Lower Glacier Bay with Sitakaday Narrows on the right. Five hundred years ago the only flowing water in this scene would have been rivers crossing a giant outwash plain. The Tlingit inhabitants lived along this outwash plain, fished the streams and had strong ties with the land that are a vital part of modern Tlingit views of homeland, tradition and culture. The glacier eventually surged forward and filled this entire view with ice, driving the Tlingit into nearby areas in Icy Strait.
Backpackers count their blessings at a camp between the Fairweather Mountains and the Gulf of Alaska. Among them are true wilderness solitude (no signs of people here, 40 miles from the nearest trail), abundant firewood (some deposited by the largest wave ever recorded) and splendid weather and views!
The wildest parts of Glacier Bay National Park can be reached only on foot with a pack on the back. Carrying food, shelter, and everything else needed for a week or more is always hard work but the wide-open beaches that grace some parts of the park are about as easy as backpacking gets beyond the ten miles of maintained hiking trails.
We left Bartlett Cove at 4:30am hoping for calm seas on the outgoing tide. And wow...was it calm! As we crossed the mouth of Glacier Bay the sun rose above the mountains behind us and shone on our kayaks like a spot light. We rode the glassy seas with whales and sea lions to Point Carolus and by afternoon we were in the Inian Islands.
Lituya Bay is mythical in reputation and deservedly so. The name comes from the Tlingit Ltu.aa, or ìlake inside the pointî. In the foreground is Cenotaph Island. In 1796 LaPerouse and his men stayed in Lituya Bay for three weeks and called it Port des Francois.
In the background on the left is the slope where an earthquake caused a massive landslide in 1958. When the landslide hit the water it generated a giant wave (~1,720 ft high) that washed over the ridge, scoured the vegetation above the shore, washed over parts of Cenotaph Island and swept two boats out to sea.
In 1928 the U.S. Navy flew a survey plane throughout Southeast Alaska taking aerial photos. Those photos show that most of the bay shown in the middle of this image didn't exist back then ñ it was beneath the ice terminus of the Hugh Miller Glacier, which has now retreated back around the corner to the left.
The glaciers in Glacier Bay are often shrouded in mist, if not completely occluded from view. When rain falls at sea level, snow falls at the upper elevations. The snow compresses into ice and eventually, that ice begins to flow to the sea. On this evening, Margerie Glacier was mostly covered beneath a blanket of fog. For a few minutes, the fog lifted and the glacier was revealed, only to be covered up again a few minutes later.
Lesser Sandhill Cranes resume their journey after a stopover at the Dude Creek Critical Habitat Area, established for them adjacent to Glacier Bay National Park. This flock circles to gain elevation after taking off one auspicious September morning. These cranes are part of a population that migrates from nesting grounds around Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet to winter habitat in central California via the outer coast of Glacier Bay National Park. Their distinctive clattering calls herald the arrival of spring and fall along their route.
The green hills of earth...OK, they're brown, red brown. It's fall and blue skies have emerged after another wet day. These hills are covered with a low growing pioneer plant called dryas, and when dryas fruits are wet their white feathery part becomes translucent and the overall color of the fruit head becomes brown, red brown. When it dries out on those rare fall days (hours) after the sun comes out, these hills in Muir Inlet go gray.
One of the most well-known forms of Tlingit art is the totem pole. This is a close up shot of a pole in Saxman Totem Park in Ketchikan. Tlingit artwork typically used common shapes like U forms, S forms and ovoids to form uncommon and complex designs. Totem poles were usually made of red cedar.
This is the Clan House at Saxman Totem Park. Structures like this are central to the Tlingit culture of Southeast Alaska. The stories behind these artistic structures are the closely guarded property of the Tlingit. To learn more about them, respectfully ask a Tlingit ñ they are usually happy to share their unique and interesting culture.
This aerial view shows the heart of what is locally referred to as the 'west arm' of Glacier Bay ñ that is, the portion of the Bay north of an imaginary line drawn between Geikie Inlet entrance and Tlingit Point (neither of which is visible in this photo). The west arm includes the labyrinth of the Hugh Miller archipelago in the foreground and the steep-walled fjords of Queen, Rendu and Tarr Inlets (right to left) in the distance. All of the areas where ocean is visible in this photo were under ice just 150 years ago.
While it might appear that there is nothing to eat in this rocky landscape, this brown bear mother and her two cubs are near both the rich intertidal zone as well as a meadow perched upon a ledge. I took this shot from my kayak as the bears crossed a relatively barren section of bedrock between the two feeding areas in Queen Inlet.
This is a carving on a tree in Bartlett Cove. The Tlingit have many clans but all clans belong to either the eagle (as in this photo) or the raven group. Each group has rich oral histories and traditions that date back from before the last glaciation of Glacier Bay.
Savvy Southeast Alaska campers tote a tarp. Even ounce-counting backpackers find them worth their weight in this soggy climate; some even substitute them for a tent. Other essentials for this weather include rubber boots, dependable rain gear, and a leak-free tent. A rain hat is a major bonus.
This brown bear and her cub must have been quite successful at this stream in Tidal Inlet, as I saw them fishing there several days in a row. In addition to this pair, I saw five or six other brown bears fishing in the same stream. When there is a surplus of food, such as during a salmon run, bears can be quite tolerant of other nearby bears. With so much food to go around, there is no need to waste precious energy fighting over it.
Change is Glacier Bayís middle name, and the upper parts of the bay are places where the landscape has changed dramatically during our own lifetimes. When my friend, Rusty, kayaked these waters in the 1970s they were thick with icebergs and seals. Muir Glacier is now 'grounded', meaning it no longer extends into the ocean. The land that was recently covered with ice now grows the early pioneer plants shown at my feet ñ dryas and alder. Once established, alder grows fast, putting on 2 - 3 feet per year. In another ten or fifteen years the view from my resting place will be a very short one and getting there will be a slog through a dense thicket of intertwining shrubs.
Great blue herons are an incredibly adaptable bird found in many types of habitats. This one is hunting along the ocean's edge, wading through rockweed. For this shot, I slowly approached in my kayak. I took around 100 shots from various distances with a long lens, always being careful to not approach too closely. After spending about 20 minutes with this graceful creature, I paddled on, leaving the bird to continue the hunt.
Every spring and fall, a magical and ancient sound falls from the skies of Glacier Bay. Sandhill cranes stop over in Glacier Bay as they migrate up and down along the western edge of North America. This shot was taken near the Brady Glacier (seen along the very bottom edge of the image) with the Fairweather Mountains glowing in the morning light.
This Lincoln's Sparrow was foraging among grasses along the high tide line on an island near the mouth of Glacier Bay. These small sparrows migrate from as far south as Honduras to breed in northern forests, although some winter along the Pacific Coast as far north as British Columbia. Lincoln's Sparrows breed in Glacier Bay. They prefer wet, brushy habitat where they build a cup nest, usually on the ground. This photo was taken in October, so this bird was likely on its way south.
Sea otters are meticulous about keeping their fur clean, and they need to be. It is that thick, rich fur that insulates them from the cool waters of Glacier Bay. The sea otter population in Glacier Bay has spiked over the past decade as these marine mammals seek out clams, crabs, urchins and other creatures that dwell along the bottom of the sea.
No, that's not a rock that the bear is standing on ñ itís the remains of a dead humpback whale calf. When the whale was tragically struck and killed by a vessel, it provided much-needed calories in the late fall when calories can be hard to come by for bears. In the hour or so that I watched this black bear and her three cubs, I saw an additional seven bears feeding there.
An aerial shot of one of many unnamed peaks in Glacier Bay. Early morning in March shows Glacier Bay covered under a blanket of snow. Many of these peaks have never felt the footfalls of humans.
As glaciers retreat they leave behind a ribbon of rock of all sizes. Here, water pours down through the rocks and cascades in countless terraces. To get this shot I set up the tripod and let the flowing water paint the picture. I decided to make it black and white, as the true beauty of the image is not in its color, but in the flowing water against the contrast of the rock.
Calypso orchids are as fragile as they are beautiful. The conditions required for them to bloom are quite specific and the windows of time when they are in bloom are brief. I was lucky to find this one amongst a few others along the outer coast.
The Fairweather Range is one of the tallest mountain ranges on the planet, and arguably the tallest coast range. Within only a few short miles of the Pacific Ocean, Mt. Fairweather rises nearly three miles vertically. This peak, which is most likely Lituya Mountain (11,924 ft), is Mt. Fairweather's neighbor to the south. The range is so massive that it can create its own weather. Here, in the late evening, a lenticular cloud forms at the summit, warning of high winds aloft.
All of the climbing in backcountry Glacier Bay is trail-less, which often means thrashing through alder shrubs, then low thorny salmonberry shrubs and finally out into the open. On this day, it was such a relief to get onto the snow. Lower down we'd been covered with mosquitoes and sweating hard. I was jubilant to be here on a sunny day looking down at Geikie Inlet with the sediments of the Geikie River settling into their new ocean home. This scene is looking northeast down Geikie Inlet, across distant Tlingit Point to Mt. Wright in the clouds. The highest peak on the right is Tlingit Peak.
Kayakers plan their route up-bay on a rare sunny AND calm day in lower Glacier Bay. The prudent paddler knows conditions can change suddenly and dramatically with wind and currents. Until then, blissful stillness carries sounds of marine mammals breathing all around. Gliding across the reflected sky invites quiet contemplation as beauty suffuses its seekers.
Bald eagles are ubiquitous in Glacier Bay. You see them in trees, on icebergs and, of course, in flight. And although eagles are known for plucking fish out of the water, to actually see this behavior is not very common. To get a good photo of it is even more difficult. This shot was taken from a small boat near the park's southern border. If you look closely you can see droplets of blood amongst the water droplets falling from the bird. The fish is not a salmon, but a large herring, distinguishable from the forked tail.
These impressive car-sized erratics were bare just weeks before but long, sunny Alaskan summer days induce incredibly productive algae blooms, the staff of life in marine waters.
Algae covered glacial erratics on the outer coast. These car-sized masterpieces, scoured by ice, rounded by the ocean and finally softened by a veneer of sun-baked algae were mesmerizing.
When John Muir visited Glacier Bay in the latter part of the 19th century, he discovered one of these orchids and fell to his knees and wept, overcome by the sheer beauty of the plant. There is some doubt about the taxonomy of this plant, but it is commonly referred to as mountain lady slipper. Unlike the calypso orchid, it seems to be found only in the Glacier Bay drainage, and it is especially abundant on the limestones of the middle-west side.
Sea caves and sea arches ñ it's all about the rock. Hard granitic rock weathers uniformly, making sea arches and sea caves rare. But layered metamorphic rocks, now there's potential for arches and caves. The layers have different degrees of hardness and shear. Sea water pounds and eats away the softer areas. Occasionally the rock type, the coastline configuration and persistent sea conditions combine to produce a fantastic cave or arch. But sea arches don't usually last long ñ the same erosion processes that creates them also tears them down.
