Ice Fantasies

We’ve mentioned glaciers in previous posts, and we’ve mentioned icebergs. But I have a little confession: my picture taking finger is a bit trigger happy when it comes to bergs. I have taken over a thousand pictures of icebergs. Why? Because each one is unique, and I don’t want to pass one by that might just be “the picture” of the best berg. So, I keep snapping away, even though the pictures fail to capture the depth and beauty of my subject.

If I had to categorize icebergs, I’d probably sort them by color. But you could certainly sort them by size or shape, if sorting is your thing. The deadliest color for boaters is no color. Clear icebergs don’t show up well in the water, just as the ice in your soft drink lies submerged and reflects the color of your beverage. Even though we both kept a sharp lookout while navigating, we managed to run over a couple of clear icebergs. Thankfully, they were small ones, and we just heard them clunk-clunking down the length of our hull. We were doubly thankful that they managed to miss the propeller as they passed the stern. We have a healthy respect for icebergs when boating!

As clear as glass
So delicate!

Since the ice comes from the calving of glaciers, the ice is older than your average ice cube. This ice may be hundreds of years old. We felt privileged to harvest some to put in our sparkling water.

Chilled beverages!

As glaciers slowly move downhill, scraping along granite mountains, they can pick up sediment and dirt. Some bergs are quite dirty looking, and may even carry small boulders frozen into their mass.

Dirty berg

Some bergs are snowy white, which is how I imagined they would all be.

Snowy white
Fluffy like cotton balls

The loveliest icebergs, in my opinion, are the ones with aqua colored hues. It was explained to me that the more compressed the ice is, the less oxygen it contains, and the darker the color. The color can range from faint aqua to a dramatic deep teal. They appear to be illuminated from within, and they have an entrancing, almost magical quality. It’s a difficult characteristic to capture on film, but here are a few examples:

Scroll in to see the depths
Light from within
A floating jewel

Everything in creation can have a practical aspect, and icebergs are no exception. They provide a relatively safe place for seals to climb out of the water and birth their pups. The new pups can float on the ice while mom hunts for food. Birds regularly rest their wings and take a break while they float by berg. Even eagles take advantage of the ride as they keep a sharp eye out for fish to catch.

Seals and pups

The human mind loves to make sense of the shapes seen in nature. Much like gazing at clouds, or seeing a rock that reminds you of an elephant head, the shapes of icebergs can be endlessly entertaining. Do you see what I see?

Tipsy toadstool
You decide!

My favorite iceberg fantasy occurred when we were anchored near a glacier, surrounded by a variety of icebergs. Since Voyager looks a little like a child’s bathtub tugboat toy, it was easy to imagine that we were participants in a giant’s bubble bath, on a very large scale. Fanciful, I know. But as we return to our “real” lives, it’s good to carry home a bit of the magic in our imagination and memories.

Voyager’s bubble bath


Ford’s Terror

Great Weather

After Leaving the capital city of Juneau with full provisions, we journeyed to an area known for tidewater glaciers. Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm have the Sawyer and Dawes glaciers terminating at the head of respective fjords. We’d experienced some icebergs in Glacier Bay, but didn’t want to thread through the thirty-five miles of such densely packed chunks that we found in Endicott. Fortunately, there is a secondary fjord with an intimidating name – Ford’s Terror.

The name might come from an 1889 explorer from the ship Patterson who mistimed his transit. Poor Mr. Ford. Having got himself caught in the narrows while the current raged, he needed to wait six hours until the tide turned. Another possible origin of the name is a misspelling of fjord. It could be Fjord Terror. In any case, I was determined that it would not become Gaisford’s Terror! Like so many of our passages, timing is the key. At every turn of the tide there is five miles worth of water that attempts to empty at low tide only to then rush to fill the same five miles of fjord on the incoming high tide. This drama is very predictable and results in a benign or even boring event called slack. The water equalizes and transit is possible for Ford or the Gaisfords.

Magnificent Scenery Waits Beyond ‘the terror’

This passage has the added challenge of rocks and a sand bar all mixed in with a narrow turning course.  The route is supposed to turn right after you line up the stern with a waterfall.  The right turn part is easy – that’s where the water is and the rocks aren’t.  The ‘line up on the waterfall’ part is not so easy.  The waterfall has an upper part over here and a lower part over there…  Not quite in the terrifying category, but it was a thrill to watch the white water go flat, catch the last of the ebb current, find the channel and thread our way into the wonderland of Ford’s Terror.  And what a place this is…

Which Waterfall?

The pictures indicate sunshine. The weather was so good that we stayed three nights. We appreciate the clear skies. But before you start thinking about your lack of vitamin D and shed your shirt to soak up some rays, there is a hidden danger. The reason that the people here have white complexions might be that no one exposes even a little skin to the ‘Bombers’. These are B-29 sized flies. They even resemble a bee. It is said that after they bite, they lumber off and have a steak dinner courtesy of the divot you now have… If this weren’t bad enough, the worst is yet to come. What begins as a mild itch, soon escalates to an irresistible urge to scratch. No cortisone treatment helps until scratching has produced a bleeding mess. The resulting welt and scab are a lasting reminder – you have an enemy. So, whether you call them horse flies, bulldogs or bombers, war has been declared. Their heavy slow flight is no match for a lightning-fast blow from a fly swatter. It is not very consoling that I may have killed the fly when I wake up to that itch, but I’m ahead and counting.

