The first morning I awoke on my Alaskan Uncruise, I peeked out my window to find glorious sunny skies. Reflections bounced off the calm water of Glacier Bay and the snow-capped mountains of the Fairweather Range. The SS Legacy sat somewhere in the middle of Glacier Bay National Park surrounded by truly breathtaking landscape. This was a wilderness image I’d dreamed about: bright white snow-covered mountains, a cloudless blue sky and shimmering water. To top it off, near miraculously weather conditions proved incredibly mild and warm, a real bonus especially for a Floridian.
Glacier Bay National Park extends some 65 miles from Icy Strait to the northern tip of Tarr Inlet. The famous site includes 11 tidewater glaciers that look like frozen rivers. Many more small landlocked glaciers lie on the interior, but most are hidden from view. We passengers would see our first glaciers from the boat in the afternoon.
My partner, John, was happy to find an espresso machine in the lounge available 24/7. Early risers can grab coffee, juice, yogurt parfaits, bread and fruit after 6 am. Many congregate in the glass surrounded area enjoying the view. Breakfast, a plated meal served in the lower level dining room, begins at 7:30. The kitchen offers two main choices – one an egg dish and the other a carbohydrate option. This day I chose blueberry pancakes. Guests may always order eggs and breakfast meats any way they desire.
FYI: The bacon is yummy: thick and not very fatty. I believe it’s roasted to the well-done stage in the oven. Secret Tip: If you’d like to order a BLT for lunch, you must place the order at breakfast to ensure bacon is available.
After breakfast and announcements by the Expedition Director, the entire group went up to the top deck. We received a lesson on safety and the logistical points of getting in and out of a kayak and skiff boat (sometimes called Zodiacs). The SS Legacy pulls the Sea Dragon behind the ship. This clever device allows kayakers to get in and out of their boats from a stable platform, and then be launched into the open water.
John and I signed up for the river hike, which was to include a skiff ride to the shore, followed by a muddy walk. However, as we approached the beach-landing site, a brown bear was foraging at the shoreline for mussels. Another welcome surprise, but we certainly couldn’t land there!
Everyone tried to photograph the distant critter from the moving boat, but my picture is not quite sharp. Still, it’s good enough to recall an unexpected Alaska moment, now a fond memory. Our skiff group ended up beachcombing followed by a guided bit of bushwhacking through the forest. We found a moose antler and returned to the Legacy in time for lunch.
Another group of passengers signed up for a more steep and strenuous hike to see mountain goats. They managed to find one near the end of their long trek.
Still others chose to kayak on the calm water in the bay, making a nice photo op for me. John and I once endured a dreadful night kayaking experience through mangroves in Puerto Rico and decided kayaking wasn’t our thing.
Jamie, a National Park Ranger, came aboard the Legacy early in the day to answer our questions. She’s an expert on all things Alaska. In the afternoon, she hung around the ship’s bow as we sailed toward the northern end of Glacier Bay to see Margarie Glacier. We seemed to approach for a long time, and I found the size and height of the glacier very deceiving. Without a frame of reference, it was difficult to estimate. Jamie told us the glacier was about a mile wide with glacial columns towering over 200 feet high. The base continues down about 100 feet below sea level.
Margerie Glacier remains an icy highlight for many who visit Glacier Bay National Park. It’s a primary destination for visitors on sailboats, kayaks, tour boats, and cruise ships, but at this time of year (end of April) we were the only ship in sight. How nice!
According to the National Park website: The glacier begins in snowfields in the Fairweather Range where elevations exceed 9000 feet. The ice flows about 2000 feet per year or about 6 feet per day.
Today, Margarie lies near neighboring Grand Pacific Glacier but appears very different in shape and color. Grand Pacific is covered in rock debris. Margarie was once a tributary to Grand Pacific, but it receded over time. Back in the 1700s, Grand Pacific Glacier filled the entire bay and reached all the way to the Icy Strait. (Hard to imagine.)
The Legacy got as close to the glaciers as was safe and we marveled as giant icebergs broke off at random and created big waves. In Alaska, you can literally feel nature.
After dinner Ranger Jamie presented a slideshow about her research. I confess I was still tired from travel and the Aurora Borealis wake-up call, so went to bed shortly after the evening meal.
Story and photos courtesy of Debi Lander.