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Haines, Alaska: Eagles and More

We sit on the deck of the caretakers’ cabin in the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, and watch eagles catch fish in the Chilkat River.

Gotcha!

Gotcha!

Rafters on tours float past us and wave, unless gazing at glacial jagged mountains. Most come from the many cruise ships docked in the “nearby” town of Skagway. A raft guide tells us, “We call this the ‘float and bloat’ because they’re used to four meals a day.” Another guide says, “We called them the ‘newlywed or nearly dead’ when I worked in Juneau.”

"Bloat and Float" down the Chilkat River

“Bloat and Float” down the Chilkat River

The swift current in this braided river never freezes. Upstream, a large portion of water sits under accumulated glacial sediments. This underground reservoir is insulated and stays ten degrees above freezing all year. As a result, the river hosts the final salmon run on the North American Continent, where around 4,000 American Bald Eagles converge in the fall for a final feast. It’s like a convention of nature’s executives convening in Haines instead of Las Vegas.

Waiting for the convention in the Fall

Waiting for the convention in the Fall

Mare and I catch a rare sunny day for our favorite hike up Mt. Riley. We have the moderate six-mile round trip trail to ourselves, and make noise in the thick woods to keep the bears at bay. Up top, we’re treated with views of the Lynn Canal – North America’s longest and deepest fjord.

360 Views found on top of Mt. Riley

360 Views found on top of Mt. Riley

We gaze over the Chilkat River, Haines, and the Taiya Inlet. We can practically see all the way to Juneau. Massive glaciers melted years ago, allowing this vista which includes optimal views of Rainbow Glacier and its iconic waterfalls.

Rainbow Glacier from the top of Mt. Riley

Rainbow Glacier from the top of Mt. Riley

Battery Point Trail undergoes constant repair. The trail head is right in town and thus one of the most popular hikes in Haines. Ranked as easy, the four-mile round trip takes you through forest and onto rocky beach lined with flowers including Queen Anne’s lace, cow parsnips and fireweed. I go for my pepper spray when we hear something crashing through the thick spruce, relieved when two eagles, instead of a brown bear, busts through.

Views from the Battery Point Trail

Views from the Battery Point Trail

I haven’t caught a sockeye yet, but have learned how to fish for Dolly Varden. These arctic trout/char, depending upon who you talk to, can get huge. I caught a five-pounder. They taste sweet and would delight any staunch meat-eater. It took three summers for one local fisherman to give up his secret spot to me.

Ron with some Dollys

Ron with some Dollys

Mare made friends with a young eagle while I was out of town on a family emergency. She calls him “Screamer” because he screams when she walks past on her daily morning stroll. Sure, Mare…how long have you been here in this cabin? So, she takes me on the walk, and there he is, in the same spot, screaming and then soaring over top of us for several moments. It happens every morning when Mare calls to him. We’ll see if after he grows up and his head turns white he’ll remember us.

Mare's pet eagle, "Screamer"

Mare’s pet eagle, “Screamer”

Still missing our dog Jack, Mare calls and chases what she thinks is a stray black dog. She later claims it was actually a black bear. I think that she has cabin fever, as we have seen no sign of bear. Then, this guy shows up in our backyard.

Mare's new "puppy"

Mare’s new “puppy”

This year’s cabin comes with electricity. What a treat to have a refrigerator, propane range, oil heat, and the ability to store food and freeze fresh fish! We get one radio station out here, KHNS, a community station. Especially love the listener personals, eclectic array of music, NPR and local news.

Backyard views

Backyard views

Bathrooms are outside of course, which we clean and stock for the general public. Out-houses never break down. We’ll drive 19 miles into the town of Haines for a shower once in a while and catch up on internet (spotty and slow). Then fill our containers with glacial fed spring water and our growlers with beer from the Haines Brewery.

Mountain peaks along the Chilkat River

Mountain peaks along the Chilkat River

So, here we are, sitting around our fire pit, staring at a fire, a raging river, and the surrounding jagged, glacial-pocked mountains.

Ron has not caught a salmon yet, but this guy has!

Ron has not caught a salmon yet, but this guy has!

We marvel at the eagles fishing skills, and our good fortune to see it all. Life is good.                 Ron Mitchell

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14 Comments Post a comment
  1. susanstodola #

    Beautiful picture and beautiful story…

    Sent from my Verizon Wireless 4G LTE smartphone

    July 16, 2015
  2. Sweet! What a lovely way/place to spend a summer. Alaska dreams.

    July 16, 2015
  3. Ma & Pa #

    So beautiful Ron and Mare… the photos, the writing…… nature is truly somethin’ else.
    thank for sharing.

    July 17, 2015
  4. Kim Barnes #

    Absolutely stunning pics, and great commentary. Love living the Alaska and world travel life vicariously through you two…..

    July 17, 2015
  5. Alice Chambers #

    Enjoy your reports from all over the world. I did the float and bloat trip in Scagway from a cruise ship years ago- my favorite of the offered side trips- so many eagles and beautiful scenery which you capture so well.

    July 17, 2015
    • Alice, we did the float and boat a couple of years ago…and we’re definitely not newly weds!

      July 17, 2015
  6. Life is good in Haines isn’t it? I am always jealous when I get a chance to visit from Skagway.

    July 17, 2015
  7. DBarnhouse #

    What a beautiful place!! A bit overwhelming. Can’t imagine the experiences you guys have been able to share.

    July 20, 2015
  8. Sounds like you are having a blast up in Alaska this summer. Watching eagles fish.. Catching Dolly Warden.. Black bear in you backyard.. Sounds like paradise to me! And the hiking looks awesome. Amazing views!

    July 25, 2015

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