Sunday, January 24, 2016

Craig Lake State Park | Fall 2015

Part One: Teddy Lake Yurt
Teddy Lake in Craig Lake State Park
The state park boat floated in absolute silence on the small lake.  Not a single bird chirped in the surrounding thick autumn forest; no fish splashed and broke the perfect, colorful reflection on the water beneath.  Absolutely nothing stirred.  I strained to hear any sound, but only stillness pushed back against my ears.

This would be a decent place to spend my last day alive if the world was ending and the circumstances didn’t allow for my optimal method of passing.  (If given the choice, I’d prefer to be killed in a volcanic eruption.)  Note to self. 
The path to Teddy Lake Yurt
This moment of eerie Zen took place on Teddy Lake, located in the most remote state park in Michigan—Craig Lake State Park.  A designated wilderness area approximately 45 miles west of Marquette, Craig Lake has no park headquarters or DNR facility of its own.  Registration and information must be obtained at Van Riper State Park, about 8 miles east of the entrance to Craig Lake.
A rowboat awaits behind the yurt at Teddy Lake
Craig Lake is reached via a one-lane logging road, which, until fairly recently, was often impassible without 4-wheel drive and high ground clearance.  High clearance is still advised, but recent improvements to the road have made the park more accessible to visitors with standard vehicles.  The road can still be a bit hazardous, with large rocks lurking over hills and around bends, and drivers should stay alert and drive slowly to avoid surprises and undercarriage damage.  It’s a good idea to call Van Riper State Park to check the road conditions ahead of time. 

This is the only road through the park, and it creeps through the forest for 7 miles to reach the Craig Lake Trailhead—the starting point of the park’s trail system—and another mile to reach Teddy Lake.  As soon as one turns off US 41 and onto the dirt road, a large, no-nonsense sign warns visitors of the rustic and remote nature of the park, and its lack of cell phone service, flush toilets, or modern “camping” hook-ups, and offers unprepared visitors an out by advising that it’s ok to turn around now and try again another time.  No hard feelings.
The road into Craig Lake State Park
Once at the trailhead it’s foot traffic or paddling only.  A network of trails loops around Craig Lake and forms various canoe portages connecting it to Clair Lake and Crooked Lake.  The North Country Trail also winds through the park on its route through the U.P.  There are backcountry campsites throughout the park, as well as two yurts—one on Lake Keewaydin and another on Teddy Lake, and two rustic cabins on Craig Lake.  The cabins were built in the early 1950s by Fred Miller of Miller Brewing Company; what is now state park land used to be Miller’s private fishing retreat, and Craig, Clair, and Teddy lakes were named after his children.  Not to snub the family business, there is also a High Life Creek, which leads to High Life Lake, outside of the park boundary.

The Miller cabins and the two yurts can be reserved through the Michigan DNR.  They do not have electricity or running water, but they do have wood-burning stoves for heat, and the park service keeps them well-stocked with wood.  The park’s only water pump is located near the larger of the two Miller cabins.  If staying anywhere else, water must be carried in or obtained from a lake or a stream and then purified.

Driving the eight miles to the Teddy Lake Yurt took almost an hour, but it was beautiful.  It was the first week of October, and fall colors were peaking in this part of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Aside from a few trucks parked at the trailhead, we didn’t see a single other vehicle.  Once at Teddy Lake, there is a spot to pull off the road and park, but the yurt is at the end of a footpath, a few minutes’ walk through the woods. 

We took a few trips back and forth to load our things into the yurtstandard car-camping stuff: sleeping bags, lantern, a month's supply of food for 2 days, etc.  The thick blanket of fallen leaves rustled on the path as we walked, and sunlight filtering through the yellow and orange foliage above gave the forest a golden glow.  It was a crisp, gorgeous fall day.
The path to Teddy Lake Yurt. The outhouse can be seen in the trees.
The yurt sits on a hill above Teddy Lake.  It is small, with just enough space for the essentials: 2 sets of bunk beds, a small table and chairs, and a wood-burning stove. The space is ideal for 2, or parents with small children.  Four adults would be cramped if spending significant time inside, but it’s doable.