Two nanny mountain goats and their kids navigate the steep slopes of Gloomy Knob. Goats are frequently seen by cruise ship passengers as the ships head up the bay. The white goats are relatively easy to spot against the dark rock or green vegetation, even from long distances. The goats can be seen at lower elevations early in the summer, and then higher up as the season progresses.
I like to tell folks, "Most people spend most of their time in the Beardslee Islands, lost.î But this is not as true as it used to be, thanks to better maps and GPS units. Still, from the low vantage point of a sea kayak the constantly changing high tide / low tide shoreline gets pretty confusing. One of my friends got within a 15 minute paddle of Bartlett Cove but couldn't find the narrow passageway that serves as a shortcut between the two areas. He ended up paddling three hours the long way around to arrive in Bartlett Cove in the dark (and very tired!) Still, he returned to explore the Beardslees again just a few weeks later. It is a mythical landscape - pick an island and you'll probably have it all to yourself, watch the seals swim by, hang with the oystercatchers, wait for an orca on the hunt or search the tide pools for a octopus. It's all there...
South Marble Island is one of the parkís premier spots for viewing wildlife. Black-legged kittiwakes, glaucous-winged gulls and tufted puffins nest here under the watchful gaze of hungry bald eagles. Cormorants congregate between dives and Steller sea lions haul out on the rocky shoreline.
Silt! Glacial flour! Walking along glacier outwash streams your boots often become covered with a sticky layer of gray mud. Where glacial streams run fast they carry a load of silt so dense you can't see your hand just an inch below the surface. When the stream shown here reaches the ocean, the silty water mixes with seawater and is pushed by the incoming tide farther into Wachusett Inlet. When the tide goes out, the swirling mix is drawn in the reverse direction and flows out into Muir Inlet.
Carroll Glacier's many medial moraines squiggle towards the sea. If you follow a medial moraine up-glacier you eventually find the two valley glaciers that came together to form it. There must be a lot of valleys up there somewhere. Time to strap on the crampons and go for a hike...
People climb these mountains, but not very often. The mountains' proximity to the ocean makes for wet, cloudy, snowy conditions that change rapidly. Climbers talk of intense beauty, frostbite and hunger. Me, I'm happy with the photo and a warm cup of tea after a delightful overflight.
Desolation Valley ñ this is the active seam between North America and the Pacific crustal tectonic plates. Earthquakes are frequent and when you camp there you may well be woken in the night to the sound of falling rock. Below us is North Crillon Glacier covered in red and gray rock. The ice that carried the rock from the high mountains is barely visible. The view northwest along Desolation Valley crosses the head of Lituya Bay (at sea level) and the striped terminus of Lituya Glacier. Mt. Fairweather is the highest point on the right at 15,320 feet above sea level. From Lituya Bay to the summit of Mt. Fairweather is 16 miles as the raven flies.
In the trackless wilds of Glacier Bay, every serious hiker eventually tangles with an equally serious alder thicket. Cyanobacteria inhabit nodules they create in the roots of Sitka alder. They remove nitrogen from the air and ìfixî it in a form usable by plants, a great advantage where topsoil has been scraped away by glaciers. Dense stands of the tangled shrub often spring up within 25 years after the glaciers retreat and now dominate large parts of upper Glacier Bay. Eventually Sitka spruces take root in alder-fertilized soil and shade out their short deciduous benefactors, replacing that hikerís bane with other vegetative obstacles such as devilís club.
Glacier Bay is a land of superlatives and extremes. The Arctic Tern fits in well here. Perhaps no bird migrates further. These graceful and efficient fliers migrate all the way from Antarctica to their Arctic breeding grounds, a 24,000 mile roundtrip. They nest here and are often seen flying about with fish in their bills as they return to nests or seek mates. This one is working the tide line and is reflected in the calm and protected waters of Queen Inlet.
Every August, there are places in Glacier Bay that are aflame with the bright pink color of giant fireweed. The plants grow several feet high, stretching up to better disperse their seeds, which are carried great distances on the wind. Giant fireweed is typical of uplift meadows, subalpine meadows, and meadows on limestone (shown here). As the glaciers retreat, plants like giant fireweed move in as part of the ëplant successioní process.
In most places where oystercatchers nest in Glacier Bay, their chicks will hatch in early June. This chick, however, was hatched in August because its parents chose to nest very near the face of Johns Hopkins Glacier. At those upper reaches of the bay, everything starts late and ends early and ìsummerî might only last for a few weeks. I took this shot while I was camped near the face of the glacier. I was focusing on the chick as it walked underneath the arch created by its parentsí sword-like orange beaks.
Johns Hopkins Glacier
The U.S. Coast Guard recommends that all vessels remain one quarter mile off the face of tidewater glaciers. Even for kayaks, this photo shows why such a recommendation is wise. As ice calves from the 250 foot high face of Johns Hopkins Glacier it lands with a splash, creating turbulent swells that are best avoided until they dampen out a bit. In addition to the swells, rock-hard chunks of ice as small as baseballs or as large as small homes are hurled at you. At these moments, one quarter mile seems just about right!
Even from a respectful quarter mile, the 150 foot high face of Lamplugh Glacier looms impressively above sea level. Ice in this glacier flows seaward at two to three feet per day, all of which calves into the ocean, leaving the terminus more or less stable, for now.
One of the most photographed sites in my hometown of Gustavus, Alaska is our old-time gas station. While the 1950s era gas pumps are fully functional, they are connected to a modern credit card processing machine. In fact, Gustavus boasts that these pumps were the first in the state to have such a system. Prior to the machineís installation, the pumps were only open for limited hours every Tuesday and Saturday.
Most of the year this alpine lake is frozen over and covered with snow. But it was summer and we had sweated our way up, bushwhacking through thick shrubs on steep slopes. Then, surprise! Out in the open and what a welcome sightÖtime for a swim!
I don't like heights much. And mostly we don't have to deal with them. The mountains here are so huge we rarely get to the exposed steep stuff. But here we found ourselves out a a limb, so to speak. The tent is in the low spot on the other side of the lake, a tiny dot of lime green. The route around the lake looked doable. ìBut there is that one steep looking area...î Yup, it is steep.... Go slow I told myself...
The evening sun would soon fall beneath the horizon out to sea, but first it dipped below the mountains in the foreground, casting dramatic contrasting shadows. This effect only lasted for a few precious minutes. I took this shot while camped high up in the alpine at a secluded lake near the Brady Glacier.
After a long hot day of uphill we collapsed on this island, each of us to his own little idyllic corner. Suddenly I heard a shout, ìBear! Cominí at you!î We scrambled to our feet and sure enough a black bear topped a little hummock, running from the direction of the shout. It was looking a little stressed as it found itself in the center of a triangle of shouting humans. But we quieted down and quickly got the bear spray ready. It sauntered past me with a good 15 feet to spare, went into the shrubs on the hillside and started eating blueberries. Sean came down and said, ìI was asleep, dreaming, and woke up with the bearís face a foot above me!î Yikes! ìWhat'd you do?î ìJumped up and started yelling!î When we tell this story to our Alaskan friends they inevitably bring up the story about their friendís friend who woke up with a bear licking their face. They jumped up, too, and survived. Seems to be the standard, involuntary reaction...
What was it John Muir said, paraphrased something like, ìI found that going out was really going inî? Glacier Bay National Park offers millions of acres of opportunities for us to go out, and go in. We return from our adventures with spirits renewed, hope alive.
The Brady Glacier
Ice, land. The transition. On a glacier hike there is this moment when your normal world changes. All your life you live on land, maybe sometimes in a boat. But most of us spend our lives with our feet on terra firma. When you step on glacier ice you know right away it is different. No tree roots here, baby. And every sunny day the icy surface you walk on sublimates, evaporates and simply slips away beneath your feet.
You might not expect to find an eagle on an iceberg, but in Glacier Bay it is not all that uncommon. From this higher vantage point the eagle is better able to spot potential prey, and is provided with an elevated platform from which to take flight.
Two days of backpacking reward these hikers with a dramatic view of an iceberg-studded lake fringing the massive Brady Glacier. Lakes like this are created when a glacier dams a drainage channel. Water rises until it finds a way under or around the glacier or takes another outlet. When the water in this lake reached the visible 'bathtub ring' it flowed over a lip and out a valley in the left foreground of the photo. Since then, glacial movement opened a channel under the ice, partially draining the lake and releasing a torrent of water downstream along the glacial margin.
This is it, the end of Glacier Bay ñ as far as you can go and still sit in a kayak and find ice calving into the ocean. On my first trip in Johns Hopkins Inlet we camped on a tiny flat spot near the mouth of the inlet. Throughout the restless night I couldn't figure out how we could be in a thunderstorm and not have any lightning or rain. The inlet is three miles long, and by the time the booming of the ice calving reverberated down the fjord walls to where I lay in my tent, the 'booms' sounded just like distant thunder. The next day reality dawned with the morning.
Harbor seals haul out on icebergs in great numbers in Glacier Bay. However, in recent years the harbor seal population in Glacier Bay has declined precipitously. Researchers studying the decline are investigating possible reasons such as changes in habitat, human disturbance, disease, emigration and increased predation from killer whales, Steller sea lions or perhaps sharks. This seal looked up briefly from its resting position and I took the shot. The water was so calm that the seal and the iceberg were reflected below.
ìAren't you afraid you will fall through the ice???î ìCrevasses happen,î I reply. But we are careful. Most glacial ice is solid, rock solid, and I feel very safe on flat ice surfaces. It is moraines that scare me most. On active glaciers medial moraines are a mix of ice and rock. Usually a lot more ice than rock. Rocks on steep sloped medial moraines, like the one shown in this photo, are loose. Loose loose loose. And many are big and loose, which means the moraine rocks you are climbing up are often sitting on wet, slippery ice, and they tumble with ease.
Moose are relatively new residents in Glacier Bay, arriving in the 1960s. Two hundred years ago, most of Glacier Bay was under ice. As that ice retreated, new land was exposed and plants became established. One of those plants was willow, which is one of the mooseís most preferred foods. Moving in from the Haines area, moose made their way to Glacier Bay via a pass called Endicott Gap which connects through to Adams Inlet on the east side of Glacier Bay. This moose is eating the last stubs of willow that remain above the snow level.
The sunrise in Glacier Bay on winter solstice occurs around nine o'clock. As a photographer, getting to sleep in and still catch the warm, morning light is a nice consolation for dealing with sub-zero temperatures. In this sunrise we see a warm pink sunrise on the Fairweather Mountains reflected in Bartlett Cove near the park headquarters.
Lituya Mountain, Mt. Crillon, Mt. Bertha and Mt. Fairweather
Eye to eye with a sea lion...
