Favorite thing: My visit to Glacier Bay was one of the highlights of my trip to Alaska. Although I was not able to explore the landscape onshore, I was treated to fantastic scenery from the ship. The spectacular faces of the tidewater glacier were majestic. The roar of the ice as it calved into the bay illuminated the power of nature. The blue ice of the glaciers was beautiful. I would highly recommend a visit to Glacier Bay.
Favorite thing: Glaciers are formed in high mountains where snowfall exceeds the snowmelt. As snowpack builds up, the weight of the snow presses upon and deforms the snow beneath, which first changes to granular snow, then eventually morphs into ice. As a result of being formed slowly under high pressure, the individual ice crystals can be as large as a football.
Favorite thing: The glaciers in Glacier Bay are left over from the bay’s latest period of glaciation, called the Little Ice Age, that began about 4,000 years ago. The existing glaciers are mere remnants of the ice that formerly occupied the region. The glaciers are moving at a rate of about three to eight feet a day. Depending on the slope of the terrain and the length of the glacier, the ice at the face of the glacier is somewhere between 75 and 200 years old. Water that fell upon Alaska as snow at the time of the American Revolution is today finally breaking off from the glaciers as ice.
Favorite thing: When you sail into Glacier Bay, you will not see any glaciers for a while. That is because the glaciers have retreated significantly over the years. You will encounter your first glacier only after cruising the bay for a couple of hours. Nevertheless, the shoreline is stunning, with snowy mountains descending to the water, where snow rests along the shore. Also, near the mouth of the bay, keep your eyes open for whales and other marine mammals. The sights throughout the bay along the way to the glaciers should not be missed. Enjoy the view and keep in mind that only 200 years ago, this area was completely covered with ice.
Favorite thing: Glaciers that extend into a body of water, such as Glacier Bay, are known as tide-water glaciers. Ice will periodically break off the face of the glacier and fall to the water below. The act of the ice breaking from the glacier is known as calving. Prior to the ice falling, a loud bang can be heard as the ice breaks free. The amount of ice that falls will vary. But the sound and sight of the ice separating from the glacier and falling into the water can be spectacular.
As recently as 1750, a single glacier covered the entire area known as Glacier Bay. When European explorer Captain George Vancouver sited Glacier Bay in 1794, he noted a five mile indentation in a gigantic glacier. This massive glacier stretched over 100 miles inland. It was up to 20 miles wide. At places, it was more than 4000 feet thick. Naturalist John Muir noted in 1879 that the ice had retreated over 30 miles and formed an actual bay. By 1916, the big glacier had retreated 60 miles.
The massive glacier that once occupied the entire bay is known as the Grand Pacific Glacier. It is credited with caving out the bay. The remains of this once great glacier reach the bay today at Tarr Inlet.
For the last seven million years, ice has been a major force in the Glacier Bay. The glaciers present today are what remain from a general ice advance called the “Little Ice Age” that began about 4,000 years ago. About 1750, the ice began to melt and signaled the decline of The Little Ice Age. It is believed that the end of the Little Ice Age was brought about by natural process. However, it is interesting to note that the date coincides with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. One can only speculate as to how much global warming is contributing to today’s continued demise of the glaciers.
As you sail through the bay, it is hard to image that the entire area was completely covered by a massive glacier just over 200 years ago.
Favorite thing: If you take your camera - and if you didn’t, what is up with that?? - you will be in constant action. The digital revolution is just what you needed. 512mb and 12. Gb cards allow you to go crazy - as long as you don’t have your camera settings set for 8 meg mural walls! You might need an extra battery though. The extension plug would have to be very long out here!
Favorite thing: With mountains rising all around bedecked wit glaciers tumbling down their sides, it is easy to forget where you are. Park Rangers have a whole list of silly questions asked by tourists, but one, here, that always is near the top is the question, “How high are we here, exactly?” The answer on the tour boat is usually, “Oh … about 10 feet.” :-)
Favorite thing: Glacier Bay has about a dozen tidewater glaciers (where the glacier meets the brine of the Bay). These phenomena generally are the first attractions of the cruise ships that enter Glacier Bay daily, and for individual kayakers are often the pinnacle of their visit (no pun intended). The former tidewaters of the east arm are accessible only by kayak or extensive hiking (easier to reach by the former), while the park's tour boats and cruise ships visit the west arm, which holds the lion's share of the park's tidewater collection.
