2020 Alaska Flotilla: Leg 5: Day 2: Sawyer Glaciers | NW Explorations


2020 Alaska Flotilla: Leg 5: Day 2: Sawyer Glaciers

We woke this morning to low clouds and light rain, not quite what we had hoped for, but this was our opportunity to see a tidewater glacier!  We carefully made our way out past the grounded iceberg we had explored the previous day and started our 32-mile voyage back through time. From the floor of the fjord over 1,000 feet below our boats, to the tips of the tallest peaks towering 7,000 feet above us, this fjord has been carved by the ice since the Pleistocene.

As we arrived at the waterfall, each boat took their turn for photos at the picturesque falls cascading off a rock face that extended down another 500 feet below the surface, allowing boats to move in extremely close to the cliff side. Everyone in the fleet was in good spirits regardless of the rain…this was going to be a good trip! As we continued up the arm, we slowed down for low fog which completely impaired our view in every direction. However, as fast as the fog came on, as we turned a corner, it began to lift, and we were able to see the glacial striations on the canyon wall; evidence of unimaginable forces that carved this valley.

By the time we reached Sawyer Island where the arm splits in two, the fog had disappeared and blue skies were beginning to peak through. The path to South Sawyer was relatively clear of icebergs so we threaded our way through the whimsical forms until we spied the craggy blue and white glacier face in the distance. As we carefully approached, the view of the glacier continued to grow until the entire 200-foot face was exposed above water with another 900-hundred feet extending below the surface. We were the only boats present and the bergs were few giving us front row seats to listen to the ice rumble and watch chunks of ice as big as a house calve off the icy wall. A massive chunk of deep blue ice suddenly rose up from the water below! It was a, “shooter”, a portion of the glacier that had calved from the submerged ice and buoyed to the surface.

After a spectacular show lasting over and hour, we made our way down Sawyer glacier, a smaller but equally impressive sight.  There we met no icebergs so we were able to safely cozy up within an eighth mile of the face. After an impressive show of calving, we decided to make our way back to the anchorage.  This time, the sun was out, the peeks were uncovered revealing the U-shaped valleys and granite rounded dome peaks towering 900 feet above us with waters cascading all the way down from the top! Where was the water’s source? Jagged peaks, hundreds of feet higher still where, even the historic mile-high ancient glaciers could not reach!  Arctic terns, pigeon guillemots and marbled murrelets were just a few of the birds present and sharp eyes even spotted a mountain goat perched precariously near the very top!

On the return trip, a spontaneous Rap contest started between Thea and Arctic Star which kept us all entertained. Heads were craning to see all of the amazing scenery that had been shrouded on the way up. What a magnificent day of scenery on a scale too massive to imagine even when you are within its walls.


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