Wait for it…
One of the most thrilling things we get to do on our cruises is to wait and watch for glaciers to calve. Just when you think it’s time to go and you’ll be disappointed that you didn’t see anything big, the glacier answers with a thunderous crack and an enormous splash.
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.