Day 131 of our Journey

The best way we can think of to describe Glacier Bay National Park & Perserve is to ask you to imagine the world’s biggest Great Outdoors Wildlife Wonderland cocktail. Take one enormous serving of crystal clear water (with a pinch of salt), toss in a very, very large handful of very, very large ice cubes, stir in as many humpback whales, sea otters, steller sea lions, and tufted puffins you can find, garnish with a few grizzlies and wolves, then shake gently and serve chilled. Very chilled.

Our first encounter, just after leaving the dock, was with this sea otter.

Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve is a very protected and is a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with three other parks. The Glacier Bay Lodge runs the only organized group boat trip permitted inside Glacier Bay (you can charter your own boat if you’re made of money, or visit on a giant cruise ship). The tour is a 150-mile (240 km) round trip journey that takes about eight hours once you factor in the dozens of stops the boat makes so that passengers can get their fill of the abundant wildlife and amazing glaciers.

Steller sea lions in Glacier Bay.

Still practically within sight of the dock, we came across South Marble Island which was covered in Steller sea lions who had failed to find a mate this year. The adolescent males seemed to be amusing themselves by tormenting a nearby humpback whale. They do this frequently, explained the Park Ranger who was on the boat. It seemed like a dangerous game to us.

A tufted puffin in Glacier Bay.

Off the back of the boat, harbor porpoises zipped and crested but never linger long enough for us to get a good look at them, the show-offs. From that point on our binoculars and camera were pretty much glued to our faces (if you forget your binoculars, don’t worry—they had really good Bushnell loaners on the boat).

A grizzly prowling a beach along Glacier Bay.

A spouting humpback whale. This spray of mist can shoot up as high as 20 feet (6 meters) and move at up to 300 mph (480 kmph) as these animals exhale. Unfortunately, their breath smells like a dumpster behind a fish market in August.

The distinctive fluke (tail) of a humpback whale in Glacier Bay. These animals average 40 feet(64 meters)  in length and weigh about 40 tons.

The pectoral fin of a humpback whale.

A fleeting glimpse of a wolf in a cove along Glacier Bay.

As we ducked into a small bay, a dark grey wolf appeared on the rocky beach and up on a rocky outcropping, a group of mountain goats grazed in impossibly steep circumstances.

A mountain goat clings to a rock wall above our boat in Glacier Bay.

Soon we reached our first star glacier, the Lamplugh Glacier which was so bright blue in places that it looked like it was filled with Slurpie.

The Lamplugh Glacier rose more than 150 feet (45 meters) above the water. The glacier constantly fracture leaving behind these jagged patterns.

Next up was the Johns Hopkins Glacier which was 1 mile (1.5 km) wide and more than 10 miles (16 km) long. Unlike most glaciers in the world, this one was growing at around 15 feet (5 meters) per day. This glacier is so big that it dwarfed the Holland America cruise ship that was parked at its face—for the first time we were happy to see a cruise ship in Alaska because the thing really put the size of the glacier into perspective.

The enormous Johns Hopkins Glacier is so big it makes the 780 foot (237 meter) Holland Americas Volendam cruise ship look small.

Our much, much smaller boat gently and respectfully maneuvered around bobbing bits of ice in the bay in front of the Johns Hopkins Glacier because what looks like harmless chunks on the surface often harbor a mass below that has Titanic potential. We couldn’t safely get any closer than a mile or two from the glacier, but that was close enough to feel the rush when a piece of the Johns Hopkins calved off with a crackle, whoosh, and splash. The ripples worked their way out the bay, making the dastardly ice chunks bob even faster.

Approaching the Margerie Glacier we enjoyed the first sunshine of the day. This glacier rose more than 250 feet (76 meters) above the water and extended 100 feet (30 meters) below it.

The Margerie Glacier.

Us in front of Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay.

The day started off cloudy and cold but by the time we reached the Margerie Glacier and the Grand Pacific Glacier in the Tar Inlet, the sun was showing its face and we were shedding layers and breaking out the sunglasse. You can imagine the glare even a bit of sunshine generates when you’re surrounded by nothing but water and ice.

Ice calving off the glacier.

A bald eagle floating on an iceberg in Glacier Bay.

The face of Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay.

Enjoying the sun, just like us, was a bald eagle perched on the tip of an ice shard on the face of the Margerie. This was our turn around point, but not the end of our sightings as animals continued to pop up all along the journey back to Glacier Bay Lodge including a humpback which surfaced remarkably close to our boat and proceeded to play and roll until it had shown us every inch of itself.

The face of Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay.

As we left Margerie Glacier and headed out of Glacier Bay we got a good sense of the overall size of the glacier.

Before returning we diverted into the Geike Inlet where we stopped to watch a grizzly with a cub. Two more eagles and another grey wolf sighting rounded out the day. But mother nature wasn’t done with us yet. Over dinner back at the lodge, she put on a 25 minute sunset that was so brilliant and so sustained that even the Alaskan staff stopped what they were doing to appreciate it. The reds, pinks, and purples were amplified into a kind of cone when they hit a column of snow blowing off a distant peak.

Ranger Cahill, the guide on our Glacier Bay cruise, kindly left a detailed map of all of our sightings.

Here’s more about travel to US National Parks & Monuments

Here’s more about travel in the USA


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