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Cruising Alpine Alaska

Posted by on July 9, 2017

Up, up we go. Not just our latitude, but our sense of climbing into alpine regions, where the tree line, meadows, glaciers and mountain tops get closer and closer to sea level.

Around Ketchikan the passageways are mostly forested, with snow-capped mountains visible in the distance. In many ways it has a similar feel to the waters of coastal British Columbia. So does the weather too – a mix of mist and rain, with limited visibility, to clouds and sunshine, with spectacular views. By Petersburg the mountaintops were feeling much closer, and reminded us of travelling the Banff-Jasper Parkway. This was where we saw our first icebergs too, albeit just from shore. They came from the Le Conte Glacier, near the mouth of the Stikine River.

This section of our cruise culminated in our exploration of Tracy Arm, which is located about 50 miles south of Juneau. This long fjord twists and turns for 25 miles into the heart of the coastal mountains, ending not far from the border between the U.S. and Canada. After dodging numerous icebergs and bergie bits we achieved our destination, the face of the North Tracey Arm glacier where it reaches tidewater. We’re no strangers to many beautiful sites at home and around the world, however our cruise of Tracey Arm was truly breathtaking. It ranks among the best travel experiences we have ever had.

Hopefully our pictures will say more than our words…….

A very early morning departure from Prince Rupert is rewarded with glassy calm conditions in the Chatham Sound approach to Dixon Entrance.

A very early morning departure from Prince Rupert rewarded us with glassy calm conditions in western Chatham Sound, which is the most direct approach to Dixon Entrance.

 

A Canadian Coast Guard vessel anchored near Green Island Light Station, which is off Dundas Island and only eight miles from the Alaska border.

A Canadian Coast Guard vessel anchored near Green Island Light Station, which is adjacent to the northeastern tip of Dundas Island and only eight miles from the Alaska border.

 

Crossing the international boundary in Dixon Entrance; the seas were rougher here, but very decent for this stretch of open water.

Crossing the international boundary in Dixon Entrance, where the seas were rougher but still very decent for this stretch of open water.

 

Ketchikan, about 100 miles from Prince Rupert, was our first stop in Alaska; fishing boats, pleasures cruisers, cruise ships, and many buzzing seaplanes reflect the hectic activity in the harbour.

Ketchikan, about 100 miles from Prince Rupert, was our first stop in Alaska; fishing boats, pleasure cruisers, cruise ships, and many buzzing seaplanes are representative of the lively activity to be found in this harbour.

 

A view of Ketchikan's historic Creek Street, which flourished as the town's red-light district from the early 1900's after the city fathers decreed that such activities were only permitted on the eastern side of the creek.

A view of Ketchikan’s historic Creek Street, which flourished as the town’s red-light district beginning in the early 1900’s after the city fathers decreed that such activities were only permitted on the eastern (left) side of the creek.

 

It rained so much the morning we left Ketchikan that even the local eagles were looking somewhat bedraggled.

It rained so much the morning we left Ketchikan that even the local eagles were looking somewhat bedraggled.

 

Cruising the back passages on our way to Petersburg, the next community where we stopped for a few days; after morning showers, the mists lifted and we enjoyed sunshine and grand views this day.

Travelling the protected back passages on our way to Petersburg; after morning showers, the mists lifted and we enjoyed sunshine and grand views this day.

 

Not all the joys of cruising are a feast for the eyes.

Not all the joys of cruising are a feast for the eyes.

 

Another misty but calm early morning departure, this time from our anchorage near Wrangel.

Another misty, but calm, early morning departure, this time from our anchorage near Wrangel.

 

His Idea moored among a fleet of fishing boats in Petersburg harbour; this community, founded by Norwegian immigrants in the late 1800's, receives no large crusie ships like Ketchikan and Juneau, and retains its small fishing village feel.

His Idea moored among a fleet of fishing boats, both big and small, in Petersburg harbour; this community, founded by Norwegian immigrants in the late 1800’s, receives no large cruise ships like Ketchikan and Juneau, and retains its fishing village feel.

 

We celebrated American Independance Day with the residents of Petersburg; the evening's fireworks at the local ballfield were very impressive, as were the 'red, white, and , blue' carrotops which we saw by the edge of the road throughout the town.

We celebrated American Independance Day with the residents of Petersburg; the evening’s fireworks at the local ballfield were very impressive, as were the huge ‘red, white, and blue’ carrotops which we spotted by the edge of the road everywhere throughout the town.

 

Our first close-up look at the mountains and glaciers of Alaska; these are east of Petersburg at the boundary between the U.S. and Canada; the tall rock monolith is called 'Devil's Thumb', and rises 9700 feet above sea level.

