Alaska Cruise Report: Tracy Arm and Williams Cove

From the National Geographic Sea Lion in Alaska August 15, 2010

Ice can be glorious, we found, sparkling in the sunlight. Bergs with fantastic shapes, contoured and faceted, were to every side as we made our way up the long narrow steep-sided fjord called Tracy Arm. Waterfalls spilled from hanging valleys, and cliffs rose thousands of feet from the sea to seemingly scrape blue sky. Incredible sights to wake up to.

Near the face of the South Sawyer glacier, we took to the Zodiacs and went exploring among the ice. Harbor seals were abundant, hauled out on floating ice or swimming, doing their harbor seal thing. Sometimes they came to watch us, with a lift of their shiny round heads and a glance from their big dark eyes before they disappeared beneath the surface.

The waterfalls were splayed beautifully on patterned rock cliffs, gulls occasionally wheeled by overhead, and the vegetation around us was bravely recolonizing rock left bare by the retreating glacier; but the star of the show was the glacier itself. Its face rises vertically 200 feet or more from the sea, and when great jagged chunks fall off in that exciting event called “calving”, it makes a splash; literally, and on our emotions too. More than once a shout or whoop rang out as one of these towers of ice crashed down.

Making our way back down the fjord, it was easy to understand why John Muir said what he did when he wrote “Travels in Alaska” after his visit here in 1879: “Amid so crowded a display of novel beauty it was not easy to concentrate the attention long enough on any portion of it without giving more days and years than our lives could afford”. There were times when we simply did not know in which direction to look.

The afternoon was spent close to the mouth of Tracy Arm, twenty-five miles from the face of the glaciers, but we could still see ice. Some of those big bergs travel a long way! At Williams Cove, we got our first chance to kayak and to walk in the forest. Seeing the rainforest in sunlight is a revealing experience. For one thing, we could actually see that the leaves of forest floor plants are sun collectors. Everywhere a beam of sunlight made it through the branches of tall Spruce and Hemlock, a profusion of plants was growing on the forest floor, and every shade of green was visible, in light and shadow. Kayaking or hiking, it was an afternoon full of peace and gentle splendor.

Enjoyed this Alaska cruise report? Check out the detailed itinerary…


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