Cruising SE Alaska – part 2


The Glaciers

”The Master Builder chose for a tool, not thunder and lightening to rend and split asunder, not the stormy torrent nor the eroding rain, but the tender snowflake, noiselessly falling through unnumbered generations.” -John Muir


Summertime – mid morning temperature 47°, and luckily very little wind as we move from our anchorage directly in front of Reid Glacier in Glacier Bay north to the grand dame of all the glaciers, Margerie. She sports a 200 foot wall of ice above the waterline and extends 50 to 100 feet below. We reached the head of the inlet and found no other boats, no cruise ships, enjoying the drama of the scene alone.
This is the ”Holy Grail” of cruising destinations in Southeast Alaska. The scenery defies verbal description without using all the over-used words, ”glorious, gorgeous, fantastic, awesome, unbelievable, indescribable,” so we will let the pictures describe what we saw and constrain these words to what we experienced.

Surrounding the whole of Glacier Bay and extending beyond the Canadian border are what we called the ghost mountains, The Fairweather Mountains, always white, towering way in the misty background framing the closer views of snow capped cedar and pine covered peaks. We called them the ghosts.

For miles before reaching the glaciers, water color began turning a lighter green and milky, finally losing much of the green next to the glaciers where the glacial melt was highest. Heading the 12 miles up Glacier Bay to the Margerie and Grand Pacific glaciers we encountered more and more ice requiring us to slow down and cautiously dodge the larger bergs to avoid damage. The small ”bergy bits” were too numerous to avoid. The inlet was literally choked with ice bergs in some spots. Fortunately the currents and light breeze seemed to open paths for us, and when we reached the ”toe” of the glacier the ebb tide had cleared all the bergs for us. Even so, we remained half a mile off for safety. Glaciers are born high in the mountains where all precipitation is snow. It never melts, but compresses under the added weight of snows year after year, until gravity starts it moving down – a virtual river of ice. From our vantage, movement was not detected until there was a deep thunderous report, and another every few moments, signaling Margerie’s movement of six to eight feet every day.
(to be continued…)

Author: Howard

Captain Howard is a lifelong sailing nut. His third and present boat, Holy Grail, has been in the family 26 years after he and the Admiral Stephanie built her in British Columbia. They have sailed her about 45,000 miles from B.C. Canada on a circuitous route through Mexico, Easter Island, Pitcairn, The Australs and through many islands to Australia, Solomons and Papua New Guinea. In 2017, they ended a five year visit to Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.