Voyaging South Through the Inside Passage

Humpback whale sounding in Stephens Passage beneath the ragged peaks of the Coast Range.

Just as we thought we were getting caught up on our blog entries, off we went on another adventure. So it’s time to work on wrapping up 2011, getting ready for an exciting new year.

As the summer sun began to wane in Seattle, we ventured northward once again to join the National Geographic Sea Lion on her yearly voyage south from Alaska. This is a trip we’ve done many times along the gorgeous Inside Passage from Sitka, Alaska, through British Columbia on down to Seattle. This itinerary is always full of beauty and variety, with the changing weather adding its own improvisations to the mix.

In early September, we typically find salmon still running in the streams on Chichigof Island, a great place to look for bears. At Pavlov Harbor, we waited patiently with a small and dedicated group of photo-graphers by the tumbling river below the falls. Sprinkling rains came and went as the tide slowly rose beside us. Even-tually our patience paid off as a large, coastal brown bear came out of the woods a short distance upstream. The bear waded out into the river, snagging fish for an afternoon meal.

Southeast Alaska is rainforest country, and we encountered a fair bit of rain during the first few days of this voyage. The stormy clouds cracked open in dramatic fashion during our full day in Glacier Bay National Park, giving us rays of sun spot-lighting the mountainous landscapes, then rainbows over icy fjords and glaciers. The first glimpses of autumn were colorful daubs of yellow cottonwood trees accenting the land.

Continuing southward from Juneau, we encountered large numbers of humpback whales in Stephens Passage, three diving right under the ship. Then came a large group of killer whales moving northward, with the peaks of Admiralty Island as a backdrop beneath the late afternoon sun.

Misty Fjords National Monument was decked out in her finest gossamer veils of clouds draping the spiky forests and steep fjord walls. The clouds transformed the landscape, trailing the forests with thin pale wisps in places, and thicker opaque strokes reaching into dark valleys.

Sailing southward in British Columbia, the northern lights swept green in pulses across the night sky behind us. Dawn in the secluded waters of Aaltanash Inlet was stunning, with slowly swirling fog drifting amid beaming sunshine, creating one of the most memorable days of the voyage.

Our grand finale came in Johnstone Strait where we had wonderful views of a resident pod of killer whales swimming past our ship on a calm and sunny afternoon. As grand finales should, it just kept getting better as we then encountered an enormous group of Pacific white-sided dolphins moving up the middle of the strait. There were many hundreds of animals all together, surging in small gangs in our stern wake, others leaping skyward ahead of us time and again. Our many years of practice photographing dolphins in Baja California paid off, as these “Lags,” (as we affectionately call them for their Latin name: Lagenorhynchus obliquidens), played as perfect subjects.

The final good thing about this particular itinerary is our quick commute home from the pier in Seattle.

In Southeast Alaska, one often encounters “moody” weather which can occasionally make for very memorable photos. We were pelted with rain in the town of Petersburg — really yucky!, but by the time our ship began leaving the harbor the rain had let up, leaving low clouds wrapping the edges of town. Many people disappeared into the ship to dry off, get a hot drink, and likely missed some very brief but exquisite scenery at ships and piers appeared and disappeared in the gauzy fog.

Click on this link to our Photo Tips pages for more in-depth information on Optimizing Foggy Scenes.

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About Rikki & Jack Swenson

Photo Expedition & Photo Safari Leaders
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2 Responses to Voyaging South Through the Inside Passage

  1. Vicki Santello says:

    Lovely! Thanks for sharing and continued wonderful travels for 2012.

  2. di and bobby says:

    Fabulous post….as usual (like the authors)

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