Petersburg to Angoon, including Kake (Frederick Sound and Chatham Strait)
Petersburg is a thriving fishing community on the northern tip of Mitkof Island, near the eastern edge of Kupreanof Island. Look for seals, sea lions, river otters and eagles in the harbors and waters around Petersburg. In July and August, Petersburg fish processing operations north of town draw large concentrations of gulls, eagles and other opportunistic scavengers, and they can be seen feeding and resting in nearby trees. Serious birders may want to scan the large concentrations of gulls for rare or uncommon species.
Leaving Petersburg, it's often possible to see stark white icebergs drifting or grounded, particularly along the eastern shoreline of Frederick Sound. These are from the LeConte Glacier, the southernmost tidewater glacier in the United States. The glacier is about 17 miles southeast of Petersburg on the mainland just north of the Stikine River. Ice calves off the face of the glacier and drifts with the tide through LeConte Bay to Frederick Sound.
In upper LeConte Bay, the ice-choked waters provide refuge to pupping seals. The mass of ice bergs near the face of the glacier provides safety for mother seals and their young pups from predators such as sharks and killer whales.
Horn Mountain and Horn Cliffs are across Frederick Sound from Petersburg. Mountain goats may be seen here on the rocky outcrops and avalanche chutes. Scan the ramparts and ledges with binoculars, looking for the goats' shaggy off-white coats.
A winter sea lion haulout can be seen on the westernmost of the Sukoi Islets, just north of Petersburg.
Heading away from Petersburg, Frederick Sound curves to the northwest beyond Kupreanof Island. Standing dead trees in the forests above the sound are yellow cedar, which is experiencing a decline or die-off in Southeast Alaska. The Patterson and Muddy Glaciers are visible on the mainland north of Petersburg. On clear days Devil's Thumb is visible. This prominent peak rises 9,000 feet above sea level and marks the U.S. and Canada border. A large ice field on the south slope of Devil's Thumb feeds the LeConte and Patterson Glaciers.
Frederick Sound intersects Stephens Passage northwest of Petersburg. In summer, humpback whales are consistently seen in this area, especially up in Stephens Passage, and in Frederick Sound from Pinta Point eastward to Cape Strait on Kupreanof Island. The confluence of the different bodies of water and the abundance of forage fish makes this one of the best places in Southeast to see whales, and whale researchers have been studying the humpbacks' feeding behavior in this area.
The largely Tlingit community of Kake sits near the northwest corner of Kupreanof Island. Kake lies on Keku Strait, which separates Kupreanof and Kuiu Islands. This is a good place to see loons and shorebirds, as well as sea ducks and other waterfowl.
Approaching town, look for a bridge over a stream north of town. Salmon runs in July and August draw black bears to the stream and beach here, and it's possible to spot them on the shoreline. Fishing is a major industry in Kake, and commercial boats ply the surrounding waters. Logging has also been important in here, and logged areas are visible behind the town.
A boat leaving Kake and heading north toward Angoon travels west in Frederick Sound and into Chatham Strait. Chatham Strait is a marine corridor through unparalleled wild land and waters. To the west is Baranof Island, and to the east is Admiralty Island. Humpback whales are often seen on this route, especially in the area around Point Gardiner at the southern terminus of Admiralty Island. Dall's and harbor porpoises frequent these waters.
Running southeast-northwest in an almost straight line for about 210 miles, Chatham Strait and Lynn Canal sit atop a strike-slip fault, the same type as the San Andreas Fault in California. Land to the west side of the fault is sliding north relative to land on the east, and formerly adjacent rocks have been displaced about 90 miles. Glaciers followed the track of this fault line, and during the last ice age 12,000 years ago, this strait was a long river of ice. Ice also covered the islands to the east and west. The rounded summits of mountains lower than about 3,000 in elevation show they were completely buried in ice. The sharp summits of the higher peaks in the area, such as the rugged peaks on north Baranof Island, show that they were above the surrounding ice.
Admiralty Island National Monument-Kootznoowoo Wilderness encompasses about 90 percent of Admiralty Island, and most of the forested areas visible from the water are old-growth forest. While parts of Admiralty Island are in the "rain shadow" of the coastal mountains of Baranof and Chichagof Islands, substantial precipitation (in some places more than 100 inches a year) supports lush forests of Sitka spruce and western hemlock. Above the timberline the rain forest gives way to alpine tundra and rock outcrops.
Admiralty Island has the highest concentration of nesting bald eagles in Southeast Alaska, about one nest per mile of coastline. During early summer, eagles may be seen on nests or perched on nearby sentry trees.
The Tlingit name for the island is "Kootznoowoo," which means "fortress of the bears." Admiralty Island has one of the densest populations of brown bears in the world, about one bear per square mile. Bears may be seen on beaches and at the shoreline, even near Angoon. Early morning and late evening are the best times to look.
Baranof Island, on the western shoreline of Chatham Strait between Point Gardiner and Peril Strait, has a number of bays and inlets with steep terrain and deep waters. Many waterfalls and streams are visible along the shore. A fish hatchery is located in Kasnyku Bay, and Kelp Bay is visited in summer by locals and charter tour groups for fishing and wildlife viewing. The small community of Baranof Warm Springs has a public dock, trails and access to a salt chuck and intertidal wetlands for wildlife viewing.
Angoon is on the west coast of Admiralty Island and looks across the broad reach of Chatham Strait into Peril Strait. From here, boats can head west through Peril Strait to Sitka, or north up Chatham Strait to Juneau and other points.