Wild Rockies Field Institute

Notes from the Field

Mountain Magic in Southeast Alaska

The bay was choked with ice. Everywhere we looked lay a wide, sweeping arc of blue and silver debris, gurgling and cracking and not going anywhere. Just like us.

Just when we thought we’d have to turn back we found a way through, a narrow crescent of clear water along the backside of a tiny spit of land. We emerged in sudden, full view of our destination: the vast, mad pipe organ that is LeConte Glacier. There it was, a short half-mile in front of us, sending down its cold, stiff wind to greet us. And there we were, smiling and shaking our heads at the sight of it.

You can’t really take it all in, not at once. The scale of it – a half-mile wide, twenty-two miles long and 800 feet below us in the blue-green water – simply makes no visual sense. And the more you look at it, the more disorienting it is. So we just stared. Watched as the smudged blue ice came down the valley like a thousand broken houses and turned toward us. Watched as it bent and broke – shoved, curled and twisted – moving slowly toward the sea.

That’s how incredible our trip to Southeast Alaska was this year. We slid into the protected Pacific waters around Wrangell Island and spent the next five weeks sea kayaking and camping in the tumbled, lush old growth that comprises North America’s largest remaining intact temperate rainforest. All this while we read, learned and met with the people who call the place home.

We visited the Anan Creek Wildlife Observatory, a sheltered platform that sits above a salmon spawning creek filled with some 150,000 pink salmon. The sandy-bottomed creek was so choked with dark, four- to six-pound fish that we couldn’t see the color of the sand beneath them. Brown and black bears waited a little way up the falls, lunging at the fish as they passed.

We eventually tore ourselves away from Anan and headed north into the more open waters of Frederick Sound, where the dramatic beginnings of the glaciated Coast Range was the backdrop for the likes of the LeConte Glacier, migrating humpback whales, and every kind of bird imaginable. This year we were lucky enough to see a female goshawk take a crow right out of the air just above our heads, the crow’s feathers drifting down toward us afterward like so much sooty snow.

This wasn’t the only magic to come out of the sky. One night, while we stared at the emerald shimmer of the northern lights, wolves howled somewhere deep in the hills.

This is Southeast Alaska. Come, and embark upon the educational experience of a lifetime.

– Neil Kessler, WRFI instructor, Alaskan Rainforest 2006

< Back to the course

Poetry by Wolf