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Alaska Log #6

Tracy Arm, Alaska
July 9, 1999

(Click on each photo to see it full size)

Tracy Arm Fjord (55K)In order to visit North and South Sawyer Glaciers, boats anchor in the cove at the entrance to Tracy Arm, the only place that is shallow enough — 50 feet. Everything else is 350 to 1,000 feet! The chief entertainment for the evening is to go out in the dinghy and try to net a softball-sized piece of blue floating glacier ice for cocktail hour. If you remember fifth grade science, there is much more under water than is visible above. Jan had to relearn this lesson on the first bergy bit that he tried to scoop in, as it almost pulled him overboard. We also had the pleasure of watching a bear browsing for dinner along the beach.

In addition to all this excitement, we watched the arrival of a small cruise ship that had to anchor at the mouth of the cove because of the other eight boats inside (more boats than we had seen in weeks!). About 11 PM, with much clanking of anchor chain, the ship had to move because a huge iceberg was floating down on it. We kept trying to remember the tune from Titanic, perhaps a bad omen, since we still had to face the icebergs ourselves.

Signe conning us through the bergie bits in Tracy Arm (68K)To visit Sawyer Glacier we motored all the way up the 23 mile fjord — on the one sunny day in the last three weeks!!!! — of steep, smooth black rock called Tracy Arm. For most of the way up and back we dodged icebergs of all sizes with Signe on the bow spotting and Jan steering. The hardest bergs to see are the same turquoise color as the water, but hard as rocks. We were almost to the glacier with one more turn to go when we got into pack ice without a visible trail through. We hovered for awhile while two charter boats sent their dinghies in for a view. There was no way either of us was going to go in alone in a 10 foot inflatable dinghy, so we circled and enjoyed watching the sea lions floating on their own small icebergs.

The 'snout' of North Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm (74K)Finally, a Californian in a big motorboat blasted a trail through, and we followed him right in to North Sawyer Glacier, which drops right into tidewater. I figured it would be like the Nisqually Glacier on Mt. Rainier, but no. It was made of immense, jagged teeth of ice and snow, coming all the way down to the water, with the bottom layer so compacted over the eons that it was brilliant, deep, azure blue. While we were in front of the glacier, three huge chunks broke off into the water sending up huge splashes and crashes. Raven looked incredibly small next to all that ice. Since the pack ice had closed in again, we followed the California boat out. Down the fjord we went again, all 23 miles. It was a very long day, but definitely worth it. A few photos are attached.

Raven at North Sawyer Glacier

When we got up to leave the next morning for the long trip to Juneau, the narrow, treacherous entrance to Tracy Arm was completely fogged in and clogged with icebergs. We relied again on our trusty computer mapping system, GPS and radar. Amazing how electronic navigation has made these trips so much safer. Early in the day, we saw a huge blob on the radar screen move slowly by us about a mile away, without ever seeing it through the fog. After listening on the VHF, we realized it was the Sky Princess, one of the largest cruise ships on the Inside Passage run. Whew.

We spent a few interesting days in Juneau, but we'll talk about that in the next log.

Regards . . . Signe and Jan

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