Around Admiralty Island

Alaska Wilderness Charters Paddleboard Photography Fishing

Arrival

Alaska Wilderness Charters, Alaska Paddleboard Adventure

Plan to arrive in Juneau, Alaska the day prior to trip departure. We suggest spending a night at the Westmark Baranof Hotel or Four Points by Sheraton. Both are located in downtown Juneau.

For a great dinner of fresh seafood, try the halibut, salmon, king crab or black cod at the Twisted Fish Company on Franklin Street. If you're looking for something a bit lighter, we absolutely love the fish tacos at Deckhand Dave's, served from Dave's Taco Truck on Franklin Street. On your way, take some time to browse through the art galleries and gift shops. A great selection of work by talented local artists is available.

And lest we forget, be sure to see Wyatt Earp's pistol at the Red Dog Saloon. Legend has it he briefly passed through the gold mining town of Juneau with his wife Josephine, on their way to Nome. Earp unintentionally left something valuable behind — a Smith & Wesson No. 3 revolver that to this day is a kitschy tourist attraction in the downtown bar.

If you have time, and you're looking for a wilderness workout, two of our favorite hiking trails are the Perseverance Trail (easy to moderate) and the Mt. Roberts Trail (moderate to strenuous). Ask your hotel concierge for directions to the trailhead.

Although we have a carefully planned schedule, each trip may differ slightly, due to wind, weather and tides, wildlife viewing opportunities, and the goals of participants.

Day One

Our journey begins at 10:00 am at Aurora Harbor. The crew will welcome you at the dock and will help you get your gear aboard Glacier Bear. The captain will introduce the crew and provide a boat and safety orientation. The paddleboard guide will preview the eight-day paddling adventure. We will have your staterooms assigned, take a tour of the beautiful vessel, settle into our cabins, and begin our journey.

After departing the harbor, we’ll cruise south through Gastineau Channel, and we’re underway. We'll have ample opportunity to observe and photograph whales, marine mammals, birds, and other wildlife along our route of travel. Traveling by motor yacht, on paddleboards and by foot allows us to closely experience this elaborate ecosystem.

Alaska Wilderness Charters, Alaska Paddleboard AdventureEagle on Buoy

We enter Stephens Passage and continue to circle Douglas Island, heading north to Mansfield Peninsula, the northern point of Admiralty Island. Admiralty Island is a vast wilderness and is preserved as a National Monument. The Funter Bay State Marine Park on Admiralty Island is a magnificent reserve which includes beaches, old growth forest, muskeg and fen, as well as the historic grounds and structures of Point Retreat Light.

We’ll slowly circumnavigate a buoy to photograph grunting sea lions hauled out on the buoy and watch a solitary eagle perched on top of the buoy. Then we’ll continue around the point and turn south, entering Chatham Strait. Our destination this evening is Funter Bay, on the northwest coast of Admiralty Island.

Arriving in Funter Bay in a light rain, we drop anchor and prepare for dinner. And what a treat — fresh halibut crusted with macadamia/panko bread crumbs. Dinner (as always) is awesome. After dinner, wehave a chance to paddle in Funter Bay.

After gaining confidence in our ability to safely maneuver on the water, we’ll return to the comfort of the Glacier Bear. We’ll explore the on-board library of video games, and the “stash” of enticing board games. Oh my gosh, there’s the hot tub? And did we mention wine and beer? Yeah there’s that too. So many choices.

Day Two

From the comfort of our berths, we hear the crew beginning their day in the early morning hours. Neil and Al start the generator and boat engines, while the chef prepares salmon quiche, muffins, granola, fresh fruit and juice. Yummy! Soon the crew pulls up the anchor, and we’re underway.

