ALASKA: LEG 5 DAY 11 – YAKUTAT TO LITUYA BAY | NW Explorations
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ALASKA: LEG 5 DAY 11 – YAKUTAT TO LITUYA BAY

The calm waters within the channels and islands around Yakutat Harbor gave way to the regular swells of the northern Pacific Ocean as we rounded Ocean Cape and turned SE again along the coast. The coastline here is low and thickly forested, bisected here and there by wide meandering rivers that back up into sprawling lagoons behind the broad wave-hammered beach. It is an utterly remote land, humbling in its indifference to our presence.

Behind the low plain rise the immense Fairweather Mountains, a nearly impenetrable wall of inaccessible spires, fractured glaciers and sheer cliffs. Today, as is typical, all but the roots of the mountains are lost in a heavy mist that occastionally drifts down into the tops of the wind-crooked spruce and hemlock forests.

There is safety in numbers when cruising in these open, remote waters. We have been joined since Cordova by another cruising vessel, Spectra who is also bound for Elfin Cove across the Gulf. The confidence provided by knowing that there are half a dozen other capable boats and crews ready to lend a hand if something were to go wrong goes a long way!

By mid-afternoon we have passed Cape Fairweather and are drawing close to the gloriously beautiful Lituya Bay and its infamously treacherous entrance. The ferocious ebb tide famously claimed the lives of 21 members of the 1786 French expedition under captain La Perouse, and untold others since then. The strong ebb flowing out against the breakers and currents rolling in off the pacific can create massive standing waves and turbulence up to three miles offshore. Captain Brain has timed our arrival perfectly however, and we slip inside with a mild flood and find ourselves suddenly in the placid waters within.

The crew of Patos has the good fortune to spot a brown bear shuffling along the north shore of the bay as we are anchoring just beyond Cenotaph Island, and Mike manages to get some nice video of the creature, looking sleek in his short summer coat. Later, we set out in the dinghies to explore the three glaciers at the head of the bay which hand precipitously off the mountainsides, watch the seals and porpoises splash through the silty water in pursuit of unseen fish, and clouds of Bonapartes gulls and Common Murres. All around the bay, a distinct horizontal line in the forest marks the maximum height of the 1958 megatsunami which still stands as the tallest wave ever recorded. Triggered by an earthquake, a massive landslide crashed into the bay, displacing millions of tons of water, which formed a wave that obliterated the forest 1700 feet above the high tide line. The forest has tentatively moved back into the scoured the slopes, but the scars are still clearly visible.

No earthquakes today however, and the clouds part to offer glimpses of the icefields overhead as we are enveloped in a peaceful night

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