Glacier Bay


Sept. 22, 2011

The cruise ship Norwegian Pearl entered Glacier Bay around 6:30 AM, before most of the passengers were out and about. What a day of beauty!

Two hundred fifty years ago there was no bay. Ice filled the entire region. Glaciers have since advanced and retreated multiple times but the net result has been the gouging out of stone into sediment, shoved into the sea or broken off at the edge in a process known as calving. The ice appears blue because all other colors are absorbed.

Last night decks were cleared due to 60 knot winds. No one was allowed on the open decks. Tables and chairs were pushed to the sides; in the chapel, furnishing were laid on their sides. The captain announced that we might not even be able to enter the bay through a narrow strait. Until 8 or 9 in the morning rain poured. (Remember rain? Austin could surely have used 30 minutes’ worth of this downpour!) We were afraid our view of the glaciers would be heavily obscured by rain and fog.

The skies cleared just enough for a beautiful view of mountains of various elevations, shoreline, rivers thousands of feet in length, glaciers two miles wide, and moraines, We spent an hour in sight of Margerie Glacier, circling around so that both port and starboard had plenty of viewing time. From time to time the sun would come out just enough to illuminate fresh snowfall on mountain peaks.

Three National Park Rangers had boarded the ship early in the morning. Throughout the day they made presentations, answered questions, and provided maps and info about Glacier Bay National Park. As we moved south we marveled at other glaciers such as  Johns Hopkins, Lamplugh, and Reid Glaciers .

Between glaciers and ice fields, the trees were gloriously colorful for the Fall Equinox. Plants of gold and red contrasted with evergreen and deciduous trees, dark rock, white snow, and blue ice. Within two or three hours we had come far enough south to see more signs of life: hundreds of sea lions, several sea otters, and a humpback whale coming up for air with a big blow to clear its nose.

The sea lions appeared to be resting on several small islands, but occasionally they would slip into the water to feed. Sea otters lay on their backs out in the water–we could see both head and tail above sea level. Birds flew or floated on the water. A bald eagle sat in a tree at my eye level.

People lined the edges of the ship, from the 7th deck all the way up to the 14th, with our cameras and binoculars and the warmest clothing we had managed to bring with us. We could retreat for warmth to the Spinnaker Lounge where windows surround the entire bow of the 13th deck or to a restaurant for a hot drink. How many gallons of coffee, tea, and hot chocolate can approximately 2300 passengers and 1100 crew members consume?

pix and videos below. A longer video captures a Park Ranger describing the landscape; a brief 5-second one captures a small icefall calving into the ocean just left of center.

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Ice falls into Glacier Bay

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