Like floating through the air with the greatest of ease – the moment our little floatplane took off from the water’s edge in downtown Ketchikan we were immediately surrounded and overwhelmed by the endless terrain of evergreens interspersed with beautiful blue water as far as the eye could see.
Ketchikan looked notable enough directly below us, and the massive cruise ships docked in port were an impressive sight to see from this suddenly elevated vantage-point – a great and unique photo-op!
But all of this was quickly forgotten as we became enveloped by the lush hilly coastline of pristine old-growth forest.
I mean, this was why we were here; this was why we took this excursion in the first place: to become more intimate and in touch with this most natural and authentic part of Alaska. There are no immense glaciers around these parts, though, and instead there is the equally dramatic setting that is Misty Fjords National Monument, a protected treasure of gorgeous scenery immediately outside of, but almost inaccessibly remote from, Ketchikan. Misty Fjords is perhaps best described as the pretty Pacific Northwest suddenly colliding with the vastness of the more rugged Alaska. The combination of sheer cliff walls jutting up from the waters’ edge to then prop up endless vistas of green forest is like witnessing the most elaborate and creative of Mother Nature’s works of art.
As we left Ketchikan behind amid the dull whine of our plane’s engines, a lone pod of killer whales caught my glance when their distant and silent surfacing interrupted the sun’s reflection on the water’s surface below us. This initial greeting to Misty Fjords lulled me into a calm and false sense of security – leaving me woefully unprepared for what then suddenly seemed the wild emergence of the jagged power of nature that lay ahead. As once we had soared up the inlets and come to within the more ornate fjordland, I was stunned by the tight corners and exciting banking that our little prop plane was forced to navigate around. Suddenly, there was no more coastline and instead it was replaced by the immediacy of huge granite cliff walls that formed an outline to this maze of inlets.
We had gone from floating blissfully above it all to darting down in through the trenches, and it was only thanks to our able pilot’s skill that saw us soar safely through. As my eyes were wide with thrill and I perched on the edge of my seat, the pilot said, “Ah, I do this 5 times a day in summer,” rather nonchalantly.
After so much drama, our navigator then announced that we would soon be making a water landing! This would make a nice reprieve from all the air maneuvers, but I couldn’t imagine how or where this could be accomplished. Our pilot seemed so spontaneous with this decision. Would it be right in the middle of one of these lacy arms of water, so as to simply say that we did upon our return?
It wasn’t until we gently touched down on the water’s surface and came to a stop that I saw a make-shift floating platform that would be our destination. Obviously, this landing was a part of our itinerary for this excursion from the start, though I hadn’t dreamed that this would be possible.
This lonely little floatplane pier was built just for this purpose – to tie up the plane and provide visitors a chance to step right out into the scenic experience.
Once having set foot on the floating platform, it was easy to ignore the pilot’s and others’ voices as the plane was secured and turned off. Here it felt like just me and Alaska – I let my mind and gaze drift, even blotting out the wooden pier from my consciousness too. I was left standing and floating in the midst of the calm water, deep within this Alaskan fjord. Timeless.
After only a few minutes – which felt endless, as if in glacial time – we were required to reboard our floatplane again and skid off and away. A little trickle of a waterfall on the near shore bid us adieu.
I hadn’t noticed it before, being so overwhelmed by the huge vistas of the rest of these surroundings. But by this, I immediately learned to step back and appreciate the small and precious of this land too and not be too lost in all the grandeur.
On the return path back to town we flew rather low this time, what seemed like just above the water’s surface. One last treat emerged in the centre of our path back down the Behm Canal: a dramatic rock column jutting out of the water that forms its own little island. This is New Eddystone Rock, an over 200 foot high remarkably vertical remnant of ancient volcanic activity, named by Captain George Vancouver when he explored these areas over two hundred years ago.
As we buzzed past the top of this incredible and unique natural structure, a lone bald eagle came into view, perched on one of the highest treetops above the rock. It seemed to salute us, escorting us back into the modern world, and leaving that of his own timeless natural world behind.
So the next time you visit Ketchikan on your cruise (and most every ship does during its summer Alaskan itinerary) make sure to get out of town – the most impressive manner being up, up, and way in this way. Misty Fjords presents such a wonderful opportunity to get more intimate with the real wilderness side of Alaska, and lose oneself in some of the most secret areas of this vast state’s natural treasures.Matthew Vaughan
Cruise & Travel Specialist
t: 604.737.8100 –ext. 116 | t: 1.800.565.2784