ALASKA: 2015 LEG 2 – TRACY ARM | NW Explorations



Today brings us ice. Glacial ice from Sawyer Glacier to be exact.

We depart at 0700 to head up Tracy Arm, passing the bergy bits that we explored by dinghy yesterday.  As we move further up, we can see that everything in the landscape that surrounds us has been shaped or colored by the glacier; the ice that we pass is a deep, deep blue.  The result of compression over millennia under the weight of as much as 3,000 feet of glacier. Its own weight and pressure recrystallizing the ice into a density that absorbs all color except for the wavelengths on the blue end of the spectrum.  The result is the deep pale blue of glacial ice. The fleet begins to nestle up inside Deceptions wake.

The depth sounder aboard deception reads out depths of 500 feet… 600 feet….deeper.  The vertical embankment of granite that we travel along just 100 feet off our starboard, extends upwards of 3,000 feet.  The U-shaped fjord that we are travelling has been carved and channeled out by ice over many thousands of years.  The slow grinding, scraping action of the glacier can be seen in the striations on the granite walls, like sand paper across the grain of wood but on a geologic scale; rock against rock pressed forward embedded in glacial ice carving deep grooves in the granite at a pace measured in feet per year.

The dramatic heights and melting snows present us with an abundance of waterfalls that challenge you to find sufficient superlatives: the tallest, skinniest, longest, most beautiful, most impressive, most unusual, and most unique.

The number and size of the bergy bits build as we move further up the arm. Now we are passing full icebergs.  We slow our speed and snake our way through, finding a path that allows us to avoid the seals hauled out on ice.  Harbor seals come to pup on the ice to better protect their young from the feeding Orcas that are found in these waters.  They are skittish, and so we proceed carefully and quietly to the gaping blue mouth of South Sawyer glacier.

We sit quietly, engines disengaged to listen for the glacier as it breaks up – thunderous cracks that indicate calving.  Mackenzie aboard Ajax gets on the radio to ask our naturalist what temperature the water is.  “Want to dip your toes in and tell us?”

But, Mackenzie is a few steps ahead.  She’s in her bathing suit on the swim step already and pulling on a life jacket.  Here she goes for the polar bear plunge of a life time! Trendsetter…  Her brother is on the swim step next, and then Eric aboard Eldean, too!

After everyone that wants to have had a chance at getting wet we decide to head over to explore North Sawyer Glacier.  Our timing is impeccable.  A few moments after idling our engines a half mile from the glacier, a booming crack and the release of an avalanche of ice followed by the roar of ice breaking from the face.  A moment later comes a second clap of collapsing ice and we are rapidly turning our bows into the oncoming tidal wave and moving in away from the walls of the fjord.  Two good sized waves ride under our bow.

We let the water calm and then head back into the main arm of the fjord.

It’s been a stunning beautiful blue skies day.  And although it’s chilly outside given the convection cooling from the surrounding glaciers, Brian can’t resist the opportunity to initiate our swabs on board.

Heading back towards the mouth of the arm, we encounter a waterfall nicely tucked away and splashing over the rock in just such a way that if you position a swab on the bowsprit, you could dunk him under.

“Swab, you have orders.  Get on that bowsprit with a smile on your face, and I don’t want you to stop smiling until this is over!”  Brandon has won all of our hearts with his smile, and remarkably responsive nature and both are on display.  Andrew comes up from below, and is presented the same orders, but he’s not going for it…

After Brandon’s initiation, we provide the other boats an opportunity for a little bow rinse.  Aboard Ajax Jackson is on the bowsprit with his bathing suit.  Marybeth aboard Aquila doesn’t have a bathing suit, so fully clothed, takes an umbrella.

Antics.  What’s a better day than watching glaciers calve, and playing under waterfalls with your boat?

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