2 things we found indescribable:
- that surreal color of blue you see in glacial ice
- the sound of a glacier calving.
Fondest memory: Beautiful!
Hey - if you're on a cruiseship, don't be an idiot - don't throw garbage off the side at the animals in the water....
Fondest memory: Adrenaline was already flowing and by nature, I just wanted to pass them. If I had been with Kristin, she would have made no attempt to hide her bid to take the lead spot. She would have said it all along that we’d crush them. We would be in for a race that she wouldn’t let us lose. Ina is not normally like that but their unfriendliness even had her competitive ire up and without so much as a word, she matched my strokes and I saw in her small frame a power I hadn’t expected. She had never been in a kayak in her life but she paddled like a pro in an unrelenting tireless fashion. In no time we were beside them and without so much as a glance, we had passed. Kristin would probably have showboated a bit at the point, but Ina remained her quiet calm self and kept paddling. It seemed we could go the whole distance of the Muir Inlet in one day if she kept on at that pace. We wouldn’t have to do that; we never saw them again. I watched proudly as her small shoulders worked the paddle in unison with mine. I knew we had a great adventure ahead of us and that in Ina I had made the right choice.
When kayaking, you must maintain a quarter mile distance from potentially calving glaciers. If you enlarge this photo, you will see three guys in kayaks at this distance. It is hard to gauge distances with such grandiose perspective and Ina sure felt we were closer than a quarter mile and made me pull over to the beach. :S
Fondest memory: Perhaps the most interesting thing was picking up kayakers that had been out already. They looked so happy and surprisingly tan. On they would saunter, unwashed and somewhat slightly dazed. There was a certain bravado about them. Unlike the cruise ship passengers, they had been out there in the wilderness and really experienced it. Unlike us, their missions were completed and they could now relax and tell their yarns to the captivated audience that viewed them with a mixture of awe and perplex. From the ship you would see grizzlies walking up the beach and here were people that had actually chosen to camp amongst them. And here we were, getting ready to do just the same. Sure, if all went according to plan, we would get to do just the same thing in a week, but we had a lot to do between then and now. And with all these swirling emotions, our call came, and game faces on, we calmly walked from the sitting area and onto the deck and finally down to the beach where our vessel had been already placed. Another couple was being dropped off at the same place, which would normally be reassuring, but they were none too friendly and seemed to regard us as intruding on their adventure and perhaps inferior in experience. They were more organized than us and got their kayak packed faster and more smoothly. There was plenty of time but we did have to make it around this one rock outcropping before the tide went out so we didn’t dilly-dally either. They were in the water first and paddled away but we were in just behind. (concluded below in Fondest Memory)
One of the tough things about kayaking is the missed photo opportunities as it is hard to get to your camera when securely fastened into your vessel. But if you carry an inexpensive camera as well, you can put it in a ziplock and get a few good shots when the present themselves.
Fondest memory: Still, the boat had to be put back if we weren’t to use it and it being a double, it was a bit much for one person. Not only was she saying she couldn’t move the boat but was talking about aborting the whole trip even though we’d just plunked down close to $700 for the kayak rental and transport into the Bay for the next day. It was around then that I questioned my choice of partners. Kristin, my ex, would have never shown any weakness at this stage. In fact, she would have been the force behind it. I would be the voice of reason and she’d throw all caution to the wind. I wasn’t used to anyone showing weakness especially so close to the event. It was out of the question that we wouldn’t do it after spending so much time and money getting there and putting down the deposit. For Ina, this was where the pressure started. Once she knew we were doing it, it was too much for her. I finally got her up and over to drag the kayak back to storage and she went back to the tent to sleep while I spent my last night in the civilized world at the hotel lobby alone, writing in my journal over a beer. The next morning began in jittery fashion as we nervously tore down camp and separated what we needed for the trip and what we would leave for our return. We headed over to the dock to join the handful of kayakers and more conservative cruise-ship passengers waiting for the ship to load. Once on board, the difference in the two groups grew more apparent with the latter sitting relaxed and listening to the captains descriptions of sights passed and the rest of us, painstakingly making sure we had everything and awaiting our drop off. Oh, a colony of seals, that’s nice. (continued below in Fondest Memory)
Walk the beaches of Bartlett Cove and enjoy the marine life like this starfish.
