Navigating through Alaska’s glacier filled fjords

Navigating through Alaska’s glacier filled fjords

The impressive South Sawyer Glacier near Juneau, SE Alaska
The impressive South Sawyer Glacier near Juneau, SE Alaska

Calling Seattle home has numerous perks for an adventure enthusiast, one of them being it’s proximity to the final frontier, Alaska. I had visited Alaska a few times during the late spring and summer time, and loved exploring different parts: from the wilderness of North-Western fjord in the Kenai peninsula, camping in the Denali National Park to the amazing Alaskan museum in Anchorage. However, this time around I wanted to visit during the early fall-season. I landed in Juneau on what was an extremely wet and dreary day. I checked into a community-based hostel (interesting concept where each guest is assigned a communal household chore like cleaning the common kitchen floor, or clearing out the garbage), and waited for the rain to clear out next day.

 

Within a few minutes, Juneau dissappears from the sight
Within a few minutes, Juneau disappears from the sight

Luckily, the next day was a mix of patches of blue skies and drifting clouds. Juneau is a hub for big cruise ships, even during off-season, but it also has a few small ships taking travelers out to the narrow fjords around this SE Alaskan town. 40 miles away from Juneau is the stunning Sawyer glacier, approachable through a narrow fjord called Tracy’s arm. There was one trip leaving that morning from the town, and I was lucky to get a seat. The trips leave on a small expedition-style ship accommodating about 40 odd people and leave early in the morning. This is a glacier/iceberg viewing trip, so the captain would try to get deep into the fjord as quickly  as possible, and that means there is no concerted effort to spot whales etc. After a quick briefing, we leave the docks and set sail. Juneau looks equally pretty from afar, but it disappears from our sight within minutes. 

 

The passage starts to get increasingly narrow and dramatic as we move farther into the arm. This 40 miles journey takes roughly 3-4 hours depending on weather conditions, but a large part of that time is filled with oohs and aahs. The wind-chill increases as we inch closer to the glacier, and floating fluorescent blue icebergs start to emerge in the distance. Thundering waterfalls on both sides of the passage make this an unparalleled Alaskan adventure. The captain does a great job at getting close to icebergs of all shapes and sizes, as well as some waterfalls. Gradually, the South Sawyer glacier starts to emerge in the distance. If you have seen tidewater glaciers before, this one won’t knock you off your seat, but it is still an impressive sight as the boat gets really close to the glacier. The sunbathing seals and the thunder of the calving glacier make it a sight to behold. The quietness is filled with occasional sounds of the sea-gulls.

Tracy's Arm is marked with deep passage and mesmerizing waterfalls
Tracy’s Arm is marked with deep passage and mesmerizing waterfalls
Huge icebergs dot the passage through the Tracy Arm fjord
Huge icebergs dot the passage through the Tracy Arm fjord
Numerous waterfalls plummet down the steep valleys along the Tracy Arm fjord
Numerous waterfalls plummet down the steep valleys along the Tracy Arm fjord                                                    
Approaching South Sawyer glacier
Approaching South Sawyer glacier

 

Witnessing the glacier calve is a powerful sight to behold
Witnessing the glacier calve is a powerful sight to behold 

 

South Swayer Glacier at the end of the Tracy Arm passage
South Sawyer Glacier at the end of the Tracy Arm passage

 

I will leave you with this short clip to get a better sense of this wonderful part of the world.

 

 

 

 

About Praveen Maloo

Praveen is currently based out of Seattle, United States. He loves coffee, conversations, micro-brews, and intimate jazz music scenes. When its not raining in Seattle, he can be seen enjoying the beautiful outdoors of the Pacific North-West.


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