On a lead from my AirBNB hosts during my visit to Juneau this past summer, I decided to seek out those calving glaciers at Tracy Arm instead of Glacier Bay. I hear both are spectacular, but the sheer mountain peaks and jutting granite cliffs that frame the Tracy Arm fjord set it apart making it a more stunning overall experience. Again, on a tip from my AirBNB hosts, I signed up with Adventure Bound for a full day boat trip to Tracy Arm Fjord to set my sights on the calving Sawyer Glaciers. Tracy Arm Fjord is located about 45 miles south of Juneau, and once there, you must travel another 30+ miles into the fjord before it ends at the glacier faces. So, it’s a long day, approximately 10 hours; but, it’s an awe-inspiring scenic 10 hours that passes pretty quickly all things considered. The nice sized boat with large windows (in the heated seating area) and a wrap around deck make the trip a lot more comfortable. And, Captain Steven and his crew are really remarkable at ensuring everyone has a good experience. The day started pretty early, boarding at 730am, but, with the long days, it didn’t seem so bad to get out of bed and down to the docks so early. And, once out on the boat, I was really glad the woman who helped me reserve my tour recommended this particular day. The weather was perfect for such a trip. Lots of clouds and fog….making our surroundings much more dramatic and photogenic. She was right about that…
Tracy Arm is a deep narrow fjord at the heart of the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness within the Tongass National Forest that lines this segment of Alaska’s Inside Passage. It is over 30 miles long, passing through a winding passage way framed by beautiful mountain peaks and massive granite cliffs. Here, you’ll find not only tidewater glaciers, but waterfalls and wildlife. It’s definitely a feast for your eyes.
This particular morning in July, the air was definitely a bit brisk. But, I was still frequently drawn outside to snap a few photos and enjoy the scenery in silence. As we approached Holkham Bay, the entrance to the fjord of Tracy Arm, icebergs began to appear…which drew everyone outside to join me. Glacial ice is stunning, as you’ll see in many of these photos and in a future post dedicated to the twin Sawyer Glaciers of Tracy Arm. The blue is the deepest, most vibrant color you can imagine. Captain Steven, seeing our intrigue, spent a good amount of time leading the boat around several of these icebergs that were slowly floating out towards the mouth of the fjords.
Bald eagle spotting! Even better contrasting against the glacial ice, instead of the deep greens of the forest, for once. There is little more magical than watching 2 bald eagles perched high above on the peak of an iceberg…then flying off across the bay towards the forest with a backdrop of mountains shrouded in clouds. I appreciated Captain Steven’s attention to his passengers when I noticed 2 other tourist boats go by without more than a moments stop at the icebergs and glimpse at the eagles…
After these magnificent creatures tired of us and flew off to privacy, we continued our journey into the depths of the fjord. With every corner rounded, we were faced with breath taking landscapes.
Another thing I appreciated about Captain Steven was his willingness to take us up close and personal with a few of the waterfalls lining the fjord. He would drive us right up and butt the bow of his boat right up to the waterfall, allowing some of the more adventurous passengers a little shower…or the onlookers, like me, the chance to capture as much of the moment and the scenery as possible from the sidelines.
Have I told you yet how impossible it felt to capture the dramatic nature of the towering mountains and jutting cliffs in photos? I really wished that I had brought a wide angled lens, because…ummm…it was just impossible to do without one. Any chance I got to capture the mountains with anything in the foreground to give it some scale, I did. Where are the animals or boats when you need them?!
As we neared Sawyer Glacier (after quite some time, I must note), the icebergs and chunks became more frequent…and I swear, the air became a bit crisper. I knew we were approaching, and I did not move from my post leaned up against the side of the cabin, just waiting to get the first glimpses of the glacier face. And, at this point, it was just a few bends in the “road” away…
And, then we rounded a bend and I spotted a piece of the glacier in the distance. I made my way near the hull, put my camera to my face, and just waited. Then, there it was! One of the Sawyer Glaciers! It seemed like no time before a crowd of people popped out of the cabin to join in the fun. As we moved farther, the ice chunks grew and grew in size. The boat slowed down and the captain became very intentional in his navigation. We passed a few seals basking in the sun. (The icebergs interfere with the sonar of whales, so seals can actually relax in relative safety near the glacier base.) We approached South (I think) Sawyer Glacier coming closer than many of the other boats, watched the seals laying on icebergs and hoping for a calving event. Sawyer Glacier is an active tidewater glacier, which means it “calves” or breaks off, falling off the face of the glacier. Because the water at the end of this particular fjord is very deep, the ice does not crumble when it calves, giving us enormous icebergs, sometimes the size of a cruise ship! (Because of this, it is difficult and risky to approach the glacier face. But, our captain noted that with a little extra effort and attention, he could safely bring us as close as we were.)
After a bit of waiting, we got lucky! All of a sudden, our captain calls out, “Look over there!” He had heard a large snap and within no time, we heard the roar and saw a large surface of ice fall off the face of the glacier! He hadn’t seen one that big in a while and was quite pleased. However, as we watched the ice sink down into the water, then bob back up, then settle down and start to move, the captain set into motion. “Time to leave. That iceberg is going to push all the other icebergs and trap us in if I’m not careful. Onto the next one.” And, we were off. Almost immediately after the captain started the engine, I heard a teenage boy going, “Baaaaaa!” Initially, I thought he was complaining about our departure and noted how rude it was to my neighbor, who chuckled and said, “No, love, there are goats up there on the mountain.”
Eagles. Seals. Mountain goats. Calving glaciers. I was already quite content with my day’s sightings.
Then, we made our way back and over to North Sawyer Glacier, which did not have a base sitting in an iceberg bath, but was still stunning in its own right. What I really liked about this glacier was the tall face, deep crevices and different coloring. There are definitely more photos of this glacier to come in my next post.
Then, we began our journey homeward. And, interestingly, this part of the journey did not seem like a rerun. I continued to find new angles on things previously seen as well as aspects of the fjord I had not yet seen.
On the way back, I felt like he took us closer to the rock faces on the northern side of the fjord, which lead me to notice some really cool details I would not have appreciated otherwise. I have so may photos of this portion of the trip, but I have narrowed it down to a few of my favorites.
OK. Everyone stop. Now look at this next picture, and see if you can see what I’m so excited about…
Thanks to Captain Steven’s attention to detail and great spotting eye, we saw a black bear!!! Well, a black bear drinking down at the water’s edge. It was too cool!
We watched it for awhile, trying not to spook it, which we invariably did. It left, and so did we. Wah wah.
But, then a brown bear! This one got spooked really easily, but we were already very close before Captain Steven spotted it.
As we left the fjord and re-entered Steven’s Passage, I noticed this lone iceberg lighting up in the distance, seeming to bid us farewell. I was very, very content.
By the time we made it back into Steven’s Passage, it seemed that everyone was beat. The crowd was quiet. A few of us climbed up into the captain’s cabin for better views for the quiet ride home. We scored a brief glimpse at a pilot whale, but, otherwise, the ride back was relatively unremarkable compared to the previous several hours. The scenery was beautiful. The hot chocolate was warm. And, we all settled in for the long haul. It was an amazing day, and I felt so lucky to be there and to have the chance to see what I’d seen and experienced that day. I was content and ready to get back to Juneau, order up some pho take out, make my way back to Ruth & Allan’s to cozy up on the couch with an Alaskan brew, some pho, a few pets, and the company of my hosts.
Note that this post was not sponsored, and, likely, none of the involved parties were even aware that I write this blog!