Thursday, 20 May 2010

Ice, ice, baby

I left you, dear reader, as I was about to join a cruise to the glacier at Tracy Arm Fjord, and it was every bit as spectacular as I hoped it would be. We were greeted by Steve, our skipper - a true Alaskan with a laconic drawl and a dry sense of humour, who took us all the way out to Endicott Arm Fjord (Tracy Arm was still too thick with pack ice to negotiate). Along the way we passed yet more magnificent coastline, several colonies of 40-odd bald-headed eagles, and a mother bear with her two cubs, shooing them into the undergrowth as soon as we hove into sight. ("Bad tourist bear," said Steve.) We even met a rather bashful humpback whale, who barely surfaced before slipping under the waters again.

But the best wildlife spotting as at Dawes Glacier, at the far end of the fjord. As Steve picked his way through jagged blue icebergs (blue because they're freshly broken off from the glacier and lack oxygen), the seals who live on the pack ice kept poking their heads above the water, checking us out; after we stopped to take in the glacier, and the silence, and the sharp, chill air, they came even closer, wondering what the hell we were doing there!

Cute as they were, though, it was the glacier that really commanded attention: so far from human activity it was clean, mountainous shards of blue and white ice stretching hundreds of feet deep, cracking and groaning with hidden movement. We saw several icebergs calf too, with a thunderous rumble and a crack like gunfire, falling into the water with a force that made our boat rock several hundred feet away.

We were the only people for miles around, and our small boat was dwarfed by the spectacle, which is just as it should be, and the day wasn't over yet - on the way home, we motored down Ford's Terror (an arm of the fjord, so named because the (white) man who discovered it was caught in the currents at the entrance and thought he was a goner). Steep granite mountains rose to either side; snow melt fed wonderful waterfalls, and then, right at the end of the arm, we stopped to appreciate water so still and dark and deep it was like glass - I have never seen such clear, sharp reflections; it was the kind of beauty that makes your heart swell.

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