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Humpback Whales and Zip-Line Thrill-Seekers at Icy Strait: Cruising Alaska's Inside Passage on the Looney Front, Part 3

We're on a catamaran in Icy Strait off the tip of Chichagof Island in Alaska's Inside Passage, 20 miles from Glacier Bay National Park, looking for whales - and I'm hoping we don't see any since we're guaranteed a $100-rebate on the $179.75 per-person cost if we see none.
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We're on a catamaran in Icy Strait off the tip of Chichagof Island in Alaska's Inside Passage, 20 miles from Glacier Bay National Park, looking for whales - and I'm hoping we don't see any since we're guaranteed a $100-rebate on the $179.75 per-person cost if we see none.

We've seen whales before after all, and I'm more than satisfied with the magnificent Alaskan scenery of ice-capped craggy peaks, deep green fir-carpetted mountainsides, and hundreds of islets with gleaming channels of water flowing between them.

Icy Strait


Another view

But of course the law of utter bloodiness rules supreme, and we see not just one humpback but whole pods of the huge, normally solitary animals, their spouts sending up plumes of water, their sleek black backs humping out of the ocean, and the flukes of their tails surfacing and crashing in mountainous spray as they dive back into the deep.

Of course, my usual luck rules supreme, too. Every time I get my effing camera focussed and press the button, the fluke has already disappeared beneath the waves. Time and again, time and again...

But wait a mo, what a fluke! I've actually captured on my digital the tail end of a tail end while targeting something else entirely - the snow-capped peaks behind.

Whales - what you can see of them

Another view

And another

On the other hand I have no trouble capturing on my digital a bald eagle perched atop the only spindly tree on a tiny islet. The ruddy bird doesn't budge. Not even I can miss it - eventually.

Bald eagle


Icy Strait Point is a custom-built tourist trap on wooden piles retrofitted from a 100-year old salmon cannery to service cruise passengers ferried in by small tenders the few hundred feet from their nearby floating cities.

Radiance of the Seas anchors off shore

Indigenous Tlingit people greet their prey with dance and drum, women swirling their black and red cloaks, a ponderous gent seated beneath a fur helmet with a wooden bear's face (or is it a bird with teeth?) on its front waving and pounding a wooden pole.

Tlingit Hoonah welcome

Helmet close-up

It's a hard sell of overpriced 'adventure' tours, cultural shows and kitsch - HiBear Nation Quilts, Alaska Wood Creations, Boots By Design, Goldsmith Gallery, Ice Strait Point Art Shoppe (oh, ye olde!). But good luck to the Tlingit! Why shouldn't they try to get back something for what they've lost. They need all the profit that they can make.

Tourist gigs

Tribal dance pavilion

About a mile or so from the Point, along a shore-hugging path with magnificent panoramas over the snow-capped mountain-girt bays, a spruce covered cove shelters Hoonah, a town of about 1,000 people that is the main home of the Hoonah group of Tlingit. They once lived in Glacier Bay but were driven south by advancing glaciers hundreds of years ago.

Track to Hoonah



And another

The name comes from the Tlingit word X'una, meaning apparently either 'where the north wind doesn't blow' or 'village on a cliff.' Be that as it may, it looks like a Quonset-type village, although many of the houses are made of wood.


Another view


Long wooden piers for fishing and tourism push into the bay, the town cemetery borders the road to the Point at one end, and one of half a dozen little churches, white and neat, crowns a dandelion-field at the other end near dozens of masts in a little fishing haven. Another, green and white, clambers up a hill near the cemetery.

Part of Hoonah village

One of the churches

Another church

Nearby waterfall

Back at the Point, if you want a rush, you can risk your neck on 'a once in a lifetime experience' on what is billed as the world's longest zip-line, 5,330 feet with a 1,300 foot drop. You can zoom like an idiot at 60 miles per hour on wires some 300 feet above the ground, all for a mere snip at $149.75. Wow, I'll have a dozens of those.


For the more circumspect, there's a nice gentle little nature trail through a forest of 200-foot-high spruce.

Nature trail

Upwards glance

Despite all the commercialism, well worth the visit.

[Upcoming blog on Sunday: The spectacular scenic wonders of Juneau, Alaska's state capital]

Sailing the Inside Passage from Icy Strait

By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon.

Swimming With Fidel: The Toils Of An Accidental Journalist, available on Kindle, with free excerpts here, and in print version on Amazon in the U.S here.