Teddy Lake Yurt

A cabinet just outside the door contains various cooking supplies, some provided by the park service, others left behind by previous guests, and a long picnic table provides a good space to cook and eat meals.  A well-stocked woodshed sits nearby, and there is an outhouse along the path to the road.

We each claimed a bunk, then went for a paddle around the lake.  Teddy Lake is one of six lakes located within the park’s 8,500 acres.  The park provides a rowboat, paddles, and PFDs at the yurt.  With the exception of Lake Keewaydin, no motorized boats are allowed on the lakes within the park.  According to the park map, a backcountry campsite is located on the opposite side of the lake, but we could see no sign of it.  This location is known as a good spot to hear the common loon—my favorite sound on Earth—but we heard absolutely nothing.  The lake was utterly still during our visit.  I have never experienced such complete silence during other trips to the backcountry.  Something somewhere almost always stirs—a raven squawks, a toad croaks, a dragonfly buzzes.  Here: nothing. 
Looking at Teddy Lake Yurt from the lake
We returned to the yurt and browsed the visitors’ log.  Like other rustic wilderness structures, the yurt was prone to mice invasion, and the log book told stories of battles won and lost against the tiny, relentless intruders.  A single mouse trap lay on the floor behind one of the bunks—a lone artifact of the previous warrior-guest, who had taken it upon himself to wage an organized attack, apparently arriving prepared for an offensive and setting up traps all over the yurt, racking up impressive body counts according to his epic retelling.  Those who came before him wrote of their efforts to deter the nightly storm of mice, only to find rodent droppings on nearly every surface each morning.  They even provided an illustrated storyboard of what they imagined was happening under the cover of darkness

Despite having stayed in rustic state park cabins before, we had forgotten about this issue.  We were relieved that we happened to have packed all of our food for this trip in a plastic bin with a lid, and we secured the rest of our supplies as well as we could.  If mice want to get in, there isn’t much that can be done.  The best we could do was not leave any food lying around to encourage them, and hope they preferred the cold outside to the warm yurt when night fell. 
With daylight fading and cold creeping in, we started a fire in the wood-burning stove.  The yurt warmed up immediately, and the dome window in the center of the ceiling had to be cracked open to regulate the heat.  I unloaded some supplies on the picnic table outside, opened a Blackrocks 51K IPA, and made quesadillas on our Jetboil stove.  It was a clear night, and the small opening in the tree canopy directly above allowed just a small glimpse of the night sky and its infinite stars.  We turned in early, planning to hike Craig Lake Trail the next day.

To be continued in: Day Two - Craig Lake Trail
Partial map.  The full MIDNR map can be found here:

Friday, November 6, 2015

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska 2014 | Part 8: Harding Icefield Trail

Exit Glacier
After returning to Seward, we spent a day outside of the national park to go flightseeing over Lake George Glacier and Colony Glacier.  This was a spectacular experience, but because I am keeping this part of the trip report about Kenai Fjords National Park, I will write about it at a later time.  Skipping ahead one day…

We woke up early on Saturday and drove to the Exit Glacier area of the park, which is the only part accessible by car.  We planned to join a ranger-led hike of Harding Icefield Trail, an 8.2-mile roundtrip hike up a mountain and back down, much of it alongside Exit Glacier.  At the top, the Harding Icefield itself can be viewed, its 700-square-mile expanse stretching as far as the eye can see*.  The icefield was formed during the Pleistocene Era and is the source of the many glaciers that flow through Kenai Fjords National Park.  It is thousands of feet thick, with just the peaks of some mountains poking through.  We are fascinated by these types of geologic formations, and were very excited for this hike, despite the terrible weather that greeted us that morning.

We arrived at the Exit Glacier Nature Center just before 9:00 a.m. and were surprised to find a sizable group of people prepared to hike in what one of the rangers referred to as “the monsoon.”  It was cold, raining, and windy as we left the shelter of the nature center and began hiking through the forest at the valley floor.  At the start of the trail, we passed what would be my favorite sign of the trip—a warning to visitors with respect to bears, with some noteworthy instruction concerning grizzlies.

