June 9, 2016
The Gulf of Alaska failed to live up to its fearsome reputation today, and the gentle swell rolled in glassy smooth from the west as we pulled out and across the broad mouth of Yakutat Bay. The sunny sky held no trace of clouds and the immense cathedral-like peaks surrounding the shining crystal spire of Mt. St. Elias appeared in perfect focus, almost within arm’s reach despite their being some forty miles distant. The shoreline here is low and sandy, littered with mats of enormous driftwood logs splintered and battered by winter storms. Retreating from the coast and up into the mountains all along the coast from Yakutat into Icy Bay lies an immense, gently sloping plain dotted here and there with bits of forest and rocky gullies. It is nigh on incredible that the entire landscape is formed from a single mass of ice, the Malaspina Glacier, which is more than 40 miles wide and in some places sever thousand feet thick. It is Alaska’s largest glacier, larger than the state of Rhode Island, and a striking wonder of the natural world.
Our anchorage, Icy Bay, lies on the western side of the Malaspina Glacier and is the only protected stopping point for many miles along the exposed coastline between Yakutat and Cordova. It was not idly named, and three separate glaciers calve a steady stream of ice into the freezing silty waters. The ice, corralled by wind and current, forms great dense mats which drift in and out of the bay with the tide, reflecting brilliant flashes of sunlight and providing an attractive haul out for pupping Harbor Seals, sleepy otters, and thousands of seabirds. We nosed warily into the ice for a better view of the glaciers, and of course to snag some 10,000 – year old cocktail ice! Our tour complete we anchor in a protected cove, out of the wind and the ice.
Except for a circumnavigating sailboat in Yakutat, we have not seen another pleasure boat since we crossed Icy Strait three long days ago, and that holds true today as well. The only other boat in the bay is a small sport fishing boat that belongs to the small fly-in fishing lodge on shore, the only permanent human habitation for fifty miles in any direction.
The days are unbelievably long now, and sunset begins well after 10pm, twilight lingering ‘til dawn, around 3 am. It is a little odd to head for bed with the sun still high above the horizon, the muddy bottom here has good holding and sleep comes easily.