Prince William Sound 1998
It was a "whale" of a summer! For the first time in my life, I had almost enough wilderness to satisfy my deepest longings. In late May, during our first trip into Prince William Sound, we were exploring an island when we spotted a pod of orcas traveling up King's Bay. We hiked back to the boat and motored to a point of land they'd likely round. There, we cut the motor and drifted. Sure enough, they came, seeming to take no notice of our presence. The last one, however, stopped and circled before swimming directly toward the boat. We saw her huge black and white body streak under the water only moments before she surfaced and blew, no more than six feet off the bow of the boat.
Later, during an extended boat trip in July, we saw splashing in the distance. It was a pod of maybe 50 orcas, hurling themselves completely out of the water and crashing down. We followed them as they cruised along the north shore of Montague Island toward our destination. We slowed, not wanting to hurry or bother them. Two humpback whales fell in behind us. When the orcas reached the northernmost point of the island, they began to circle and feed. We turned off the motor and drifted, breathlessly watching. Behind us, the largest humpback seemed agitated, likely because of the orcas. He stood on his head and slapped his tail repeatedly against the water, then breached, propelling his 40-ton body completely out of the water! He surfaced again, making an awesome sound like that of a bull elephant. The sound rolled across the water and echoed from the cliffs.
For three weeks, we awoke in still silent coves, cooked breakfast and read, then paddled the canoe and hiked for miles and miles. Once at midnight, we paddled through glassy water. The soft late sunset colors shimmered. You could breathe the silence.
Dennis especially enjoyed the 8-9' salmon sharks that circled the boat two days later. He even tried "fishing", but although they bumped the bait and swam right under the boat, they wouldn't bite. Good thing! We found out later that a steel leader is essential or they'll bite right through your line.
We visited the new Indian village of Chenega and saw the old village, which was destroyed almost completely by a tsunami after the 1964 Alaska earthquake. The giant wave killed 23 of 75 residents in the largest single disaster to follow the second largest earthquake in recorded history.
Foraging was great, with fiddlehead ferns popping up where the deep snow banks had just melted, succulent lambsquarter high on the sandy beaches, and a bumper crop of salmonberries. We had salads and fresh food almost every day, and fresh fish whenever we wanted it.
We made it all the way to Cordova, where we took this photo of sea lions hauled up on a buoy.
Go on to read Prince William Sound, 1999
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