Like most hikers, I’ve of course considered what could happen if I were to encounter a bear and things went badly.  But never quite with this level of detail.  This warning is not subtle; I could analyze the specific words used for hours.

“If it starts to eat you fight back.”

Starts to eat you.

Starts. To. Eat. You.

Starts.  Not ‘tries’ or ‘attempts.’  We are apparently past that. 

Eat you.  Not, “if it gets aggressive,” or “if it bites you,” or something less blunt and more open to whimsical interpretation.  I mean, seriously.  Think about that for a minute.  Or for several months like I have. 

Fight back.  The opposite of what it says to do in the sentence directly preceding, which does not inspire confidence in the sign's leadership.  However, I suppose if a grizzly has begun eating you, continuing to play dead would be counter-productive and, I imagine, quite challenging.  You may as well give fighting a try because then maybe you will at least be accepted into Valhalla.
Left: Ranger-led hike photo by Andrea  |  Right: The trail and Exit Glacier
The hike is strenuous due to the trail’s elevation gain of 4,000 feet in 4 miles, and it typically takes 6-8 hours to complete.  Starting in the forest at the foot of the mountains, it meanders through a variety of landscapes on its way above treeline and to the top of Exit Glacier.  The rain made the trail muddy and slippery, causing the trip to be more of a soggy, grueling trudge instead of the invigorating, photogenic hike that I envisioned.

The higher we climbed, the colder it got, and we stopped a few times on the way up to switch or add layers of clothing. The group was being led by two rangers, and around the half-way point one of them guided those who wanted to turn around (about half of the group) back down the mountain, while the rest of us trudged on.  I couldn’t blame them; not only was it cold, wet, and tiring, but around this time the ranger voiced what I had been fearing: there wasn’t much hope for visibility at the top.
Left: Snow and glacial melt  |  Right: Glacial striations
As we neared the top, the landscape took on a bleak quality, and fog lingered everywhere in the distance.  A small emergency shelter sits in the middle of the bleakness about 10 minutes from the top, and everyone took advantage of it, temporarily getting out of the wind, adding layers, and resting.
Emergency shelter near the top of the Harding Icefield Trail
Of the view at the end of the Harding Icefield Trail, the National Park Service website states, “At the top, the view is unlike any other: Mountain peaks enshrouded with ice stretch off into the distance…” and offers various photos of the magnificent sight.  (
Left: NPS Photo of the Harding Icefield  |  Right: What we saw
*The “as far as the eye can see” view I spoke of earlier turned out to be about 20 inches in our case due to the weather conditions.  Oh well.  Next time I’m in the neighborhood and it’s sunny, I’ll try again.

Because of the unfriendly weather conditions and lack of view, no one lingered at the top.  After squinting into the fog beyond the end of the trail for a minute or two to savor the spectacular anticlimax, we began the decent.  Everyone went at their own pace on the way down, breaking up into smaller groups to wander back down the muddy trail.  Andrea and I took our time; despite the unfriendly weather, it was still incredibly beautiful.  Not being able to see the icefield was disappointing for sure, but the trail meandered through a gorgeous landscape, with Exit Glacier just off to the side, enormous and blue.  We were cold and wet, but we wandered back down the trail at a snail’s pace—partly out of caution due to the slippery trail, but mostly to take everything in because we were in Alaska for shit’s sake.
I don't have a single photo taken during this hike where my lens was not smeared with raindrops.  Despite its blurriness, this is my favorite photo from this day.
I am truly amazed that my camera functioned after this hike.  On the way up, I took just a couple of photographs, leaving my camera in a Ziploc bag in my backpack in an effort to keep it dry, and also to focus on the demanding, slippery hike.  On the way down, however, I gave up trying to keep it dry, photographing everything around me, from the glacier in the distance, to the squished remains of a large pile of bear scat on the trail that someone had managed not to notice, stepping in it and leaving a boot impression that was filling up with rain water.  From majestic glacier to sodden bear poop, it was all beautiful.

