On the schedule for this day was the Tracy Arm Fjord. This was the only cruise that Karen saw when she was researching that took this side trip, so we were very anxious as to what we were going to see this day.
The day started out early. Sunrise here was earlier that we were used to in Texas, and the time was 3 hours behind, so when we woke up around 7am Texas time, it was really 4am Alaska time. And having a balcony with the curtains open meant that as soon as the sun began to rise, we were up as well. But it did mean that we got to witness this sunrise!
And as we were watching the sun rise over the horizon, we noticed something in the water, right off our balcony. Did you see it in the middle of the photo? Let’s take another photo and zoom in!
Yep, that’s the dorsal fin of a humpback whale swimming along side our ship. We learned that this is the time of year that they are migrating from Hawaii back to Alaska. They go to Hawaii to mate and give birth and then return to Alaska to eat and bulk up in order to start the cycle over. As one guide put it, Alaska is their kitchen and Hawaii is their bedroom. The whale was along side us for a short while, enough to get a few more shots before it slipped back into the darkness of the water.
As we continued to the fjord the mountains began to rise higher and higher against us. They were truly magnificent and humbling, realizing that even on this very large ship, we are tiny in nature.
This part of the world gets a lot of rain. We were fortunate that for the most part it was simply overcast and we got very little actual rain the entire trip.
The clouds however created for very dramatic skies. The on-board biologist explained to us that the fjords were created as the glaciers pushed their way across the land, carving out these “U” shaped valleys. “V” shaped valleys were caused by rushing water, such as the Grand Canyon. One way to tell just how deep the glacier ice was is to look at the mountain peaks. If they are rounded, they were likely covered and smoothed by the glacier. If they are jagged the ice did not cover them. But looking at the height of the mountains it is staggering to think of that much ice being that deep!
The mountains are so tall that they create their own weather patterns. You can judge, by looking at the very large trees in the foreground, just how immense the mountains are. Considering it is several miles from the shoreline to the top of the mountain…well, you can just let your mind run wild trying to calculate that distance. Another shot for scale. Here you can see a five story lighthouse in the foreground, dwarfed by the landscape!
As we arrived at the entrance of the Tracy Arm Fjord, our ship met with the “pilot” who would be responsible for directing the ship through the narrow passage. We were informed that because of the ice flows, we would not be allowed into the Tracy Arm today, but not to worry, there is another fjord that we would be able to explore. While somewhat disappointing, we were happy we would not miss out altogether. We make our way through passages which at first glance don’t look like a place you would take a 44 ton cruise ship.
And then we notice that we are not alone. The humpbacks are in the area as well. They like the fjords because the narrow passages makes it easier for them to scoop up food. The narrower the fjord, the more dense the food they like to eat. It makes their hunting much easier. And when you are trying to gain weight, you want as little exertion as possible.
Another interesting fact about the humpback whales is that the patterns on their tail are as unique to each whale as a human’s fingerprint. Photos like this one are used to track the whales between Alaska and Hawaii on their migration tour.
As we get closer, you can see where, what I would have previously considered a glacier, was sliding down the side of the mountain. After what I will be seeing soon, that’s just a bunch of snow and ice.
As we approach the entrance to the fjord (Endicott Arm according to Google), we begin to see icebergs floating in the water. Two things to notice about the icebergs. First is that their dark blue color comes from the fact that they are so dense the longer red light waves are unable to be reflected from the ice, leaving only the shorter blue light waves. And second, only ten percent of the iceberg is visible. Meaning that 90% of the ice is obscured beneath the water. Remember the Titanic? We proceed slowly…
Some people have paid for an off-ship excursion to get an up-close look at the glacier. I give you this photo of their boat as a reference for later. Notice the size as it pulls along side of our ship. It is a three story boat. Not small by any means.
As we enter the fjord, another amazing sight is all of the little waterfalls running down the walls of the valley. Pure mountain water, direct from the source. I bet is is refreshing!
Turn about is fair play. Karen catches me in her lens. Yes, it was much colder here, especially as the wind was whipping down through the fjord from the glacial ice ahead. On a side note, I did not pack gloves because I was expecting temps in the 50s. Luckily I found a very nice pair of ladies leather gloves that fit me perfectly in the ship’s store. I’m not proud. They were warm.
More icebergs. We are getting closer. We traveled about 33 files from the opening of the fjord to the glacier.
Excitement is building on the ship as everyone rushes to the bow of the ship. We tried to get there but it was just too crowded. But we were already told that the captain would be turning the ship so that everyone would be able to see the glacier, so we stayed put on the top deck.
And finally, the glacier! This one is named “Dawes Glacier” and now you see the difference from what I previously referred to as a glacier. But from this distance, it doesn’t look all that big. Just wait.
But first, what is this off the starboard side? Riding along on an iceberg is a group of seals! Harbor Seals I believe.
They remain on the ice as we get closer, until finally one by one they begin to slip off into the water.
Until finally, there was only one left. It really looked like it didn’t want to get into the water and would rather we just went away.
But finally, it did slip into the water along with the others, and we turned our attention to the massive glacier. Now, remember the photo of the excursion vessel from before? It is a three story ship. Not a small ship. You can notice it up close to the glacier in the lower left of this photo! There are actually two ships there now. That little dark spot is a ship!
Glaciers are not static objects, but rather moving rivers of ice. As the ice reaches the termination point, which is here, the ice begins to break off, or calve, which is what creates all the icebergs in the water. When this happens there is a large splash. We were lucky enough to capture this happening here. Remember, that splash is also several stories high! Nothing is small here.
Here is another shot of the excursion boats close to the glacier. For showing scale we zoomed in a bit more. And what looks like tire tracks on the top of the glacier is actually ground up parts of the mountain which is being carried away by the ice. By doing this the glacier turns rock into dirt which will then be deposited in a place where later life will spring forth. The design of nature is truly spectacular!
Some people however decided to bypass the cold and observer nature in comfort inside the ship. This gentleman was watching from indoors on the lido deck. Yes, we were eating again. 🙂
What a day! After spending a couple of hours here, it was time for the ship to leave the fjord and head for tomorrow’s destination, Juneau and the Mendenhall Glacier! But, as Carnival likes to do, this was waiting for us back in our stateroom. Just how many different ways can you fold a towel?
No sunset tonight as we were between the mountains of the valley. So that’s it for today. I’ll be back in a few days with part four! Still have lots of photos to sort through!
All words and photos copyright 2017 MHampton Photography
Equipment used: Canon 5DS-R, Canon 7DmII, Canon T6S, and various Canon lenses