"Our Voyage to Alaska"

by Charlotte Blytmann

Chapter 3.  Among Icebergs and Glaciers

Friday August 1st - Well, here it is August already and it sure doesn't feel like summer yet. I guess this will be a summer that missed us. We got our usual 9:10 start in the morning and spent the next few hours rolling, annoyingly, due to the swells on the stern quarter, port side. When we were approaching Tracy Arm entrance, a Dall's porpoise played along with us for quite a ways and just as we got there, and were admiring the first large iceberg, a whale sumdum.gif (47327 bytes)surfaced a few times, then sounded with his tail in the air. We thought it might be a gray whale or a humpback. As we were coming into the cove near the point, a very large iceberg near the entrance suddenly broke in half and it rolled over. What a sight!

The anchor was dropped at 1:35P.M. and we were delighted to find such a beautiful spot to be in. Part of the Sumdum Glacier was visible to the southeast, the top portion shrouded by angry gray clouds. In the evening, we had a special celebration at having arrived at our destination. Tage went out to an iceberg in the dinghy and got a bucket full of ancient ice to chill the bottle of champagne that Ray and Dixie gave us at our departure get together. There was some good Brie cheese to enjoy along with the champagne, with which we toasted our success, our friends, and this beautiful place, while an otter swam slowly by the boat. Then it was up to the elbows in delicious crab, that couldn't have been better.

Saturday August 2nd - At 9:00A.M. we set out on another iceberg adventure. Up Tracy Arm to the glaciers. There were lightly scattered icebergs from the start of the trip, that gradually increased in numbers as we progressed. We were not sure if we could find our way through at some points, but were determined to keep going until we could absolutely not go any farther, safely. Judging from the weather that we had experienced so far on this trip, we thought that we were extremely lucky to have such a beautiful sunny, though somewhat hazy day, with not a rain shower in sight.

As we sailed through the arm, we were absolutely overwhelmed by the magnificent grandeur surrounding us on all sides. Words simply are not enough to describe this spectacular place iceboat.gif (44664 bytes)and incredible experience! It just kept getting better and better, until we were right there face to face with this enormous, awesome glacier. Spread before us was this massive towering jumble of ice, at least three hundred feet high, in all shades of cobalt blue, that cracked like a rifle, and boomed and roared like a cannon. Each thundering boom sent massive towers of ice crashing down into the sea at its feet, and this caused huge waves to spread out from its face, jostling the many icebergs that had fallen earlier.

On the ice floes, a short way out from the foot of the glacier, were hundreds of harbor seals, laying contentedly in the sun, completely oblivious to the noise and crashing ice nearby. Dancing around in the sky in front of the glacier were dozens of Arctic Terns, screeching back and forth to each other. A sight like this, I for one will never forget. While we slowly passed back and forth in front of the face of the glacier, I pointed out a particular huge towering pinnacle that as I said "Within a day, I'll bet that one goes down". I had hardly finished my statement when there was a mighty boom and down it crashed. What an experience!!!

After we watched the south fork of the Sawyer Glacier for a couple of hours, we went up another small canyon to the North fork of the same glacier. We had the whole place to ourselves and circled this magnificent scene for an hour or so. The calving of bergs was not as active here, but there were lots of areas of deep blue color to enjoy. Overhead many Arctic Terns, Boneparte's Gulls, Mew Gulls, and Pigeon Guillemots were coming and going to the canyon walls. On the walls of the canyon, the glacial gouging and scouring of past millenniums was very noticeable, and became more barren and raw in appearance the closer you came to the face of the glacier.

One bird that I was surprised to find, in this glacial locale, was a flock of about a dozen Barn Swallows, swooping and feeding in the air above our boat. Our day was very long, but it was so exciting, that the ten hours necessary in order to complete the trip, passed all too quickly. Arriving back at our anchorage in the cove, we were further treated to the sight of an especially colorful rainbow in the rays of the setting sun. Ah so, it seems the showers have returned.

Sunday August 3rd - This morning we were not in a hurry to get going. It was raining when we awoke, so we were planning on just moseying around in front of the Sumdum Glacier and taking pictures, then turning around and heading south toward home. The apex of our trip had been completed - we thought! To our pleasant surprise the day gradually turned absolutely gorgeous, even better than yesterday. It was sunny and very warm. The "Kittiwake" had her picture taken in front of the Sumdum Glacier, and from here on the views were so spectacular heading down the Endicott Arm, that we just kept going and going, until we wound up getting all the way to Ford's Terror.

