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Alaska 2003
  • Places: Washington State, British Columbia, Alaska
  • Time: May - August 2002
  • Vessel: "Teacup", Nordic Tug 37
  • Level of adventure: high to ridiculous
Copyright © 2003, P. Lutus. All rights reserved.

Whales, Birds, Critters
One of the things I love about Alaska*1 is the fact that, on a typical day in a typical place, you are much more likely to encounter an animal than a person. I can't tell you how many times I have paddled my kayak up to a beach after seeing footprints, only to realize the footprints belonged to a bear, not a person (see below).

Another "learning experience" is to be walking along a pretty trail and slowly realize it is not a trail much used by humans — it comes to you that the footprints are almost all made by animals, and then (in case you're not paying attention to the other signs) you'll collide with a branch slung so low over the trail that only a bear would not mind it being there.

View near Geographic Harbor, Alaska Peninsula
One of the new challenges in Alaska, along with the more traditional ones like making one's way across a wilderness of land or water and not being eaten by bears, is baby-sitting a decent digital camera, to be able to record the occasional perfect scene (right). While I paddle my kayak, the camera is inside my deck bag enclosed in a waterproof bag (in case I manage to invert the boat, as occasionally happens). When it's time to take a picture I must first remove the camera from the bag — this sometimes takes too long, and the subject departs before the camera is ready. I could dispense with the bag, but if the camera were to be immersed in salt water, it would be instant destruction.

As I mentioned in an earlier page, I am replacing all my photographic gear with better, more expensive equipment, so the above problem will only become worse over time (in exchange for better pictures). For most of my photographic outings, the kayak is ideal — it is quiet, unobtrusive, and bears, after a brief perfunctory sniff in my direction, don't seem to mind it at all. But it is a rather unsteady photographic platform, and I may eventually have to think of some more stable base that poses a smaller risk to the camera, but that isn't so large and noisy that it defeats the whole purpose.

When I say that, I am reminded of this season's most vexing moment. I was approaching an anchorage on the Alaska Peninsula, some 70 miles northeast of Chignik (Chiginagak Bay). As I rounded a point to enter the anchorage, I saw something on the hill above the point at the head of the bay (Cape Providence). At first I thought it was a mountain goat, but as I approached, it turned out to be a very large grizzly, which jumped up and began charging up the hill above it in complete panic at — what? — at the sight of my boat, I realized. I had never gotten closer than about 300 meters to the bear, but the sight of my boat was enough to terrify this grizzly, who apparently had never seen anything like it (or who may have been hunted in the past). This bear was sleeping when I arrived, on a hill covered only with grass, and had nowhere to hide.

I felt bad, like an intruder. I was aware that I was in an area of Alaska not often visited, and entering a bay perhaps even less visited, but I was still surprised by the bear's reaction, especially at that range. The next day, as I began moving toward Chignik, a crosswind blew up that made my boat begin to roll violently. I had just decided to tough it out when the cabin table rolled over with a crash, and I decided I was risking the boat, which, after all, is not meant for ocean sailing. So I turned back toward Kodiak Island and visited Olga Bay instead (see next page).

The combination of the bear's panicked flight and the spell of nasty weather seemed to be telling me I was at the limit of my boat's range (or, if you prefer, safe operating envelope). And please believe me when I tell you, at my level of sailing experience, when you are on the ocean you know perfectly well who is in charge. It's your simple job to listen and obey.

New topic. Whales are a real photographic challenge. You don't want to get too close (according to law, compassion and common sense), whales typically surface only to breathe at odd and infrequent intervals, and most cameras simply cannot respond quickly enough for their sudden, brief apperances. Photographing them takes a lot of time and patience, so far I have only a few decent-quality whale pictures.


Orca (killer whale), Johnstone Strait, British Columbia.

Humpback whale, Icy Strait, Alaska.

Humpback whale dorsal.

Marmot, mountains east of Juneau, Alaska.

Muskeg meadow view, Cascade Bay, Prince William Sound.

Nesting birds, Uganik Bay, Kodiak Island.

Cute critter, Olga Bay, Kodiak Island.

Bear prints in the sand, Devil's Cove, Alaska Peninsula.

*1 Alaska. To be perfectly clear, when I refer to Alaska, I am talking about the country, not Anchorage (where more than half of Alaskans live).


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