2000: Alaska

Glacier Bay

August 31

Ice litter.

We get a 3:30 a.m. wake-up call to see the Northern lights. Unfortunately itís not a particularly interesting view of them, looks a bit like a greenish misty cloud in the sky, no brilliant colors or movement. Mike and I stagger back to bed and snooze until 7 a.m.

We have breakfast with our usual group. Mike has been catching a cold and is stuffed up; I have developed a bad cold sore at the base of my tongue.

Today we will be cruising in Glacier Bay. Ranger Melanie, from the National Forest Service station at Bartlett Cove, joined us at 6 this morning. She will be on board all day to narrate the sights over the loudspeaker system.

Horned puffins.

We have hit the jackpot again: another gorgeous sunny day for our exploration of Glacier Bay. Our first point of interest is Marble Island, home to many nesting birds. Particularly we are looking for puffins, and we do see a few through our binoculars, although they are too far away for a photo op.

Watching them fly is a hoot. They are not at all aerodynamic; they look like flying potatoes, plunging more than soaring, flapping for all they are worth to stay aloft.

Sharing the island with the birds is a large group of sea lions, lounging on a rocky bluff, soaking up the sunshine like a colony of fur-covered lizards. They stretch and bark and jostle each other as we pass by.

Sea lions bask on a rare sunny day in Glacier Bay.
Rare sighting of Mt. Fairweather.

The crew and others experienced in traveling this area keep telling us what an unusual day we are having here, not a cloud in the sky. The good weather allows us to see a special treat -- the beautiful snow-covered peak of Mount Fairweather, 15,000 feet high.

We enter a spot called Sandy Cove looking for wildlife. It is low tide and the clams all along the shore are spouting water in little fountains to keep themselves wet until the tide comes back in. Our next stop is a small cove named Tidal Inlet, where we spot some mountain goats waaaaay up the side of a hill. Through binoculars they appear to be tiny, wooly spots with toothpick legs.

 Brown bear, far away.

On our way toward the glaciers, we finally hit the jackpot. Playing in the water on a pebbled beach in the distance is a brown bear. Our captain turns us toward shore and we try to drift closer for a better look.

The bear, however, has his own agenda, and as we drift toward him he ambles up a stream bed and disappears behind a hill. We must be content with a long-distance view through binoculars (and camera lenses). Even mega-lens can only capture him as a distant blob.

Margerie Glacier.

Glacier Bay, like most of Alaska, is a place of constant change.When George Vancouver first sailed here in 1794, the bay did not yet exist. By the time John Muir paddled his canoe into these waters in 1879, the glaciers had retreated 48 miles (forming the bay) and the shoreline was covered with dense forests.Naturalists continue to map the advances and retreats of the 16 tidewater glaciers here.

We sail into Tarr Inlet, where the Margerie Glacier and the Grand Pacific Glacier meet the shore at right angles to each other -- 180 degrees of glacier in one shot. Today's glaciers don't look as blue as the South Sawyer glacier; we learn this is because overcast skies lend a blue tint to the glaciers, and today the sky is clear.

Grand Pacific Glacier is a "black" glacier -- ice and rocks and dirt all frozen together. It looks like a huge lava flow from some ancient eruption.

Johns Hopkins Glacier.

Our last glacier is Johns Hopkins. This glacier is just plain BIG. It is an unusual day because we are able to get up to within a mile or so of the glacier; usually this channel is ice-packed. We see three kayaks, six kayakers, rowing very close to the glacier, and more harbor seals lying on ice floes.

Ranger Melanie has been a delight, narrating the sights all day and showing us interesting samples such as the "ice worms" -- tiny thread-like worms which nest, of all places, in glaciers. As night slowly descends, we watch Melanie board a Zodiac for her return to the ranger station. We all wave a fond farewell and head for dinner.

Bundled Carolyn. Berg hits boat!   Andy does his laps.
Maggie the toothless. Philip/Gunther.

Tonight is "Minerís Night" in the dining room. Our servers are all in costume for a rousing rendition of "Dangerous Dan McGrew", narrated by Jen and with enthusiastic participation by the diners.

Philip shows up wearing a masking-tape nametag labeled "Gunther", in honor of my favorite hunk among the Ketchikan lumberjacks.

Miners everywhere!  The gang at dinner.
Snuggling with the sniffles.

Mike and I are both under the weather, having contracted the "crew flu", sniffles and sneezes which were apparently passed to our crew from the previous trip's crew members, and then to the passengers.

Tonight's talk in the lounge is about disembarkation in Juneau, only 36 hours away. Depressing!

We are awakened at 11:30 p.m. with an announcement about Northern Lights. I get up alone, and it is definitely worth it. Tonight's display includes green spikes of light shooting upward and across the horizon. After ten shivering minutes on the deck, I tiptoe back into bed, groggy but happy.