Glacier Bay National Park & Reserve, which covers an area of 3.3 million acres, was created in 1980. It is renowned for its glaciers – there are over 1,000 within the park – and a number extend all the way to the sea. The longest and widest of the Glacier Bay tidewater glaciers is Grand Pacific, with a length of 35 miles and a width of 2 miles. Among the deepest is John Hopkins, with 250 feet above and 200 feet below the waterline.
We were fortunate to be able to visit and view 5 of these tidewater glaciers – Grand Pacific, Johns Hopkins, Margerie, Lamplugh and Reid. Sometimes we could only reach within a few miles because of the amount of floating ice they create, however they are so large that one still feels their size and grandeur. In other cases, we were able to get as close as we dared – about a quarter mile – while still maintaining a safety zone in the event they calved an iceberg and created a large wave. At Reid Glacier, which is only touched by the sea at high tide, it was possible to use the dinghy to go ashore and get very close to the glacier’s face, and peer into the many fissures and ice caves that are present there.
From the mouth of Glacier Bay, where it meets Icy Strait, it’s approximately 60 miles in a northwesterly direction to the tip of the West Arm inlets, the apex of our Alaska cruise. Although this is not a long distance the change in topography is very noticeable. Beginning with forested lowlands and islands in the south, the end of Glacier Bay is defined by narrow fiords surrounded by high peaks. Few trees can be found here, and the temperature is significantly cooler. Although this is partly a consequence of the higher latitude, most of the cooling effects come from the surrounding mountains, glaciers and iceberg-chilled waters. In the evenings and especially the mornings, we were so very thankful for our generator and space heater!
For us, the other key attraction of this cruise is the potential for wildlife viewing. Although we did not see everything on our list – mountain goat and grizzly bear viewing remain elusive – we were blessed with numerous sightings of many other creatures. Humpback whales frequent these waters in the summer, and a particular highlight was our encounters with them while cruising and dinghy exploring.
Many, many pictures were taken. Here is a just a small sample……
Our next post will include a return visit to Tracy Arm with our daughter Vanessa, plus an excursion up Lynn Canal to Skagway for a trip on the White Pass and Yukon Railroad.