Hundreds of years of snow flakes piled one upon the other, the pressure leading to compaction and melting and refreezing into ice caused the formation of glaciers. And the slow move of these glaciers led to erosion and the formation of U shaped valleys – a hallmark of glaciation activity. These valleys are very different from the V-shaped valleys carved out by flowing rivers. Somehow I had always imagined glaciers as rivers of snow, but when we did see them up close their jagged turquoise blue peaks blew me away! The first glacier we encountered was the Sawyer glacier in the Tracy arm:
The incredible turquoise at the core and the jagged peaks and fissures were a revelation. The ice shelf in front of the Sawyer glacier is the breeding ground for seals and we hung around for a while watching them flop about like slugs. It is amazing how graceful seals are in water and how gauche on solid surface.
Next stop was Juneau and we took a short trip to see the Mendelhall glacier:
Underwhelming, but part of the approach was cordoned off as migratory birds were nesting in the sand, so we spent some time looking at these – sadly no pocket guide for birds of Alaska, and no signs were posted. There is a nice walk, with several streams, that becomes an interesting nature+wild-life walk when the salmon are running, but we were 3 weeks off.
Instead we took a bus into the beginning of Yukon territory (where the Northern Gold rush began) and then took a train back to Juneau. Spectacular scenery along the way and the train was quaint and ancient with old-style bathrooms and a real wood stove to warm the coaches!
Next we cruised into Glacier Bay National Park and first saw the once majestic but now receding Grand Pacific glacier. All that was really visible was the moraine in front as the ice recedes further and further back. The park authorities told us that this glacier was once a tidal front one and has receded over a mile since the time John Muir visited it (in 1890 or thereabouts!).
As a glacier travels across the mountains it pulverizes rocks into fine particles and carries this powdered granite along with it, when the ice recedes it leaves this debris as a moraine.
We then swung around and encountered a real tide-water glacier – the Marjerie glacier.
The small pieces of ice all around us told us that parts of the Marjerie were unstable and prone to calving. The face of the Marjerie extends 2 miles or so and the crags are over 250 feet high! When the base of the glacier peaks get undercut by water the top becomes unstable and can come crashing down. This causes icebergs to form in the water and the crash itself is a spectacular event that the Tlingit people call “White Thunder”!! Depending on the size of the calved piece a tsunami like wave can arise. As we were being told all this we heard the boom and a big chunk of the Marjerie came crashing down!
As the wave from the Marjerie cause our ship to roll we stood humbled, the boom of white thunder still echoing in our ears. The ship slowly did an about turn and steered out of Glacier Bay after having brought us so close to the awesome majesty of nature.
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