Alaska Cruise Report: Williams Cove and Tracy Arm

From the National Geographic Sea Lion in Alaska August 27, 2010

It was a calm quiet day in Williams Cove, perfect for kayaking and Zodiac cruising. The perfect day for contemplating the new connections we made this voyage with the intricate, varied and vast Alaskan wilderness. Hikers explored the forest edge and beach fringe or trekked through trees to peat bogs, seeing the rainforest in yet another phase of light. Some of the plants were familiar, almost old friends by now. Nagoonberries and blueberries rounded out our breakfasts, and spruce and hemlock towered overhead. We found evidence of some of the animal residents of this wilderness: broken up shells inside the forest that probably were the remains of a mink’s meal, the piles of stripped spruce cones that are created by red squirrels, the prints of a least weasel in the mud. And of course, bear scat.

On the long hike, a special intimacy with this destination was achieved by several people who ventured onto boggy ground that did not deign to hold them at the surface. They found the landing soft and forgiving, yet wet; no harm except perhaps to pride. I am told there are pictures.

As kayakers and Zodiac cruisers were spread far and wide about the cove, looking at waterfalls and waterfowl, seals and scenery, a new kayaker entered the scene. A Wilderness Ranger had come to spend a part of his day with us, and impart his knowledge and experience of the Tracy Arm/Fords Terror Wilderness that was the scene for our whole day’s activities.

John Steinbeck said “we find after years of travel that we do not so much take a trip, as a trip takes us”, and many of us found ourselves entirely ‘taken’ by what was to come in the afternoon. We cruised the entire length of Tracy Arm, 32 miles long. The scenery became more spectacular the further we went. Tall cliffs lined the fjord, waterfalls cascaded down and hanging valleys appeared to beckon with their unexplored green beauty from the sidelines. At times, it was all we could do to stand on the deck and gaze around, taking it all in.

At last we came to the source of all the sculpted bergs we passed: two tidewater glaciers. While our ship waited patiently at the intersection of the two fjords that front these glaciers, we boarded Zodiacs to take a closer look. The Sawyer is an active glacier, moving rapidly downhill yet retreating, which means that there is a lot of ice that breaks off the front of it every day and crashes into the sea. Our path to the spot where we could see the face was therefore not straight, we wove between ice of many shapes and sizes, and colors from clear to blue to grey with ground-up rock. There were many things to draw our attention: long braided waterfalls, rocky cliffs aswhirl with color, graceful young kittiwakes, the shiny round heads of swimming seals. Yet the glacier, as they do, stole the show. The bluest blue, the whitest white, spires and towers, cracks and caves and crevasses, and when a piece broke off to fall down, down, down to the sea it made a crash like thunder. It was a grand finale to a fine voyage.

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