Alaska at its best — part one - East Idaho News
Living the Wild Life

Alaska at its best — part one

  Published at  | Updated at
Getting your Trinity Audio player ready ...

JUNEAU – A week ago Tuesday, my wife, four daughters and nine other family members (including myself) embarked on a trip of a lifetime – a cruise from Seattle to southern Alaska and back. The Carnival Spirit ship was enjoyable, but the excursions made the trip unbelievable and unreal for me, creating sights and sounds of a lifetime.

We had only scheduled two excursions but on our third day at sea, my wife approached me and said, “An excursion this afternoon has three openings, and many of the comments from previous guests says that their only regret was not doing the Tracy Arm Fjord one: how about doing it? Jesse (our son-in-law) has already booked it, so let’s go.”

A little tired of the big boat, I agreed.

After separating from the mothership, we headed up the fjord, flushing several strange birds off the water. Their mostly black with white wing patches and bright orange feet told me that they were pigeon guillemots.

Soon the captain announced a bear ahead. It moved off into the brush before we got there. Water from melting snowfields was cascading off the steep sides, but the falling water did not create “waterfalls” until we arrived at a huge, true waterfall — the only one in the fjord.

Ice Falls, originating from Ice Lake, was beautiful, but I was ready to see some living creature when the woman behind me yelled, “Bear!” The caption slowed up, turned the boat around and we slowly headed back. Sure enough, there was a small black bear digging up mussels where the low tide had exposed a large table of things bears like to eat.

A Black bear munches on mussels and other food exposed by the low tide in Tracy Arm Fjord. | Courtesy Bill Schiess
A Black bear munches on mussels and other food exposed by the low tide in Tracy Arm Fjord. | Courtesy Bill Schiess

After allowing everyone a chance to photograph the bear we continued up the fjord with large hunks of ice floating by us. Some of the icebergs were a bright blue while others were painted by “rock dust” that the South Sawyer Glacier had ground off the steep sides hundreds of years ago. The naturalist with us explained to us that the blue ice was created by over 100 inches of snow compressed together to create an inch of glacial ice.

Icebergs in the Tracy Arm Fjord gets its blue color from compressed snow which fell over 150 years ago. | Courtesy Bill Schiess
Icebergs in the Tracy Arm Fjord gets its blue color from compressed snow which fell over 150 years ago. | Courtesy Bill Schiess

It was not too long before we could see the top of the glacier, and we began to move slowly enough to push some of the smaller chunks of ice out of the way or to maneuver around the larger icebergs. The naturalist explained that 90 percent of the icebergs were under the water and explained that the color of the water that changed so quickly was created by the melting ice containing the rock dust.

Hundreds of harbor seals were relaxing on some of the floating ice while a bald eagle perched on the top of a large iceberg. Arctic terns flew back and forth over their nesting area on a large rock near a beautiful granite cliff.

Harbor seals enjoy sunning themselves on the ice broken off from the South Sawyer Glacier. | Courtesy Bill Schiess
Harbor seals enjoy sunning themselves on the ice broken off from the South Sawyer Glacier. | Courtesy Bill Schiess

We also watched as large chunks of 150-year-old blue ice split from the glacier, sending significant waves down to us. There were two other boats there with us playing a tag game with the ice, and after about an hour, we started working away from the glacier.

Large chunks of ice break off the South Sawyer Glacier as several boats watch it. | Courtesy Bill Schiess
Large chunks of ice break off the South Sawyer Glacier as several boats watch it. | Courtesy Bill Schiess

As we rounded a corner, we saw the Carnival Spirit working its way up through the ice. I had been visiting with the excursion captain, and when he saw the ship he exclaimed, “What the heck is he doing!!!! Ships never come up this close to the glacier!”

We moved passed the Carnival Spirit as all the passengers got a view of the glacier while the ship moved very, very slowly navigating through the floating ice. But we could not hook up with the Spirit until we got enough room so that chunks of ice would not get caught between the two boats.

 The Carnival Spirit approaches the South Sawyer Glacier close enough for all its passengers to view it. | Courtesy Bill Schiess
The Carnival Spirit approaches the South Sawyer Glacier close enough for all its passengers to view it. | Courtesy Bill Schiess

We found out later that the captain of the Spirit was a new captain, this was his first trip up into the Tracy Arm Fjord and he wanted to see the glacier. We also noticed while out in the open sea, when a pod of whales was located, the captain “kind of” turned in that direction to give the passengers a better view of them.

My wife and I were both happy that the rest of our family was able to enjoy the trip up to see the magnificent South Sawyer Glacier. She and I enjoyed the time that we spent up there watching the wildlife and the movement of the glacier. It was well worth the extra time and funds that we paid.

My recommendation to any of you who have not been on an Alaskan cruise or not taken advantage of excursions on a cruise is to do them. As beautiful and enjoyable as the trip up the Tracy Arm Fjord was, it was not my favorite – that story is for next week.

Living the Wild Life is brought to you by The Healing Sanctuary.

SUBMIT A CORRECTION