Alaska Wilderness Charters, Alaska Paddleboard AdventureBrown Bear, Pavlov Harbor

We slowly sail south out of Funter Bay and continue south in Chatham Strait. Our destination is Pavlov Harbor, nestled within Freshwater Bay on the southeast coast of Chichagof Island. Along our route of travel, we’ll keep an eye on the shoreline for brown bears. Pavlov Harbor is a photographer’s dream. Any number of brown bears can often be observed fishing in the rapids and small waterfalls of a river that empties into the harbor.

Suddenly we encounter a pod of orcas. It’s a group of three or four, including a male with his large dorsal fin, one or two females, and a juvenile. We observe their behavior as they linger in the area for 15 to 20 minutes. After the pod of orcas departs to the north, we continue cruising to the south. But there’s never a paucity of wildlife-viewing in Alaska. An hour later, humpback whales begin to make their presence known. Some are near enough that the boat swings in their general direction. Others are far off in the distance. But always exciting.

Arriving in Pavlov Harbor State Marine Park, we have a tantalizing lunch of vegetable and sausage burritos. Then we gear up for our afternoon paddle. Pavlov Harbor is not expansive, but we’ve got plenty of room to separate into pairs and establish our own peaceful rhythm. First, we’ll paddle to the rapids and falls, with hopes to see bears feasting on salmon. But alas, our timing is not good today. Perhaps we’re too early for the salmon run that gets the attention of bears? We continue to paddle for an hour, before returning to the Glacier Bear.

Alaska Wilderness Charters, Alaska Paddleboard AdventureTenakee Springs

By mid-afternoon, the Glacier Bear has turned west into Tenakee Inlet, and we approach the quaint community of Tenakee Springs. A visit to this charming community provides a fun getaway. The crew drops the anchor of Glacier Bear a short distance from the shore. We’re shuttled by skiff in two groups to the seaplane dock, where we disembark and climb the ramp. It’s a short walk to the General Store — our last chance to assess and replenish our “personal” liquor supply. The store has lots of choices, including cases of Alaska Amber Beer, bottles of tequila and vodka, and a variety of packaged goods to support the local community. They even have chocolate-covered almonds! We’ll hang out with local artists at the café, and (if our schedule permits) soak in the 105-degree therapeutic hot springs. Then we’ll walk the length of an unpaved road (there are no cars in Tenakee Springs), past cabins and small lodges along the boardwalk, to the small boat harbor, where we’re picked up by our skiff for the short ride back to the Glacier Bear.

Our destination this evening is Corner Bay (just past Kadashan Bay). As the light gets lower, brown bears begin to appear along the shoreline. They are searching for a quick meal along the beach, and occasionally quarrel with one another over “territorial disputes.” One bear chases another for several hundred yards along the beach. Probably a sow driving an adolescent male away from her cubs. Dinner this evening is the fresh Dungeness Crab we gathered this morning from the crab traps we set in Funter Bay. If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands. Clap, clap!

Day Three

After a hearty breakfast this morning, we'll start our day cruising east out of Tenakee Inlet. But first, we’ll do a little exploration for new paddling opportunities along the coast. One such gem we recently discovered is Basket Bay, which has a "secret" stone arch which is only accessible by paddlers at high tide.

Alaska Wilderness Charters, Alaska Paddleboard AdventureHumpback Whale

We’re quickly underway, and soon we'll need our cameras and binoculars. In this area of Chatham Strait, humpback whales often catch herring and other small schooling fish using a technique called bubble-net feeding. Unique to humpbacks, bubble-net feeding requires a group of whales to work together cooperatively. They gather in formation below large schools of fish and begin releasing bubbles, which confuse the fish and bunch them tightly together. The cylindrical wall of bubbles acts like a net, which fish are reluctant to swim through. On cue, the entire group surges upward through the bubble net, mouths agape — a dozen or more humpback whales all rising to the surface in unison. Each whale collects a huge mouthful of water, and then expels it, straining the fish through their baleen. Often the group will display this feeding behavior over and over again.

