Helm Point, Coronation Island

Helm Point, Coronation Island

by | Jul 28, 2021

Helm Point is a prominent headland at the southern tip of Coronation Island in the Alexander Archipelago of Southeast Alaska, between Chatham and Sumner Straits, about 94 miles (151 km) south-southeast of Sitka and 86 miles (138 km) southwest of Wrangell, Alaska. The island is about 10 miles (16 km) long and 6 miles (10 km) wide. It was named by Captain George Vancouver on September 22, 1793, on the anniversary of the coronation of King George III of the United Kingdom. Helm Point was named after Lieutenant James M. Helm, a member of the survey party led by Lieutenant Commander Albert S. Snow of the U.S. Navy. Snow command the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey steamer Carlile P. Patterson and surveyed southeastern Alaska during the summer of 1886, beginning the season early in May in the vicinity of Wrangell, and ending it on September 15 at Port Simpson, British Columbia. Lieutenant Helm accompanied Snow and was in command of the USS McArthur.

Coronation Island is difficult to access because of high prevailing winds and surf, combined with a steep, rocky coast along the western and southwestern shore. The few protected coves and beaches along the eastern and northeastern shore are guarded by rocky shoals. The island has 5 major bays including Egg Harbor, Alikula Bay, Aats Bay, Gish Bay, and Windy Bay. The Henyakwan, one of two Tlingit tribes on the west coast of Prince of Wales Island, historically used Egg Harbor while awaiting fair weather to travel out to the Hazy Islands to gather bird eggs. In 1908, the Alaska Packers Association steel square-rigged ship Star of Bengal sank near China Cove in the lee of Helm Point, killing 111 passengers, mostly Chinese cannery workers. The Coronation Island Mining Company operated a lead mine from the early 1900s until the late 1960s on Pin Peak at Egg Harbor on the northwest shore of the island, and extracted more than 100 tons of galena. In 1960, two pairs of wolves were introduced to Coronation Island to reduce the high density of Sitka black-tailed deer. The island was historically without wolves or other large mammalian predators. The Alexander Archipelago wolf population increased to 13 animals in four years and caused a pronounced decline in deer density. The wolves then declined to a single animal in 1968, and deer persisted only in a few areas of rough terrain and dense habitat. Wolf scats consisted primarily of deer during the first five years following their introduction, with harbor seals of secondary importance. Deer remains in the scats declined during 1966-1968 to low frequency, whereas marine invertebrates, small rodents, and birds increased markedly, and wolf remains also appeared in the scats. As deer density declined, wolves fed opportunistically on whatever was available, even resorting to cannibalism. An inventory of the island’s fauna in 1983 found no wolves, but the deer were once again abundant. In 1980, the Coronation Island Wilderness was designated by the United States Congress encompassing 19,232 acres (7,783 ha) and includes the adjacent Spanish Islands.

Coronation Island is made largely of limestone and some caves on the island contain fossils. The island’s western side includes large, flat lowland areas of karst topography that appear to have never been glaciated. Karst is a unique landform created by the dissolving action of water on carbonate bedrock, such as limestone. Karst develops over thousands of years and results in unusual features such as spires, sinkholes, rock fins, disappearing streams and caves. Karst features and caves have been affected by millions of years of changing geologic and climatic conditions. The Tongass Cave Project is a joint effort by the U.S. Forest Service and the National Speleological Society to survey the karst landscape of Southeast Alaska and inventory, describe and propose management recommendations for caves in the Tongass National Forest. The project has discovered hundreds of well-developed caves that reveal the biological, cultural, and paleontological history of the region. Human artifacts over 10,000 years old and brown bear bones over 35,000 years old have been discovered. In 2001, Colander Cave on Coronation Island was discovered with a fossil of a brown bear over 11,000 years old, supporting the hypothesis that these bears survived the Last Glacial Maximum. There are also many non-karst sea caves on the more exposed west and south shores of the island eroded mostly by wave action. The force of waves widens and deepens cracks and fissures in the sea cliffs due to the tremendous force exerted within a confined space, not only by the direct action of the surf and any rock particles that are suspended but also by compressed air. Read more about Coronation Island here and here. Explore more of Helm Point and Coronation Island here:

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