Cruisin’ Alaska… Glacier Bay

No ports today, so everyone at dinner last night was looking forward to a bit of a sleep in.  Yeah right… today we were scenic cruising through the world famous Glacier Bay, and I for one, didn’t want to miss a minute of it.  We were up pretty early and having some breakfast before the Horizon Deck buffet turned into too much of a zoo, and then back to the room to get cold weather jackets and camera gear.
glacier bay map
We had been told earlier in the week by the onboard naturalist that the best viewing areas were on the front of the ship on Decks 10 and 11, so we thought we had best get out there and try and find a good spot to set up camp.  Yes, that is what a lot of people seem to do – find the best spot and not budge, as we discovered on the train yesterday when this extremely rude woman in a white coat, using an iPad as a camera, staked out the corner of the exterior platform to get the best views.  She wouldn’t move from there at all, even when Auntie Mary asked very politely if she might ‘borrow that corner for just a minute’.  The woman just ignored her entirely as though no one was speaking to her.  :S   And trying to shoot AROUND someone holding an iPad at arms length is nigh on impossible without getting their stupid iPad in your shot.  Actually that’s quite a problem even on decks here, people using iPads instead of cameras aren’t holding them close to their face, they’re holding them at optimal viewing for about an 8×10″ document so it’s very hard to shoot around them.  Fuckers… use your damn camera.
Anyway, we were up on Deck 10 and thought the place would be cheek to jowl by the time we got up there, seeing as how hundreds of people had heard the same recommendation that we had, and were pleasantly surprised to discover the front viewing spaces on both 10 and 11 to be sparsely populated.  We managed to find a nice view along the railing as the ship sailed through a multitude of small icebergs bumping into the ship as we moved into the top end of Glacier Bay towards the Great Pacific Glacier and the very famous Margerie Glacier (by small… I mean ranging in size from that of a microwave to the size of a small car).
glacier bay
Both of these glaciers are tidewater glaciers which mean that rather than coming down a mountain valley and ending in a lake or river on land, they met directly with the sea.  The Great Pacific Glacier is covered with a large amount of moraine debris, rock, and dirt etc so it is very dirty looking in appearance, so despite the enormity of its size, it’s the smaller more active and therefore cleaner looking, Margerie Glacier that is the star of the show up here.
margery in the distance
The rangers from the Alaskan Glacier Bay National Park service like to call the Beauty and the Beast apparently.  I missed quite a bit of the stats on the Great Pacific Glacier (I am sure its all easy to find on Google), but the Margerie Galcier is 21 miles long and has a face along the water approximately 1 mile wide.  It stands just over 250′ high with another 100′ foot of ice below the waterline, making it twice the height of the cruise ship.  This was the source of all the icebergs we had been cruising through… the Magerie Glacier is considered a self sustaining glacier, that is, up the mountain it grows about 7′ of ice every day and down at the sea level, it loses about 7′ of ice every day!  Which in itself is quite unique, given 95% of Alaska’s glaciers are thinning, receding and basically shrinking at the moment.
margery face
The ice at the active front of the glacier is anywhere between 50-200 years old depending on how high up it is and how densely packed it is.  The deep blue hues evident in the striations of the glacier are areas were the ice is very densely packed by years of snowfall and rain and pressure from the glacier pushing the ice down the glacial valley.   The beautiful black and grey strata layers in the glacier are called lateral moraines, and are formed by the glacier picking up rock and sediment (a lot of it volcanic) as it carves its way down the valley to the sea.
All shops and the casino and other amenities on board were shut down for the day.  The National Parks only let in two cruise ships every day to have a minimal impact on the area and they are going to try their damnedest to spoon feed some nature to these people who couldn’t seem to care less.   I don’t know if it is because I am so far from home, or my unique national park hopping childhood, but I was mesmerised by the magnificence and grandeur of these unbelievably beautiful scenic wonders right in front of us… while a lady from the ‘lower 48’ right beside me, was over heard saying ‘Wow, this is like watching grass grow’, before going back indoors.
We weren’t outside on Deck 10 for more than 15-20 minutes before Margerie started to ‘talk’ to us.  I wasn’t aware of this, but the glaciers are really noisy.  Because it is such a fast moving glacier, there is a LOT of pressure built up behind the face of the glacier and you can hear it creaking and cracking quite frequently.  And by cracking, I mean it sounds like a really loud bullwhip being cracked in the distance and echoing down the valley.  After the cracking noise came a deep growling thundering sound… at which point everyone was swivelling back and forth scanning the face of the glacier until we saw what we all came to see – massive chunks of ice calving off the glacier!
margery face2
Words escape me.  It was just awesome, in the truest sense of the word, as in inspiring or causing a sense of awe!  The loud noises – the crack, the rumbling thunder and then the sound of the ice smashing into the water.  The visual spectacle – the huge chunks of ice calving off the cliff face and bumping and tumbling their way into the water below and the huge splash and the ice disturbed the calm bay water at the bottom of the cliff.  I never thought I would ever see such a thing in my entire life… it gave me goosebumps onto of the goosebumps I already had because it was bloody freezing.  🙂  We saw about three sections of ice calve away from the face of the glacier in the hour and a half that we were listening to the glacier crack and groan and thunder.
leaving glacier bay
We moved quietly and serenely around the bay before heading back down towards the Lamburgh and Reid Glaciers and pottering around that area before moving back into the Lower Glacier Bay Area.  On the way out of the bay we saw a couple of seals bobbing along in the seas, we also saw a couple of dozen humpback whales frolicking about in the distances, their spouts hanging in the air like mist, indicating their presence, lots of different seabirds, and about eight or nine sea otters, just rafting and floating along the surface of the water in the middle of the bay, seemingly without a care in the world.  Unfortunately many of them kept their distance from the ship and as such not exactly providing great photo opportunities, but it was lovely to know they were there.
Such an amazing day out on Alaska’s Glacier Bay.

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