We finished the hike around 3:45 p.m., returned to Seward and stopped at The Rickshaw—a food truck selling a variety of Asian dishes—for something to tide us over until dinner.  We ordered lumpia, which was warm, crispy, and delicious, then returned to our cabin to change into dry clothes.  Dinner was at Seward Brewing Company, after which we walked around town for a little while before returning to the cabin.  We were in bed by 9:30 that night, thoroughly exhausted.

The following day we would leave the Kenai Fjords area and drive north to Denali to experience a dramatic change in weather and landscape, and the final phase of this amazing trip.
Exit Glacier
This is the end of the Kenai Fjords National Park portion of this trip to Alaska.  The other adventures—glacier flightseeing and a short trip to Denali National Park—will be written about later.  Stay tuned!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska 2014 | Part 7: Fourth Day at Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge & Return to Seward

Aialik Glacier on a stormy day
Beyond the protected world of Pedersen Lagoon, storms had been raging along the coast and fjords over the last few days.  During our stay at Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, we met a few people whose time here was unexpectedly extended due to stormy seas preventing their departure (they were not too broken up about this).  There were others on an organized tour of multiple lodges who arrived only to turn around and leave due to the proximity of another storm, the timing of which was likely to strand them here and throw off the rest of their planned tour.  I can’t imagine being shown this place only to be told, “Sorry, you’re not staying,” but I imagine they made up for it in other ways later.  
Left: Path through the rainforest.  Right: Scratches from a black bear.
The weather awoke on our last day at the lodge, realized it had mistakenly given us a partly sunny day with minimal rain the day before, and set out to correct its error to the point of over-achievement.  It was cold and raining, and there was a tension in the air regarding the weather.  Snippets of discussion were heard here and there regarding the timing of the boat and a short window of opportunity to come and go.  It seemed we would be returning to Seward this afternoon on the cusp of another significant storm, and we got the feeling that the return boat trip was going to be interesting.  I set an alarm on my watch to ensure I remembered to take my sea-sickness meds at the right time.

The meadow looked different every time we walked through it
Our final activity here would take us back to Aialik Glacier, this time by boat.  But first, we were led through the rainforest for a leisurely walk on a different path to the beach.  Moss hung from branches overhead, and a set of perfect scratch marks in a tree revealed bear presence in the forest near the lodge.  We emerged from the forest into the meadow, which was exceptionally moody this morning.  The clouds were low and dramatic, obscuring the mountains in the distance and appearing to reach nearly to the ground.  Again, although I had fantasized about clear weather and crisp views, the intense gloom was striking.  We continued to a stretch of beach we had not seen yet.  Instead of stones, this beach was blanketed with coarse black sand, and the low tide revealed a wide stretch of it littered with small scraps of seaweed.  A bear had recently walked this way as well, its paw prints visible in the sand.

Left: Black bear paw prints on the beach  Right: Our ride
Our ride, a small boat called Weather or Knot, was waiting for us offshore in the gloom.  It was the water taxi that picked up the kayakers on Slate Beach the day before, and Jessica was once again at the helm.  She shuttled our group toward Aialik Glacier in what was now a vindictive pelting rain.  

The north end of Aialik Glacier
Without the sun to wash out its color, Aialik Glacier and its iceberg spawn looked amazingly blue.  The boat came in close to a few gorgeous icebergs.  Their color was stunning, with one of them looking like a transparent, mostly submerged mountain range with its peaks just breaking through the water’s surface.  (After passing this one, Jessica brought the boat to a dead stop, swung around and went back to it, explaining to those of us within earshot that we had to go back because it was so beautiful.  This made Andrea and I very happy; we’d been staring wistfully at it getting smaller in the distance.)  With icy raindrops stinging our faces, we stayed on the boat’s deck as long as we could to take everything in.

