Alaska Cruise Report: Tracy Arm and Sawyer Glaciers

From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Alaska, July 5, 2010

Tracy Arm is possibly the the most beautiful fjord in the world. Three thousand foot walls of granite and metamorphic rock rise all around us here. Geologists have determined that these rocks formed over 15 miles below the surface at temperatures near 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit. They are so hard and resistant to the elements that they look like they could have been carved by glaciers just yesterday rather than 17,000 years ago. Dark lichens and blankets of vegetation are the only clue to the passage of time. Clouds and mist draped delicately like cotton amongst the spruce high above us.

Our officers guided the ship through chunks of ice that floated everywhere. The bergie bit in today’s photograph was especially beautiful. Before long, South Sawyer Glacier came into view. We heard an occasional sound of thunder as tons of ice cracked under pressure. It was pushed by 12 miles of ice flowing out of a basin 5,000 feet up. The pointed tops of seracs covered its undulating surface.

Later, we stepped into Zodiacs to get closer looks at Sawyer Glacier. The numerous small chunks of ice often make it difficult to pass, but we found a clear path that led all the way to the glacier. An ice-free area allowed us to wait for calving and admire the incredibly tortured, twisted and chaotic patterns in the metamorphic rock. There was also the thrilling immediacy of sitting in a small boat with such a potentially powerful force filling one’s vision. On our way back we passed the harbor seal in today’s photos.

During lunch our ship cruised back through Tracy Arm and picked up two National Forest Service Wilderness Rangers and their kayaks. Tim and Barbara presented an interesting program about the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness Area and their work in this scenic area.

Kayaking and hiking in new country is always fun, but ripe blueberries made it even better. Salmon berries were also an added treat. Hike leaders have learned to make interpretive stops where berries weigh the branches down and are the fastest to pick. At first some said, “Oh, these are sour” until they learned to identify the best ones. Then they stopped more, consumed more and said less. The native people have always had plentiful food including salmon, halibut, blueberries and many more wild treats to harvest. The berry flavors we tasted have been enjoyed for centuries by local people.

Back aboard our warm and temporary home we were enjoying each other’s company and dinner, as we made our way into Stephens Passage and south towards Petersburg.

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