Off the grid in Alaska
Alaska’s fjords, forests and wildlife deliver a powerful natural high.
Words by Ute Junker
Alaska’s forests are places of wonder. Lush, ancient and wonderfully green – in Alaska, if it’s not raining, it’s usually about to start – they are entire universes in themselves. Whether you are gazing up at the soaring western hemlocks and Sitka spruces, standing solid as they have for centuries, or focusing your attention closer to the ground, where fern-fringed streams trickle past mushroom-encrusted tree trunks, there is always something new to discover.
There are no roads through this wilderness. Instead, we tread the rough paths shaped by bears – occasionally calling out loudly just in case one of those bears is still nearby. Bear rule number one: a startled bear is a vicious bear.
No wonder we’re eagerly springing out of bed each morning. Travelling on the Lindblad Expeditions ship, the National Geographic Sea Lion – a compact expedition vessel that takes just 60 passengers – our itinerary alternates between hikes through uncharted forests and waterborne adventures. Some days we head out in Zodiac inflatables, some days we take is slow, paddling in our kayaks.
Each of the twice-daily excursions brings a new highlight. I am enchanted by the playful sea otters, frolicking amid the kelp beds, and by the sight of mother bears, cubs in tow, turning over rocks on the shoreline to look for food. I marvel at glaciers made of blue ice and watch, mouth agape, as whales cavort in the waters in front of us.
Most of all, however, it’s the small moments that stay with me. Squelching with gumboots through a landscape unmarked by humans, grazing as we go on tiny salmonberries, also apparently a favourite with the bears; or drifting slowly through crystal-clear waters, gazing down at the starfish and anemones below the surface and revelling in nature at its richest and rawest.