A good anchorage was finally located here at 5:00 in the afternoon. The lateness was due to our getting a start at 12:00 noon, very late, for a trip this far. But, we really had not figured to come this way at all, the weather decided it for us. There was still some sunshine on the canyon glacier.gif (48897 bytes)walls as we arrived, so a quick trip was made in the dinghy in order to get some more photos. In the rush, I forgot to change into my rubber boots and would be sorry for this. We took Koki with us for his shore time and climbed to a high overlook to get a better view of the rapids from which Ford's Terror derived its name. The rapids were very powerful and impressive, reminding one that it would be awful to be in them, even in a boat. Getting there was a real chore and because I did not have my boots, the shoes I wore were quite slippery on the rocks, moss, and mud. I managed to fall down on my fanny a couple of times, and in turn got my fanny all wet and muddy. This did not feel too great, sort of like when one was a baby, I imagine.

We had anchored "Kittiwake" in about 14 fathoms and with about 300 feet of chain, under sheer rock walls that were over a thousand feet high. These walls were the base of some 5000 foot peaks far above us. Pretty impressive stuff all around. The Kittiwake looked like a small toy in this setting. A nice find while touring around in the dinghy was a group of Harlequin Ducks, a couple dozen or so with the usual Mew Gulls and Murrelets. We were most pleased this evening on our good fortune with the weather and the opportunity to enjoy all the splendid scenery we had passed. If the weather holds tomorrow, it is only two more hours of sailing to get to the Dawes Glacier and now after coming this far, we hope to be able to make it there.

Monday August 4th - Well, as luck would have it, the rain started in earnest at 3:00A.M.and it was still coming down at 11:30 in the morning. We had pretty much decided that at last it was time to start home, as our window of opportunity with the tides was closing. Then a very very small patch of blue sky appeared at the end of the canyon, and hope returned. A decision was made to make a try for the glacier, and very quickly after we were on our way, full sunny weather returned.

At the southern bend in the arm, we encountered ice that continued to thicken, as we advanced toward the glacier. This is always a very tense time for me and is where Tage and I do not necessarily see eye to eye. I find I have a love/hate relationship with the glaciers. I really want to see them, as they fascinate me, but at the same time it makes me feel vulnerable and nervous to be maneuvering so close to the icebergs. I felt we could not go on, as visions of the Titanic passed through my head, but Tage kept pushing on regardless, as he was too excited to quit at this point. He did manage to keep finding small pathways through the ice.

Admittedly after all was over and done, I must say that it was worth all the work and scariness, for this glacier was the most impressive one yet of the three that we had visited, that touched the sea. It was doing it's calving display, with all the accompanying cracks and booms. At times, the very cold wind was driving at us at about twenty to thirty miles an hour off the glacier. We had a real job, as we tried to hold the boat into the wind to steady her, in order to take pictures and jockey her around at other times in order to avoid the floating ice all about us.

While we were watching the vista before us at one point two gigantic bergs were born from deep beneath the frontal base of the glacier. They were bigger than a large building, and the ice was very dark in color, being very dense due to coming from the base of the glacier. These bergs created quite an impressive tidal wave as they rose to the surface, settled back and rose again repeatedly, each time rising a little less, as they settled in their final floating position. After spending about two hours, circling and dodging the ice bergs, we had to end our visit to this great spectacle, as we needed to start back in order to reach our anchorage by nightfall.

When we decided to turn around, we found that the ice floe had shifted behind us, our original passage had closed, and it was necessary to forge a new path in order to escape. We got wideice.gif (100063 bytes)some really close views of the local harbor seals lazing about on the ice floe, as we tried to carefully pick a path through it, sometimes with me fending some bergies off the bow with the boat hook. I was vastly relieved to reach the last of the ice, after about an hour and a half. When we finally reached the cove we had started from yesterday sometime after 9:00P.M., the most gorgeous sunset of the whole trip greeted us as a final icing on the cake, so to speak. I guess tomorrow we will indeed have to start for home.


TO CONTINUE SELECT "CHAPTER 4"

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TAGE & CHARLOTTE BLYTMANN, CONTACT US Telefax: (1) (360) 697-6253. copyright , 1998 - 2003