By mid-afternoon, we arrive at Warm Springs Bay. A natural hot springs is located slightly above the powerful rushing waterfall. Baranof is a small boardwalk community within Warm Springs Bay, at the outlet of Baranof Lake and the Baranof River. There are natural outdoor hot pools, and a public bath house which features three separate tubs and communal hot springs pools. A boardwalk takes us through the flora and fauna to picturesque Baranof Lake.

We’re excited to experience it all, but first… how about a paddle through a beautiful narrow passage to a salt chuck lagoon? It’s time to challenge our paddling skills — the current runs strong here. We’ve timed our arrival for high slack tide, so that we can easily paddle through the narrows into the lagoon. As we enter, there’s a dramatic change in the landscape. It’s mystical. But we’ll save that surprise. We plan to linger in this Shangri La for an hour or so, until we observe the lagoon starting to empty. Then we’ll ride the building current back through the narrows and return to Warm Springs Bay.

Alaska Wilderness Charters, Alaska Paddleboard AdventureWarm Springs Bay

We see the Glacier Bear, the Baranof dock with a dozen or more fishing boats and sailing boats tied up, the boardwalk, the hot tubs, and of course Baranof Falls. It’s the perfect opportunity to pose for photos in front of the thunderous waterfall that drains Baranof Lake into Warm Springs Bay. But already a couple of paddlers are requesting a dip in the hot springs. Decisions, decisions.

Eventually we return to the Glacier Bear, change out of our paddling gear, and grab a swim suit (optional) and towel. Two groups are shuttled by skiff to the dock. Most people head straight for the hot springs or hot tubs. But usually a couple of stragglers find time to gather wild strawberries and salmonberries along the boardwalk. Hey, what’s the rush?

Aboard the Glacier Bear, we prepare for another wine-tasting. What a perfect way to slow things down. Soon the Chef announces that dinner is ready. Al has a platter of perfectly-cooked filets, and places it on the dining table, right next to another platter of crab melts. Hmm… so there’s a grille hiding under the black cover next to the hot tub? Al’s secret grille.

Everyone seems quiet this evening during and after dinner. Wine and steaks (plus an amazing dessert) are the exclamation point to a phenomenal day.

Day Four

This morning we have crab benedict for breakfast. It’s the Captain’s favorite. After getting underway around 8:00 am, we have a short journey to Red Bluff Bay, where we'll view dozens of waterfalls. Red Bluff Bay features a high ridge on the eastern coast of Baranof Island. The cliffs are brownish-red in color, due to presence of heavy metals, including iron, chromium and magnesium.

Alaska Wilderness Charters, Alaska Paddleboard AdventureRed Bluff Bay

As we enter the bay through a narrow waterway dotted with small islets, we find ourselves in a secluded jewel of a fjord, with an open meadow at the end. We observe dozens of small waterfalls cascading from the heights, and a single large waterfall roars into the bay. Steep mountains surround us on all sides.

Our temporary anchorage is near the western end of the fjord. This morning we’ll have an opportunity to paddle and explore. Short partner paddles, long exploration paddles, we’ll do it all. We’ll even maneuver our paddleboards to within thirty feet of a massive 2,000’ waterfall. It’s a great photo opportunity, and one not to be missed.

Someone suggests it would be awesome to stretch their legs on shore. Hey, great idea! It’s only a short distance by skiff or paddleboard to the west end of the fjord, and the surrounding rainforest of Sitka spruce trees. Two small streams, separated by a meadow roughly one hundred yards wide, empty into the bay. We frequently see brown bear sows with their cubs in this area, foraging along the shoreline.

Around noon, we all reluctantly return from paddling and hiking, and board the Glacier Bear. OK, who’s ready for a Halibut sandwich on a brioche bun? And an enticing salad of watermelon, fresh basil and feta cheese?

