said let’s take a quick look back at a few of my favorite photographs of Alaska…
and my favorite shots of Alaska… my grandson Basil
I have heard about this shore excursion for some time but had never decided to see it for myself until now. My grandson Basil Pannell was joining me on my ship to cruise Alaska and the Inside Passage for two weeks and I wanted him to have a very unique vacation.
I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to see something new and to give Basil a chance to experience flying in a seaplane. And not only fly in a seaplane but to fly over a number of glaciers and land at a remote lodge.
Being in Juneau on my ship, the Coral Princess, affords me the opportunity to stop at the office of Wings Airway on the dock downtown Juneau. The staff was very friendly and helpful and there were a couple of different options. Between the 5 Glacier Seaplane Exploration and the Taku Lodge Feast and 5 Glacier Discovery I chose the later.
The tour totaled 3 hours of which you flew over 5 glaciers you also enjoyed 2 hours at the Taku Glacier Lodge located in the backcountry at the foot of the Taku Glacier.
Basil and I arrived at the Wings Airway office joining others taking the tour for a short safety talk before boarding the seaplane. The DeHavilland Otter is known as an Alaskan workhorse and a very reliable aircraft.
Once onboard the pilot turns the plane, pushes the throttle forward increasing speed as we race down the Gastineau Channel with Douglas Island on one side and the town of Juneau on the other lined with a number of cruise ships visiting for the day. Gently the seaplane lifts free of the water and you are airborne.
The flight itself was nothing short of spectacular. Every seat is afforded a large window as you climb high above the mountains and the channel below. After a couple minutes the pilot banks the plane and we are flying up the Taku Inlet. The Throughfare Mountains in the near distance and directly below are the Annez Lakes that are nestled within the valleys and snow covered peaks.
Then before you know it the North Branch of the Norris Glacier appears cutting its way through the mountains, a frozen river ice on its way to the sea. You feel as if you can reach out and touch the glaciers as they pass underneath the plane they are so close.
The glaciers twist and turn carrying dirt, rubble and boulders as they travel. This leaves the glacier streaked with shades of white to gray to black resembling racing stripes mixed with the various shades of blue ice that we have come to expect.
The different variations of blue are due to thousand of years of compression and how the ice crystals themselves bend the light. There are areas of light blue to very deep blue and every shade in between.
Flying over the glacier you see this color variation as you look into the crags in the crust of the glacier itself. It is also apparent at the edge of the glacier where it has calved exposing the ice within.
As you around yet another mountain at the edge of a glacial river across from the Taku Glacier sits the Taku Glacier Lodge where you will spend the next 2 hours. Here you can explore the surrounding woods on a number of hiking trails, visit the gift shop or just sit and relax on a porch swing as the cook prepares you meal of fresh salmon being cooked on an outdoor grill.
Basil and I decided to hike through the dense forest along one of the trails only to be recalled by the sound of the clang of a iron triangle best known in western movies and on ranches.
The lunch consisted of fresh Alaskan salmon, fresh coleslaw, baked beans, sourdough bread matched with fruit compote, herb biscuits and ginger cookies for desert.
After lunch Basil and I once again decided to take a hike down another trail this time in the opposite direction. It is so peaceful in the backcountry with the sounds of the various birds calling to one another or the wind rustling through the trees.
After about 30 minutes we returned to the grounds at the lodge and settled in on one of the comfortable chairs to enjoy a view of the Taku Glacier just across the river.
We were then surprised by one of the many black bears that a frequent the lodge and its ground. The bear know as Lucy appeared from the woods and made a beeline behind the buildings headed for what she knew was to be something special.
You see it too heard the sound of the iron triangle and also with a keen sense of smell knew that fresh salmon was on the menu. As soon as it reached the large stone and iron grill it climbed on top and began to lick the remains of any salmon left behind. Once she had her fill and everything was licked clean she climbed down and once again headed back into the woods no doubt to take a long nap after her lunch.
Our time at the lodge had expired and we once again boarded the seaplane. Along the way we continued to fly over mountains and glaciers with our eyes fixed out the windows. We had excellent views of the Taku Glacier, Hole-On-The-Wall Glacier, West Twin Glacier and the East Twin Glacier as we made our way back to Juneau.
