Alaska Adventures

By Steven Sugar
This item appears on page 28 of the June 2021 issue.

My wife, Sally, and I experienced a unique 2-week trip to Alaska in 2007. We flew commercial airlines, New York-Seattle-Juneau, and then the former Era Aviation from Juneau to Gustavus, the starting point of our 6-day Glacier Bay cruise on the Sea Wolf of Sea Wolf Adventures (Gustavus, AK; 907/957-1438,

The Sea Wolf is a 97-foot converted minesweeper that accommodates 12 passengers. Each day, we’d cruise to a new anchorage, kayak from the boat and explore calving glaciers and take mainland hikes and upstream paddles. Bears and eagles were ubiquitous.

On kayaks, we got within 75 feet of this (perhaps) 3-year-old grizzly, who seemed completely at peace with us. Photo by Steven Sugar

The size of the boat allowed for tremendous flexibility, and the captain, Kimber Owen, is a fascinating woman for all seasons, who successfully took on chef/guide/naturalist/historian duties as the situations demanded (and she’s still running the cruise today).

My dining relationship with halibut was forever changed when I got a close-up look at a 200-pound halibut, a fish which, until then, I’d assumed was similar in size to the flounders I’d been served in restaurants.

We finished the cruise with a day visiting Kimber’s home of Elfin Cove on the way to the Gulf of Alaska, where we had multiple sightings of seals and of humpback whales breaching and diving, with dolphins escorting the boat.

From Gustavus, we flew to Valdez (via Juneau), rented a car and drove a beautiful, circuitous route to the Chitina Airport (which consisted of a gravel runway, two outhouses and a chain-locked log cabin), where a 4-seat Piper Cub took us the last 20 minutes to McCarthy, a small town within the borders of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve (= Yosemite + Yellowstone + Switzerland combined).

We’d booked a room at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge (800/582-5128,, site of the Kennicott Copper mine, which operated from 1906 to 1938 and once was the richest copper mine in the world.

We explored (complete with crampons) the Root Glacier and the 40 remaining mine buildings, some in pristine condition, river-rafted down the Chitina River and met most of the full-time residents of McCarthy (at that time, there were 16; today, 26).

After three days, we retraced our route from Valdez to Anchorage, did some local exploring and topped it off with a 6-person floatplane trip to Denali. The weather dictated all trips, and we didn’t know until 20 minutes prior that we’d be able to make the trip.

Seeing the mountain (and the climbers at base camp) was glorious, and on our return we landed at a glacial lake, which we started to explore until our pilot, pointing to large, fresh tracks, said that they were grizzly prints and it was time to depart.


Tenafly, NJ

** Editor's note : The Alaska Adventures article has been updated to reflect that the author is from New Jersey. The original article incorrectly referred to his home state as New York. Please see correction in the July 2021 issue.