Our first close-up look at the mountains and glaciers of Alaska; these are east of Petersburg at the boundary between the U.S. and Canada; the tall rock monolith on the left is called ‘Devil’s Thumb’ and rises over 9000 feet above sea level.

 

Another perspective of the Stiken Icecap as we depart Petersburg for Stephen's Passage and our day's destination. Tracey Arm.

Another perspective of the Stikine Icecap as we depart Petersburg for Stephen’s Passage and our day’s destination, Tracey Arm.

 

 

It may be cold up here on the bridge, but the views are worth, plus it's better for spotting wildlife.

It may be cold up here on the bridge, but it’s better for spotting wildlife, and the views are worth it.

 

Our whale watching views have been mostly fleeting so far, although got a few pretty good vies this day; that's Holland America's 'Amsterdam' crusing in the distance.

Our whale watching views have been mostly fleeting so far, although we had a few pretty good views this day; Holland America’s ‘Amsterdam’ is cruising in the distance.

 

Tracey Arm Cove, where Ria got to paddleboard with the icebergs that were floating around our anchorage; fortunately none of them got too close to His idea.

Tracy Arm Cove, where Ria got to paddleboard with the icebergs that were floating around our anchorage; fortunately none of them got too close to His Idea.

 

Some of the bergs floating by were quite large, and they come in unlimited shapes and sizes; like cloudwatching, it's fun to find other images with in their varied forms.

Some of the bergs floating nearby were quite large, and they come in unlimited shapes and sizes; like cloudwatching, it’s fun to find other images within their varied forms.

 

Stunning views greeted us around every corner as we made our way up Tracey Arm.

Making our way up Tracy Arm, where stunning views unfolded around every corner.

 

A number of lush valleys lead off from Tracey Arm; here's just one of them.

A number of lush valleys lead off from Tracy Arm; here’s just one of them.

 

Abundant waterfalls cascade thousands of feet from the snowfields high above.

Abundant waterfalls cascade thousands of feet from the snowfields high above.

 

Icebergs and bergie bits become much more numerous as one approaches the icefields at the end of North and South Tracey Arms; from here on there was much maneuvering to find pathways through the floating ice.

Icebergs and bergie bits become much more numerous as one approaches the icefields at the end of North and South Tracy Arms; from here on much maneuvering was required to find clear pathways through the floating ice.

 

We spotted a mom and her pup on one of the bergs; the pups are born here earlier in the spring.

We spotted a mom and her pup on one of the bergs; the pups are born here earlier in the spring.

 

The South Arm icefield is about 3 miles distant from the junction of the north and south arms; there was too much floating ice to risk an attempt to get closer, so we headed for the less congested North Arm instead.

The South Arm icefield is about 3 miles distant from the junction of the north and south arms; there was too much floating ice to risk an attempt to get closer, so we headed for the less congested North Arm instead.

 

It was impossible to avoid all the ice as we approached the end of the arm, so the trick is to slowly make your way through the smaller pieces if you have too.; even these smaller pieces can damage a prop, and we felt fortunate that full skegs protect our props and rudders.

It was impossible to avoid all the ice as we approached the end of the arm, so the trick is to slowly make your way through the smaller pieces when you have to; even these smaller pieces can damage a prop, and we felt fortunate that full skegs protect our props and rudders.

 

We were very pleased to make it all the way to the face of the glacier, where we spent a couple of hours in the sunshine eating lunch, taking pictures and hoping to see the glacier calve and iceberg - the bigger the better; even though we witnessed only small events, the cracking noises and splshes reverberated off the narrow canyon walls.

We were very pleased to make it all the way to the face of the glacier, where we spent a couple of hours in the sunshine eating lunch, taking pictures and hoping to see the glacier calve an iceberg (the bigger the better!); we witnessed only small events, however the reverberations in the narrow canyon caused by the cracking and splashing of ice makes for a lasting impression of this very special place.

Our next post will cover the Juneau to Glacier Bay National Park to Juneau section of our cruise.

2 Responses to Cruising Alpine Alaska

  1. Doug

    Beautiful pictures!! Thanks for sharing your experiences. Looks like it is all that you had hoped this cruise would be so far. I was waiting for an email to let me know there was a posting to the blog and as there wasn’t it was only your other email that triggered me to look for the blog. Wow, two postings to enjoy!! Bonus!

    Continued smooth motoring!

    Cheers,

    Doug

    PS. Lucky you had a paddle board to chase after the dingy with. That might have been a cold swim!!

  2. Anne

    Wonderful photos! Such a beautiful area…

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