Upon reaching Juneau our pilot set the plane down gently on the waterway and taxied to the pier where we had began our journey.
I cannot express what a wonderful shore excursion this is and I will impress on you when In Juneau you should seriously considered taking a flight over the glaciers and to the Taku Glacier Lodge on the 5 Glacier Seaplane Exploration tour from Wings Airway.
For more information visit the website wingsairway.com and contact Wings Airway by calling 907-586-6275 or email info@wingsairwayscom
Lets face it one on the major reasons people to take a cruise to Alaska is for spectacular views of glaciers that you are afforded from the deck of a ship. Even flying over them which I have done in a small plane several times does not compare to being right upfront and personal with a glacier only a few hundred yards away. It is nothing short of magnificent!
This is my sixth summer in Alaska I have seen my fair share of glaciers. From the Sawyer Glacier in the Tracy Arm Fjord in the south to the Hubbard Glacier in Yakutat Bay in the north I never get tired of seeing them.
This is the fourth time I have started to write this post with a couple of different takes on glaciers. I’ve tried to portray what it is like to cruise deep into a fjord filled with waterfalls and cascades overflowing with water or what it is like to paddle up a glacial river to the face of a glacier. My thoughts of cruising into large bays like College Fjord and Glacier Bay that holds a number glaciers as they carve through the mountains like rivers of ice until they reach their final destination, the bay itself.
Each time I have begun writing within a couple paragraphs I come to the same realization… it is impossible to express in words the grandeur of a glacier. You realize how insignificant we are as humans and the power and beauty of nature in its purest form.
With that said lets take another break from the storyline and text of a travel guide and enjoy the photographs of several of the glaciers you will see while in Alaska. After all as the old saying goes… “a picture is worth a thousand words”.
One of my absolute favorite Alaskan adventures and another Bucket List item was to board a small plane and fly over the mountains, valleys, fjords and the glaciers of Alaska. I’ve wanted this for years and when in Skagway, Alaska I got my chance by contacting Mountain Flying Service.
I placed a call Amy Swanstrom and booked a flight for the next available flight when I would be back in Skagway. I am fortunate that working on a cruise ship enables me to be at the same ports every week. I suggest that you call as soon as you know the dates that you will be there because flights are limited and book well in advance.
Your pilot Paul, Amy’s husband, like all Alaskan bush pilots is a special breed of professional. Since 1992 he has been flying over the Chilkat Mountains, St. Elias Range, Glacier Bay National Park and has logged the more airtime then any bush pilot in the area. For years he has given has clients up close and personal views of Mt. Fairweather that reaches 15,325 feet into the clear blue skies and the surrounding mountains and glaciers and fjords below.
The DHC-2 Beaver is one of the world’s premiere bush planes. Every person on the plane is afforded great views as the Beaver has windows that are four to five times larger then other bush planes. You are given a set of Bose stereo headphones that allow you to hear the excellent narration from Paul as he highlights the terrain and gives notice of any wildlife coming into view.
Once airborne Paul directs the plane towards the mountaintops, many still covered with snow as you fly high above the fjord leaving Skagway behind. Depending on the flight and the weather Paul will determine your ultimate route as he winds through the mountain passes and over the glaciers below.
There are three different flights available and I have enjoyed the first two. First I choose “Flight #1 Glacier Bay to the East Arm”. The flight is approximately sixty minutes long and you soar above the Davidson and Rainbow Glaciers as well as the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. If you are lucky you might even see one of the glaciers calve. Keep an eye out for wildlife as I have seen mountain goats and brown bear during my flights.
Even though I have taken Flight #1 and really enjoyed it the extra flight time with Flight #2 is well worth the cost. With the flight lasting approximately 1.3 hours you not only enjoy the flight over the Glacier Bay East Arm of Flight #1 but also in addition you will explorer the Glacier Bay West Arm.
The extra time also allows you to discover Mount Fairweather as it towers 15,320 feet above sea level and Mount Crillion at 12,700 feet. You will enjoy views of the Pacific and Marjorie Glacier in the Tarr Inlet and the John Hopkins, Lamplugh and Reid Glaciers.