Iceberg near Aialik Glacier
Photo by Andrea

More information can be found at the National Snow & Ice Data Center:

The boat meandered in front of the glacier for a while to allow everyone time to ooh an aah at it (as much as possible given the volatile weather - it was much more comfortable inside the boat), then we began heading back to the lodge, passing a bald eagle perched on a small iceberg and some kayakers paddling close to the glacier.  I assume these were experienced paddlers with the skills to navigate close to any calving ice.  I envied their up-close view of the glacier, but not the conditions in which they were out there.  We had been very lucky the day before with good weather for our kayaking excursion.
I don't know what to say.  Photo by Andrea.
As we neared Slate Beach, we slowed down for a few minutes to watch a large black bear—maybe the same one as yesterday, maybe not—walking along the shore before continuing on.  Once back on land, Andrea and I lingered in the meadow for a while before returning to the lodge and preparing to leave.  The drama was still in full swing, and the view was too magical to ignore.

Ghost trees in the misty meadow
We had mixed feelings about leaving.  We would miss our cabin and the beauty of Pedersen Lagoon, but we felt we had stayed the perfect amount of time, and we were excited for the next phase of the trip, where we would experience adventures we had planned ourselves.  We walked at the front of the group as we made our way back down the path toward the boat.  Along the way, rustling in the grass at the edge of the path caught our attention.  We stopped and a porcupine waddled out of the grass and onto the path in front of us.  We were surprised and excited by this unexpected occurrence, as was the porcupine.  As soon as it emerged from the grass, it realized that it had lumbered out in front of a bunch of giant, scary animals, and it waddled as quickly as it could across the path and into the safety of the grass on the other side.  Andrea photographed it the entire way, ending up with a hilarious set of shots that, when viewed in succession, look like a stop-action movie of the awkwardly fleeing animal.  The encounter was an unexpected, final gift from Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge - a beautiful, truly unforgettable place.

Porcupine sampling.  Photos by Andrea.
The boat ride back was not the leisurely tour we experienced on the way here; it was a race to beat the weather, which continued to grow more threatening.  Many puffins were out on the water riding the choppy waves.  It was cold, rainy, and rough, and I stayed inside almost the entire time, venturing outside only when some orcas were spotted about 2/3 of the way through the trip.  A group of four were swimming very close to shore.  One of them was a male with a very tall dorsal fin.  Seeing it swimming toward shore, practically right up onto the beach, struck me as disturbing.  There were a few cabins just inside the trees beyond the beach, and I wondered who lived there and if it was normal for killer whales to creep up on them like this.  This was the only time the boat slowed its pace, and we lingered for a while, periodically losing sight of the orcas when they would dive, then finding them again when they emerged in another location.  It was difficult to predict where they would turn up, and I was unfortunately looking off the wrong side of the boat when I heard a collective “Whoa!” from the other side.  One of them had suddenly breached, and Andrea was lucky enough to see it.  

We reached Seward around 6:00 p.m., picked up a rental car, and drove to the Salmon Bake Restaurant and Cabins for dinner and to check into a cabin.  Wonderful, unhealthy fish and chips were in order after all of the wonderful, healthy food at Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge.  After dinner, we walked around Seward for a while before returning to our cabin to go to bed.  We had an early start the next day, and we were both exhausted from so much looking at stuff. 

To be continued in Part 8: Hiking Harding Icefield Trail

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska 2014 | Part 6: Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge - Third Day

Map at bottom of post
Paddling to Slate Island, then to Aialik Glacier
Every now and then during this trip, we discussed how we would answer the inevitable question, “What was your favorite part?”  It’s too difficult a question to answer, but if pressed, this day stands out as a front-runner.

