Alaska Cruise Report: Tracy Arm and William’s Cove

From the National Geographic Sea Bird in Alaska July 19, 2010

Chunks of floating ice scraped noisily against the hull making unexpected sounds for those barely awake on our first morning aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird. Early risers watched deep-blue icebergs and smaller bergie bits against a backdrop of breathtaking cliffs that flanked the blue-green water. Tracy Arm snakes 32 miles inland, culminating in two spectacular glaciers where we planned to spend half the day.

Just after breakfast, we boarded Zodiacs for a scenic ride to view the Sawyer Glacier from water level. The weather was stunning. Sunlight spilled over the ridges and down the precipitous slopes. Waterfalls tumbled from the heights, and splashes of color from dwarf fireweed and arnica blossoms dotted the rocky ledges. The trusty boats maneuvered through the ice to an area with fantastic views of the face of the glacier. Jumbled ice spires called seracs rose in eerie ice-blue columns. Now and then a harbor seal poked its head out of the water to investigate the strange rubbery object nearby. Pigeon guillemots nest in rock crevices along the cliffs, and we managed to get excellent looks at the bright red feet and bold black and white markings of these puffin relatives.

The ship retraced its route down the fiord. Two wilderness rangers paddled their kayaks up to our ship and joined us to provide information about the Tracy Arm – Ford’s Terror Wilderness and to answer questions about their lifestyle here in Tongass National Forest. We continued on to William’s Cove, where we dropped anchor for an afternoon of hiking and kayaking. The rangers left us here to continue on their way.

Although the landing was clean gravel, the trails did have muddy spots, and those who had been unconvinced now became believers in wearing rubber boots. Naturalists pointed out interesting plants such as the devil’s club and skunk cabbage and explained the ecology of the temperate rainforest that embraces the coast of Southeast Alaska. Fresh bear tracks reminded us that we were not alone. We feasted on plump, red-orange salmonberries not yet eaten by thrushes and bears.

Kayaking was another option in addition to or instead of hiking. Calm water and bright sunshine lured us into the colorful boats for a chance to explore this quiet bay near the mouth of Tracy Arm. Each kayak could go at its own pace within this truly wild environment with no houses, roads or other signs of human development. In late afternoon the Zodiacs shuttled us back to the ship for a relaxing evening after a busy day in this spectacular part of Southeast Alaska.

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