An upclose look at Dawes Glacier in southeast Alaska

Getting close but not too close to the Dawes Glacier


We’re about a half mile from the Dawes Glacier in what is called Endicott Arm in Southeast Alaska watching the glacier calve from a skiff driven by the InnerSea Discoveries Wilderness Explorer Captain Dano Quinn.

I understand why the Native Tlingits called glaciers “white thunder.” We see harbor seals lounging on chunks of blue ice in the water. The glacier looks like blue cotton candy with chocolate sprinkles. In reality, it is more than 360 feet high and at least as much below the surface, Capt Dano tells us. The glacier looks blue, of course, because the ice is so dense that it absorbs all of the rays of light except the blue, which reflects back to our eyes.

We see a hanging glacier that doesn’t come all the way to the water line and a huge waterfall coming down the rocks. John Muir, who visited here, called this a “Wild Unfinished Yosemite,” and the high rock face certainly is reminiscent of that.

This fjord is 34 miles long and seven miles from the face of the glacier to the Stickeen Ice field from which these glaciers flow. Fantastic!

Harbor seals lazing on the ices floes below Dawes Glacier

There is a newborn seal pup and its mom on one chunk of ice; an eagle overhead. We spot a mountain goat with its kid near one of the water falls. Some of the cliffs are 1000 feet high. Yes it is true that Glacier Bay is more famous—probably because that’s where all the big cruise ships go. But this place is spectacular, and intimate.

It is our last day on board the Wilderness Explorer. Carol Harrison, here with her 12-year-old grandson, son and daughter in-law, says this adventure—her first big trip since she was widowed—and it has encouraged her to travel more with her grandchildren. “It’s been fun to see Miller enjoy everything so much and for three generations to travel together… I want to go places to see it with them… This trip has made me realize I need to get my passport renewed,” she said.

“I would definitely want to come back to Alaska,” said 12-year-old Miller Sinyard.. Which is what his grandmother wanted to hear.

Some wished for more variety of food. Others wanted a better system of signing up for activities so that it would be easier for guests to do what they wanted each day. One woman wished for nicer quilts in the tiny cabins. But those are all easy fixes for a company that has just taken over these ships last season.

I wouldn’t have thought this trip would have been easy for someone with special challenges but Kirsty Digger said she was able to see a lot of Alaska from this vantage point especially in the kayaks and skiffs that loaded right from the boat. “I didn’t think I would be able to see as much of Alaska on a big ship,” she explained.

Neither would the rest of us.

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