One summer, this black bear cub was one of a litter of three that were seen often with their mother along the road leading into park headquarters in Bartlett Cove. About a month after I took this photo, the family bedded down on my property in the park's neighboring community, Gustavus. Here the cub is playing on a fallen log. Bear cubs play to help learn coordination and balance.
Camping next to a glacier is very cool ñ quite literally, very cool! When strong winds blow down off the ice, you need a couple of extra layers of clothes and plenty of lines to secure your tent. I was camped here at the face of Lamplugh Glacier where we occasionally awakened during the night to the sound of ice crashing into the water.
One of the most common questions from visitors to Glacier Bay is, ìWhat makes the ice blue?î The ice is blue because that is its true color. This color is expressed because the ice is pure, which allows the light to penetrate sufficiently far that the reds, yellows and violets are differentially absorbed from the light spectrum, leaving the blues and greens to be transmitted back to oneís eye. Ice looks white when it contains too many air bubbles that scatter the light back before it can be differentially absorbed by the ice. This example came from the bottom of Lamplugh Glacier. I was camped near the base of the glacier and while exploring its edge, I was able to safely maneuver to a crevasse (a large crack). I liked the abstract pattern created by the sand contrasted against the blue ice, as well as the ambiguity of the scale. This photo frames only about five square feet of ice.
Glacier Bay in the fall. This spider web is supported by a highbush cranberry plant. I find this composition to be poetic in that there are countless metaphorical webs within the Glacier Bay ecosystem. If one tiny part of the web is damaged, many other parts are affected. This spider is seeking food in its web, and I seek food in the form of those berries as they ripen. Typically, these webs are invisible, but a dewy morning brought this beautiful pattern to light.
ArÍtes are sharp mountain ridges, said to be ìknife-edged,î formed by glacial erosion in two separate valleys eating into the rock that divides them. Snow that falls on the near side of this arÍte ultimately contributes to Margerie Glacier, the most visited glacier in the park, while on the far side it joins Johns Hopkins Glacier, which is, arguably, even more spectacular. As no doubt you can imagine, snow has a very difficult time clinging to mountain slopes so steep, and thus it frequently cascades down as avalanches, carving the corrugations that are so prominent in the lower right. This process is in no way limited to the wintertime as at these altitudes, snow is possible anytime of the year.
Nagoonberry ñ the berries are delicious. Period. But they are not too big and the plants are not usually found in thick patches, so it is hard work gathering enough for a pie. Nagoonberries typically grow in wet meadows but these plants were growing in thick moss on top of a big boulder at the head of a damp narrow fjord. OK, enough clues ñ go find them! You see, the berries are so good that folks around here don't discuss precise locations...you've got to find them on your own.
As I reached central Dundas Bay the fog thickened and I noticed something odd along the shoreline, something white. As I brought the boat closer I thought, ìIt looks like ice! It is ice! An iceberg in Dundas Bay! In the summer!î And then I noticed the floating sticks and leaves, bits of fern leaves and fresh spruce needles, and I started to suspect what had happened. I switched on the depthfinder thermometer and as I cruised further into the bay the water temperature dropped steadily and the floating debris thickened. At the far end of Dundas Bay the river which drains from the Brady Icefield was in flood. It was a jˆkulhlaup! This is the Icelandic word for an 'outburst flooding event'. Abyss Lake was draining, and I got to see glacier ice in Dundas Bay!
Sunset from Bartlett Cove with the Fairweather Mountains in the background... a delight to Glacier Bay Lodge visitors and guests.
Gray is certainly the most frequently chosen color on Southeast Alaskaís pallet. I was awestruck on this day in Dry Bay by the vicissitudes of sunlit gray passing from sand to sea to sky.
33 degrees Fahrenheit and raining. This is a typical day in Glacier Bay. When I think of all of the layers of clothing and technology that I require to survive in conditions like these for only a few hours, it makes me really appreciate the biology of a moose. They withstand nearly constant wind and rain for half of the year and deeps snows for the other half. I chose this shot because it shows a moose in the rain. You can see the pattern of wet hair on her head and ears, and the raindrops falling around her. What could she be thinking?
Bears will occasionally stand up. This often appears more threatening than it actually is. In most cases they stand up to get a better view. By getting up like this, the bear was able to identify the strange sounds coming from behind the bush where I was standing. Because I was downwind of this bear, she was unable to smell me, which would normally be her first alert system, as bear's have significantly more sensitive olfactory senses than vision, with respect to our own. Here she peers out at me inquisitively, but only for a moment.
At times one would never guess that Glacier Bay is actually part of the Pacific Ocean. The 'Bay' has 800 miles of protected shoreline with inlets and secret coves awaiting exploration by sea kayak. But be careful ñ Glacier Bayís waters are not always as 'pacific' as in this shot.
See the hiker at the base of the tree? Yes, this was a big tree. The 'bath tub ring' look to this lake gives it the appearance of a 'reservoir' ñ a body of water behind a man-made dam. But it is not a reservoir; it is a glacier dammed lake and the lake level fluctuates naturally. Many of the lakes along the edge of the Brady Glacier have a 'bath tub ring' around the edge from repeated filling and draining, but I know of no other that has standing dead trees of this size.
When you find a mooseís bones out on the Brady Glacier, you've got to wonder. After all, there isnít exactly a lot to eat out there. Was it chased by wolves? Was it injured in a crevasse? Was it just plain old age? We'll never know...
Glacier Bay! It's that place! The land of ice and change, bears and humpback whales, mountains and fjords! So many signs in our world... impersonal directives and non-negotiables...but this one is different. I squint a little every time I pass by and it reads clearly: ìWelcome home, the enchanted land awaits you!!!î
Using a spotting scope to view birds can provide the observer with detailed images such as this pair of Bald Eagles. This photo, as well as some others shown here, was taken with a small digital camera held to the eyepiece of a spotting scope. These eagles were resting after feeding on fish remains along a beach. Bits of food are visible on the bill of one and soiled feathers on the head of the other.
Bald Eagles breed in Glacier Bay and can be found here year-round. They are often seen near shore where they are scavengers as well as predators, with fish being a main part of their diet. Their wingspan is 80 inches and males and females look alike. It takes at least five years for a Bald Eagle to develop the solid white head feathers for which it is known. Young Bald Eagles with brown heads are often mistaken for other species.
This Belted Kingfisher was photographed in February perched in a dead tree over a river. Kingfishers dive for small fish and other aquatic prey from a perch or from a hovering position. The Belted Kingfisher is named for the band of blue-grey across its breast. Only the female has the additional chestnut band and chestnut flanks. It burrows tunnels into dirt banks in which it nests. Its loud rattle call is a familiar sound. Belted Kingfishers can be found along rivers and shores in lower Glacier Bay.
The vibrant blue color of the Stellerís Jay is not so different from the color of glacial ice. These birds stand out brilliantly against any background. Steller's Jays are in the Corvidae bird family that also contains magpies, crows and ravens. They are highly intelligent birds, able to mimic other birds and make many of their own unique vocalizations.
A year-round resident in forests of the far north, the American Three-toed Woodpecker breeds in the mature forests of lower Glacier Bay. Considered uncommon, it feeds quietly by flaking bark off trees with its bill in search of insects. The bird photographed here was methodically searching for prey on beetle-killed spruce that had been cut and stacked for firewood. Only the male has a yellow crown.
It's a park with few English names. One of the early park superintendents basically decreed ñ ìNo more new namesî ñ more or less. This helps keep the place wild, as names are one of the first steps in civilizing a landscape. When we go exploring we make up our own names for our favorite places because...well, you've got to be able to talk about it, but they are just for us. You can make up your own names too. Go ahead, give it a whirl... hum... Whirl Mountain... sounds good. Mine. Don't be bashful, try it out... hum... I like that one too... Try It Out Mountain... nice ring... Thank goodness that superintendent left us some room to name play.
The Fairweather Range
This aerial shot of Johns Hopkins Inlet was taken while winter still grasped a firm hold on Glacier Bay. Here, the ice that you see flowing down the fjord is mostly ëpan iceí rather than glacial icebergs. As you can see from the long shadows, the winter sun tracks low across the horizon in the winter, which means that relatively little sunlight reaches the surface of the water. Here, a layer of freshwater rests on top of a much deeper body of denser saltwater. This layer of freshwater, constantly in the shadows, freezes solid. However, as the tides ebb and flow, the level of the sea can shift by as much as twenty feet or more in only six hours. This breaks up the ëpaní of ice on the surface, and the ice flows in the only direction it can, out of the inlet.
As far as I know, there has never been a case of a Steller sea lion attacking a kayaker, but that fact did not instill any confidence in me when this group of approximately 200 animals charged our kayaks. We had seen this group earlier about a mile off in the distance, splashing and cavorting, as we paddled in the East Arm of the bay. Within a matter of minutes, they had formed a wall of fur, flesh and teeth less than one kayak length from our tiny, plastic bows. They roared with an intensity that conveyed to me nothing positive. While I avoid anthropomorphization, it was hard not to infer that they were anything but pleased with our presence. They were so close that a putrid stench of partially digested fish was thrust at us, adding additional insult. They made their point for a few gripping minutes, and then departed as quickly as they had arrived.
My kayaking partner, Dan, was able to laugh about the sea lion rush after they began to move away.
Long-tailed Ducks, formerly called Oldsquaws, congregate into groups of many hundreds of birds during the spring. They have a unique ëa ah-ah-adalaí call which, when in chorus with hundreds of others, makes for a truly wild sound. These bird are flying just above the water to take advantage of a phenomenon of flight know as ìground effectî. Any bird (or aircraft for that matter) will enjoy greater lift when flying less than half of its wingspan, above the water or ground. For example, if these birds have a two foot wingspan, they can conserve energy by flying one foot off the water.
It was an incredibly calm day so I stopped the engines and let the boat drift. We stood on the bow and after a while several harbor porpoises came and swam around the boat. In this photo the porpoise is still beneath the surface but it is already starting to exhale, releasing the air from its lungs in a torrent of subsurface bubbles. As the porpoise's head breaks the surface it will be ready to inhale.
A large sun star finds itself stranded by the falling tide. Southeast Alaska is known for having very large tidal ranges, which can be up to 25 feet. Sun stars prey upon bivalves in the intertidal, making them vulnerable to being stranded. This aptly named creature illuminated in the evening light was too enticing to pass by without a photo.
We had risen early to arrive at Margerie Glacier as the sun was coming up, lighting the face from the side. Then we waited. Which is what just about everyone does. It is a Glacier Bay tradition, to sit on a boat in front of a tidewater glacier and wait for it to calve. Not all waits pay off with 'the big one', but many do and regardless it is always time well spent, waiting with the mountains, the sea, the glacier. We got lucky and had just enough warning of small ice bits starting to fall that I was able to catch the moment in motion. The next photo shows the spectacular splash.
