Saturday, July 13, 2013

North to Alaska! Part 4 - The Tracy Arm Fjord, June 26, 2013

Anyone up for an ice cream social?
This is Part 4 of my series of trip reports about my recent trip to Alaska.  This installment will cover our visit (or more correctly, our ship's visit) to the Tracy Arm Fjord, about 100 miles south of Juneau.  If you haven't already done so, I would suggest reading the first 3 parts of my series.

Part 1 - Background Info
Part 2 - Seattle, Mt. Rainier, and Sailaway
Part 3 - Ketchikan

If you would like to view the entire collection of photos covering the Tracy Arm Fjord, you can view them here.  Disclaimer:  some people apparently believe that all photos of glaciers look alike.  There are a lot of photos of glaciers both in my Flickr set, and in this post.  View at your own discretion, and don't say you weren't warned.

Tracy Arm Fjord Basics

Distance sailed from Ketchikan: 274 nautical miles/315 statue miles
Total distance traveled from Seattle:  920 nautical miles/1,059 statue miles
Time zone:  Alaska Daylight Time, 3 hours behind CDT
This morning's weather:  mostly cloudy, low-50s, occasionally breezy
This morning's wildlife count:  0, though the naturalist reported a couple of seals
Cumulative wildlife count: stuck on 10, same as yesterday

The Glacier Experience

If you do a cruise to Alaska, the highlight of your trip is your scenic cruise to the glaciers through the "Inside Passage".  Some cruises visit Glacier Bay; others visit College Fjord or Hubbard Glacier, farther northwest towards Anchorage.  Our cruise was scheduled to visit the Tracy Arm Fjord, for a visit to Sawyer Glacier.

If you've never taken a cruise, typically, a small leaflet is left in your room each night detailing the itinerary and activities available for the next day.  Our leaflet informed us that we would be arriving at the Tracy Arm Fjord at 6 A.M.  That sucked, because me and 6 A.M. don't get along.  Never fear, though; our route would go up the fjord and come back out the same way, so there's really no need to get up that early.  I woke up around 7:30, and headed straight for the balcony, where this was waiting for me:

Talk about a great way to wake up.  It was a bit on the cool side, but I wasn't about to let that get in the way of glacier watching.  Here in Texas, after all, about the only ice you get is from the freezer.  Anyway, as we made our way up the fjord, we passed by small icebergs, several waterfalls, and some really pretty cloud-and-snow covered mountains.

We then got a very brief glimpse of North Sawyer Glacier.

A few minutes later, South Sawyer Glacier came in to view.  I thought this was the extent of what we would be seeing, so I felt pretty good (and lucky) that I happened to get up just in time.

But it turns out I was wrong.  We chugged along for about 10 more minutes, then the ship stopped.  I figured this must have been the turnaround point, which was indeed correct.  What I didn't realize, though, was that we had stopped literally just a FEW FEET from the mouth of the glacier!!  This became apparent after we'd completed about half of our turn, and we were looking directly at the glacier.  Apparently, the big ships usually can't get this close, but unseasonably hot and sunny conditions (by Alaska standards) in the 10 days or so before our ship arrived 

I'll let the pictures do the talking of just how magnificent a site a glacier truly is.

We then headed back the way we came.  Which, of course, made me feel better about being too lazy to get up early.  It may have just been coincidence, but this side of the fjord was considerably greener.

We also got some views of the uniquely colored glacier-fed water (notice the two different colors in the first photo), and then one last view of South Sawyer Glacier behind Sawyer Island.  Apparently, when this fjord was first explored in the 19th century, the glacier came out as far as this island.

Continuing back towards the main channel, we saw a variety of mountain landscapes with icefields at the higher elevations, waterfalls, and colored glacier-fed water.  The low clouds an fog also lent a cool, somewhat foreboding look to the cliffs.  Most of the photos look the same, but these are probably two of the better ones.

The ship finally made it back to the entrance of the Tracy Arm a little before 10:00.  An unnamed glacier could be seen, along with a rather odd site - a collection of icebergs that appeared to be guarding the entrance to the fjord.

The Verdict

Everyone who's been to Alaska has told me that a glacier viewing in the Inside Passage is a "must do", and I must concur.  If you come all the way to Alaska, you need to see a glacier, but especially in the Inside Passage.  Just be forewarned, in order to see the Inside Passage, you really have only two options to get to one:  by boat, or by airplane (or seaplane, to be precise).  I did notice several glacier "flightseeing" tours based out of Juneau, but be prepared to pay for the experience.  Prices averaged $300-500 per person.  Boat tours are probably cheaper, unless you do the full cruise, but I didn't look to see how much those were.  If that's too much, and you're looking for a "glacier lite" experience, you can get to one by car and foot in Juneau - which, coincidentally, will be covered in Part 5. 

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