Glacier Bay, Alaska
June 11 found us in Glacier Bay, a 3.3 million acre national park containing dozens of glaciers, several of which are large tidewater glaciers that reach the water. We spent a very full day there beginning early in the morning. It was foggy & overcast, but the viewing was very interesting nonetheless.
People have lived in this area for 10,000 years. By the mid 17th century it was occupied by the Tlingit people. At that time there was no bay; this was a wide valley with rivers running through & a huge glacier looming further back. At the height of the Little Ice Age the glacier advanced until by 1750 the Tlingit were forced out. When Captain Cook sailed up Icy Strait in 1778, and when George Vancouver did the same in 1794, there was no bay at all because the glacier, several thousand feet thick, extended all the way out into the Strait. However, by the time John Muir visited about 85 years later the glacier had receded some 44 miles, cutting out the bay as it went, & he reported that it was then retreating at a rate of about a mile per year.
Today it is about a 65 mile sail to the tidewater glaciers at the end of the bay. In 1926 Glacier Bay was declared a National Monument & it was promoted to National Park in 1980. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are no roads into the Park so the only access is by air or water. To protect the Bay & its abundant wildlife, the Park Service restricts cruise ship traffic to two per day & most of those are operated by HAL & Princess.
By the time we woke up the ship was already well into Glacier Bay. Here is some of what we saw from our balcony & window as we dressed for breakfast: a cloud covered inlet and a bald eagle in flight.
After breakfast we passed what may have been Lamplugh Glacier, which is located in Johns Hopkins Inlet (photographed here through a streaky window). As recently as 1892 this area was still covered by the retreating glacier. (With a couple of exceptions that will be noted, we are not sure of the names of the glaciers we saw, so we will make our best guess based on a map).
We turned north into Tarr Inlet & sailed on to the main event: Margerie Glacier. It is a mile wide & rises about 250 feet above the water at its face. It extends 21 miles back to its origin in the mountains on the Canadian border.
We spent a long time, probably an hour or more, in front of this glacier. It is one of the biggest in the bay & one of the few glaciers that is not receding. Some reports say it is advancing up to 30 feet per year & some say it is stable, neither advancing or retreating. There are some substantial mountains behind it, but as you can see the fog kept us from seeing them. I guess we should be thankful that we could see anything at all.
The blue color is created when the heavy ice packs so tightly that air bubbles are eliminated. This resulting hard-packed ice absorbs all the colors of light except blue. This is an actively calving glacier, which means that large chunks of ice fall off the face and become icebergs. This happened at least four times while we were there, but it happens so fast that it is hard to get a picture before it is all over. We did manage to get one picture of the splash made by the falling ice.
Sadly, we did not see any whales or sea otters in Glacier Bay, although they are supposed to be plentiful there. But we did see seals & birds perched on ice flows near Margerie Glacier.
At the very end of the bay, just beyond the Margerie Glacier & perpendicular to it, is the Grand Pacific Glacier. This is said to be the one that once reached Icy Strait & carved the bay as it retreated. Today it doesn’t look like much . . . relatively small & very dirty so it’s not white. I’m not sure I even took a picture of it, but if I did the one on the left below is it. On the right is a photo showing how low the fog came at times, obscuring the view of the glaciers. As mentioned above, we were lucky to see as much as we did on a day like this.
As we headed back toward the mouth of Glacier Bay we passed a couple more glaciers, one of which which looks like the Reid Glacier and the other a reprise of the Lamplugh Glacier. The fog had lifted some by now & we could see mountains behind them, some of which were actually glowing in the sun.
Having passed pretty much all the glaciers, we went into the show lounge where a Tlingit woman sang & danced & told stories of the Tlingit people.
Finally, as we neared the mouth of the bay we sailed past North & South Marble Islands, a major hangout for sea lions. We were not close enough to see them with the naked eye but they were there ,all crowded together on small islands. These pictures were taken with a very long lens on somewhat choppy seas, so they are not as sharp as might be hoped. It was getting very cold & windy by this time, so we stayed inside after that.
This was the second gala night, a lot for a seven day cruise (we missed the first one because we were in the Pinnacle restaurant). Rick read the new HAL dress code & some online commenters who said gala nights in Alaska were less formal & required men only to wear a shirt with a collar. So he wore a polo shirt to dinner, but was refused admission without donning an ugly black polyester jacket that was too big. He had to sit through the whole dinner in this uncomfortable jacket. It appeared that, at least on Volendam, your shirt not only had to have a collar but also long sleeves, even though the gala night dress code on HAL’s website does not say that. We noticed one fellow sitting at a table with a short sleeve polo shirt & a long sleeve T-shirt underneath, which looked pretty tacky but apparently satisfied this arbitrary requirement. As longtime HAL customers we were pretty offended by this & think that HAL should have a uniform policy to admit anyone who fully complies with the dress code printed on its web site. This was a sour ending to what had been quite a special day.