It's not like anything else you'll ever experience, these big ice calvings. There is a power and a 'volume' that is not part of your everyday living. The face of Margerie Glacier rises over 200 feet high and the splash is nearly 100 feet high.
Lamplugh Glacier, Mt. Cooper and Jaw Point
A mountain goat in the early spring is one of Glacier Bay's most majestic animals. It still has most of its thick winter fur, and it has managed to make it through another winter. This one stood about 100 ft above me on top of a cliff, as I craned my camera up from my kayak. I found that, much like the face of a glacier, it is unwise to approach too closely, as a cascade of rocks tumbled off the cliff in the wake of the goat's path. Many visitors spy goats on Gloomy Knob near the middle of the bay.
The park has all kinds of beaches ñ from sand to gravel to bedrock. This cobble and boulder beach stretches for almost two miles on the outer coast of the park. Here a river descends from the mountains on the left and takes one last meander before merging with the Pacific.
The outer coast of Glacier Bay National Park is a coastal wilderness of epic beauty. No roads, no buildings. Out there you are at home with the ocean and the sky. And most likely no one else for many, many miles.
A speck of yellow in a sea of green. This Yellow Warbler is a male, distinguishable by the darkish streaks that run down his chest. I find that photographing these tiny birds is most challenging. It is not often that you can actually see the entire bird. Usually, at least part of the birdís body is blocked by vegetation. This one was cooperative for photos, if only for a few seconds.
A river otter scampered across this beach shortly after I took this photo. Or rather, it slinked ñ at least that's what I'd call it ñ across the open sand, down to the waterís edge and into the ocean. The name river otter is not exactly accurate, for we commonly see river otters in the ocean. But the converse is not true ñ I've never seen a sea otter in a river.
We camped next to this beach the night before. In the early morning we sat eating our breakfast next to a clump of bushes when this wolf strolled down the beach. It passed us by and walked down to the waterís edge, turning its head and looking at a duck just offshore. When it reached the river at the end of the beach it turned and walked back, passing us a second time. Farther down the beach it went to the surf line and then into the water, but it was too far away to see what it was after.
Humpback whales take the plunge. Most dives last three to five minutes as the animals search for prey in the cold, rich waters of Glacier Bay.
The beach is often the path of least resistance for all large mammals and they leave the tale of their passage in the sand. Daily transits by brown bears and a complete absence of human tracks measure the wildness of this coast one step at a time.
Natural obstacles abound in Glacier Bayís wilderness. Those on foot encounter swift streams, glaciers, steep terrain and dense vegetation. Without trails, Glacier Bayís adventurers must be prepared to surmount or circumvent these obstacles on their own. They must also be prepared to turn back when the risk becomes too great.
Exploring the rocky coast, it got too steep to continue and we were forced to go inland...so much for an easy beach walk!
The Latin or scientific name for the humpback whale is Megaptera novaeangliae, which means giant-winged New EnglanderÖNew England for the place humpbacks were originally identified and giant-winged for the massive pectoral fins, which are approximately one-third the length of the whale's body. With a 45 foot long adult whale, that makes for 15 foot long fins! It may surprise you to know that the bone plan of the pectoral fin is similar to our own human structure. Here, two humpback whales interact with each other as they roll on their backs, doing, well, your guess is as good as mine.
In the spring, Blue Grouse hens can be seen all over the lower parts of Glacier Bay with a string of up to eight or more chicks. You may see the same family over the course of a week or two, with fewer and fewer chicks each day. The grouse are playing a numbers game in which they try to get at least one chick to adulthood. Birds and other terrestrial predators take quite a toll on the clutch. This chick navigates a virtual forest of Robbins milkvetch.
Steller sea lions look so different in the water. Hauled out on land their heavy, wrinkled bodies look out of place and awkward but in the water they are streamlined, sleek and fast. This one circled the boat for about five minutes before moving on.
Whether experienced on the ground or from the air, McBride Inlet is a thriller, another planet. Ice chokes the narrow entrance to the inlet and a festival of bergs gathers and mingles along the shoreline pushed by the wind and tide. About halfway down the inlet a shallow underwater shelf stops the really big bergs where they gather like titans. Kayaking here when the ice is thick is a dangerous challenge, for the water is icy cold and the big bergs can roll at any time. More than one paddler has found themselves a reluctant swimmer in McBride Inlet.
This is Riggs Glacier on July 19, 2007.
Riggs Glacier is cool, really cool. It's steep where it nearly meets the ocean. The surface is a maze of huge crevasses. The ice is white, with very little rock on the surface. The mountains around it are rugged with Black Mountain in the distance streaked in shades of red.
Muir Glacier in 2007 is no longer a tidewater glacier; it has retreated. You see the term ëretreatedí used often when speaking of vanishing glaciers. I don't like it much because I don't think it captures the gestalt of the process. Big valley glaciers don't move uphill, they can't go backwards as 'retreat' implies. What they do is melt. And they almost always melt faster at the lowest elevations. If they melt faster than they slide downhill, a series of photos or observations over time make it appear as if they have gone backward or retreated.
If you are able to find your way above 1,000 feet or more in Glacier Bay, you will find a different world from the one down at sea level. It is not an easy walk, with no trails. You have to scramble up rock and through dense brush to make it here, but once you are there, you are aptly rewarded. Up here a different world of wildflowers, shrubs and trees persists. Here, a sub-alpine meadow nestles a tarn the color of tea. Well protected on a calm day, the water is as still as the stones partially submerged in it.
There are not many stands of yellow cedar in Glacier Bay. The stands that do persist are remnants of forest that were not overtaken by ice during the ëlittle ice ageí which ended a few hundred years ago. This yellow cedar branch seemed to be reaching out to the flowering dwarf dogwood in the top of the frame. I can almost smell the sweet and pungent smell of muskeg when I look at this image.
There are days, and places, where the bugs get bad. Head-nets help. But mostly you have to just grin and bear it. Or get in the boat and go somewhere a breeze is blowing. This is the upper intertidal zone where salt tolerant sedges, grasses and herbs become inundated by tidewater. It makes for easy hiking when the tideís out, except for the bugs...
Here are some excerpts from my journal entry for the day: ìSlept soundly, this is rare when Iím camping, and awoke bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, at 4:45 in the morning! I went to fix oatmeal for breakfast, but discovered that I had forgotten to pack a spoon, or utensils of any kind for that matter! I ate two-ingredient granola instead; cashews mixed with dark chocolate M&Mís. Who packs this stuff? Sadly, me! I need to do a better job of planning meals; the granola was good, but not the equivalent of oatmeal as a springboard for the day.î (Note: I didnít learn my lesson, to double check my gear for utensils, as this happened again the following year, when I took my wife out for her first long kayaking trip. On that occasion I resorted to carving a spoon out of driftwood. She used it, despite being a microbiologist.)
Lamplugh Glacier has one of the larger tidewater glacier faces in Glacier Bay, standing 150 feet high and being three quarters of a mile wide. One nickname for it is ìLamplugh the Blueî because it is one of the bluest glaciers in the park. Its blue color is a natural phenomenon, blue being the natural color of water when it is viewed in large quantities. If you think of the images of the Earth taken from space youíll realize this to be true. Lamplugh Glacier is bluer than other glaciers in Glacier Bay because its ice has been subjected to higher pressures. These higher pressures force air bubbles to close and minimize cracking of the ice, as at higher pressures ice becomes more ductile. Bubbles and cracks scatter the light, producing white light and a white-colored glacier. The more these effects are minimized, the bluer the glacier.
Who carved those scratches into the bedrock? Was it THAT rock, carried by the glacier? You may be forgiven for thinking so; after all, that was the photographerís initial opinion and he has a masterís degree in glacial geology! Glaciers carry rock fragments in two locations: at the bottom of the glacier and on top of the glacier. Rocks at the bottom scratch the bedrock and in turn are scratched by it; thus they have their sides sanded down to quite smooth surfaces. Rocks on top of the glacier are broken into sharp-edged fragments by water alternately freezing and thawing within their cracks. This boulder has many sharp-edged sides and no smooth surfaces; hence it was carried upon the glacier and rocks carried that way cannot scratch the underlying bedrock. Despite initial appearances, this rock is innocent!
This is just a small portion of an enormous meadow of cotton grass. I'd walked through this area once before, in September, and had no idea what it would be like in early summer. We wandered here for several hours stunned by a landscape that barely resembled planet Earth.
Cotton grass fruits are grain-like seeds with tufts of attached 'cotton' that catch the wind and disperse the fruit. This was a good day for fruit dispersal with strong winds and dry weather. Everything around the cotton grass, including the buckbean and marsh five-finger plants shown here, was smothered in 'cotton'.
We visited this glacier dammed lake soon after a partial draining when the lake edges were thick with fresh mud. The Brady Glacier has dammed this lake for almost 200 years and periodically releases catastrophic outburst floods to the terminus of the glacier. When the lake is drained it forms two small lakes separated by a moraine. This photo was taken facing the Brady Glacier ice dam from the moraine that divides the two lakes at low water. The next photo faces the other direction.
This photo was taken from the low moraine that separates two glacier dammed lakes. Some of the tall dead trees at the far end of the lake are over 100 feet high, yet they have been submerged and exposed repeatedly as the lake level fluctuates. Yet for these trees to have grown so tall there must have been a time when the lake level remained low for many years. There are many aspects to how Glacier Bay's landscape evolves and changes that challenge scientists and intrigue inquisitive hikers.
ìYou'd look good in there.î Her eyes lit up, her backpack came off and up she went without a hint of hesitation. I try to take new friends out when I go exploring ñ I feel it is a privilege to be able to go to these incredible places and so I try to share it with others. But not everyone has the gumption for all my adventures...Way to go, Amanda!
In this dramatic shot, a killer whale has knocked a harbor porpoise out of the water and into the air before catching it in its mouth. Harbor porpoises are common in Glacier Bay and are often targeted as prey by transient killer whales.
I only saw killer whales once in the two summers that I spent in Glacier Bay, but that one time they put on a great show. This photo is particularly special to me due to the unusual behavior of the animal. This is called a ëspyhopí. A spyhop occurs when a whale rises vertically out of the water, most likely to look around and see what is above the water. In this case, what probably happened was that this killer whale took notice of our boat, and decided to pop its head out and get a better view. For animals that spend most of their time with their heads underwater, it is exciting to see such an active display of them watching us.
One of the most popular things to do in Juneau is to ìride the tramî. According to Wikipedia, the tram ìmakes a six-minute ascent of 3,819-foot (1,164 m) Mount Roberts from the cruise ship docks to a height of about 1,800 feet (550 m), making it one of the most vertical tramways in the world. A restaurant, theater, nature center and retail shops are located at the top of the tramway, as well as connections to trails leading from sea level to the summit.î Riding the tram is especially popular on sunny summer days.
