The Grandeur of Glacier Bay

This is the seventh of the “Week-Long Alaskan Dream” post series.

With only two more posts to go, to wrap up the memorable week on the water in Alaska, I almost abandoned the effort; but, I have dusted off the blog, and am committed to seeing it through! I could not leave the journey without sharing the grandeur of Glacier Bay.

We had an early departure from Flynn Cove, hoping to see bear, but only a couple made cameo appearances in the distance on shore. The Misty Fjord continued along Icy Strait into Glacier Bay National Park, radioing ahead to the National Park Service Rangers to announce our arrival, our head count, and intended length of stay.

Passing South Marble Island, the diversity of wildlife provided a new appreciation for the richness of southeast Alaska. The barking of Steller sea lions could be heard even before the eye discerned the details – covering almost every flat (and even not so flat) segment of the island’s shoreline were masses of sea lions of all sizes.

Periodically an enormous bull dominated the section of real estate a particular group occupied. Some tussling between what one assumed were younger males would disrupt the water or erupt in the middle of the group. And when we were downwind from the island, the odor of the sea lions was unmistakable.

Keeping the sea lions company on the island were groups of cormorants and gulls – clustered on the ledges, nests appearing beneath pairs of cormorants who stood like sentinels of the island.

In the surrounding waters, tufted puffins floated amidst the gulls, their bright beaks in contrast to black bodies. If the puffin was spotted in the air, the orange-red legs stood out like a beacon.

Looking down, we watched a sea otter lazily floating in the pollen-filled waters.

Looking up, we were delighted to see mountain goats high above us, nimbly clambering along the precarious edges, and then grazing on spruce tips and lichens. Their white hair or fur stood in contrast to the craggy cliffs behind them.

We moved along, scanning the cliffs as we went, spotting mountain goat after mountain goat in nooks and crannies here and there. We had almost glided by “mountain goat cliff” when one of our fellow boatmates shouted “baby”! It was only a couple of weeks old and still getting its climbing feet under it. The kid cavorted and scrambled near its mother, losing its balance slightly when loose gravel and rock was underfoot. The mother protectively watched while nibbling on vegetation. What is it about baby animals that softens the heart and has one acting as protectively as the mother herself with each trip or stumble?

The Misty Fjord resumed its journey to Margerie Glacier, seeing only a handful of other ships the entire day. Thanks to Glacier Bay National Park regulating the traffic, the opportunity was created to experience this vast wild treasure out of earshot and eyeshot of any other travelers beyond the eight passengers and four crew on our boat for most of our time in the park.

Glacier after glacier dotted the mountains lining our horizon. Some had receded substantially, leaving a wide swath of crushed rock in its former path. Others still pushed slowly down the mountainside dragging dirt and debris with them to the waters below, or sometimes appeared to have stacked without release at the base.

Margerie Glacier is one in the Park that is best known to visitors, often calving during a visit. She had a craggy face that had several sections looking poised to calve, but only a small piece crashed to the waters while we were in view. The bay near Margerie was not as dramatically filled with unique iceberg shapes as it was in Tracy Arm; instead smaller white and clear pieces of ice dotted the landscape.

The sound of rushing water could be heard in the background. A waterfall or cascade tumbled downward on the mountain face opposite Margerie, while the silty runoff of Grand Pacific Glacier, abutting the Canadian border turned the chalky aquamarine water a milky brown.

We put in our kayaks in the bay to paddle to shore, where the glacier running from Canada was shedding its surface, creating a stark landscape from afar. Once you were on shore, the rocky sand beneath your feet unveiled a rich collection of stones from various geological sources – granite speckled in black and white, dark shale-like stone with streaks of quartz and green or copper accents; golden brown veins ran through some, strands of white creating human-like designs in others. Sizes varied from small boulders to the tiniest of pebbles, with several glacial-size deposits dotting the surroundings to remind you of the power of that moving ice floe.

The ”sand” was silt, and soft beneath our feet as we trudged forward with rubber boots from the ship to keep us dry when we waded through shallow rivulets branching off from the main glacial runoff, which moved dangerously fast. The goal of marching to the border was foiled by a wide branch of churning silty water, causing us to call it “good enough” perhaps a quarter-mile from Canada.

While schedules were loose, we still had certain locales that had to be reached within set time ranges, so it was time to move out and bid Margerie adieu.

The chef’s fresh salmon dip with crackers was waiting for us after we paddled back to the boat, and we settled into happy hour with cocktail in hand. Captain Lucas interrupted our post-kayak cocktails with an announcement that the window of “glacial plunge” opportunity was here! We quickly changed into our swimsuits, put on life jackets, and lined up on the back deck of the boat, hand in hand. Before you could second-guess the wisdom of jumping into an ice-filled bay within eyeshot of a glacier, you found yourself airborne. The Captain and another crew member jumped with us, and were the first ones back out of the water to help haul us back on board. That initial shock of near freezing water was something that set off alarm bells in your brain … “I shouldn’t be here!!” … The life jackets caused you to quickly pop to the surface after jumping in, but the numbness caused by the frigid waters almost immediately set in to the extremities, and you understood intimately the danger these waters posed to anyone falling in during a situation of distress. Being immersed in the glacial water would be deadly within minutes for the average human without protective clothing, but taking the plunge with towels and dry clothes within arm’s reach once on board instead created an adrenaline-filled memory.

We closed the evening in Sebre Cove, a peaceful mooring within the wilderness of Alaska’s Glacier Bay, and rested up for our last full day of our week on the Misty Fjord.

~ Kat

Next post: Final Day on the Water

Previous posts in the series: 

4 responses to “The Grandeur of Glacier Bay”

  1. I’ve really enjoyed your adventures and am so glad that you have carried on. Your amazing trip was filled with so much beauty and nature certainly didn’t disappoint in the wildlife department either.

    Liked by 1 person

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