Alaska tour 6: Glacier

We anchor for the night in Holkham Bay, at the mouth of Tracey Arm. Something new added to the view: a little glacier on the mountain overlooking the bay.

Holmcam Bay

Tracey Arm is a long protrusion of the sea, reaching deep into the granite bulk of Turtle Island, almost to the Canadian border. The steep granite walls show evidence of long-ago ice carving, except where they ease away from the perpendicualar enough to support a forest. The Sitka spruce are rich and dense. Perhaps in umpteen thousand years, the soil will deepen enough to start supporting hemlock.



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Waterfalls tumble down the granite everywhere. They seem to spring out of the rock walls, until a closer look around the bend shows the drainage , a shallow gully or series of cascades extending hundred of feet higher. The snowfields feeding all the streams are higher still, perhaps thousands of feet high, lost in the clouds.

Watching a lone seagull traveling alongside us…

I am surprised by the leap of a humpback whale. Surprised because I didn’t think whales come to such narrow seas, but why not? I check the navigator’s chart, and see the depth here marked as 200. Sure, 200 feet should be deep enough to accommodate a whale or two. But after checking with the crew, I learn that the chart is market in fathoms, not feet. This little fjord is 1200 feet deep!

IMG_*2121 humpback

The glacier toward which we are headed makes itself known, at first, by little chunks of ice in the water, drifting seaward. Hard to tell how much the direction is dictated by tide, how much from the flow of meltwater. The morning fogs shroud the fjord in mystery and suspense.


A little island marks the junction of the two arms of the fjord, and here the ship stops. Too deep to anchor, and of course no mooring in this wildernees, so it simply finds a spot out of the current and hovers there to disgorge skiff-loads of adventurers to approach the ice.

By this time the rain has stopped, and the clouds begin to lift enough to reveal more landscape. We have already glimpsed the dramatic-looking face of the South Sawyer ice, but our little skiff’s destination is around the bend, another branch of the same vast ice field.



Here the toe of the glacier is some 200 feet high. The deepest blue of the ice is from the strongest compression; here, two branches of ice-flow have just conjoined, adding lateral pressure to thecrushing weight of ancient snows. We hear random creakings and rumblings of the ice as it strains against the mountain walls; then, a roar and crash as a calf falls off the face and into the waters of the fjord.

(Check out the photo at the top of this post. See the ship? Not ours, but too close—a falling calf could hurt people on deck).

On the return trip, near the place where I saw the humpback, a pod of orcas is seen, leaping for their feast of unseen seals. Life goes on profusely in all directions.



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2 thoughts on “Alaska tour 6: Glacier

  1. I’m enjoying your generous “travelogue” so much, Bear! The pictures would be enough, perhaps, but your descriptions enhance what we’re seeing a great deal, and I love the breadth of your knowledge, and curiosity. Keep ’em coming, and thanks!


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