It is day six of our trip, the final full morning of operations before we sail to Sitka. We have missed seeing good views of brown bears. Our expedition leader has a plan that ends up giving us views of bears beyond what we hoped for. Breakfast is early before we hustle to shuttle guests to shore. A ten-minute hike around the point and up the small salmon river is the setting for a fabulous show. There are five brown bears! We observe a pair of subadults and a sow with cubs. At one point, the more aggressive of the cubs starts an unearthly growling noise and tries to nurse on his mum. She is hungry and focused on fishing, and she gives a much louder and more aggressive growl in response, as if to say, “Dinner is ready when I say it is!” The youngster gets the message, and the family moves on. This opportunity to watch such wildlife in silence is a gem within the trip. We witness two successful catches of silver salmon and must refrain from cheering for the bear’s reward. There is much to contemplate as we sail through stormy weather back to port.
National Geographic Quest
Morning fog swallowed the Southeast Alaskan wilderness. As we cruised into Ushk Bay, anticipation seized the vessel. This morning’s hikes and Zodiac cruises were to be our final operations of the trip; every last one of us was eager to be ensconced in the wonders of the Tongass once again. Following a delicious breakfast — prepared by head chef Paul Cotta and his dedicated team — we set out for shore. Through a light rain we cruised on Zodiacs toward our landing, scattering bald eagles and common mergansers that had congregated along the shore. Ushk Bay’s annual salmon run was nearing its conclusion —and we could smell it. The shoreline was littered with rotting carcasses of pink and chum salmon, many of which were picked apart by corvids, gulls, and bears. Whether or not any of these individuals survived long enough to spawn is a mystery, but there is one certainty amidst this carnage — their sacrifice is not in vain. Their carcasses will enrich this place, injecting the forest with nutrients from the sea. Our last afternoon was spent cruising toward our anchorage near Sitka. The final day of a Lindblad Expeditions cruise is always a hard day. We have all forged new bonds in the fires of wilderness. Every one of us has found ourselves challenged and rewarded, humbled and humored, inspired and inspirational throughout this week. Our new bonds will, thanks to modern technology, be preserved in photographs and videos. Many will be carried on through photos and emails, but this group will never be reconstituted. Though it’s hard to say goodbye, the impermanence of this troupe makes the experience all the more poignant. These adventurers will surely be missed.