Published: June 20th 2012June 20th 2012
Starting each day around 0600, I joined the yoga group on deck for some gentle stretching & exercise to begin the day - as early mornings were often chilly (3-10C), I was a vision in my ensemble of long under wear, sports gear, beanie & several jackets to be progressively shed as the hour moved along. While not a practitioner on dry land, I came to enjoy the particular challenges of yoga on a moving platform, not the least being balancing in one foot arms above my head as the ship changed course! Shoulder stands and downward facing dogs, amusing for the unseemly angles presented to unwary passersby, became even more hilarious as the deck pitched and swayed!! On the last day in Dawes Glacier, we did fire breathing exercises amongst ice floes & seals - amazing!! Sadly, my photos remain trapped in my camera ... boohoo!
A little aside to talk about preparation for hiking & kayaking because it was the major topic of conversation - layers - too many, not enough, to Gortex or to not to Gortex ... Synthetic versus wool long underwear (wool if you must know!) and how all this would operate under rain gear, gumboots & Personal Floatation Devices .. Then how to get in and out of all of this quickly and with a minimum of face plants that accompany standing on one leg on the wet & swaying deck of a ship. Let us not speak of this again.
But my clothing in place, most days focused learning more about the unique wildlife in the area. Apart from my 'minor' obsession with black & brown bears, SE Alaska is home to a plethora of marine & land mammals, insects and birds - including the magnificent bald eagle.
These graceful creatures are returning to more sustainable numbers with the banning of the DEET pesticides that were causing massive deformities in their egg shells. The eagles, a mottled brown as fledglings, achieve their familiar black & white plumage as adults & I saw many birds on the trip, including during a fishing frenzy in that resulted in exactly no fish being caught! Eight birds in full flight and not a single successful outcome - mind you, as bald eagles can't disengage their talons if they catch a fish that is too big for them & can drown, perhaps they had the best outcome after all!
We saw a number of humpbacks in the distance as they migrated along the coast from Baja California as well as spotted Harbor Seals & California Sealions - these stout & hardy mammals live in bachelor groupings away from the females. Interesting points here:
1) seals have ear holes, but no flaps and their rear flippers cannot support their weight well on land, making movement awkward , whereas Sealions can rotate their flippers and walk on them
2) Sealions weren't hunted for their skins or blubber, but came to blows with fishing groups over their completion for fish stocks
3) Sealions have poor personal hygiene - just saying!!
The inter-tidal areas are home to many invertebrates, mollusks and eels. One of the joys of interpretative hikes is being able to give into my innate curiosity when amongst others of my kind - nerdy trivia heads with a bent for the oddities of nature.
Lead by the delightful and eccentric Alison, we had a wet landing on the beach and instantly set out to uncover curiosities. Mooching over and under rocks revealed a myriad of crabs, clams & my personal fave - the barnacle. Two interesting barnacle facts (and you thought there was no such thing for barnacles):
1)the adhesive that secures them to their mooring is so strong, that fossilized examples are still secure after 10,000 years - watch 3M patent that technology and then never allow people to use it!
2) proportionally for their size, they have the longest penis in the animal kingdom (barnacles, not 3M) forget the blue whale peeps, the barnacle is all over it ... And other barnacles apparently. Held fast to their rocks, they stretch away and then ... tap ... tap.. tap ...on other barnacles, who if so inclined, open their six sided case and then BANG! This blog will be both educational and pervy :-)
The gumboots I schlepped from Oz proved useless and I borrowed a sturdy black pair that carried me dryly, safely & comfortably on several adventures. These gumboots kept me safe & dry on my fave hike, which while billed as a '2' (as in short periods of strenuous activity like El Cap) rapidly transformed into an action packed 3-4! It was so much fun climbing over the spongy forest floors, shimming over rotting cedars and hauling myself up vertical inclines - not knowing what to expect is a huge advantage! Clueless, but having a ball! The forests are so wet that the red cedar reduces to a paste smeared across the greens of ferns, lichens and mosses. While there are no plants like poison ivy to worry about as you scramble for a handhold, meet the notorious Devil's Club.
This broad leaf bastard is covered in thousands of needle sharp spines fine as hair - while medicinally very useful, this sodding plant unerringly grows just where the novice climber may need to put a steadying hand. Right on or next to the slimy fallen log needing to be traversed ...my personal favorite challenge ... Fallen log covered in slime ... Copious bear scat deposited on either side of said log ... Log is too high to step over in one go and too long to go around and too wide to straddle and swing a leg over with any chance of landing away from the poo ... And only hand hold? You got it! Devil's Club!
Did I panic? I think not!! Went under it! Done!! I am also amazed I exhibited that much common sense!
But my favourite Alaskan cutie - sea otters. Hunting in groups called rafts, these beauties spend their days floating across the inside passage using kelp to tie themselves together at night .. failing that, they hold paws ... awww :D ... I particularly like the fact that they keep their fave rock with them stored in their arm-pits so they can crack their catches on their tummies. Almost hunted to extintion for their furs, we saw many groups who looked at us with relaxed disregard.
And as for the bears ... wait and 'see' my next entry (hehehe!)