The docks in downtown Juneau can accommodate multiple large cruise ships at one time. Here, two large ships are tied up under a beautiful Juneau sunset.
Perhaps the best way to get up close and personal with the Mendenhall Glacier is via kayak. Not so long ago, the face of the Mendenhall was only a short walk away. To reach the face of the glacier today is a much longer hike. The glacier has retreated nearly two miles in the last 50 years and is not slowing down.
Downtown Juneau can be a very colorful place, and I am not talking about the flowers. Just step into any of the bars downtown and you will see colorful characters on every stool ñ some of whom might even be fellow shipmates.
A little dot of a person dwarfed by a spectacular landscape....She captures the imagination and beckons us to get out there and partake. No trails, no guide books here, it is all about what we call 'discovery'. You pick some random hill, figure out a route, try it, turn back when you have to, struggle through the tangles in the lowlands and feast on the vistas in the uplands.
This shot shows off all of the colors of Tracy Arm-- the rusty red of oxidized iron, the verdant green of alpine vegetation, the deep blue of a cloudless sky and the spectacular turquoise hues of glacial ice.
This photo shows run-off from the Carroll Glacier. A heavy load of glacial silt colors the water so that it looks like an enormous mudslide.
I took this photo during my first kayaking trip in Glacier Bay. My younger brother and I had been kayaking all day and by the time we found a camp site, it was too dark to see around the immediate area, but we could hear running water in the distance. In the morning when we awoke, we saw the source, a small ice cave. We decided to take a short walk through it, admiring the walls on the inside, like carved snow. When we reached the end, we found the waterfall which had carved this cave. Our hair was stiff from not being washed in days, and the salt water wasnít helping that situation, so we both ran and stuck our heads under the waterfall. It was pretty cold as expected, and it only helped our hair situation a little bit. But it was definitely worth it.
This is a big tidal flat at low water. A spectacular sight from the air but a nightmare for an uninitiated hiker short on time and wanting to take 'the direct route'. At low tide sloughs like this are mudÖthick 'boot sucking' mud. ìHow hard could it be?î we sometimes josh, rolling our eyes, knowing 'it' ñ the mountain hike, the glacier walk or the slough crossing ñ could be very, very hard. Having attempted to cross this slough once, we now routinely take the pleasant, but much longer route along the grassy intertidal next to the woods.
This is Taylor Bay and the Brady Icefield just 18 miles west of present day Glacier Bay. This scene is sometimes cited as similar to what Glacier 'Bay' may have looked like 1,000 years ago ñ that is, a lot of glacier, a big outwash plain and not so much 'bay'. If we use this modern day photo as an analog of the past, then present day cruise ship transfers of park rangers would occur in about the middle of the outwash plain and Bartlett Cove park facilities would be located along the green strip of land to the right.
The Brady Icefield shown in the photo has a flattish looking, gently sloping surface. But the under-ice land it is resting on is well below sea-level and is quite irregular in shape, just like the bottom of Glacier Bay. Use your imagination to project the sides of the mountains downward, beneath the ice. If you could lift all of the ice in this photo up in to the air it would leave behind a deep U-shaped valley. Two different scenarios are possible in this future
Sitka National Historic Park is Alaska's oldest federally designated park ñ established in 1910 to commemorate the 1804 Battle of Sitka. All that remains of this last major conflict between Europeans and Alaska Natives is the site of the Tlingit Fort and battlefield, located within this scenic 113-acre park in a temperate rain forest. The park contains many colorful totem poles.
The Yaadas Crest Corner Pole is one of my favorites. It is a replica of an older totem pole on display at the Sitka National Historical Park. The figures (from top to bottom) are: the Village Watchman, the Raven in Human Form, the Raven and a Bear.
Sitka Sound is a rich spot and well protected from the weather. It is an excellent place to paddle in search of whales, porpoises, sea lions, sea otters and a wide variety of birds.
Johns Hopkins Glacier is one of the few glaciers, not just in Glacier Bay, but in the world, that is advancing. This begs the question, ìHow can this glacier advance, when neighboring glaciers are retreating?î The answer is microclimates. It is likely that the Johns Hopkins Glacier accumulation area is high enough in elevation that warming conditions are actually providing more snow than previously; this overbalances the ice loss as the glacier flows to the lowlands, allowing the glacier to advance. The adjacent areas are not receiving as much snow, and therefore the glaciers issuing from them continue to melt and withdraw.
The rock was solid, as it should be, yet with each small side-step, my left foot would stamp down a bit, reassuring my stability as I cautiously approached the cataract. I have a photo of this slope from six years prior and the place where I am standing is under ice. At that time the stream flowed under the ice and probably followed the same route it does now through what was then a continuous ice tunnel. Most of that ice tunnel has now melted away, leaving only the ice bridge in the distance.
The ice in Tracy Arm takes innumerable forms. Sometimes it is blue and opaque; sometimes it is white and full of grit. Here a piece is as clear as crystal, beautifully sculpted by wind, weather and sea.
The South Sawyer Glacier is moving quickly, and as it does, it drop an enormous volume of ice into Tracy Arm. Here, shattered icebergs reflect in a jumble of geometric shapes of blue and white.
The South Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm is under intense pressure. That pressure is revealed by the intensity of the blue ice at its terminus. Here, a group of intrepid visitors navigates the icy fjord for a closer look.
Puffins! There is something about these creatures that causes the exclamation point to be almost mandatory. Once common in Glacier Bay when the landscape was newly exposed, we don't see them too often any more. They always cause a stir when spotted whizzing by in flight, a blur of black and orange. Up close the clownish beak is a wonder... just imagine if your lips started on your forehead and ended below your chin... OK, that's not anatomically correct, but you get the idea!
Tracy Arm is a steep fjord veiled in hundreds of waterfalls. Some are ephemeral ribbons only present after it rains. Others, like Hole-in-the-Rock Falls seen here, flow continuously into the emerald fjord. The ìholeî in the rock is visible in the rock face, near the bottom of the falls, just to the right of the main channel.
It seems to me that humans, like ravens, have an almost uncontrollable attraction to 'bright shiny things'. We buy shiny packages and cover everything from our buildings to our bodies with bright, reflective materials. Well let me tell you, a good ice cave is irresistible. You stand on the outside and think, ìWhat am I doing?! It's melting! Water is dripping from the roof! It's a glacier! The ice is moving! Only a crazy person would go in there!î But you go in. You have to. It is the ultimate bright and shiny thing, and you are inside it...
While killer whales are frequently found in Glacier Bay waters, they are more seldom seen than humpback whales. Their movements are much less predictable than humpbacks, making a sighting of this species all the more difficult. Researchers photograph the dorsal fin and gray ësaddle patchí just below the dorsal fin because these features have unique markings that make each individual identifiable. By comparing photographs over time, researchers are able to patch together data that illuminates the killer whalesí movements, ranges and life histories.
Sitka is a fishing town, with several busy harbors full of private, charter and commercial fishing boats. In this shot there is a sea of countless masts and downriggers from the Sitka fleet.
When the giant fireweed is in bloom, I feel obliged to fill the frame with pink. The bright color acts as a beacon for insects and hummingbirds to come in and pollinate the plant in exchange for some nutrition. It is a win-win-win for insects and birds, the plant, and us!
Kayakers being dropped off by the day tour boat in the West Arm of Glacier Bay. Passengers on the boat tend to crowd the upper deck to see the brave adventurers ñ or more realistically, the reckless and foolhardy individuals ñ who decide to explore the park in a fiberglass kayak, a flimsy tent and hopefully enough dry clothes to last through days of rain. But at least we got that waterproof map.
I will admit, I used to get irritated with Glacier Bay at times when the weather wasnít exactly sunny, which I had always thought was required for good photography. Only now do I look back and realize that some of my very best shots were when it was foggy or rainy, usually a combination of both. This view from Garforth Island is very moody as we contemplated a cloudy sky and a low fog that would engulf us in about a half an hour. But thatís sometimes what Glacier Bay is like ñ the coolest places arenít easy to get to, and youíre not necessarily going to have perfect weather along the way. There is a subtle ëhardcore-nessí to it allÖsomething that would keep me coming back.
Iíve been told that this is an extremely rare sight. While aboard the day tour boat, we happened to see a brown bear with her cubs as they approached a stream which appeared to have been claimed by a group of wolves. Watching the bears hold their ground while the wolves circled them was a tense sight. We watched the wolves advance on the bears and retreat, like a well-played game of chess. Eventually the bears chose to retreat into the forest and the wolves had their victory.
Gloomy Knob, Glacier Bay and the Gilbert Peninsula
Hundreds of thousands of people visit Glacier Bay each year and pass along the strip of water through which this cruise ship transits. I'd guess that 20 people or fewer stand within a hundred yards of where I took this photo each year ñ and I wouldn't be surprised if only a handful of boundary surveyors and geologists are the only people to have ever stood atop the 8,214 foot summit of Mt. Barnard, the high peak above the ship. This rugged mountainous landscape is a difficult place to visit...green in this early September photo, but for half the year cloaked in deep snow and bone-chilling cold.
Docks are incredibly important facilities for isolated Southeast Alaska towns. They are critical points of interface between our lives on land and our lives on the water. Most of our freight and fuel passes over some sort of dock. Docks are essential to daily commercial actives such as fishing and transportation. This is the old wooded dock at Gustavus. Docks are also a focus of cultural activity ñ folks come down to walk the beach, walk the dock, check out the sunset, see what's happening and meet friends.
No two ice caves alike. Which makes me think... maybe that is one of the reasons I like exploring glaciers so much. They are all so different, and dynamic ñ it's ice, at the glacier terminus it's melting. What you don't see today is gone in a couple months or years at most.
My husband Hig crosses in front of the crumbling edge of Brady Glacier. If you believed the map, ice would fill this entire photo, pressing up against the mountainside to the right. As the ice retreats, it provides a narrow passage to walk along its side. From here, we followed this passage and then climbed a pass in the mountains... access to the open Gulf of Alaska coast. We were nearly halfway in a 4000 mile human powered journey from Seattle to the Aleutians.
For more information on our journey visit: http://www.GroundTruthTrekking.org
Waves crash onto a rocky coast near Icy Point. Glacier Bay Park's rugged outer coast is a remote and wild place, seen by few visitors. We followed the bear trails that wind along the beach, their prints far more common than any human signs. On foot, we were safe from the storms that kept ships away from these rough waters in late October.
For more information on our journey visit: http://www.GroundTruthTrekking.org
October's low-angle sun highlights the white foam boiling around the boulders on this outer coast beach. We were carrying packrafts, and couldn't help but look at each notch in the rocks, each reef that turned the brunt of the waves, to think, "Could we launch here?" We kept walking.
