2023 Alaska Flotilla – Leg 6, Day 3 Tracy Arm Cove to Sawyer Glaciers | NW Explorations
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2023 Alaska Flotilla – Leg 6, Day 3 Tracy Arm Cove to Sawyer Glaciers

It was a 7:00 a.m. departure from Tracy Arm and we were all excited to have the opportunity to view one of the few tide water glaciers in Alaska. No rain and 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 a 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, extends east to the Canadian border and continues all the way to Holkhum Bay where we entered yesterday.

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 mature 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 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 lees 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 passed Ruth Island, where the fjord splits into two arms, we could see that the waters ahead of us were surprisingly free of icebergs nearly all the way up to the face of the glacier!  This makes it much easier, faster, and safer to reach the glacier. Shortly after arriving, we heard a thunderous crack and witnessed our first calving. A great chunk of ice slowly tumbled into the water creating large waves that lifted the icebergs nearer the glacier. It took about a minute before we felt the swells generated by the falling ice. We remained at the glacier for a big two hours and witnessed two more substantial sized calvings and noticed the Arctic turns fly excitedly after each event as the concussive force of falling ice rings the dinner bell as it stuns the krill and small fish. Nate flew his new drone out over the glacier, providing a bird’s eye view allowing us to see down into the crevasses.

Mamma seals were hauled out on the icebergs with their new pups that were born about one month ago. A bald eagle was chased by Arctic terns and gulls making it clear that he was unwelcome.

On our return to Tracy Arm Cove, Nate spotted three mountain goats grazing and resting the rocks above us. This was a real treat to see the goats so far down where we were able to get a good look at them. Further along, we paused at Ice Falls for a photo opportunity for each boat in front of the falls. Later, Linda and Mike of Arctic Star noticed a pair of orcas and alerted the fleet but unfortunately by the time we arrived, the orcas had left the area. Linda did capture a few photos of the orcas. In the Cove, each boat chose its own anchorage except Sea Stock who rafted alongside Deception. Athena decided to raft outside of the cove on the other side of the bay, but Chris, Sean and Jet came by in their dingy to show us the rockfish Sean had caught, it was a beauty! Clint, Annette and James from Theresa came by Deception to share pictures and boating adventures in Tasmania where they are from. They come from a beautiful part of the world too. We settled in for the evening and anticipated tomorrow as we again travel south in Stephens Passage.

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