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Exceptional Southeast Text and images by Will Rice

Secrets of the ABC Islands

Southeast Alaska is always referred to by Alaskans as simply “Southeast,” usually with an undertone of awe. The fog-shrouded hills and intricate coves beg to be explored with a comfortable boat, a reliable skipper, and good friends.

Beneath the waters surrounding the ABCs (Admiralty, Baranof, and Chichigof islands) hundreds of humpback whales feed, erupting from the waves in pursuit of herring they’ve trapped in a net of bubbles. Herring and salmon provide a rich food source for much of the area’s wildlife, including sea lions. Their haulouts may host a hundred animals or more, jammed together on a rocky point, with each bull protecting his harem with grunts and roars.

Marine life isn’t the only charm of cruising the region. Tiny settlements are scattered throughout Southeast, some built and sustained by the magical year-round supply of hot water. In Tenakee Springs, the community bathhouse overflows with water cascading from a large cleft in the bedrock around it. Separate times are allotted for men and women, with clothing strictly prohibited. At Baranof Warm Springs, a short hike alongside a long cascade leads to e Grotto, a 117-degree pool perched beside a tumbling waterfall.

Such beauty comes with a price for a few aptly named areas: Deadman’s Reach, Peril Strait, Murder Cove, and Ford’s Terror. Almost every anchorage has rusting relics of earlier, harshly lived lives. Few are more haunting than Funter Bay, where some 900 Aleuts were interned during WWII. e nal resting place for many of them lies a short distance from the dock, where carefully tended Russian Orthodox crosses glow a stark white against the gloom of the trees. e contrast seems to encapsulate the dread that the families must have felt when they found themselves suddenly relocated from the windswept tundra of the Aleutians to a claustrophobic rainforest infested with bears

Herring and salmon may drive the ecosystem, but the now-disappearing glaciers shaped the stunning landscape. Outside of Tracy Arm, their final incarnation is a string of icebergs, drifting with the tide. Like all of Southeast, they are beautiful and strange, products of a fierce and rewarding environment.

Will Rice is a long-time Alaskan and the author of several y-shing guides. More of his photos can be seen at willricephoto.com.

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by Will RIce

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