What makes this flight even more special is not only do you see these glaciers from above during your flight but you also will enjoy many of these same glaciers while aboard your ship if traveling to Glacier Bay during your cruise. Seeing them from both perspectives is truly amazing.
I have taken both Flight #1 and Flight #2 a handful of times. If you are a little more adventurous and depending on the time of year for a small added fee, that basically cover the extra fuel needed for a second take off you can land either on a glacier or as I did later in the season on a remote beach.
The one flight I have yet to take is Flight #3 The Grand Flight, which I hope to do this summer. This remarkable two hour flight affords you an eagle’s eye view of the mountains of Southeast Alaska. You will soar over Glacier National Park, fly past Mount Fairweather and Mount Crillion and out into the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Alaska.
In addition to the myriad of the other glaciers you marvel at along the way will also enjoy views of the La Perouse Glacier, which is the only glacier in Alaska that calves directly into the Pacific Ocean.
Flights range from $200 to $350 person depending on which incredible adventure you decide is for you. Having taken both Flight #1 and Flight #2 I am going to highly recommend Flight #2 for the extra couple dollars. I’m sure once I take Flight #3 I will be recommending it instead of Flight #2.
This maybe your one and only chance to see such spectacular views in a private charter plane in Alaska. After all how often do you get to Alaska? The one thing I will guarantee you whatever flight you decide it will be something you never forget.
To book your flight contact Amy directly at Mountain Flying Service at (907) 766 – 3007 or visit the website mountainflyingservice.com
Those of you that follow my blog and those of you that are new will find out what others already know I am an avid photographer. With this in mind this post is going to focus on photographing Kodiak bears.
This has been a Bucket List item for me for many years. I have lived in Yosemite National Park for a number of years and have photographed black bears. I have also gone on numerous tours in Ketchikan, Alaska and also have photographed many black bears there. However when in Alaska you have the chance of capturing on film, to coin an old phrase, Kodiak brown bears, which are typically larger, then their cousins the grizzly bears found in the Lower 48.
To accomplish this I again contacted Matt Boline of Bear Creek Outfitters in Juneau, Alaska and booked a trip. As before the excursion starts at the ship where you are picked up by a private van and taken to the Juneau airport.
The major difference this time is that you are not donning fly fishing gear and grabbing a rod. Again you will meet your pilot and guide and be given a short lecture on safety and what to expect while on your bear viewing adventure.
Once on your floatplane and airborne you marvel at the views of the Mendenhall Glacier. Continuing your flight over the ocean you enjoy mountains views that surround the plane on both sides. Several islands line your path along the way with the shoreline covered with numerous coves and the occasional stream or waterfall cascading into the sea.
Your pilot gently lands on a large channel of water near an island and taxis to the shoreline. You are once again briefed on safety as your guide grabs his rifle and you begin your short hike to a nearby stream.
The hike is not very far and it is not very strenuous but it is not flat either. This is not an adventure for those that have a hard time walking and not accustom to walking on mountain trails. Upon reaching your destination, a viewing area next to a salmon filled stream, get comfortable. You will now find yourself facing the hardest part of the tour, the wait.
Every good photographer will tell that that photography is a game of patience. You are waiting for the right light, waiting for the sunrise or sunset, waiting for the shadows to creep across the landscape just right or in this case you are waiting for the bears to show.
Wildlife photographers are probably the most patient of all photographers. They have to wait for all of the above but in addition they have to hope the game shows, that the subjects are close enough and that they do what you have in mind to get that great photograph.
When I have taken friends on bear viewing trips I always get the same question, “are there going to bears”. I always answer the same way with a “maybe”. I remind them that these are wild animals and they are not waiting in the trees thinking “well Larry is going to be down by the stream in an hour I guess I better head that way”.
Our guide told us that this was a frequent stop for the bears as it was filled with salmon. While we waited for the bears a salmon every now and then would leap up the cascade making their way upstream to the spawning beds.
On this day as luck would have it the Kodiaks showed after an hour wait. On the far side of the stream a female with two cubs around a year old broke through the brush lining the stream and headed towards a small cascade about 100 yards in front of us.
The bears walked alone the bank of the river eventually entering the stream. They would stop here and there trying to decide where to try their luck. Soon they would continue making their way to the cascade.