Fondest memory: Bartlett Cove is a typical National Park entry town. There’s a big hotel that only the affluent can afford. But the area is so small that the free campground is right next to it and as with all National Park properties, you can hang out by the fireplace and write postcards with the guests and not feel out of place. Though modern, it has a rustic feel and campers use it as a refuge from bad weather and the grizzly forest in which their tents are staked. The Park Visitor Center is in the hotel making it pretty much a must see with the rangers giving indispensable information and reassuring smiles. I had put a deposit on our kayak, a double, a month or so ago by phone but it was time to pay the remainder and get a briefing on what was ahead of us. There was also to be a mini kayak tutorial included in the price. I could use it and Ina, having never even sat in a kayak, really needed it for confidence if nothing else. We were going to spend a week in the wilderness with it as our sole means of transport after all. The bay was very rough that day and it was explained that it would be better to forego Ina’s baptism until we were on the trip. She was understandably upset about this and insisted that we at least be able to sit in the kayak to get a feel for it. They explained the kayaks were over by the campground and we could go and get one to try out if we brought it back that night. Begrudgingly we headed over there to lug the heavy boat down to shore and practice getting in and out of it. It was very stable and Ina seemed relieved for the time being, but was developing a migraine so we left the boat out and went back to our tent to rest, figuring maybe we’d go out for a paddle if the water calmed down. As time went on, her headache just got worse and I grew angry over her inability to shake it. I never get headaches and she tends to get them in pressure situations like this. (continued below Fondest Memory)
Though the majority of people visit this land of wonder via cruise ships I would say that if you have it within your power, try and add some kayaking into your visit here. The scenery from the cruise ships is magnificent and certainly worth the money, but what you miss is a chance to experience nature at it’s very best. This is truly a wild and wondrous place if you let yourself be engulfed by it and to do that, you need to leave mankind behind and venture off into the darkness. What you’ll find is you are merely a small piece of the puzzle out here. Most of the wildlife will either ignore you and go about their daily routine or scurry away from what they view an anomaly to an otherwise predictable world. They make it very easy to do by having the cruise ships drop you off at a designated spot and picking you up in a specified amount of time. The bonus is you get to do the cruise on your return, thus ensuring the best of both worlds. This photo is of Adams inlet, an area not visited by any power boats. Though mosquitos were a problem camping here, they eventually left us alone and we fell asleep to the howling of wolves.
Fondest memory: The trip to Gustavus was filled with angst and anticipation. It was a beautiful boat ride but we had been on the ferry north from Prince Rupert in BC for nearly a month at that point so we were jaded from the Inside Passage scenery. Besides, we had too much on our minds. We were making this journey for one reason only, to do a kayak trip in Glacier Bay. It was something I just had to do once I read about it in the Lonely Planet Alaska guide some months earlier. My travel mate, Ina, was equally enthused though a tad more wary. She had never been in a kayak; not that I was all that experienced. I had done some virginal circles around my ex-girlfriend’s uncle’s island on Lake Huron in Ontario and as a precursor to this trip, I’d cajoled a buddy into an overnight trip on the Peace River in Florida, but this would be just a little more involved. First of all, the waters would be icy cold. In Florida, you might have the occasional alligator to contend with, but you could swim in the water you were paddling and certainly falling in was not a problem. Falling in here could prove fatal. Water temperatures hover just above freezing with passing seal-clad icebergs as a reminder. Once docked at Gustavus, mini buses awaited to whisk us to Bartlett Cove, a small community that was the last vestige of civilization before entering Glacier Bay National Park. The driver was friendly as only people from such remote areas can be despite the steady stream of tourists that come their way. Not that so many people visit this area. Its spectacular beauty is the fodder of many a person’s dreamscapes of blue ice and breaching whales, but the considerable cost of getting there limits the amount of visitors and most of them arrive via cruise ships doing the Inside Passage run. Even the majority of visitors to Guvtavus are there to do a one-day cruise into the bay’s icy splendor. The kayakers are a small and seemingly insane group. (continued below Fondest Memory)
Get an instant answer from local experts and frequent travelers