Epic Glacier Day
I keep a little journal and I thought you might like to see what I wrote about. I titled it Epic Glacier Day
May 26 – 0544 Epic Glacier Day:
woke up in front of Reid Glacier.
Actually, Epic Glacier Day (EGD) really started the day before when we dropped anchor and spent several hours ashore at Reid glacier’s snout taking pictures as part of our photography workshop cruise. EGD started by waking up anchored face to face with a massive glacier. As I prepared coffee and breakfast, I occasionally walked outside to stare at the glacier and to listen to the sounds of the glacier’s rushing meltwater streams and waterfalls. The water sounds would occasionally be interrupted by the calls of some of my favorite birds – black oystercatchers. Although small bits of ice floated in the inlet, this glacier no longer calves big icebergs into the water. It has retreated to rest on a mudflat, and high tides now only kiss Reid’s wide icy snout.
went to Johns Hopkins then Margerie
We made a stop at Lamplough Glacier, which sits like a watchdog to the entrance of Johns Hopkins Inlet. The sky had cleared to a bright blue. We paid our respects to Lamplough and entered Johns Hopkins Inlet for a view of Johns Hopkins Glacier as it spilled into the inlet from the impossibly high and jagged Fairweather Mountains. After witnessing an enormous avalanche spill onto the glacier, we turned to continue EGD with our fourth and fifth glaciers – Margerie and the Grand Pacific.
spent a couple hours at Margerie in the skiff
We anchored in Tarr Inlet about a mile away from Margerie. It had recently been active. Small bergs and brash ice floated past our anchorage. Hundreds of black-legged kittiwakes were nesting about a half-mile away. Margerie glacier is beautifully showy with the whitest ice and actively calving. The Grand Pacific seems shy and more sedentary. It’s covered in a blanket of dirt and rock, and seldom calves. It seems content to let Margerie have all the attention.
We lowered the skiff for the best part of EGD — a ride to the face of an active tidewater glacier.
a humpback surfaced next to the David B at anchor
Not long after we got the skiff in the water a humpback whale entered Tarr Inlet. I surfaced twice nearby the David B, and one of the surfacings was really close to the skiff.
-6-10 sea otters on icebergs
We kept our cameras and our focus on Margerie. We waited to capture the moment that a tower of ice would fall into the water. We made bets on where ice would fall from, and we held hopes that a big one would let loose.
While watching the glacier, a group of sea otters swam along the floating ice, and an eagle landed on the great face of the glacier. No visible part of Margerie was left unphotographed. Every peak, every icy spire, every kittiwake, and every iceberg was part of this magical landscape. I felt the need to absorb it all. To capture every sight, every sound, every emotion. To hold on to this moment for as long as possible. I wanted
to wrap it all up, take it home, and share it with anyone who needed a good dose of Mother Nature.
I didn’t write anymore but we remained anchored in Tarr Inlet that night. I remember that from time-to-time we could hear the boom of ice calving off Margerie, the sounds of the kittiwake colony, and the silence of nature. Magnificent mountains surrounded us. The sun dipped behind the peaks, and again another boom and more ice would be spilled.
It was the perfect Epic Glacier Day.
Trip #297 Petersburg to Juneau Recap – June 10-17, 2017
Where is the David B?
Often when I take a phone call or answer an email, I get the question, “Where is the David B today?”
Usually I have to guess based on our sample itineraries, but now I don’t have to!
Jeffrey recently installed a Garmin GPS unit, which updates the David B’s location and often shows the many places along the way during a trip. You can see the David B’s current location here: https://share.garmin.com/TheDavidB
I really like this screen shot of trip #297 (see the trip recap below) which shows the David B heading Northwest out of Petersburg, going around Admiralty island to visit the Baranof Warm Springs, with side trips to see Ford’s Terror and the Sawyer glacier before arriving in Juneau.
Trip #297 – Petersburg to Juneau Trip Recap June 10-17, 2017
Day 1) 10 June – Thomas Bay – We left Petersburg and stopped to see the local sea lions hauled out on a buoy. The sea lions were very expressive as they tried to jockey for space on the buoy. Anchored in Thomas Bay. Skiffed around Ruth Island and tucked into a narrow cut to look at an overfall coming out of an unnamed lagoon. We saw a Bald Eagle and a small weasel, one person thought it was a fisher another thought it was a mink. It was too far away to tell.
Day 3) 12 June – Watched more humpback whales on our way to Baranof Island’s Warm Springs Bay. Everyone went ashore and soaked in the hot springs. Christine was excited to have Rufous Hummingbirds come to the feeder.
