Saturday, July 7, 2012

Alaska: Tracy Arm, June 18, 2012

Avi and I woke up fairly early, had a quick breakfast, and then bundled up to head out onto the stern (rear) deck to spend the day cruising in and out of Tracy Arm, passing the North Sawyer Glacier and, hopefully, going far enough in to see the South Sawyer Glacier.

We met Nobby and Cindy, friends I had made on the Cruise Critic boards before the cruise. We spent a few hours on deck in beautiful, sunny, and almost warm Alaska weather, watching groups of Humpback Whales spouting, surfacing and diving. I especially enjoyed one who waved its fluke out of the water several times. It was a wonderful preview to the whale watch we’ll be going on tomorrow.


As we entered Tracy Arm we were surrounded by incredible scenes all along the way. Small mountains on either side of us (@3,000 ft.) with taller, snowcapped mountains in the background (up to 8,000 feet tall.

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Tracy Arm was formed by the original Sawyer Glacier, which formed this body of water cutting in from the Frederick Sound.

All along the arm we saw waterfalls coming off the snow covered mountain tops, beautiful coniferous forests, and ever changing skies.


As we got further and further in we also saw icebergs of all different shapes and sizes. Their aquamarine hues were striking and I don’t think you can completely capture that gemlike transluscency in a photograph, although Avie valiantly tried.

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As we approached the glaciers it became colder and colder. Even though friends had told us we wouldn’t need the “winter gear” we purchased for the trip, I found it wasn’t overkill at all.


One lovely tradition on Holland America’s Alaska cruises is the serving of Dutch Pea Soup on deck. It was a perfect accompaniment to our trip up along the Arm, not to mention a nice way to warm up a bit without going inside.


The closer we got to the glacier, the more seals (both Fur and Harbor) we saw hauled out on the icebergs, most of them with pups alongside. They were there to protect themselves and their new pups from the transient Orca pods which fed on seals as a mainstay of their diet. Additionally, Mew Gulls and Pigeon Guillemots were in abundance if one paid attention using binoculars.



Many of the icebergs had blood spots on them from where Seals had given birth, adding a bit of eerie color to the scene.

As we went further along Tracy Arm, the ice became more frequent and larger. Only 20% of an iceberg (growler for the smaller ones) is at the surface of the water, so their full size can be a bit deceiving.

We got a photo of one next to a boat we think held 12 passengers (to the right). Now imagine 80% of that ice still under water!


Luck was with us this day. The Amsterdam made it all the way through Tracy Arm and we were able to see the glacier at close quarters, even observing a couple of smaller calvings (where a piece of the glacier breaks off and becomes part of the numbers of floating icebergs).

When looking at the photos, remember we were at least a mile to a half mile away from the glacier when we took these photos, making it difficult to gauge the actual size.


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As I type this, we’re still on our way out of Tracy Arm. The cold drove us inside after 8 hours in some of the truly majestic vistas one can find in Alaska.









The list:

Bald Eagle
Mew Gull
Herring Gull
Glaucous-winged Gull
Pigeon Guillemot
Marbled Murrelet
Hummingbird sp.
Northwestern Crow


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