Climbing up on the rocks the three of them positioned themselves scanning the river looking for fish. Careful not to fall into the river they would slap the water snagging a salmon under the watchful eye of their mother.
When one was successful the other would do his best to steal it for himself. Eventually they would share in the spoils; there was plenty of fish for all.
I remember as my camera clicked away that I hope the exposure was correct, that they light would hold and that everything was in focus. I took as many photographs as time would allow never knowing when the bears would get their fill and once again slip back into the dense forest and disappear.
After about an hour of shooting the guide said it was time to go. We backed up our gear and slowly retreated back along the trail leading to the beach and the floatplane.
On the flight back everyone was reviewing the shots on their cameras and reliving the days adventure. We were glad that the bears decided to make an appearance and give us a chance to witness what would be for many a trip of a lifetime.
If you are in Juneau and you are a photographer I highly recommend that you give Matt a call and book this excursion. How many people actually get to fly to a remote island and witness these magnificent animals in their environment and nature in it’s full glory… not many.
The above photograph was recognized by the editors of Shutterbug Magazine and published in the “Top 10 Nature Photographs of the Year 2018”.
It was also recognized by National Geographic Magazine photo editor David Lee as a “Favorite” in the National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year 2018 in the Nature Category.
To book this tour contact Bear Creek Outfitters, Matt Boline – Operations Manager – 8991 Yandukin Drive Juneau, Alaska – (907) 723-2663
Next join me for a flightseeing adventure over the mountains and glaciers of Glacier Bay National Park leaving from the Skagway, Alaska with the Mountain Flying Service.
I have had three major passions for most of my life… photography, fishing and backpacking.
Having lived and worked in Yosemite National Park for three years I have hiked hundreds of miles throughout the Sierras.
Later in life I lived the Rockies near Sun Valley and Stanley, Idaho again finding myself hiking trails and fishing the pristine waters.
I think this is why I have felt such a kinship with Alaska. Just like Yosemite and the Rockies it gets into your blood. This is my sixth summer of traveling to Alaska and the Inside Passage and I am already looking forward to coming back next year.
Working as an Acupuncturist at Sea on various cruise ships I have been to the ports of Juneau, Ketchikan and Skagway dozens of times. I have become friends with a handful of locals and I have entered a restaurant, a store or walked down a street and someone has come up and said, “you are back”. It makes me feel welcome and at home.
One person I have been acquainted with over the last couple years is Matt Boline of Bear Creek Outfitters in Juneau. I have never met Matt in person but have spoken to him several times by telephone. He helped me book a couple tours that covered three of my Bucket List items.
One was to go flightseeing in a floatplane, another fly-fishing for salmon in a remote location and a third flying to an island and photographing Kodiak bears in the wild as they feed on salmon.
This post is going to cover two adventures, fly-fishing and the bear viewing. They both start with a flight to a remote island on a floatplane. You are met at your ship by a private van and taken to the Juneau airport where the field office of Bear Creek Outfitters and the floatplanes are located.
Once you arrive you will meet your guide and pilot. If you start, as I did, with the fly-fishing tour you will be outfitted with a pair of waders, given a fly rod and purchase an Alaska fishing license. You are also given a short safety lecture about the flight and what to expect during the day.
Next you are shuttled to the floatplane on the other side of the runway. The engine roars as your speed increases down the waterway, the plane shutters a bit and the next thing you know you are airborne.
Along the way you have great views of the Mendenhall Glacier, the surrounding mountains, the inner island waterways and the myriad of beaches and coves that dot the numerous islands in and around Juneau.
After enjoying the flightseeing for approximately 30 minutes the pilot gently banks the plane and lands on calm water coming to rest on the shoreline of a remote island.
Debarking the plane you grab you gear, spread out and begin fly-fishing. I personally have fly fished for years but regardless of your experience from novice to expert the guide is with you to share advice and his strategy.
With a change in the tide we took a short walk from the main channel to a small tidal creek. You could see the fish laying there waiting for you to try your luck. In our case it was Dolly Varden that was available and everyone on the trip was able to catch and land fish.