Day 4) 13 June – Left Warm Springs Bay and after being underway for a little more than an hour, we found a pod of six killer whales. We hung out with them for about an hour before continuing on to Gambier Bay on Admiralty Island.
Day 5) 14 June – In the morning we timed a shore excursion for a low tide walk to do a little tide pooling and then to duck into the forest to see what plants were in bloom. We found Calypso Orchids, Tiny white Shy Maiden, and the unusual ground cone to name a few.
On our way to Holkham Bay, we were visited by several Dall’s Porpoises who rode the bow of the boat. We also got to stop and watch several humpback whales feeding in the middle of Stephens Passage. In the evening we anchored in Fords Terror.
Day 6) 15 June – Everyone got up early to catch the right tide for skiffing into the back of Fords Terror. It’s a beautiful steep-sided fjord that is only accessible through a narrow cut at slack water when the current running slows. After breakfast we went ashore to look at several icebergs that had come off of Dawes Glacier. The icebergs had floated into Fords Terror and grounded on a sandbar. There was one of the most beautiful icebergs we’ve ever seen sitting on the beach. Christine would have spent all day with if she could.
Day 8) 17 June – Left early in the morning for Juneau. Had a lovely trip with some of the nicest folks!
Trip #295 Recap – Glacier Bay Photography Class – May 22-29, 2017
Trip #295 Glacier Bay Photography Class – Trip Recap
When we left for “the Bay” a week ago, I had this feeling that I always have as we depart — what will we find on this adventure? It’s not about the things that we see on almost every trip, like the whales or the glaciers. It’s the new things: the places we haven’t seen before, the wildlife we find that isn’t on our other trips, and the guests, many of whom we’ve never met before.
The best part is, we found lots of new things. We got a great tip from the rangers at Bartlett Cove who suggested we anchor near the McBride Glacier and walk the beach at low tide amongst the grounded icebergs. It was beautiful. It was a sculpture garden of ice, pieces as small as a baseball to pieces as large as a truck. The photography possibilities were absolutely endless, and it was a photography trip, of course.
The McBride glacier calves bergs into a narrow river that flows out to Muir inlet, but just at the confluence, the river narrows and shallows and the bergs get stuck. More and more come down the river and crash into the already grounded ones. Then, as the tide goes out, you can walk around them on the beach as they lay at all sorts of crazy angles, waiting for the next tide to float them free again. One of the photography experts and trip leaders, John D’Onofrio, thought it was the most beautiful place he’d ever been.
A few days later, having spent the night in front of a receding glacier, we went to the entrance to Johns Hopkins Inlet and stepped up the amazement level again. The glacier is tucked back into the Fairweather range and has almost vertical snow covered sides extending 5 miles back to the glacier front, and the valley goes miles beyond, as the glacier swoops out of sight into the mountains. We even witnessed a thousand foot avalanche beside the glacier.
This was almost too much, and even John had to call for a mid-day break. Everyone need some time to absorb the amazement and the wonder of the place. It was indescribable. Of course, never wanting to back off the pace for a moment, when people awoke I loaded them in the skiff and we went for a 2 hour ride (in the sun) to watch another glacier, the Margerie glacier calve.
It was just amazing, And it really was “almost too much…”
The ice mountain is well disposed toward you
There’s often a cold breeze blowing off the glacier when we arrive to admire it’s icy blue front. Wind that can make July feel like January. It plays games with my seasonal clock. I remember one time while watching Dawes glacier, a guest told me he was going to go river rafting in a week when he got home. I gave him a quizzical look. It took me a moment to remember that it was July, and the rest of the North America was enjoying water slides and shaved ice, not icebergs sliding into sea water.
Visiting a tidewater glacier in Alaska is pilgrimage. You go observe something bigger than yourself in nature. It’s something you need do. For us, getting to the glacier is part of the journey. It’s more than just checking it off as a bucket-list item. On the David B, we are tuned into the rhythm of the glacier and the ebb and flow of the tide as it carries discarded icebergs up and down the fjord. We watch the glacier’s ever-changing snout and it’s mood. We’re aware that the glacier sometimes makes us work hard for our visit by packing the fjord densely with ice shed from its towering face. Sometimes its bergs are enormous – big like a building. Sometimes they are small – like a basketball. Some are white, some are blue, some have dirt and rocks riding along. Some have seals nursing their young. Some are clear and difficult to see. (We call those sneakers.)