For more information on our journey visit: http://www.GroundTruthTrekking.org
Spray from the rolling surf sparkles in the sun. Storms born in the Aleutians roil down the coast and strike land here - where only a narrow strip of flat land separates the ocean from 10,000 foot peaks. A cycle repeated itself over and over... Wind would wax from an urgent shove at our back to a howling storm. Churning waves would push their way ashore, chaotic and dark. Then the wind would calm and the waves would become more regular, curling gracefully as they pounded the shore. This surf attracts hardy surfers in dry suits to this coast, though only rarely into the park itself.
For more information on our journey visit: http://www.GroundTruthTrekking.org
Surf crashes on the cobbles and sand near Cape Fairweather. Dark clouds on the horizon assured us that another storm was due at any time. Walking here in Glacier Bay National Park and beyond into Wrangell St. Alias National Park we were exposed to every storm that came along, and by the end fourteen had battered us with howling wind and driving rain. But between the storms there was sun, and as we grew accustomed to them, the storms themselves became interesting, amazing, and even fun.
For more information on our journey visit: http://www.GroundTruthTrekking.org
Huge waves tumble the cobbles of this beach, rounding and smoothing them. In the background of this picture is Cape Fairweather, a great moraine of boulders pushed into the ocean by a now diminished glacier. Already the crashing waves of the exposed coast are working to wear away that moraine, dislodging sand, gravel, and even these large cobbles. It's a slow process, but the sea is patient.
For more information on our journey visit: http://www.GroundTruthTrekking.org
Fallen trees are scattered in the delta in front of Mt. Fairweather. We were lucky to catch a glimpse of this 15,000+ foot peak, visible only in the rare patches of fair weather that grace the outer coast.
A rainbow glows against the dark grey sky, in a brief interlude between squalls and hailstorms. We held tight to our packrafts to keep them from blowing away in the stiff wind, as we walked towards the crossing of Alsek River at Dry Bay. Dry Bay marks the northern edge of Glacier Bay National Preserve, but is still deep in the wilderness. It would be another 50 miles before we reached the nearest town of Yakutat. And that was just halfway on our 4000-mile journey - by foot, ski, and packraft.
For more information on our journey visit: http://www.GroundTruthTrekking.org
Ten below near Halibut PointÖIce skating anyone? This brackish pond near the oceanís edge was flash frozen by the icy fall winds blowing off Glacier Bayís vast ice fields. It was so cold on this day that just stopping to take this picture chilled me to the bone.
There is a Tlingit saying that goes, ìWhen the tide is out, the table is set.î Even in the winter when this shot was taken, you can find foods on the beach in the form of seaweeds, mollusks or other edible invertebrates. Here the low tide exposes bright green seaweed, with blue skies and a white, snow-clad mountain reflected in the tide pool.
The life of a seasonal park ranger is all about moving to new states, new parks, new jobs. You meet new people, you learn new things, you have new experiences. Itís a crazy life of seasonal migrations across the continent, a life always on the move. But once in a while you run across a place that draws you in and never lets you go. It enchants your mind and never ceases to amaze. I snapped this photo my first evening in Glacier Bay, unaware that my peregrinating lifestyle would eventually become focused on this faraway corner of Alaskan wilderness.
The green of this anemoneís tentacles comes from a symbiotic relationship with certain algae species. The anemone receives oxygen and glucose and in return offers the algae reliable exposure to sunlight and protection from micro-feeders.
Lined chitons have a shell composed of eight separate versatile shell plates which provide protection against impacts from above but which also allow for flexibility for moving over uneven surfaces.
The brick-red color of the gumboot chiton comes from about twenty species of red algae that live on its mantle (shell).
This is a brittle star, a limpet and coralline algae. Brittle stars use their highly flexible arms in a whip motion to move across the rocks and seafloor, unlike sea stars which use tube-like feet.
Bartlett Cove is usually filled with a diverse array of small fishing, touring and pleasure boats. They all come knowing that a journey into Glacier Bay is a special event - permits have been arranged, radio messages exchanged and orientation classes attended. For a boat trip in Glacier Bay is much more than just another weekend on the water - it is a journey into a culturally unique and pristine wilderness area.
A simple walk along the beach becomes an adventure. This river starts about a Ω mile upstream from this point at the face of the Brady Glacier. The water is bone chilling cold and swift. We carry lightweight 'pack rafts' just to cross streams, rivers and bays in the park. They are just big enough to sit in with your backpack across the tubes in the front.
I never understood why this wildflower was called a shooting star until I happened upon a meadow filled with a meteor shower of pink and yellow blazing in the afternoon winds. I was comforted by this reminder of the night sky, for it was something that I missed during the peak of a light-drenched Alaskan summer.
You canít just walk past lupine. You have to stop. You have to stare. You have to shake your head and wonder how flowers can be so delightfully beautiful.
This Northern Saw-whet Owl was looking at the photographer with apparent concern as he prepared to check her nest to count how many eggs she was incubating. Northern Saw-whet Owls nest in cavities, usually abandoned woodpecker holes, although this owl was using a man-made nest box. Average clutch size is about five eggs. It takes two months from when the first egg is laid to when the young owls are ready to leave the nest. Throughout the nesting process the male owl lives nearby and delivers prey to the nest for the female and young. This owl returned to the nest shortly after the photo was taken and her young were successfully raised by the two parents.
The South Marble Island Steller sea lion haulout is situated far enough away from the mainland that bears, wolves, coyotes and other terrestrial predators rarely reach the island.†But killer whales pass by and a Steller sea lion, with its thick layer of blubber, is a high calorie meal for a killer whale.
On the Bartlett River trail this Spotted Sandpiper defends its territory, harassing unwary trespassers until they are out of sight.
Killer whales are actually the largest member of the dolphin family. Three distinct killer whale ecotypes have been documented in Glacier Bay.† These ecotypes are genetically distinct and do not interbreed, though they are all considered to be the same species. ìTransientî killer whales prey exclusively on marine mammals such as harbor seals, Steller sea lions, porpoises and occasionally other whales.† They typically hunt either alone or in small pods and generally remain silent so as not to alert their marine mammal prey to their presence. ìResidentî killer whales prey primarily on fish, especially salmon, vocalize more often and travel in large, matrilineal pods. A third ìoffshoreî ecotype has been discovered only recently and appears to visit Glacier Bay infrequently. They are little known and studied, but seem to spend most of their time in the open ocean away from shore.
The first kayaking trip of each summer seems to set the tone for the rest of the season. Mesmerized, I sat on a beach in the Beardslee Islands soaking up rare warm sun rays late into an Alaskan evening contemplating the trips to come. The mountains became purple and the sky, a mosaic of colors, promised a summer of unknown adventures.
We walked over the sandy ridge and our eyes were filled with ice glittering in all its forms. McBride Glacier snaked its way down from the mountains and in the process spawned a thousand huge pieces of ice that tossed and turned on the tide. A crash of thunder announced another imminent arrival and the spaces between the bergs shifted, becoming a mesmerizing kaleidoscope of intense blues and blacks. We had arrived in a different world.
When you think of Glacier Bay wildlife, toads probably don't top your list. But toads are important. Scientists refer to amphibians as ëindicatorí species. Amphibians, like this boreal toad, are extremely sensitive to small changes in their environment. Twenty years ago, in the park headquarters at Bartlett Cove, it was difficult to go for a walk without stepping on one. Now, they are so rare that if you see one, the park asks that you report it. I have explored all over Glacier Bay and it was four years until I saw my first one. I stumbled upon this toad when I was moving some firewood. Fortunately, I had a camera at my side and I was able to take a few shots before carefully replacing the toadís wooden roof.
Only eight inches in length, the Northern Saw-whet Owl is a regular breeder and resident in the forests of lower Glacier Bay. Numbers of these small owls fluctuate from year to year. Seasonal population differences probably mirror prey availability with voles being a key food species. The owl shown here was perched in a lichen covered willow near its nest which was in a man-made nest box in the town of Gustavus near Glacier Bay.
Gold split the sky as we photographers huddled together outside braving the bitter winds of the sea, breathless for a moment, painting our thoughts with a digital brush.
One early morning I awoke startled to feel a shaft of sunlight on my face. I raced outside along with several others in their pajamas to soak in the sun, a welcome but brief respite from three weeks of continuous rain. Glacier Bay can receive almost eighty inches of rain in a year because it is part of a temperate rainforest zone stretching from northern California to Southeast Alaska.
Most of the surface of Lituya Glacier is covered with a layer of rock. Here the layer is thin, but in other areas you can't see the ice at all. The small crevasse in the foreground is full of water.
Most of the ice that makes up a glacier is rock-free because it forms in open snowfields and slopes high in the mountains. But as the ice moves down-valley, rocks avalanche onto the glacier surface where ice and land meet. Rock is also picked up beneath the surface of the glacier wherever the ice is in contact with the land.
We'd hauled our pack rafts across the glacier hoping to paddle in the glacier dammed lake on the other side. As we'd passed this pond we joked that it might be the only water we'd actually get to... which turned out to be right. The glacier at the big lake was way too steep to descend. So on the return hike we just couldn't pass the pond by.
The rock you see is a relatively thin layer on top of dozens, if not hundreds, of feet of ice. The shoreline around the pond was a slick layer of clear ice. My other hiking companion, not visible in this photo, is changing out of cold, wet clothing after not quite managing to make the transition from the edge of the pond into the raft...
I call these 'water tubes' because they resemble lava tubes. Once upon a time this ice, and this tube, was farther up the glacier valley buried deeper beneath glacial ice. Water ran through this tube, under the thick ice above it. I now look at glaciers and see a mass of ice that most likely contains an unseen network of tunnels draining water from the melting surface downward and down-glacier.
What can I say? Glaciers are sculptors, but this was something worthy of a fine art museum. We are on Lituya Glacier with North Crillon Glacier in the background. The river flows out from beneath Lituya Glacier into Lituya Bay.
A shot taken along the trail leading to Bartlett Lake showing the lush rainforest that covers much of lower Glacier Bay. While walking along the trail I happened to look over and see a beautiful stand of trees with a small pond that looked like a perfect mirror.
Merlins have evolved to be the swift and nimble, even in dense woods, as they catch birds in flight with their talons.† In Bartlett Cove Merlins are relatively uncommon, but for many years a nesting pair has been observed across from the park visitor center.† You'll most likely hear the parentsí raucous, high-pitched screaming at anything approaching their prized nest.
A turbulent river emerges from beneath a glacier. The water is silty with 'glacial flour' ñ pulverized rock ground fine beneath the weight of tons of moving ice.
Glacier vs. Forest...North Crillon Glacier wins! Many glaciers in the world are receding but North Crillon is advancing, at least it was in 2008 when I took this photo. These trees are being pushed over by ice and rocks near the terminus of the glacier. Lituya Bay is visible in the background and the scar from the 1958 giant wave is just visible on the distant slope on the left.
