ALASKA: LEG 5 – GROWLER BAY TO VALDEZ | NW Explorations
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ALASKA: LEG 5 – GROWLER BAY TO VALDEZ

A low pressure system settled into Prince William Sound over the night and we awoke to find the landscape transformed. Low clouds and drifting fogbanks lay over land and sea under a smooth grey overcast.  Light rain pattered off and on against the overhead. For the moment at least, the Los Angeles weather as returned to the south and Alaskan weather has again taken hold. In the rain the color palate shifts in the low light to a deep range of blue grey and green that reveal a wildness and mystery in this ancient and raw land in a way that the sun cannot.

Columbia Bay occupies the deep inlet once filled by the ice of the mighty Columbia Glacier, which has withdrawn more than 13 miles up the fjord since the 1980’s and shows no sign of slowing. Massive icebergs lie grounded in the shallows like derelict ships and great mats of brash ice drift down with the tide. The shoreline, scraped clean and scarred by ice tells the story of the glacier’s demise and the resurgence of living things. Fireweed and brushy alder spring from the cracks and songbirds tentatively move back into the new cover.

We press ahead for most of the morning, Deception gingerly pushing through the ice to create a path for the rest of the fleet until at last we are stymied by thick ice cover and swirling currents that closed the leads behind us as we moved ahead. We turned back as a fog descended around us, lending a mysterious aspect to the setting. The fog cleared at Point Freemantle and we cruised north in a gentle swell into Valdez Arm and the calm waters beyond where massive waterfalls thundered off the massive cliffs, a wonderful benefit of the rain.

The docks in Valdez were clogged with salmon seine boats waiting for a fishing opener. As usual, they welcomed us with good cheer and a helping hand as we rafted up with the fleet. With boats secured we set off to explore the town before convening in the evening at Mike’s Palace Restaurant on the waterfront with AnamCara’s kind invitation to toast Barry and Ann O’Neil’s 26th wedding anniversary. A big thank you and a huge congratulation to Barry and Ann! It is a real pleasure to cruise with you. What a great way to celebrate!

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