Out of everyone who arrived at the lodge when we did, Andrea and I were the only ones who had booked a 4-day/3-night stay.  Everyone else was leaving in the afternoon on this day, which made us the only guests to sign up for the full-day activity: kayaking to Aialik Glacier.  We made packed lunches from ingredients laid out on the bar and met our guide on the porch at 8:45 a.m.  We had heard about this guide—and she us—as she hailed from Michigan, and word had gotten around that there were fellow Michiganders about.  For reasons that are not easily explained, this was exciting.  Since Andrea and I were her only charges, we immediately began swapping information - Where are you from? How did you end up here? Etc.  Amazingly, she grew up about an hour from where I live, and now we were meeting on the porch of a lodge in the woods in Alaska. 

Back through the meadow toward the beach

The three of us walked back the way we had come when we first arrived at the lodge - back through the woods, across the meadow, and to the cobble beach, where sea kayaks waited.  It was warmer than the previous days and partly sunny, which was a welcomed change of pace. The jacket I was wearing was not needed, so I stashed it in my backpack before stowing everything in the kayak and setting off.  
Paddling to Slate Island and Aialik Glacier, seen in the distance
The plan was to paddle to Slate Island - a small, rocky island approximately four miles away - and do a little exploring there before paddling a mile or two further to view the glacier.  We would stop for lunch, either on shore somewhere or floating in our kayaks depending on the situation, and head back in the afternoon.   
Paddling into a cove in Slate Island.  Water trickled from above, creating wonderful sounds.
Paddling deep into another cove in Slate Island
We paddled and talked with our guide, exchanging stories about our favorite places to hike and camp in Michigan.  Once at Slate Island, we hugged its eastern side and explored a couple of narrow coves in the rock, paddling into deep crevices and enjoying the sound of the waves thumping and sloshing against the steep rock walls.  We then pulled ashore to take a break on the island.  A small, gravelly area made a good resting place for our kayaks, and we drank warm cider and hot chocolate and ate granola bars while hanging out amongst the rocks and occasional unfortunate jellyfish that had washed ashore.  
Slate Island - taking a break
We resumed paddling, planning to round the island’s north end, which would put us almost face-to-face with Aialik Glacier.  But instead of going around the island, we ended up taking advantage of a narrow passageway that had become available due to the rising tide between two chunks of the island that look to have separated from each other at the far northern end.  The tide was just high enough for us to push through, with a bit of a stall in the middle when we lost speed and the undulating water tried pulling us down.  Once another surge of water pushed at the back of our kayak, we scooted all the way through and were met with the face of Aialik Glacier - still a few miles in the distance, though it appeared reachable with just a few paddle strokes.
Aialik Glacier can be seen through the split in the rock at Slate Island's north end.