Iceberg sizes have official names too. Most of the ice we see in Endicott Arm or Tracy Arm are growlers, less than 1 meter above the water and and less than 5 meters long. We also see lots bergie bits that are up to 4 meters above the water and and 14 meters long. The small and medium
icebergs, which range in size from 15 meters high to 45 meters high are often floating at the entrance to the fjords. The large and very large icebergs, which top out at over 75 meters high are rare.
Picking our way though the ice is always a challenge, and depending on the mood of the glacier, it can make for a long day. When we travel to a tidewater glacier, we always have two hopes. The first one is that the ice in the fjord will be light and the work of getting there will be easy. The second hope is that when we arrive, the glacier will awaken, and as Captain Tyeen said to John Muir in 1880, when they first saw Dawes Glacier, “The ice mountain is well disposed toward you. He is firing his big guns to welcome you.”
This past year we had several good visits to Dawes glacier, the ice was light and the glacier did fire its “big guns,” but one day stood out. It was a cool day with a strong wind coming off the glacier. Travel was relatively easy. Jeffrey piloted the David B to about 400 meters from Dawes’s formidable blue-white front. The feeling is always the same for me. I feel really small when I’m face to face with Dawes, which towers like a wide-angle skyscraper. At 400 meters, the wind, as if laughing at our smallness, pushed us back away from icy Dawes. We were the only boat there. Jeffrey re-positioned the David B several times, and each time we faced the glacier again. Our reward came with patience, hot coffee, mittens, and hats. The glacier became well disposed toward us and began to “fire it’s big guns”.
It started with a cracking and a rushing sound. Ice sloughed off the center-right side dumping a cascade of bergie bits and growlers. It continued and dumped some more, then something big broke, and more bergie bits and maybe even a small or medium iceberg was cast away from Dawes. The sounds and the sight made my heart beat quickly with excitement. Soon the waves arrived with a long low gentle role. We moved in sync with the nearby growlers and bergie bits.
When the show began to slow up, Jeffrey moved us into the wind one more time. It was time to go. The ice mountain was good to us, other boats were approaching, and a hot bowl of chili and sweet cast-iron-baked cornbread with melting butter was waiting in the galley.
That time we anchored in Tracy Arm…
It was maybe the coolest thing we did all summer, and it wasn’t planned at all. I didn’t really mean to be there at that time of day anyway.
What started it all was a “boring” glacier in another fjord. We normally visit a glacier on our Juneau and Petersburg trips, and stay around for an hour or so to watch it calve, but this time — no luck. We drifted around, and drifted around and nothing. The glacier was just sitting there, doing absolutely nothing. Maybe a couple little snowballs, but not like our normal shows. And it was really windy, so we kept having to maneuver to get back into position. There were lots of big icebergs that we pushed up against, and lots of brash ice and the whole thing was really annoying since nothing was going on with the glacier.
So I made a pronouncement “this glacier is boring! I’ll take you to see better one tomorrow.” Seemed like a good idea at the time.
The next morning we got underway at a nice civilized hour. The logbook says: “0935 — Underway“ Then everything seemed to slow us down. The tide was against us, we stopped for whales, we didn’t even make it out of Endicott Arm until well after lunch.
And so, late in the afternoon we were headed up Tracy Arm and we weren’t going to make it. Turning around meant covering this same stretch of water two more times and if we kept on to the glacier, it was going to be dark on our way out. Not good when you’re trying to avoid icebergs.
So I did what anyone would do in that situation. I anchored right in the fjord. We’d been told about a spot where a river flows out into the fjord and pushes the icebergs away, but it didn’t seem that good, so we went back a few miles and dropped the hook on a shallow ledge where another stream flows out. We’d scooped out this spot a few weeks earlier, tested the depths and looked at how the stream flow pushed the ice away.
It was amazingly beautiful. Everyone got in kayaks and paddled around the little bergy bits that were nearby and watched a black bear at the water’s edge. Then we observed a seal eating salmon, and there was even a place to nose the kayaks into a little waterfall flowing into the fjord. Over dinner we spotted the bear again on the rocks high above us.
As darkness fell, Christine, Cass and I set an all night anchor watch, which was mostly an all night berg watch. We plotted the big ones with the radar, we scanned for small ones by searchlight. It was really eerie watching the huge bergs go by all night at a quarter knot or so, but it was too shallow for them to get close to us.
When you go through a night like this, it seems almost bittersweet when it starts to get light. It was so serene and peaceful as the bergs marched slowly past us in the dark, first one way, then the other as the tide turned. There was a kind of magic to it. We were the only ones there quietly watching what the natural world had been doing for thousands of years
The spell continued as it got light, and we got underway to be the first ones to the glacier. The sun shone brilliantly, and this time, the glacier performed.