From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Alaska, Friday, May 21, 2010
This morning, even before breakfast, something odd was in view: houses! We were on approach to the small, Southeast Alaska community of Petersburg, also known as the town that launched a thousand fishing boats. Norwegian-influenced, fishing-built, Petersburg perches at the edge of Wrangell Narrows, a dramatic, winding passage between Mitkof and Kupreanof Islands.
Once docked in our shoehorn-like slip, we fanned out to explore: some by the bicycles left here for our enjoyment, some by Zodiac to hike up to a rich muskeg, some by flight to oversee the steep flow of Le Conte Glacier. Others went by foot through the waysides of town. On the docks, we checked out the designs and riggings of various commercial fishing boats awaiting the next opening and talked to some fisher-folk who had just converted their long-liner to a purse-seiner (it sometimes serves as a crabber, too) and were getting everything in ship-shape for salmon season.
The afternoon took us to Cascade Creek, a torrential waterfall sluicing the spring melt of Southeast Alaska’s snowy peaks. The first group of hikers was startled by a porcupine at the edge of the boardwalk. This second-largest of the rodents was interrupted in its spring browse. For a moment, it decided to climb a spruce. However, five or so feet up, that seemed to be a fairly bad idea, and the porcupine shimmied down the trunk and trundled off into the undergrowth.
Hikers were hydrated by the mist shearing from the falls, and those with Lee peered under skunk cabbage and into boggy pockets and were rewarded by views of one of Alaska’s elusive amphibians: the rough-skinned newt. This orange-bellied creature is more dangerous than its soft skin might indicate. It can exude a toxin from its pores, rendering its predators victim to its perhaps-psychedelic chemical compounds.
Other explorers at Cascade Creek set their own itineraries via kayak and Zodiac, poking among the nooks and crannies to see harlequin ducks, river otters, eagles, and whatever the water and shore had to offer. After picking up anchor, we cruised out into the larger waters of Frederick Sound.
Tomorrow: the dramatic fijords of the Tracy Arm/Ford’s Terror Wilderness Area. We dare it: top today. Top yesterday. Top every single day so far. We’re ready.
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