Day 2: Peril Strait to Warm Springs Bay

Baranof Island

We wake early and take the skiff to shore at Hanus Bay on the northeast coast of Baranof Island. The tide is low so the clams resting in the wet sand greet us with fountain-like spurts. We wouldn’t want to eat them, Andy cautions. This is Peril Strait, a 40-mile-long passage named for for fatal incident during a fur seal hunting expedition. In 1779, Native Aleut hunters ate poisonous shellfish from the strait, and 150 people died as a result. Noted.

We break into two groups. The film crew takes Andy and I with them, and Kate, David and his assistant Reka linger behind to set up his large format camera to take photos along the way. The hike is 2.9 miles long and relatively easy. We pass through blocks of mature spruce and hemlock, a small waterfall and a tidal lagoon. We also see the result of logging and its effects. Logging, even a hundred years past, leaves forest areas with little ecological value. You can tell by the understory vegetation and the amount of species that grow back. In this case, it’s sparse, and in its own way, carries a certain perverse beauty.

Andy stops to point out flora and fauna. He warns us to stay clear of the Devil’s Club, a plant that is once revered for its medicinal qualities and also feared for its needle-like spines, which can burrow under your skin. Skunk cabbage carpets parts of our trail. We learn it’s one of the first plants to emerge in the spring. Bears will eat the first flowers of the plant after hibernation to get their digestion moving again. To those in the know, the appearance of Skunk Cabbage in the spring means bears are likely to be sharing the trail again.

Once in a while, Andy will pause, puts up his finger and shush us. “You hear that?” He whistles the call of the bird in the distance.  By the end of the walk we know the adorable calls of Pacific-slope flycatcher and Varied thrush.

It takes an hour and half, with all the stopping to make it to Lake Eva, surrounded by majestic old growth. David sets up his camera to capture the light streaming through the canopy.

When a call from the Ursa Major comes in to check in on us, we haul back to the boat for a late lunch and go out after for ride on Andy’s Hewescraft Pacific Explorer named Paula T. The humbacks are in full force. There are at least a dozen traveling in a pod. For many of us it’s the first time we have seen the biological phenomenon known as bubble net feeding and it’s nothing short of remarkable. Quite simply (yet not at all simple), humpbacks have learned to work in groups, displaying an exceptional intelligence. The lead whale takes position as the bubble blower, diving deep beneath the prey to send out a stream of bubbles from its blow hole, forcing the prey up and essentially creating a net. Each of her fellow group members assume the same position in every lunge. Another whale calls to signal the group and the combination of bubbles and the disrupting noise forces the prey, in this case, krill, to panic and become further ensared. It’s a performance, like a ballet and it’s astonishing. And Alaska is the only place on the planet where whales fish in this way.

That evening we anchor in Warm Springs Bay on the east side of Baranof Island. The first thing we notice as we enter the bay is the enormous rushing waterfall that carries a typical volume of 450,000 gallons-per-minute plunging into the bay from about 100 feet above.

We dock alongside the other visiting fishing boats and crusiers and head straight to the community bathhouse overlooking the bay below. After a few days of boat showers, we are chomping at the bit to soak in the healing waters of the hot spring. Sufficently relaxed and happy to be on solid ground again, we dine on the dungenouss crabs Emily has caught the day before. It's another stroke of luck as It’s the last opportunity to set traps before commercial crab season opens.

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