I personally along with a couple others landed salmon in the main channel. For those that did not all fishermen know they call it “fishing” or a reason… otherwise they would call it “catching”.
At the end of our trip we again loaded into the floatplane and headed back to the Juneau airport after a successful day of fishing and I ticking off a couple Bucket List items.
I want to apologize that I do not have photographs of this excursion. Instead of a camera in my hands it was a fly rod and I was busy catching fish… lol
To book this tour contact Bear Creek Outfitters, Matt Boline – Operations Manager – 8991 Yandukin Drive Juneau, Alaska – (907) 723-2663
ALEUTIAN BALLAD… THE DEADLIEST CATCH CRAB FISHING TOUR
If traveling northbound your first port of call will be Ketchikan. A small scenic town of 14,000 people and one of the rainiest North American cities averaging 160 inches per year. In the summer cruise season the temperature averages in the high sixties.
Today I find myself once again in Ketchikan, Alaska as I hurry down the gangway heading for one of my very favorite tours in Alaska, The Deadliest Catch Crab Fishing Tour.
The tour is given onboard the Aleutian Ballad of season two. It is probably most remembered as the boat the was hit broadside by a sixty foot rogue wave nearly capsizing the boat and throwing the crew into the frigid waters of the Bering Sea. However in it’s homeport of Ketchikan, Alaska this is not an issue as you are in the calm, protected waters just off the coast.
Captain/owner Dave Lethin and his crew of merry misfits are “old salts” and extremely knowledgeable and entertaining. One thing that I have noticed over the years I have taken this tour is that everyone is treated like family including the guests.
You will feel right at home sitting in comfortable chairs of the boats amphitheater style seating so everyone has a great view. During cold weather you are heated from above and also sheltered if you encounter any rain, after all this is Alaska. Another huge plus is that the tour is wheelchair accessible so everyone has a chance to enjoy this excursion.
The Aleutian Ballad Crab Fishing Tour is very unique and is a hands on experience. You will be able to hold live crab, shrimp and other sea creatures after listening to the crew sharing their knowledge of the ocean and it’s inhabitants.
One of my favorite highlights is traveling to nearby Annette Island. Here 40-50 American Bald Eagles swarm out of the trees like mosquitos and diving only feet from the boat feeding on fish thrown into the water by the crew.
Many times I have heard guests say “I’ve seen eagles before we have them at home” and then those same people say, “I’ve never seen anything like this, ever”. It’s truly a once in a lifetime adventure not to be missed.
They are going to tug on your heartstrings as well. You will hear stories of friends and family that have been lost at sea. One day I was in the wheelhouse and Terry Barkley one of the captains. Terry is usually a very gregarious man always with a joke on his the tip of his tongue. But on this day, at this moment he stopped short. His face grew solemn and his voice softened. He told me how his brother lost his life just a few months before working on another crab fishing vessel. After a few minutes of quiet reserve Terry once again was back to being a cheerful and telling tales of the sea he loves so well. Pushing the memory deep inside at least for now.
I talk of this, as does Terry to the guests at times as a prelude to the Aleutian Ballad Crab Fisherman’s Memorial Fund. The fund was started to assist family members and proceeds of the fund are distributed to the families of those lost in the Bering Sea.
The crew will haul a crab fishing pot from the cold depths adorned with tags having the names of loved one written on them. Anyone can and is encouraged to do so in remembrance of a friend or family member that they have lost.
I made a donation and wrote the name of my daughter-in-law, Stephanie Pannell that died the year before at the tender age of thirty-four. After the tags are tied onto the pot it is sent over the side back to Davey Jones. At the end of the season the tags are removed and sent to Oregon to be displayed on a wall at the memorial.
To join the crew of the Aleutian Ballad and experience this exciting adventure contact your ships shore excursion desk. You can also contact them directly by contacting Shauna Lee, Chief Operations Officer of the Aleutian Ballad at alaskacrabtour.com, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 888-239-3816.
If you have taken a tour on the Aleutian Ballad and would like a coffee table book of your trip or would like a more in depth look please note I have written of my experiences and photography taken while onboard. It is available through this blog site both in print and in eBook format.
Next Stop…. Juneau Bear Viewing and Fly Fishing for Salmon, Grayling and Dolly Varden