He’s BIG
Ford’s Terror

Stay safe, and don’t let the name scare you. Get some sun and beware of the bugs.


A Fortuitous Change of Plans

We weren’t intending to go to Glacier Bay National Park.  When planning a long trip, a lot of effort goes into just getting there.  We had a rough idea of where we wanted to go, and some specific places were on our itinerary.  Then we ran across some friends in Sitka, and they told us that Glacier Bay is not to be missed.  After hearing their glowing descriptions, we revised our loosely held plans, and prepared to head further north.  Reservations are required, as the park service limits the number of boats coming in to 3 per day.  The permit lasts up to a week.  Usually, these reservations are made weeks ahead of time.  They reserve a few short notice spots, and we were hoping for one of these.  We applied online, and tried to stay in areas where we could receive confirmation by cell phone, but we heard nothing.  So, taking a leap of faith, we just headed toward the park.  The day before arriving, we finally made contact, and our application was approved!

We stopped at the Bartlett Bay ranger station to pick up our park map, and get the latest information on where we could and could not go in the park. There are protected waters for whales and other wildlife, and the boundaries sometimes change. Map in hand, we headed toward our first anchorage: North Sandy Cove. Thus began a journey we could not have imagined. We must have said the word, “beautiful” more times in this one week than we have in our whole lives.

The cozy cove where we anchored was empty of other boats, but full of wildlife. Whales swam in and out of the bay, and all around our boat as they went about their constant feeding. “Phhhhhf, Phhhhf” sounded day and night as they exhaled great gusts of air and spray. The sound was incredibly peaceful. People have asked if we were afraid, having them so near the boat. But they did not bother us even though they were close, and we did not seem to bother them. In the evening, they grew more playful, and we enjoyed watching their tail slaps on the water. When we moved on the next morning, it was with a sense of sadness at leaving our whale family behind.

A whale blows between Mike and Voyager

Throughout the park, we passed many otters, calmly resting on their backs in the water, some holding young pups. They would disappear if we got too close, so our pictures are from a distance. Also from a distance, we took pictures of puffins! These snazzy little birds captured our hearts. We saw bears regularly, in different spots, usually along the shoreline as they foraged for food at low tide.

Come relax with the otters!
Mama bear and cub

One rainy, cloudy day, we wanted to delay traveling to see the glaciers until visibility was better. Instead, we stopped along our way for Mike to try his hand at fishing. He had purchased a new line set up for halibut, and wanted to try it out. He caught two undersized halibut, which he threw back. He was on the verge of giving up when he hooked a big one! It was a 48-incher and it took him an hour to fight the fish to the boat. Then we looked at each other and said, “Now what do we do?” It took us a while, and we were messy, but we got the job done, and filled the freezer with delicious halibut. We have been enjoying it as much as the salmon we caught earlier in our trip.

Mr. Halibut

There was gorgeous scenery everywhere we went.  The woods were thick and lush with greenery.  Waterfalls trickled out of crevices and roared down granite walls.  Huge, snowcapped mountains jutted up all around us.  From our depth finder on the boat, we could see that the mountains began far beneath the surface of the water.  Use whatever superlative you wish, and it won’t be enough to convey the majesty and beauty we were surrounded with.  At the end of each day, we were in awe, and didn’t see how it could get any better.  But sure enough, the next day was even more amazing.  And who knew that glaciers could be so captivating?

There are several glaciers in the park, at the ends of long fjords. As we traveled through the steep walled canyons with the roar of waterfalls in our ears, we would round a bend to see the craggy fissures of a magical blue ice kingdom. It was breathtaking. Threading our way through icebergs that had entered the water when the glacier calved, we came as close as we could safely come to each glacier. At Marjerie Glacier, we decided to shut down the engine and just sit for a time. It was a great decision. We could hear the creaking and groaning as the slow glacial movement created huge pressures within the massive blocks of ice. Occasionally, we would hear what sounded like a distant gunshot – ice breaking apart. It was a thrill to watch the calving process whenever the face of the glacier let loose and slid to the water. The roar reached our ears after the fact. The resulting wave generated by the icefall could have been dangerous, had we been too close, but we had no problem. We decided to stay in a far nook of the bay overlooking Marjerie. We were the only boat, and the only humans present. It was amazing.

Ice wonderland
A little perspective… about 200 feet tall.
Live action calving.
Turn up sound

Too soon, our week drew to a close, and we headed back to the park entrance. On the way we passed whales, bears, more puffins, an otter convention, and mountain goats! Sorry, we have no pictures of the goats, but through our binocular lenses they were very handsome with their white beards. They were completely sure footed and comfortable on Gloomy Point, the craggy mountain where they were grazing. We will never forget our visit to this special place. We are so glad that our friends urged us to go, and if we get the chance to return someday, you can bet that we will.


Early morning serenity
Bonus video!
Turn up sound.

