In August 2020, several of our WT adventurers traveled to Alaska on our Alaska’s Inside Passage journey. We are delighted to share that our travelers had a wonderful and safe trip. One of our adventurers shares her experience below. Enjoy!

My traveling partner, Howard, and I were supposed to go to Indonesia last July with Wilderness Travel, but the pandemic changed everyone’s lives and plans. I had planned a staycation but soon received an email from WT that Alaska was open for tourism. Sign me up!, I thought. Travel arrangements were pretty easy. A big thank you to WT staff member Denise who made the stars align and for answering my many emails about Alaska’s COVID testing requirements. 

Flying during the pandemic was an unusual experience. Many stores and restaurants in the airports were closed. Some only opened if there was a flight waiting to board and closed when boarding was called. People are traveling, but in far fewer numbers. Everyone wore masks and socially distanced in the airports and on the plane, and masks were required unless you were actively eating or drinking. The flight attendants handed out bags with a bottle of water, a snack, and hand sanitizer. Cleaning and disinfecting are very visible in airports. And in some airports, there were socially distanced stickers on the seats at the gates. A bonus though—it’s really nice to fly without someone in the seat right next to you! Got just that little bit of extra room and the armrest all to yourself. One thing I didn’t count on, though, was having to quarantine when I returned home. Alaska wasn’t on the New York State travel advisory when we left, but it was when we returned from our trip. So, quarantine…But this trip was so worth it!

And what a way to see Alaska—with a small group of fellow travelers and an awesome crew (our “COVID bubble family” as Todd called us) on a classic wooden sailing vessel! Even more special as it was the last trip of the season.

The crew was absolutely wonderful and treated us like family. You could tell they had worked together for a while. We enjoyed captain Paul’s after-dinner chart talks and guitar playing; engineer Shane who takes such pride in his antique engines and is a jack of all trades; naturalist guide Sarah with her vast amount of knowledge, wonderful ability to teach and her love of Alaska; and chef Michael who served Michelin-starred food from a tiny but well-stocked galley. Michael made everything from scratch, including the marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate to savor s’mores on our beach picnic.

We had Alaskan seafood for dinner every night along with wine pairings, and there was always a cooler of cold beer on the deck and wine and snacks for happy hour. I was glad my jeans still fit afterward! The small ship also has a well-stocked library, great for quiet time or if you get tired of the scenery.

Our first adventure was following a bear trail and sometimes blazing our own trail through old growth temperate rain forest.

So many shades of green, so lush with such a variety of growing things, from huge skunk cabbages to mosses and lichens and fungi to cedar and hemlock trees to a grassy meadow with mist-shrouded mountains in the background. It felt so old and I thought of Fangorn Forest (for you Lord of the Rings fans).

It was drizzling when we started out, but it cleared up during our trek and we were treated to the sight of a rainbow at Trail’s End (a pun on a local establishment).

We had such an adventure-packed trip, with spectacular wildlife and scenery. Alaska is some big country. We had an intense afternoon surrounded by a pod of maybe 30 feeding humpback whales. It was impossible to get an accurate count because there were so many.

We sighted them in the distance and we drifted while they came closer, surrounded the boat and went on by. One curious juvenile kept going under and circling the boat, eventually coming close enough to allow Shane brief contact before showing us her eye as she swam effortlessly away.

One day, we spotted our first bear below the tide line eating barnacles.

We also visited a bear preserve and had a bear extravaganza when we anchored one evening—27 bears gorging on salmon!

And bald eagles were everywhere.

We saw an amazing variety of sea life while tide pooling one afternoon and paddling to an island teeming with some very vocal sea lions.

[Sea lion photo courtesy of Todd Smith]

Dawes Glacier

Baird Glacier

Spectacular scenery and one gorgeous sunset.

And a happy group of travelers. Photo courtesy of Sarah Drummond.

And we ended on a gorgeous sunny day in Petersburg.

The serenity and isolation of this trip was a perfect break from all the craziness in the world right now. And no cell phones, TV, or internet, which made it feel even more remote. After everyone retired for the night, I would make a cup of tea and sit on the stern deck in the dark listening to the night like I do at home. But instead of listening to loons, deer, and foxes, I listened to waterfalls, fishing bears, and whales.  

Lots of great memories and photos. And many thanks to Sarah for putting together a farewell slideshow of our adventures and giving us all a copy along with shared photos.

WT, please make this trip longer!

—Text by seven-time WT adventurer Maggie Grall; photos by Maggie Grall, Sarah Drummond, and Todd Smith; Alaska’s Inside Passage.

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