2023 Alaska Flotilla – Leg 5, Day 8 Tracy Arm Cove to Sawyer Glaciers | NW Explorations
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2023 Alaska Flotilla – Leg 5, Day 8 Tracy Arm Cove to Sawyer Glaciers

We woke this morning to light rain but the breaks in the clouds gave us reason to believe that the day would clear and provide the opportunity for spectacular views to the top of the peaks. There are two Sawyer Glaciers, each at the head of the fjord that splits into two arms near the top. Both are tide water glaciers that calve into the salt water and originate from the Stikine Icefield. The Tracy Arm-Ford’s Terror Wilderness encompasses 653,179, extending east to the Canadian border and extend all the way to Holkhum Bay where we entered yesterday.

The depth in the fjord can get as deep as 1,200 feet and the peaks rise more than 8,000 feet above us with rugged nunataks, areas that were higher than the original icefield and escaped the scouring that rounds and smooths the lower mountains. As we begin our journey, the cliffs are covered in verdant green forests with large spruce and hemlock. Traveling further into the fjord, we notice fewer spruce trees and more bushes and alders and eventually, the mountains are blocks of rounded granite with mainly lichens. This has everything to do with the time that has passed since the glacier receded and as it becomes more recent, there has been less time for soil to accumulate and support vegetation. The glaciers have been receding for the past 11,000 years but recently, climate change has increased the rate.

As we approach Ruth Island where the fjord splits, the icebergs become larger and more numerous, so we slow our pace, close the gaps between the boats and continue through single-file. The face of the glacier is about a half mile across, its craggy white and blue ice rises over 200 feet above us and extends another 600 feet below us. Calving can originate from the face of the glacier as huge blocks fall into the water or from under water where huge blocks break off and shoot to the surface. Underwater calving is known as shooters, and they give no warning of their ascent. We keep ¼ to ½ mile off the face to remain safe from huge waves that result when towers of ice 3-4 stories high crash into the water.

We watched for about two hours as the glacier cracked with thunderous bangs and “small” pieces broke off the front. One shooter came to the surface and created a big wave that eventually made it to our boats but had been attenuated by the distance and all of the ice between us and the glacier face. Some of the guests had drones that they flew over the glacier to get a birds-eye view. Mother seals with their new pups were hauled out on the ice and Arctic terns would excitedly fly and dive following each calving as small fish, krill and shrimp would be temporally stunned and brought to the surface. Eagles, pigeon guillemots, swallows and numerous gulls are all present.

After viewing Sawyer glacier in the south arm, we left and viewed North Sawyer which is much smaller but also beautiful in its own way. We scoured the heights for mountain goats, but none were seen. The return trip to Tracy Arm Cove offers another opportunity to appreciate this splendid landscape in the sunshine now that the clouds lifted and the rain subsided. In the Cove, we anchored, rafted, and settled in for a quiet evening. Tomorrow our destination will take us to the southernmost part of Stephen’s Passage where we will stay at Foot Island.

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