Soon we’re underway. This evening’s destination is Pybus Bay. We depart Red Bluff Bay and cross Chatham Straight, continuing east through Frederick Sound. We pass by Murder Cove and beautiful Chapin Bay, along the southern shore of Admiralty Island. Small pods of transient orcas are seen along the way, showing us their large dorsal fins as they pass by. We can smell their fishy breath as they surface, spouting through their blowholes.

Alaska Wilderness Charters, Alaska Paddleboard AdventureDall's Porpoise

Throughout the day, we'll watch for fast-moving pods of Dall's porpoises. One group notices us, and they intercept our course heading. The porpoises joyfully ride our bow wake, darting in and out, and everyone has their iPhone in hand, filming the experience. As we continue cruising west, we're also looking for humpback whales. This time they may be lunge feeding, breaking the surface at a low angle, mouth fully open, and throat cavities expanded like an accordion to collect all the fish they can scoop up by the lunging maneuver.

The Glacier Bear arrives in Pybus Bay in late afternoon, and we prepare for a shore hike before dinner. We often catch a glimpse of brown bears fishing in nearby salmon-filled streams and rivers. With the largest concentration of nesting bald eagles in the world, Admiralty Island offers many chances to see Canadian geese, trumpeter swans, pigeon guillemots, cormorants and blue herons in the fringe habitats between the forest, muskeg, meadow, and along the shore.

The feeling while ashore is one of excitement and danger. Our guide has pepper spray, and several people carry air horns. We want to see bears up close… or do we? But it doesn't matter — tonight is not our night. No bears. Still, we jump for joy in our photos.

Arriving back at the Glacier Bear, the chef announces that dinner is ready. We’re having sockeye salmon with a honey, basil and garlic glaze. Delicious. Following dinner several people wander up to the fly bridge deck and jump into the hot tub. The sound of music and happy dancers lingers into the night.

Day Five

Alaska Wilderness Charters, Alaska Paddleboard AdventureStellar Sea Lions

After a relaxed breakfast, Glacier Bear is underway once again. We have a long transit today, to a location known as Ford’s Terror. But first we’ll pause to observe a colony of Stellar sea lions, crowded onto the rocks of a small island. This idyllic setting is known as The Brothers Islands, and it’s only a short sail from Pybus Bay. The males vie noisily for dominance over their harems. The sounds of grunting sea lions and screeching eagles drift across the morning calm.

Beautiful, remote and protected from outer waters, our stop at a small cove between The Brothers Islands provides a pristine sanctuary — and the perfect place for reflection. During an extra-low tide at The Brothers, anemones gleam brilliantly. Verdant green moss covers the forest floor of East Brother Island, while rocky West Brother Island is strewn with a profusion of blue gentians, Indian paintbrush, river beauties, lupine and other colorful wildflowers.

We’re soon cruising once again, pointed toward the entrance to Ford’s Terror Wilderness. Two fjords provide access to the wilderness area: Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm. We plan to visit both. As we pass by Five Finger Islands Light, another fast-moving group of darting Dall's porpoises graces us with their presence. Throughout the day, we'll watch for whales, Dall’s porpoises, orcas, and shorebirds especially near Sail Island.

Alaska Wilderness Charters, Alaska Paddleboard AdventureFord's Terror

We have planned our day to arrive at Wood Spit at slack tide. It’s the optimal time to proceed through the entrance of Endicott Arm. Along the way we'll be alert for drifting icebergs, as well as occasional humpback whales and orcas. And no sooner do we think it — and a pod of orcas appears near the spit. These are resident orcas, and they are feasting on the salmon in the whirlpools caused by the great volume of water moving in and out of Endicott Arm.

We pass the Sumdum Islands, cast aside centuries ago in the wake of the retreating Dawes Glacier, and enter Ford’s Terror in the early evening. One mesmerizing waterfall after another enters our view, cascading down the side of the mountains and cliffs. Glacier Bear slowly glides through the water, hugging oh-so-closely to the steep granite walls. We settle into a small cove nested within Ford’s Terror, surrounded by massive ridges cloaked in mist-covered rainforest. It’s an idyllic paradise.