North Crillon Glacier is covered with rocks, and some are huge. We'd climbed along the edge of the glacier and then up onto its surface. No crampons needed, there was so much rock that we only saw bare ice on the steep sections of the glacier. My friend, Kim, said, ìI've had enough of all those yoga magazine photos on the beach in Hawaii! It's our turn!î In the distance on the left is the wave-scarred hillside where a giant wave in 1958 cleaned the vegetation down to bare rock.
Humpback whales compete with brown bears as being the most popular, 'must-see' mammal in Glacier Bay. This particular humpback whale is a calf, and it is doing what we photographers always like to see: breaching, where the whale jumps straight out of the water. No one really knows why whales breachÖit may serve as a signal to other whales, it may help them shed dead skin and parasites, and in some cases it may indicate disturbance. Others believe that the whales find some enjoyment in breaching, and do it for fun.
Breaching humpback whale calf. The majority of the humpback whales in Southeast Alaska, including Glacier Bay, are born on breeding grounds around the Hawaiian Islands. Female humpback whales give birth to one calf at a time. When they are just a few months old, the calves accompany their mothers on the 2,500+ mile migration to Southeast Alaska for the summer. By the time the mother returns to the breeding grounds the following winter, she has generally weaned the calf, who is on its own.
Clear blue ice and big crevasses! Wow! I handed my little pocket camera to Amanda and said, ìI'm going over there to take a few stunners. You stay here and rescue me if I fall.î Little did we realize that Amanda would be one to take the stunner!
I like to walk on ice... it's not that hard, the walking part ñ the glacier ice, now that's hard. With a set of crampons on my boots I feel more secure than on some steep slopes in forests. Crampon points dig right in and before you know it you are walking up steep ice slopes and across icy ridges. Amanda ñ and this was her first time on crampons ñ is standing at the edge of a 'moulin' ñ a hole in the ice where water running across the glacier plunges down into the interior of the glacier, eventually draining beneath the glacier to Muir Inlet.
In my first summer in Glacier Bay, I wanted to kayak to Reid Glacier, as it was the most easily accessible tidewater glacier given the day boatís drop-off points. However, it still required kayakers to cross the bay, which was something that I was not comfortable attempting in my first summer. My second summer I managed to get there, twice, but I will never forget the first time, realizing just how massive the glacier was. I had brought along an inexperienced friend on this kayaking trip, so I let him go and explore the glacier while I dealt with making sure the kayak was secured on shore. Iíll never forget watching him walk towards it as his figure got smaller and smaller in comparison to the glacier, until he was so small that I had a difficult time even seeing him.
Iím told that I take a few too many risks (from my mother, mostly), especially if it means a good photograph. This may be one of those incidents. In this shot, I have crawled inside an ice cave at Reid Glacier to try and capture the beautiful shades of blue that you can find inside these caves. The danger in this activity lies in the fact that glaciers are not particularly stable, they do a lot of calving, and Iíd be a fool to not be fully aware that the ice cave that I was standing inside in this photograph is likely not there today. That being said, I try not to take my time when exploring these cavesÖgo in, get my shot, and then get out before I overstay my welcomeÖ
A close shot of Reid Glacier showing the beautiful shades of blue resulting from the compacted ice. Aside from colors, I am always fascinated by the smooth, carved texture of glacial ice.
Often visible from the day tour boat, this ëwaterfallí gushes out from the face of Lamplugh Glacier. Kayakers would be capsized if they were foolish enough to get too close. I took this photo from a nearby beach and it was as close as I could get to the glacier on foot. After enjoying the view for a moment, I had to quickly make a dash across the intertidal zone back towards our camp, as the tide was coming in and I was about to have nothing left to run on.
Margerie Glacier on a ìFairweather Dayî. Once in a great while, the snowiest spot on Earth clears, affording us a view from the edge of the sea to the crown of Mt. Fairweather. On these hallowed ìFairweather Daysî, visitors can see the paths of the glaciers in their entirety as they wind down 15,000 feet of elevation over a distance of over 20 miles to the sea.
I spent the last morning of my last kayaking trip in Glacier Bay on Gloomy Knob. I had always wanted to go there but on previous trips I had other destinations in mind that led me in the opposite direction. Gloomy Knob is a mountain, and although I donít know the actual reason behind its charming name, I would venture to guess that it is because there is relatively little vegetation on the mountain compared to other mountains in the area. At sunrise I climbed Gloomy Knob and snapped this shot; a nice surveillance of the bay.
The plan was to arrive at the glacier at 6am, a marvelous way to wake up. However, I had forgotten it was September and the days were getting shorter. We arrived in darkness. I was beginning to worry that I had planned the trip all wrong. No one would see the glacier. As we got closer we could see the stars in the clear sky begin to disappear with morning light and the white ice glowing in the reflection of the still waters. We watched the sunrise in silence as the surrounding mountains turned radical shades of pink.
The morning had surprised everyone on the boat. We woke up to splendid blue skies and a gentle stillness. As we sailed south fog began to swallow the bay and its unsurpassed scenery. The jagged peak offered a farewell before it disappeared into the clouds.
It is difficult to believe that 250 years ago the land that these trees inhabit was under a massive sheet of ice. In that time, the ice has retreated, pioneering plants have moved in to create soil, trees have taken root, grown over 100 feet tall, died and fallen over. Their decay will further promote the growth of other plants, including seedlings born from this toppled tree. Under the canopy of the forest is a lush carpet of moss. All of it is rich and green.
Harlequin Ducks are arguably the most striking of the many species of waterfowl that are found in Glacier Bay. These are three males that happened to line up away from the more drab females that they were accompanying. Harlequins are often found along rocky beaches or near where freshwater flows into the sea where they feed on the biota carried by the stream.
A sunrise of muted pink, blue and purple hues fills this frame. The mighty Fairweather Range is visible in the distance comprised of several peaks over 10,000 feet, including from left to right, the pyramidal Mt. Crillon, flat-topped Mt. Bertha and domed Mt. Fairweather.
Dappled with dew, emerald mosses throughout Glacier Bay National Park blanket the rocks, ground and trees with a mother lode of softness. They can be found flourishing in all of their green glory during any season. There are some 9,000 mosses worldwide; all of them are photosynthetic, meaning they convert solar energy to carbohydrates, thus manufacturing their own food. They are particularly beautiful when viewed through a hand lens, so be sure to bring one on your next outing for a close up look at these fascinating plants!
Newly hatched Common Raven chicks nestled in a beautiful and elaborate nest, constructed of deer hair, down and moss perched on a cliff ledge. They slept soundly in the sun until a shadow over their nest, or a twig snap brought them to life, mouths gaping, chirping, hoping for food; their parents circling overhead, screeching in disapproval at my brief intrusion as I climbed by.
You'll hear Barrow's Goldeneye coming, and going. The wings make a whistling sound in flight. In Glacier Bay you'll find them in protected bays where they dive for mollusks, fish and crustaceans.
Steller sea lions gather on South Marble Island. But wait, which way is the wind blowing? From the north or north west it passes over the haul-out and the scent of sea lion envelopes you. You won't find ìEssence of Sea Lionî in your favorite perfumery ñ over ripe fish with faint undertones of sulfur ñ not much appeal. But you grow use to it, well, you grow tolerant at least ñ the activity on the haul-out is captivating. It's like watching a party of sorts, sea lions nosing each other, nipping, cavorting, growling and moaning. All words to describe human activities, which really don't apply but, what is going on?
Toe-jamminí with bear spray. There's not a lot of good rock climbing in Glacier Bay. We are at the boundary of two tectonic plates and our metamorphic rocks are considered by most climbers to be too crumbly for good climbing. Plus we get so much rain itís usually too wet to get good grips. When we stumbled upon this granite rock outcrop my hiking partner sprang into action, bear spray, intertidal wading boots and all.
Forests of spruce, hemlock and cedar cover much of Southeast Alaska in a rich interwoven blanket of green. Walking between the trees is like walking through a carefully crafted garden. Lichens hang in wet strands from the trees, carpets and clumps of green moss blanket the forest floor. Everywhere there is a new and intricate shade of green, changing with the daylight, with the rain, with the seasons.
The zip-line in Hoonah is high tech, but the emotions it evokes are primal. The platform is high, 1300 feet. You look out, and down, down, down. Everything is so far away, so small... Anticipation grows as each set of zippers flies off... so fast... And then the gate opens for you...
The Hoonah zip-line, it's not for everyone. As the line snaked towards the gates, one couple turned and headed back to the bus. But here's the trick ñ same one I use in New York City taxis ñ just close your eyes for the first 10 seconds while you accelerate to 60 mph. Then your mind seems to resolve it all, ìHey, I'll probably liveî. After that it's totally, totally fun.
View from the lower part of the Hoonah zip-line. The ride is 90 seconds long.
Salmon in a can. Can't say I've purchased a whole lot of it, ever. But at one time canning was the primary way Alaskan salmon made it to market. The old cannery at Icy Strait Point in Hoonah is now a museum, Tlingit cultural center and shopping complex dedicated to the history of fish canning and presenting the past and present Tlingit way of life.
Most small Southeast Alaska towns don't have docks big enough for cruise ships. Here the passengers on the Pacific Princess board a tender to make the trip to the cannery at Icy Strait Point in Hoonah.
Whale under the boat! There are many whales at Point Adolphus during the summer months. I stop the boat and wait. The whales are busy feeding and tend to move along the coastline as the day passes. The idling engine seem to be enough sound to keep them aware of the boat's location. Occasionally some come quite close. What a thrill to have one coming right at you then dive deep!
A pond on ice... This water, I drink. Straight up. Fresh, cold, clean. Delicious!
Early June in Geikie Inlet. The previous winter saw a lot of snow and it was slow to melt. Despite the snow, these cottonwood trees have leafed out, for the summer season is short and precious. This was a great way to hike - the lower 'foot tangling' alder branches are hidden beneath a flat layer of consolidated snow.
Wherever I had stepped into, whatever doorway I had stumbled through, I found within an intertidal garden, secret, wild, and serene. I scrambled on top of a tall boulder and sat and looked. For the next half hour I watched the light slip golden over the peaks and turn them a dusty purple. One by one my thoughts and worries disappeared with the light over the edge of the horizon and this place, this garden became a turning point for my summer.
Bears are seen occasionally in Tracy Arm. This is an interesting shot because it is of a brown-colored black bear. As their names implies, black bears are typically black, but they can also be brown, cinnamon and occasionally blue or gray.
Wow! An all natural water slide on a sunny summer day! Why not just jump in and slide along??? Thing is, streams on glaciers don't last long. A short ways behind me the water plunged into a big hole that disappeared into the glacier. Bye bye water...
Harbor seals haul out on the ice and rest for extended periods of time. As they lay there, their body heat melts the ice below them. The melted ice then wets parts of their fur coat, making it appear slick and smooth. This effect can be seen on a couple of the seals in this photo.
