Calving of the glaciers leads to small icebergs floating in the bay. Typically these are fairly small and not too numerous and offer little hazard to ships visiting the bay. However, the floating ice can sometimes become so abundant that ships will not be able to safely approach the glaciers. The ships may seek other opportunities for glacier viewing, but it is possible that no alternatives may be available. If you are taking a cruise to Glacier Bay, be warned that it is possible that your ship may not be able to actually get close to the glaciers.
Icebergs come in all sorts and shapes. Many get stranded by the tides along the shore. There they are left by the sea to slowly melt away or maybe they get lifted out once more by another incoming tide.
A long summer day’s tour in the kayak or climbing in the surrounding hills, can leave you in quite a sweat. The water is there for you to cool off in, but unless you are a grizzly bear or a seal, you won’t want to be in for long. The is a reason why those ice cubes floating around are not melting that fast! ;-\
Part of the romance of Glacier Bay is the endless appearance of ice, both in tidewater glaciers and the countless series of icebergs. In seasons when these floating islands are more massive, the average kayaker might like to see one up close, if not to actually glide directly against the bluish towers. When icebergs calve however, the resulting wave might topple the kayak as easily as a surfacing whale. Icebergs should be considered dangerous at all times, so keep a respectful distance.
Park literature and every travel guide covering the coasts of Alaska will urge against consumption of shellfish due to a prolific neurotoxin in mussels and clams. Concentrations have been especially high in Glacier Bay. Without driving caution to the extreme, I would advise beachcombers who filter their water to begin pumping beyond the farthest reach of the shells on shore (normally no more than 80 or 100 feet).
If the weather is murky or drizzly in Glacier Bay (which frequently happens), your park tour is liable to be almost depressing. Visitors on the tour boats and even the kayaks will oftentimes not be able to see a mountain range or even a mountain peak, and the forests nearby will often become obscured by a thick veil of fog. Photography is almost useless. From the tour boat, the windy conditions and the cold and wet air will likely drive everyone indoors rather than brave the Bay from the observation decks. Unless the weather brightens, all things in the Bay usually remain cold and gray.
Glacier Bay is traversed by no roads, and though the west arm is most visited by boats and motorcraft, the east arm is comparatively empty. Once every afternoon a motorized park patrol boat will cruise the arms as part of his daily routine, but in the east arm he hugs the eastern shores, so accidents on the west side are not likely to be seen without a blazing bonfire for your signal. If you plunge into this water, rated at 42-45 degrees Fahrenheit, your chances for survival are slim the longer it takes for you to recover your kayak and/or to dry off and warm up on shore. If you lose your food to a bear or the surf, or you snap a bone and can't paddle back, you're still on your own.
While Alaska is glutted with a dozen or more varieties of berry which ripen throughout the tourist season, there is one particular species you should avoid without fail. Usually composed of a cluster or red or white glassy-looking fruit, the baneberry is instantly recognized for berries on a stem that lifts upward. Locals joked of the "seven and out" quality of this fruit, literally meaning that seven berries were sufficiently fatal to the average human. Other berries (red currants for instance) look similar, but only the baneberry fruitstems point upward -- the tell-tale signature to leave the fruit alone.
Sometimes you make a stop that looks scenic but perhaps is not the best for safety. generally the more steep your shoreline, the more you should just keep paddling. The worst part is the slippery nature of the rocks. On one such stop, I carelessly stepped out of the boat and slipped right in the frigid water. Only half of me went in, but my clothes were soaked and I was forced to get all my clothes off and shivering, change into some dry ones. Ina was the perfect savior, getting me undressed quickly and getting warm dry things for me to put on. She then made up some tea. We stuck to more gradually inclined beaches for pulling over from then on.
Though we never saw a grizzly while camping, cooking, or eating on the beach, we saw plenty from the cruise ship. Though it would have been fun seeing one from the kayak, it was scary enough just knowing they were there. If we'd seen one, it would have made camping an even more hair raising experience. As it was you had to store your food in bear proof cannisters that were to be stored 100 yards from your tent, preferably downwind. You were to cook another 100 yards from there.
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