A week in Bear Country

From the time we entered Alaska, we have seen bears often. Sometimes a lone bear, sometimes a mother and cub, we enjoy watching them all. We have taken pictures each time, but they are usually so far away that the pictures just look faintly like bear shaped blobs. Along our journey we made friends with some fellow Krogen boat owners who had extra tickets to visit Pack Creek, a bear viewing area near Windfall Bay. They offered their extra tickets to us, and we gladly accepted. As it turned out, there were a total of 5 Krogens in the harbor, so we had a mini Krogen rendezvous. There’s nothing like comparing notes with fellow boat owners in beautiful surroundings.

Krogen Corner at Windfall Bay
So green, you’d think it was Hawaii

This remote area can only be reached by boat or floatplane. The park is administered by both the Forest Service and the Department of Fish and Game. Their goal is to keep the habitat completely natural for the bears, but to habituate them to seeing people in certain areas. Visitors are briefed on how to behave, where to walk, etc. Bears have the right of way here, so if a bear is on the path, it’s the people who need to give way or stay still, and the ranger will tell them which action is appropriate. One viewing area is delineated by a low barrier of fallen logs. The people stay inside, the bears stay on the outside. It’s almost as if the people are the ones in the cage, only there’s no cage. A ranger is present at all times. The other viewing area is a raised platform over a river where you can watch the bears hunt for salmon. This platform is reached by walking a one-mile trail through the forest, and a ranger is not present for this. In the park’s history, no people or bears have ever been harmed, so their plan seems to be working. We enjoyed being able to watch the bears do what bears do, and we witnessed some of their daily dramas. We would never have witnessed these things without spending time just sitting and waiting, because the bears aren’t there to perform, they are just living life. So we sat in rain. We sat in wind. We sat with bugs swarming and biting. We sat or stood with cameras and binoculars ready. And all that time was well worth it.

View from the platform

Bears are amazingly quick and agile for their size. They seem to be all muscle. They spend their time moving from place to place and eating along the way. They eat grass and berries. They catch and eat fish. They dig up clams when the tide is out, and crunch them up, shells and all. It’s amazing to see the ease with which they can turn over a heavy rock to look for crabs and bugs. These bears look cuddly and fluffy, but they are strong. We loved watching them as they ran through the creeks, splashing water everywhere, and then pounced on a salmon.

Splash splash, salmon dash

We loved watching the mothers with their cubs. I especially love when they stand on their hind legs and look around like giant groundhogs.

A bear outstanding in his field

Here is a bear mama drama that we witnessed: One bear had a cub that ran off both days we were there. This cub just ran willy-nilly into the forest without concern. The other cubs we saw tended to stay pretty close to their mothers. This cub’s mother eventually became concerned and we could see her standing up to look for him. Then she headed off to find him. We wanted to tell her, “Hey, he went the other way!” A bit later, she reappeared without the cub, still looking, and a bit agitated. She headed toward another mother with 2 cubs, and they became uncomfortable. The mother guided the cubs away from this other adult, looking over her shoulder, and obviously nervous. They passed quite close by our logs. The ranger instructed us to sit quietly and not move. He would redirect the bears, if needed. He said, “Try not to be nervous.” Ha! Watch the video below. In the video, when the bears are the closest to us, they are about 12 feet away.

Mama drama

Another behavior bears will exhibit is a bluff charge, meant to scare or intimidate. If another bear seems to be encroaching on its hunting ground, or threatening its cubs, a bear may bluff charge. Here is an example that we witnessed:

Conflict management

To say we enjoyed our two days of viewing would be an understatement. And thanks to the weather, we had more days of enjoyment. There were storms, with winds and big waves just outside our bay, so we stayed put for about 6 days. During this time, we were anchored in Windfall Bay, which is also home to many bears. It was not uncommon to look out our window and see 4 to 6 bears onshore at any given time. We could kayak closer, but not too close. We had lots of bear observation time. It was an absolutely beautiful place to spend a week with bears and with friends.

Salmon jumping, Windfall Bay
Digging clams at low tide



No trip to Alaska would be complete without seeing a whale or two.

Frederick Sound

We have always been excited to encounter these mysterious mammals. In Mexico we have had the chance to have short close encounters with young Grey Whales. That was thrilling, but here, there are opportunities to live with the Humpbacks in their environment. No, we haven’t been swimming with them, but we’ve ‘camped out’ for days at a time with them. They are alive and well. We see how they hunt by cooperatively creating a bubble net to surround small bait fish and then swim up through the corralled feed with mouths open.

Very close

I hope to see a full breach

No, I didn’t take this one. The visitor center…

I like to imagine what their underwater life is like: They are social since they travel in pods sometimes. They can communicate, but only the Lord knows what they are saying. What causes them to be seemingly rambunctious at the end of the day? They can flap their massive tail and create a wall of water. These are mammals with a semblance of family. And I wonder…

“How many are your works, LORD! In wisdom you made them all. The earth is full of your creatures. There is the sea, vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number – living things both large and small. There the ships go to and fro, and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there.” Psalm 104:24-26

Thankful for a brief visit – Awesome