Pelican to Hoonah 2005

There are strong currents and seas at the north end of Chicagof Island where the waters of Icy Straits meet the Gulf of Alaska in Cross Sound. Huge whirlpools form during tide changes in Inian Pass and are a danger to even large vessels. There is plenty to watch out for but plenty to see, where the mountains of Southeast Alaska dive into the Pacific Ocean.

The town of Pelican, Pop 88, is located on the northwest coast of Chichagof Island on Lisianski Inlet. Most of the community is built on pilings over the tidelands and a boardwalk serves as the main street. Over the past two decades of visiting this community I have observed one notable change, commercial fishing (trolling) has been replaced with sport charter fishing as the mainstay of the local economy. Rosie's Bar is the local watering hole and hangout of the rough and ready Alaskan crowd. The town’s unofficial motto: A little drinking village with a fishing problem.

Looking across Lisianski Inlet from our first camp, the setting sun hits the mountain tops of Yakobi Island

Setting off in the early morning calm, Brenda glides across Cross Sound in front of Three Hill Island.

 We enter through the narrow channel into the protected harbor of Elfin Cove, Pop 20. This picturesque village is home to several quality lodges that guide sport fisherman to the world class fishing grounds of Cross Sound and Icy Strait. 

Like boulders in the middle of a fast moving river the Inian Islands are surrounded by boiling currants and cyclonic eddies. Rowdy sea lions hunt in the turbulent waters where salmon pass in the millions. They barked at us, “How dare you invade our private domain!” We waited patiently for the tide to ebb before we dashed into the inner cove at the center of the islands.

Directly north of the Inian Islands is Dundas Bay in Glacier Bay National Park. This area of the park is rarely visited compared to Glacier Bay which attracts thousands of tourists every year. At the entrance to the bay the Dundas River estuary spills across the bay and is excellent habitat for observing birds and mammals. Farther up the bay we found several small islands where we made our camp. Years ago the Tlingit Indians had a village in the bay named Llstee, then came the commercial fish wheels and the cannery at the turn of the last century, but on this day Brenda and I were the bay's only human inhabitance.

The following day we left our camp and went to explore the upper reaches of the bay. During our journey I had been reading The Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr and we were becoming increasingly intrigued by the fragrances wafting down from the forest on the morning breeze. Our heightened attention to our sense of smell added a new dimension to our exploration; the forest had become our perfumery.

At the upper end of the west arm of the bay we set out for a hike along a meandering stream under Mount La Perouse (10,728 feet, 3270 meters) but we hadn’t gone very far when we were huffed at by a large brown bear that was not inclined to share its berry patch with strangers. We apologized for our intrusion and beat a hasty retreat back to the kayaks.

We started to cross back over North Inian Pass late in the evening hoping to avoid the late afternoon winds and catch the slack tide. At first all was calm but half way across a dark and ominous tiderip swung our way. The waves stacked up to three feet and our pace slowed. To make matters worse, it was getting dark, and several humpback whales were feeding along the edge of the tide rip. In the dim light we couldn't see them, but could only hear them surface to breathe. Would they know where we were? Cautiously we pushed on, back to the Inian Islands, where we found a small cove with a large tree to bivouac under for the night. The following morning we continued over to Chicagof Island without incident.

After resting up we went fishing in Idaho Inlet where large schools of salmon were gathering to head up stream. I tried several different lures before changing to a Pixie Spoon with a pink insert that finally landed us dinner. When we arrived in camp that evening Brenda found us dessert, ripe wild strawberries by the handful.

We stopped at Point Adolphus, across from Glacier Bay, to watch the Humpback Whales feed and cavort. That evening we camped nearby in this comfortable three sided shelter at Pinta Cove.

Looking back down Icy Strait from where we came, we reflected on our time spent at this pristine and beautiful but sometimes dangerous section of Alaska’s northwest coast.

Upon arriving at our destination of Hoonah we were informed that the ramp on the ferry dock had malfunctioned and that we were stuck until it could be repaired. Happily some friendly locals found us a room at the Icy Strait Lodge and with a few extra days added to our itinerary we spent our time wandering the streets and waterways around this authentic Alaskan village. Many thanks to everyone there who made our stay so enjoyable!

“What we do in our working hours determines what we have; what we do in our leisure hours determines what we are”. -George Eastman.