Paddling through the opening in Slate Island.  Photo by Andrea.
Aialik Glacier is a tidewater glacier, meaning its terminus meets the ocean and calves ice into the sea, forming icebergs.  It was noticeably colder now that we were closer to the glacier, and the closer we paddled, the more ice we encountered, until the water was choked with it.  We were advised to stay away from any large icebergs as best we could, as they sometimes shift and roll over without much warning when disturbed by waves.  Since the bulk of a large iceberg is beneath the surface and not visible, a person could find herself knocked into the freezing water should she be too close when one rolls over.  (Search “rolling iceberg” or “iceberg flipping over” on YouTube for examples of shifting icebergs if you're into that kind of thing.)
My camera was constantly getting wet.  It was a trooper.
The icy water near Aialik Glacier
In the distance toward the glacier and the surrounding shore, we could see harbor seals popping their heads out of the water to look at us, but the majority were hauled out on big slabs of ice. Our guide explained that the seals were molting at this time, and those that were hauled out were deliberately staying out of the water and fasting while their hair regrew. She added that people should take care to stay away from them at this time so as not to scare them into the water unnecessarily during this process.  The seals seemed curious about us; apparently to a seal, the shape of a kayak with a person sitting in it can resemble an orca, and our guide indicated they were probably scoping us out to determine if we were a threat.
Harbor seal hauled out on the ice.  Photos taken at a distance with a zoom lens.
A curious harbor seal checks us out.
We stopped paddling when we were estimated to still be around a mile away from the glacier’s terminus, despite how close it looked.  Giving the seals their space was one reason; the other was to be a enough of a distance away to avoid the consequences of any massive waves caused by calving. The face of Aialik Glacier is approximately 300 feet tall and around a mile wide.  When a large mass of ice calves and falls into the sea below, it can be an impressive event.  We witnessed this happen a few times while observing the glacier.  The sound is exactly like thunder - it rumbles and booms and is amazingly loud even at a distance.  The first time it happened, Andrea and I both looked up at the sky thinking the weather was turning.  It took us a minute to realize the source of the sound, partially because of how it sounded, but also because of when we heard it.  Several seconds passed from when we saw the ice fall to when the sound reached us, reminding us again that the size of the glacier and mountains was deceiving, and they were much further away than they seemed.  The waves caused by a large chunk of glacier plummeting into the water can be substantial.  We watched a large tour boat come in close to the glacier, only to throw itself in reverse and hastily retreat after a huge chunk of ice calved near it.  The hulking boat looked like a toy next to the massive wall of blue ice.
After lingering at the glacier for a while, we began paddling back toward Slate Island, this time making our way between the west side of the island and the mainland.  As we paddled close to the island’s steep rocky face, we noticed some puffins nesting in the rock. We spent a few minutes watching them, then things got interesting (because up to this point, the day had obviously been a snoozer).  
A puffin nesting in the rock on Slate Island
Our guide brought our attention to something moving in the water ahead of us. “I’m not positive, but that might be a bear. Let’s get a closer look.”  We paddled a bit closer and confirmed - we were looking at the floating head of a swimming bear.  Alaska is awesome! 
A black bear swimming from Slate Island to the mainland in Aialik Bay.  All bear photos were taken from a distance with a zoom lens.
Although we were excited and wanted to get a closer look, we were careful to stay far enough away so as not freak the bear out.  We did not want to harass it, or become the first people to be chased by a swimming bear while kayaking.  It looked to be swimming back to the mainland from Slate Island, and our guide speculated that it had gone to the island for berries, which are a significant part of the black bears’ diet.  We continued paddling behind the bear, watching its furry ears make their way toward shore.  It knew we were there, at one point turning its head to take a quick glance back at us.  We eased up on the paddling and just waited offshore, watching.  Andrea’s camera battery chose that moment to die, so she kept our kayak a steady distance offshore while I photographed the bear.  My camera’s lens had gotten very wet, not only from water dripping off my paddle while kayaking, but constantly on this trip in general due to the ever-present rain, and I was amazed and grateful that I could capture anything at this point through its foggy glass.  After a bit of editing to deal with the lens fog, I ended up with some decent photos of this impressive guy.
Black bear catches its breath after swimming to shore
The bear reached shore, climbed out of the water and onto the seaweed-covered rocks, and stood motionless for a minute or two - watching us and heaving in lungfuls of air to catch its breath.  It was a very large male black bear, with huge paws and a broad torso.  He began walking, stopping after a few steps to shake himself dry like a dog.  We spent the next 30 minutes or so slowly paddling offshore, parallel to the bear’s path as it walked along the rock and ate berries from bushes along the way.  We were in no hurry, so we kept with the bear’s leisurely pace, just floating and watching.  Paddling to Aialik Glacier was an awesome adventure by itself, and we were further awestruck by this unexpected addition to an already spectacular day.
Scratching an itch and eating berries
At some point, our guide was able to retrieve a new battery for Andrea’s camera from the gear stowed in our kayak’s compartment.  She also radioed another guide she knew to be nearby with a group of kayakers to let him know about the bear sighting.  This other group showed up within a few minutes and paddled alongside us.  The bear continued on its path toward Slate Beach - a stretch of beach where, unfortunately, we had planned to stop for lunch.  Before reaching the beach, however, it turned inland and disappeared into the brush.  We were discussing eating lunch in our kayaks due to the bear’s proximity to the beach, but the other group paddled right up to the beach and got out.  They were meeting a water taxi, and this beach was their pick-up location.  Their guide grabbed two rocks and banged them together for a while to make an excess of noise intending to keep the bear from visiting the beach.  Figuring there were enough people there for it not be an issue, we decided to join the group for a quick lunch break.  
Lunch break at Slate Beach

We beached our kayaks and unpacked our lunches.  It was a beautiful day to picnic on the beach; the weather was warm, the water was calm, and the scenery couldn’t be beat.