Our evening anchorage provides a great opportunity for a quiet paddle in the turquoise-blue waters, and a tasty dinner of Black Cod. We’re swinging slowly in front of a delightful waterfall. Black bears often visit the area near our anchorage, grazing on the abundance of berries in the meadows, and fishing for salmon in the streams. With each passing day, the wonder and amazement builds. Such anticipation for each unfolding day. What’s in store for tomorrow?

Day Six

Today will be an action-filled day! An early morning departure takes us deep into the Endicott Arm, a narrow fjord that twists and turns through towering mountains. Massive glaciers have carved their way through these coastal mountains. Waterfalls cascade thousands of feet off the granite mountains, and one looks like stair-steps. Sapphire-blue icebergs serenely float by in the murky emerald green water. We'll continue all the way to the Dawes Glacier, at the ice-choked end of the fjord. Extraordinarily blue and beautiful, this glacier is famous for its active calving, and we’ll linger at the face of the glacier, hoping to witness gigantic chunks of ice breaking away.

Alaska Wilderness Charters, Alaska Paddleboard AdventureEndicott Arm

We'll have a chance to paddle through iceberg-laden waters. Dry suits are brought out, and they are strongly recommended for this paddle. We’ll have a fitting while underway to our destination. Today we’ll also need warmer clothes, including jackets and hats. After all, there are icebergs in the water — safety first!

While paddling among the icebergs, we’re able to observe the antics of dozens of harbor seals hauled out on the ice. The glacier continues rumbling and thundering. Like the explorers here before us, the majesty and awe of this ice-carved landscape has etched itself into our memories. If time and conditions permit, we may hike up a newly-formed valley on the north side of the fjord, recently uncovered by the receding North Dawes Glacier. The icy glacial outwash river divides a meadow and scree slope and features a big waterfall. Black bears commonly come down to the meadow to graze. We'll take in the magnificent vistas and listen for the mournful howls of wolves.

Sometime in the early afternoon, we'll reverse directions. We’ll proceed to Fords Terror, one of the most spectacular destinations in Alaska. There are several places to explore by paddleboard. Once again, it’s all about timing. We have to enter Ford’s Terror at slack tide, and we can only remain for an hour or so. The current builds exceptionally quickly and standing waves will block our escape. Hence the name “Ford’s Terror.” An early surveyor of the area (Ford) described the standing waves in chilling terms.

We cautiously paddle throughout Ford's Terror, and slowly find our way into the T-shaped terminus of this section of the fjord. We are in a vertical world of granite cliffs and glacier-carved cirques. Dozens of waterfalls cascade down their slopes, emptying into the turquoise waters of the fjord. Surrounded by 3,500-foot granite faces, we marvel at the mist clinging to the precipices. We'll make our way back before the tidal rapids begin to build, leaving behind the majestic and stunning inner fjord.

Alaska Wilderness Charters, Alaska Paddleboard AdventureSanford Cove

Although it’s late afternoon, we still have one more destination to visit, and it’s a beauty! We depart Ford’s Terror proceed for an hour to Sanford Cove, near the Sumdum Islands. Sanford Cove is the abandoned site of the mining community of Sumdum. Nothing remains of the town, other than a few pilings. This is prime salmon-spawning habitat, luring brown bears to the area. Black bears are on the prowl too, feasting on abundant berries. We hike along the bank of tiny Sanford Creek, through an old growth Sitka spruce and Douglas fir forest, and discover a stunning waterfall, illuminated by the late afternoon light in a remarkable grotto of ferns and mosses. It’s absolutely unbelievable, and it’s the perfect location for (you guessed it) another group photo!

And suddenly it’s 6:00 pm. Where did the day go? We still have to cruise to our evening anchorage in No Name Cove. Not a problem, we’ll just have dinner while we’re underway. And what a dinner! Halibut, risotto and asparagus. With boysenberry pie and ice cream for dessert.

