Exploring Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park

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Fog bank in Glacier Bay

Last September, after months of planning, I embarked on an adventure to Alaska to witness firsthand several remarkable things that I had never seen before; Humpback whales, Sea lions, Sea otters, Mountain goats and glaciers. It was the latter that motivated me most of all, for with all of the talk about climate change and global warming, I feared that glaciers might not be around for me to see if I waited much longer.

The NPS Serac rendezvousing with our ship

It was a cold, foggy morning on the day that our cruise ship entered Glacier Bay. We were met and boarded by park rangers from Glacier Bay National Park, who would remain with us throughout the course of our journey 65 miles up the bay to the terminus of the tidewater glaciers, where we would spend time at both John Hopkins and Margerie glaciers.

 

Snow-capped mountains in Glacier Bay National Park

As the fog lifted, the sun broke through the scattered clouds, almost as if pulling back a curtain, to reveal an astonishing view. Snow-capped mountains towered out of the cyan waters on both sides of the fjord, which was as deep as 1,410 feet in some places. The scars left by receding glaciers were evident on the rough granite landscape, but instead of a bleak and barren vista, grasses, bushes and trees managed a foothold across much of it. We sailed for several hours into the bay, watching the towering peaks, hanging valleys and waterfalls slip by. Cold, but refusing to leave the rail, I spotted several playful Sea otters and a Stellar sea lion.

 

 

Kayakers paddling past Lamplugh Glacier (click to see full size)

A large glacier, Lamplugh glacier slid into view on our port side. At 160′ tall, this towering glacier seemed to be woven from ribbons of white, blue, grey and black ice. Near the base of the glacier I noticed multiple small specks of color floating on the water’s surface, but it wasn’t until I zoomed in with my 250mm lens that I was able to see tiny, two-person kayaks paddling past the glacier’s face. I was instantly jealous that I wasn’t out there on the water with them.

John Hopkins Glacier

We sailed onward and finally John Hopkins glacier slipped into view, the immense scale of it filling the horizon as we pulled closer. Measuring over 20 stories tall, over 50% taller than Lamplugh glacier, John Hopkins stretched from wall to wall of the fjord. The ship slowly turned in place over the course of an hour allowing the passengers on both sides of the ship to see the glacier. I took shot after shot of the glacier, trying to capture the impossible. I zoomed in to the base of the glacier, focusing on dark spots floating on top of the ice flows and was pleasantly surprised to see scores of Harbor seals basking in the afternoon sun.

Harbor Seals basking on ice flows at John Hopkins Glacier (click to see full size)

After an hour we left John Hopkins glacier and sailed on to Margerie glacier. Spanning a mile across, Margerie glacier greeted us with a sharp “Crack!” as loud as thunder as an ice spire, or sérac, calved from the face and plunged into the frigid seawater below. Over the next hour we watched again and again as more ice calved into the fjord. Margerie glacier is one of the most active glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park, advancing seaward at 6′-8′ per day.

 

Margerie Glacier calving

The afternoon drew late and it was time to head back to the mouth of the bay. I still couldn’t pry myself away from the rail, and for my effort I was treated to a view of Sea otters, rocky islands filled with Sea lions, Mountain goats and several brilliant rainbows. Finally we neared the entrance to Glacier Bay and the National Park Service sent a vessel out to retrieve our park ranger tour guides. We waved goodbye and retreated into the warmth of the interior of the ship to savor our experiences.

Sea lions at the end of the rainbow (click to see full size)

For me, this was a trip of a lifetime, but more importantly I learned that climate change is real. The glaciers are receding. If we, as stewards of the planet, don’t do something to stop polluting our air, oceans and groundwater, we are going to be left with nothing. The health of our planet is more important than corporate greed. Our sights need to focus on renewable energy and environmental sustainability. One person can make a difference, especially when we become hundreds, thousands and millions of people working toward a common cause – saving our planet.

About Beverly Hill

Beverly is a deputy clerk with the Florida court system and is an experienced writer in her free time. Her love of adventure and the outdoors is what fuels her desire to seek out new and exciting things.
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