Day 8 of the Cruise
Today we dock in Wrangell, at the north end of Wrangell Island. Wrangell was a major Russian settlement for trapping sea otters in the early 1800s. The Hudson's Bay Company leased the rights from Russia until the sea otters were hunted to near extinction. After Alaska was acquired by the U.S., it became an entry point for the Yukon gold rush and a center of commercial fishing. Today its economy is based on fishing, logging, and tourism. One of the two major sawmills in southeast Alaska is located in Wrangell.
Once the fog had lifted just enough, we boarded our jet boats and headed out for the River. The pilots are intimately familiar with the route and sped along to make up for lost time (click on the short video). Along the way we were treated to some wildlife sightings, although it was difficult to catch them on camera clearly. We did manage to get a fair photo of this bald eagle, though.
We headed into the Lake, passing loads more icebergs, and ended at Shakes Glacier. After waiting around to see if it would calve (it didn't) we headed for a brief sojourn ashore in a picturesque alpine valley. Then we headed back down the lake to the iceberg barrier. Well, the floater had, in fact, returned to its original position blocking the gap we had come through. After much discussion and thought by our pilot (another tour operator had apparently been in the same position and had taken more than three hours to get free), he determined that he could nudge the berg just enough to get the stern of the boat up against the cliff with the bow touching the iceberg, which he did. This boat has no propeller but, rather, the motor forces water through turbines much like a jet engine pushes air. The theory was that the cliff would provide resistance for the water to push against, giving the boat enough power to shove the iceberg out of the way. It worked! By way of unexpected consequences, though, Jan, and I to a lesser extent, enjoyed a brisk surprise shower of near-freezing water. The jet of water hit the cliff, flowed up the cliff face, made a perfect wave curl and broke right on top of us. It was quite a laugh. The pilot was horrified, probably because he thought we would complain, but we assured him it would just make a unique memory. We were right.
We made it through the gap and headed back to Wrangell harbor, the boat's speed making for a nice, clothes-drying breeze.
Tomorrow, on to Thorne Bay and the very small native village of Kasaan.
Our adventure for today is a jet boat ride up the Stikine River to Shakes Glacier in Shakes Lake. We arrived in Wrangell harbor in dense fog which delayed our departure until visibility improved. The mouth of the Stikine river is braided, meaning that there are numerous, shifting, shallow channels to navigate before getting into the river proper. Here's a video of a small boat coming to the dock in the fog.
The Stikine River originates in Northwestern British Columbia and runs about 379 miles to the Eastern Passage of Frederick Sound in Southeast Alaska. It is the fastest navigable free-flowing river in North America. Our trip covers about 35 miles up the river to Shakes Lake, a body of water originating at the Shakes Glacier, which flows into the river. There are a number of rental cabins along the river some on the shore and some on floating platforms. The ones on shore are controlled by the US Forest Service while the floaters are run by the state. The two videos below show some of the icebergs we encountered once we entered the lake.
Partway up the body of water that flows out of Shakes Lake the is a narrow section which is almost entirely blocked by icebergs. The water depth here is about 90 feet and these huge, blocking bergs are resting on the bottom. There is a gap just a little wider than the width of our jet boat which is blocked by a smaller, floating iceberg. Our intrepid pilot decided he could move the berg so that we could continue on our way to Shakes Glacier at the northern end of the lake. The next video is our boat pushing the iceberg out of the way and the other boat coming through the gap he just cleared. It was a slightly scary, very interesting experience. The floating iceberg was on the lake-side of the barrier and, once we entered the lake some of us wondered aloud what would happen if the iceberg floated back into the gap. More about that later...