2022 Alaska Flotilla – Leg 4, Day 8 – Tracy Arm Cove to Sawyer Glacier | NW Explorations

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2022 Alaska Flotilla – Leg 4, Day 8 – Tracy Arm Cove to Sawyer Glacier

At thirty-two miles long, a mile wide, with rock walls that rise thousands of feet straight up and water deeper than a thousand feet, Tracy Arm fjord is a monument to the power of ice! Sawyer glacier was at its peak during the last glacial epoch in the Pleistocene. Since then it has been receding up the fjord and away from the terminal moraine that left at mouth of Holkham Bay almost 10,000 years ago. The ice was so massive that the sheer weight of it caused it to slide towards the sea, scraping and polishing the walls as it moved.

As we travel up the fjord, we see evidence of its history and power of the ice. Fine glacial flour sourced from the finest rock particles imparts a milky appearance to the water. Waterfalls cascade down from thousands of feet above us from alpine lakes we cannot see. Hanging U-shaped valleys show us where a tributary glacier once traveled and lower u-shaped valleys allow us an opportunity to peak into the lush wilderness that fills every valley, seen and unseen.

The temperature of the water and air are much cooler here as the unseen glacier miles up the fjord acts as a huge air conditioner. We passed flock of surf scoters, diving ducks with black and white heads and oversized colorful beaks. The fleet slowed when a humpback was spotted in the narrow channel because there was very little room to maneuver. Mojo had stopped completely and was fortunate to see the whale come up directly alongside and turned its body to look directly at them before it passed under their boat! Ice burgs, smaller growlers and burgie-bits kept us attentive at the helm but not nearly so many as we have seen on previous trips.

The bay was very clear of Ice as we arrived at South Sawyer glacier, enabling us to get quite close. As broken areas of the glacier change position, the ice cracks and groans, when large chunks calve off, it sounds like a gunshot. We were treated to one extremely large calving when a block the size of a building slowly collapsed into the bay with a powerful spray and a tremendous wave that lifted our boats! The seals and their pups hauled out on low lying ice burgs closer to the face of the glacier seemed unfazed by the swamping waves. Flocks of Common Terns immediately lifted into the spray above the mighty crash to scoop up the fish that had been stunned and lifted to the surface.

After almost eight hours, we returned to Tracy Arm Cove. The long day had exceeded expectations and stories were shared regarding our favorite experiences of the day. We had traveled back in time and witnessed what most SE Alaska must have looked like in the early years following the last ice age. We assembled our raft as others anchored out and we settled in for a quiet evening in the protected cove.

P.S. Is Alaska on your bucket list? We can take you there! Email us to reserve your spot on our 2023 Mother Goose AK Flotilla. charters@nwexplorations.com 

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