The History of Johnstone Bay, Alaska
Johnstone Bay was named after an explorer with the English Royal Navy. James Johnstone served on the HMS Chatham during George Vancouver's 1791-1795 expedition around the world. This expedition completed an intricate and challenging survey of the Pacific Northwest, including Alaska. Johnstone led two major boat surveys in a small vessel that allowed circumnavigation of the many capes and bays of the Kenai Peninsula Coast.
Similar to many of the remote bays along the Kenai Peninsula, Johnstone Bay did not have a name until Grant and Higgins surveyed the area for the USGS in 1909. The purpose of which was to determine and document the positions of the tidewater and near tidewater glaciers in the area. These two men passed within two miles of Excelsior Glacier and gave a detailed account of the topography of the land. Based on maps and terrain, they believed the glacier to have extended out to sea in the not so distant past. Today the Excelsior Glacier has receded about five miles from its location in 1909.
It is unclear when the first human laid foot on the land at Johnstone Bay. It is possible that a 4-man group, led by Rufus Sargent in 1911, traversed Excelsior Glacier for the purpose of drawing topographic maps.
In the 1970's, Johnstone Bay was made eligible for land staking under the Homestead Act of 1862. It was not until this time that we have been able to confirm human arrival.
JM first saw Johnstone Bay as a passenger aboard a local tour vessel. Despite seeing much of Alaska's beautiful coastlines, he was especially struck by the profound beauty of Johnstone. In 2013, he acquired land on the western shore. With the assistance and flight support of Alaska bush pilot Jim Craig, JM was able to spend the summer of 2015 camping out on the land. With the help of Manfred Dietrich, life long mariner and owner of a 90-foot landing craft, JM was able to transport needed cabin supplies from Seward to Johnstone Bay. He began pouring the foundation for the first cabin that September. This first cabin served as the base for future building.
JM and wife Jamie began plans to create a lodge with the intention of sharing this magnificent place with visitors. With the help of famous log smith, Derek Galbraith, crew, and Manfred's landing craft construction on the chalets began in September of 2017.
From the beginning our intention was to accommodate a small number of guests in order to preserve the pristine nature of the wilderness we call home.
1913 USGS Map
Chalet materials fully loaded and ready for voyage to Johnstone Bay
JM Pond in front of the landing craft with his beloved Australian Shepard, Rick.
In addition to the landing craft, freight logistics have been conducted via commercial single engine plane such as Cessna 185's, Piper PA 18, supercubs, Beaver on both skis and wheels and helicopter.
Jamie, infant Roan, and Aussies Rick and Jaz Above (left)
JM, Rick & jaz (Right)
Image taken 2016
Image taken 2018
Based on a USGS survey conducted in 1909 along the Kenai Peninsula, we know that the Excelsior Glacier at Johnstone Bay terminated at the terminal moraine. The 800-foot-deep lake that is now in existence was a massive glacier in 1909. Since that time the Excelsior Glacier has been retreating.
Here is a scientific article posted by Mauri Pelto including photos of the Retreat of the Excelsior Glacier up to 2011:
"Excelsior Glacier in Alaska has terminated in a lake for the last century.
Here we examine the retreat of this glacier from 1984 to 2011 using Landsat imagery. This glacier is seen as a model for the impending retreat of Brady Glacier examined in a paper we just published (Pelto et al, 2013). In 1909 the glacier ended on the strip of forested land between the lake and the ocean (Molnia, 2007). By 1950 the glacier had retreated 2 km from this strip of land creating the new lake (USGS-Molnia, 2008) In 1909 the glacier had ended on land at the south end of the lake, indicating a retreat of 4.5-5.0 km in approximately a 75 year period. In 1984 (first image below) Excelsior Glacier ended at the pink arrow and the lake extending beyond the terminus was 4.7 km long, the yellow arrow indicates the 2011 position and just south (under) the arrow is a glacier dammed lake. The lake width has changed little and is 1.4-1.8 km wide in the region the terminus has been retreating through during the last 30 years. By 1989 the glacier had retreated 500 m and the lake was filled with numerous icebergs. By 2001 the glacier had retreated 1500-1700 m from the 1984 position, a rate of 100 meters per year, and the glacier dammed lake south of the yellow arrow is still apparent, as are a couple of large icebergs. The 2003 Google Earth image indicates further retreat and again a couple of large icebergs and a large crack near the center of the terminus indicating a new iceberg getting ready to separate. By 2011 the glacier had retreated past the formerly glacier dammed lake and ended at the prominent ridge just north of this former lake and the new inlet that replaces it. The glacier has retreated 3400-3700 m depending where on the front the measurement is made. This is a rate of over 100 meters per year since 1984.
Another big change is the thinning and narrowing of the tributary entering on the east side of the glacier north of the terminus. This is illustrated in the last image (below) with a combined 1989 image left and 2011 right and the red arrows pointing out three significant points of thinning and new rock-moraine exposure. This glacier has behaved in a similar fashion to so many Alaskan glacier from the nearby Bear Glacier, to British Columbia’s Melbern Glacier or Porcupine Glacier and southeast Alaska’s Chickamin and Norris Glaciers of southeast Alaska."