The bear agreed.  About 15 minutes after we arrived, he emerged from the brush on the beach’s west side.  We didn’t see it right away, but we heard the other guide suddenly shout, “Everyone get up!”  The other group was between the bear and us, and we looked over to see them all stand up and walk backwards toward the water, watching the bear stroll among the bushes bordering the beach.  It was so focused on eating berries that it appeared not to notice any of us.  Still, it was time to leave. As we quickly packed up our lunches and gear, the other group’s ride showed up - a water taxi driven by the same boat skipper that brought us to the lodge.  

A water taxi arrives at Slate Beach to pick up some kayakers
We arrived back at the beach near the lodge around 3:30 p.m. and headed back to our cabin to shower and relax before dinner.  We spent some time sitting on our back porch, then headed to the main lodge to hang out at the bar/lounge area before dinner.  A new batch of guests had arrived while we were out, and people were standing around meeting each other, talking, and looking around at this wonderful place where they were going to be spending the next few days.  

A young boy was looking at Pedersen Glacier through the telescope at the picture window, when suddenly (as he explained later) the view went black. He looked up to discover that a bear had wandered into his field of vision.  He started yelling excitedly, and everyone ran to the windows to see a small black bear ambling through the grass near the lagoon - a perfect welcome for the new guests, and a fitting sight for us on our last night at the lodge.  Unfortunately, a bunch of people ran outside toward the bear, immediately forgetting any etiquette regarding wildlife and their surroundings that they may have learned upon arrival.  (Well, it was pretty exciting.)  Lodge employees had to corral everyone back inside, reminding them that the wildlife needs to be left alone, and that people should remain safely inside.  
Lion's Mane Jelly
The halibut dinner that night was excellent, and we spent it talking to some of the new people who arrived.  Two couples, maybe in their mid to late 50s, were sitting near us. The two men and one of the women were happy to be there; the other woman, however, looked as though she was enduring an experience in which she had no interest.  The jellyfish we had seen washed ashore earlier in the day had seemed more excited.  Her whole attitude said, “I was dragged here,” like a teenager on a dreaded family trip, and she quietly scoffed at the things the lodge manager was saying during this group’s orientation during dinner.  (She was not going to leave her personal food in a baggie with her name on it in the main lodge like some commoner.)  I wanted to put her on an iceberg and push her out to sea.  She bummed me out.
Moon Jelly
After dinner, we sat on the chairs on the back deck of the lodge for a little while, but headed to our cabin once the inevitable daily rain started.  This was our final night in this amazing place, and although I looked forward to the next phase of our trip, I wanted to make this night last as long as possible.  I also wanted to get a photo at night outside of our lit-up cabin, so I stayed awake for as long as I could, but the never-ceasing rain and the fact that it doesn't get dark until really late at this time were working against me.  I had to compromise with a photograph taken at 10 pm that looks like it’s broad daylight, but the sky is at least overcast and the cabin light is on.  Andrea had fallen asleep in the middle of a conversation about an hour earlier, and I was too tired to stay up any longer despite how hard I tried.
10:00 p.m. outside our cabin on our last night at Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge
The next day we had enough time for a half-day excursion before we were scheduled to return to Seward in the afternoon.  I laid in bed looking out the glass door at the lagoon and the mountains beyond.  I was still so amazed to be there, and mixed thoughts and feelings swirled in my mind:  I was going to miss this cabin.  We pursued a swimming bear!  What would we see tomorrow?  What would the next phase of our trip be like?  Was that woman dropping snack food crumbs outside of her cabin?  What kind of snacks did she have that were so special they couldn’t congregate with the likes of ours in the lodge cupboard?  

To be continued in Part Seven: Return to Seward
Day 3 route