June 26 – Glacier Bay

 Until 10,000 years ago, continental-scale ice sheets came and went many times for seven million years.  During the Great Ice Age, these ice sheets would reach as far south as the upper Midwest of the United States.  Glacier Bay today is the product of the Little Ice Age, a geologically recent glacial advance in northern regions.  The Little Ice Age reached its maximum extent about 1750. 

Unlike glaciers in some of the mountains in the Lower-48 were glaciers may soon be a thing of the past, while some of Glacier Bay’s glaciers are receding, due to heavy snowfall in the soaring Fairweather Mountains, Glacier Bay remains home to a few “healthy” and advancing glaciers.

Since time immemorial, the clans of the Huna Tlingit have lived and thrived in and around Glacier Bay and have recognized  it as their homeland.  The happenings and history of Glacier Bay are retained in the oral history and traditions of these clans that keep their legacy alive.  One oral tradition remains strong and stories are told to the present day of the ice advancing “as fast as a dog could run” and forcing the Tlingit from their homeland.  Later, as the ice began to recede, they returned to a landscape filled with bergs which they called “Halked-Too”, meaning “Among the Ice”.

Comprised of 3.3 million acres of mountains, glaciers, forests and waterways, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is a highlight of the Inside Passage and part of a World Heritage Site.

Just 250 years ago, Glacier Bay was all glacier and no bay. A massive river of ice, roughly 100 miles long and thousands of feet deep occupied the entire bay.  Today, that glacier is gone, having retreated north, scraping the land clean, leaving behind a series of narrow inlets framed by step-sided mountains, rising as much as 6,680 feet (Mount Cooper).

As daylight broke (I was up around 5:00 AM), the ship was far north of Sitka and nearing the mouth of the Sitakaday Narrows at the southern end of Glacial Bay, the stark and snow-accented mountain scenery was incredibly beautiful.

In one inlet I spied two kayakers dwarfed by the surrounding landscape.

There were birds everywhere,

flotillas of sea otters,

and an occasional whale.

The only signs of humans came in the form of other sightseeing boats.

Entering the Tarr Inlet … until the beginning of the 20th century still a river of solid ice … but now the waterway,

and our first glimpse of ice bergs

to our Glacier Bay destination, the Margerie Glacier.

The Margeria Glacier is roughly one mile wide, with a vertical face of about 250 feet high above the waterline, and a base approximately 100 feet below sea level.  Avalanches, rock slides, tributary glaciers and the scouring of the valley have caused an accumulation of dirt and rock causing sections of the glacier to look “dirty

It was here we saw our first, and only, seals.

While not extensive, we did see some calving of the glacial face.

As the ship turned to begin its southward course enroute to our next port-of-call, Sitka, its propellers churned the silt-laden floor of the Inlet bringing a flotilla of gulls to the stern of the ship.

The views were still awesome!

Once in the southern reaches of Glacial Bay, we passed the Reid Glacier

and the weather turned overcast, the winds freshened and the calm seas of the bay were replaced by very gently rising seas.

During dinner, while the sky temporarily darkened, rays from the sun lit up around a island off to our west.

This evening, we attended our first show,

an excellent collaboration between a BBC presentation of Alaska accompanied by music played by the very talented Eurodam ensemble.  Some clips (resolution not exceptional as shooting a digital screen from the audience section of the theater).

Back at our room … we were able to watch the slowly setting sun, the latter taken after 10:15 PM

As the sky finally darkened, the swells began to increase and Debbie could feel it and was beginning to worry if she’d suffer the same “upset” which laid her low on Sunday evening.  Fortunately, she weathered this storm without incident!

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