We arrive in No Name Cove around 8:00 pm. It’s beautiful evening, with many boats on anchor, nestled snuggly within the cove. As the sun slowly slips behind the mountains, sounds of music and dancing emanate from the general area of the hot tub. It’s party time!

Day Seven

After a relaxed breakfast, Glacier Bear is underway once again. The scenery changes dramatically, as we slowly slip by the granite cliffs enclosing Tracy Arm. Similar to Endicott Arm, Tracy Arm is also a narrow fjord that winds its way through towering mountains. The mountains here seem more barren, evidence that this fjord was carded more recently than Endicott Arm. There are fewer waterfalls cascading off the granite mountains, although they are still spectacular. Hundreds of icebergs serenely float by in the blue-green water.

Alaska Wilderness Charters, Alaska Paddleboard AdventureTracy Arm

We'll continue as far as we can toward the Sawyer Glacier, at the ice-choked end of the fjord. This glacier is more massive than the Dawes Glacier. We depart the safety of Glacier Bear, team up with our paddling partners, and paddle closer to the face of the glacier, hoping to witness an active calving underway. It’s a tantalizing world of ice, and we are drawn forward, cautiously. Our guide Michelle sets distance parameters for us, keeping us well away from the danger zone. As massive chucks of ice break away from the face of the glacier, we marvel at their size and impact. Eventually the volume of water that they displace builds into a series of rolling waves, and we drop down to our knees and ride it out safely.

Our journey is nearing completion. We want to remain as long as possible in this magical world, and the Captain understands our emotions. After all he’s a waterman, a surfer and paddle boarder! After a couple of hours of spectacular paddling among the smaller icebergs, we gather one last time — this time directly in front of a gigantic iceberg, for a final group photo. And it’s a keeper!

Now it’s time to begin the final journey home. We board the Glacier Bear and turn back towards civilization. Our evening destination is Taku Harbor State Marine Park, a natural, bowl-shaped harbor that was once home to a major salmon cannery. The 700-acre marine park is located on the eastern shore of Stephens Passage, about 22 miles southeast of Juneau. The harbor is frequently used as a night anchorage by commercial fishing boats and small tour ships.

We’ll explore the small cabins and abandoned building in Taku Harbor, and gear up for a quiet, reflective paddle inside the safe, protected waters. It has been an amazing week of new friends, new challenges, and unparalleled scenery on our nearly 400-mile journey. Tonight, we’ll celebrate the many memories we have shared.

Day Eight

Alaska Wilderness Charters, Alaska Paddleboard AdventureDowntown Juneau

Our eight-day adventure concludes today. This morning we’ll cruise back to the comforts of Juneau. We're heading north through Stephens Passage, and we’ll be docking right where we started, at Aurora Harbor in downtown Juneau. We plan to arrive no later than 12:00 noon, so if you need to catch an afternoon flight, you’ll make it to the airport in plenty of time.

The chef prepares a salmon quiche and lots of tasty goodies. We’ll enjoy breakfast while watching a slideshow of the week’s highlights on the television above the buffet. Some are brought to the verge of tears. It has been an amazing week, and for many it’s still sinking in...

YES. WE DID THIS!

The scenic community of Juneau is nestled between forested mountains and the waters of Alaska's Inside Passage. The population is 32,500, making it the third most populous city in Alaska (after Anchorage and Fairbanks). There's plenty to see while you’re in Juneau, especially in the historic downtown district. You'll be able to catch an Alaska Airlines flight today or morrow from Juneau, with connections to Seattle. If you’re staying in town tonight, you’re invited to join the crew for Happy Hour at McGivney's Sports Bar and Grill on the main level of Four Points by Sheraton.

Alaska Wilderness Charters Paddleboard Photography Fishing

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Alaska Wilderness Charters Paddleboard Photography Fishing