Harbor seals have their pups in May and June and keep them nearby for several months after that. They often seek the refuge of icebergs near tidewater glaciers, which researchers believe affords them protection from predators such as killer whales.
Sometimes the last shot of the day is the very best one. That was the case here. After watching humpback whales sounding for over an hour while the orange hues of sunset intensified, I was lucky to have just enough light for a shot of this whale diving in Frederick Sound.
Red Bluff Bay is one of many seldom-visited, yet spectacular inlets tucked among the islands of Southeast Alaska. While looking for brown bears, I nearly missed this strikingly beautiful common merganser and her brood of seven juveniles trailing closely behind (and on) her. Her strategy is to have many offspring in hopes that just one or two will survive to adulthood.
Conditions for this shot were not ideal, as I was looking almost directly into the sun. Yet somehow, this shot is powerful. Perhaps it is the glare of the sun, the looming, snowy mountains in the background, or more probably, it is the powerful twisting arc of the breaching whale itself.
A humpback whale breaches into a strong wind ñ turning rivulets of cascading water into a cloudy mist.
One of the surface activities that humpback whales engage in is ìtail-lobbingî, in which the whale repeatedly beats its tail on the surface of the water. Much like breaching, it is unclear why they do this, but some researchers speculate that it could be to stun prey, to communicate with other whales, to indicate disturbance, or it could simply be playful behavior.
One of my favorite stops in Sitka is The Alaska Raptor Center This raptor rehabilitation center is located on a 17-acre campus bordering the Tongass National Forest and the Indian River. Its primary mission is the rehabilitation of sick and injured eagles, hawks, falcons, owls, and other birds of prey which are brought in from all over Alaska. The Center (the largest of its type in the state, and one of the largest in North America) receives between 100ñ200 birds a year, with many suffering from gunshot wounds and traffic accident-related trauma.
St. Michael's Cathedral is a cathedral of the Russian Orthodox Church at Lincoln and Matsoutoff Streets in Sitka. It has been a National Historic Landmark since 1962, notable as an exhibit of Russian influence in North America. A fire destroyed the cathedral during the night of January 2, 1966, but the cathedral was subsequently rebuilt. In this shot there is an immature bald eagle sitting atop one of the crosses.
Black-legged kittiwakes are a fairly common sight near the faces of Glacier Bayís tidewater glaciers. They nest on cliffs adjacent to the glaciers where they can avoid predators such as bears and mink. However, these steep cliffs canít prevent attacks from avian predators like crows, ravens, eagles and peregrine falcons. This bird was stretching its wings while it rested on a small piece of brash ice near Margerie Glacier.
One of the best ways to see Skagway is by antique trolley car. These tours go out every day complete with guides dressed in period clothes. They can point you in the right direction for history, hiking, shopping and more!
This shot was taken near the summit of the trainís daily ride. The bridge in the upper right is no longer used, nor even maintained yet it still stands ñ a testament to its engineering and workmanship.
This bar is one of many displays in the Klondike National Historic Park in Skagway. The National Park Service brings history to life with incredible stories of the 1898 gold rush.
Many of the older engines from the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway are on display for visitor to not just look at, but to get on. Some of these machines are still in service, if only for a day or two. A staff of engineers keeps the engines, old and new, running smoothly.
This monument was erected for Skagway's Centennial in 1897. It depicts a Tlingit guide/packer and gold prospector Skookum Jim. The statue is on Broadway near 2nd.
Walking down the trail to the Bartlett Cove campground you canít help but notice the haggard and bedraggled campers pushing wheelbarrows laden with camping equipment, greedy berry pickers jealously guarding their prized patches of strawberries, moose munching and crunching through the undergrowth, and also the trees. The trees along this trail tell the story of glaciers past, the retreat of ice and rebound of land and life. In a classic example of vegetative succession, these trees illustrate the transformation of barren glaciated rock to a lush and changing rainforest. From nurse logs growing neat rows of spruce to vistas of the beach fated to be overgrown with saplings, this forest trail is a complex mosaic of science in action, ecology at your fingertips.
Forest sounds are bewitching and intriguing, from dripping moss to snuffling bear. But any summer visitor to Bartlett Cove canít miss the deep ìwhoof, whoof, whoofî of a Blue Grouse 'hooter'. Itís easy to spend an hour searching for this cryptic fellow and finally catch a glimpse of him puffing up and hooting his heart out ñ warning other males to stay off his turf and charming females into his territory.
Tidewater glacier? Nope. Well, it depends on who you ask. In most definitions a 'tidewater glacier' has two critical components, a glacier, and an ocean. The water in this photo is a lake, and while all bodies of water are effected by the pull of the moon and sun, and are therefore ìtidalî, lake water doesn't cut it. So what do we call it? A ìlakewater glacierî doesn't ring true but I use it with friends so I can watch their reaction. A ìglacier that calves into a lakeî is a little cumbersome but works. This is South Crillon Glacier where it pours into Crillon Lake You know it is different ñ no seals, no kittiwakes, no murrelets, no big waves and no cruise ships. Just lots and lots of quiet and, oh yeah, no saltwater. Interesting that there are many more lakewater glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park than there are tidewater glaciers, but nobody talks about them much.
A river ran through it. All over it. This is a tiny section of the Lituya Glacier outwash plain with the edge of the glacier in the background. Seven days before we stood here a glacier dammed lake drained catastrophically and flooded the outwash plain. The rounded black object in this photograph is a stranded iceberg from the edge of the glacier. As the river fanned out and became shallower the berg grounded out. The river, flowing from left to right, piled big rocks against the upstream side of the berg. The pit around the berg indicates the approximate size of the original berg as the water dropped. All that's left in a few more days will be the pit. We'd seen similar pits the year before. This must happen regularly... New campsite criteria: Ice pits present? Camp somewhere else!
Sea otters ride the waves, always watching. In open water they will spot you in a kayak a long ways off, and dive. You'll only get a close view by chance, stumbling on them when you round a headland or a small island.
Itís easy to look at glaciers and mountains and beaches and beautiful wilderness from the safety and security of a ship. But try getting into a kayak, paddling up to those beaches, and standing in the shadow of those glaciers and mountains. I pulled my kayak onto this beach under the watchful eye of a gold-flecked black wolf, followed the tracks of a giant brown bear whose paws were bigger than my head, swam in the icy waters of a glacial pool, and shivered in a biting wind as I watched sunset fall. Robert Service had it right when he wrote,
Let us probe the silent places, let us seek what luck betide us;
Let us journey to a lonely land I know.
Thereís a whisper on the night-wind, thereís a star agleam to guide us,
And the Wild is calling, calling . . . let us go.
After two summers in Glacier Bay I developed a great interest in birds. From the decks of massive cruise ships I kept my eyes peeled for interesting and rare species. There are the usual birds you see every day, like the black and white Pigeon Guillemots, but I always wanted to see something new and different. This changed on my first long kayak trip in the bay when I paddled past a cliff of nesting Pigeon Guillemots. I had to stop in fascinated amazement. The dull little birds Iíd shrugged off as incredibly mundane from my perspective on cruise ships came alive in a flurry of charismatic charm. Playful, energetic, and noisy the Guillemots chased one another for fish, paddled in circles with bright scarlet legs, and screamed with brilliant red mouths agape. Birding became more than just finding new species. It became a search for understanding, appreciation, and joy in the world of birds.
The white crescent shapes in the rock are fossils. Millions of years ago these organisms lived and died in the sediments of an ancient ocean, their story preserved in limestone along what is now our intertidal zone.
One of my favorite reasons for camping in Glacier Bay is that you get to wake up in some of the starkest landscapes and have the early morning quiet all to yourself. And if you happen to find yourself an insignificant speck standing on a rock-covered remnant glacier, itís all the better.
Camp at the top of the icefall, Grand Plateau Glacier, 6700 feet elevation, on the northwest slopes of Mt. Fairweather. The clouds dissipated and revealed an amazing scene of mountains and glaciers. We had arrived! This was a great moment of serenity and beauty.
In early spring we welcome the sound of Blue Grouse, known locally as ìhootersî. Males announce their presence to females, such as the one shown here, through a loud booming 'call' that may be mistaken for an owl hooting during daylight hours. During the mating season, male grouse are fearless, attacking pedestrians, even bicyclists!
When one dryas plant is able to take root in the nutrient-poor ìsoilsî left behind by the retreating Reid Glacier, a wondrous process begins. That one single plant begins to propagate outwards making a bigger and bigger circle in an otherwise desolate landscape. Eventually, other similar circles of dryas grow and meet and the entire area becomes covered in dryas. The dryas plants help enrich the soil so that eventually it will be able to sustain different types of plants, a process known as ìplant successionî.
Even wild rivers sometimes become shallow. But trust meÖthis was the most beautiful place in the world to be stuck in the mud!
1,500 years ago ice dammed the East Arm of Glacier Bay and a huge freshwater lake formed in what is now the Adams Inlet area. Sediments were deposited into this lake, which lasted for several centuries starting about 1,700 years BP. Today the ice is gone and erosion due to wind and rain is carving the lake sediments into these hills, exposing layers that were once the lake's bottom and deltas built into it.
This is a shot from the beach where, earlier in the day, we had our fill of wild strawberries. That night, as the sun went down, that rich strawberry color was replicated in a brilliant sky and reflected in still waters. Evenings like this one in the wilds of Glacier Bay make it difficult to leave.
Glacier Bay provides one of the richest habitats for wild strawberries anywhere. The neighboring community of Gustavus was originally named Strawberry Point for this reason. As the glaciers of the little ice age retreated, they left behind hundreds of miles of sandy beaches which quickly evolved into sand soils ñ just perfect for strawberries. Today, starting in early July, bears and people alike seek this sweet fruit. Although much smaller than commercially grown strawberries, you will not find a sweeter or more intense berry flavor than that of a sun-ripened Glacier Bay strawberry.
For most people the Tatshenshini-Alsek river system is just a series of braided blue lines on the map of Glacier Bay. But those who have rafted on it know it is a conduit which entices you towards a magical landscape of mountains, glaciers, rock and ice.
Epic! Cataclysmic! Apocalyptic! Park rangers seek out these superlatives when glaciers calve with this magnitude. While everyone wants to know when and where the glacier will calve next, no one can predict it. While there do seem to be overall periods of greater or lesser activity, calving appears to occur somewhat randomly.
High on the west ridge of Mt. Fairweather on the descent from the summit, late afternoon. The saddle at 13,200 feet was below and so were the storm clouds which rose up and engulfed us. Soon after this photo we were in gale force winds, extreme wind chill, and complete white out.
Thereís nothing like a big rock to sit on to contemplate the beauty of the world and the braids of the Alsek River.
(McBride Glacier, July 1976) Each morning in the summer of 1976 the Thunder Bay, a tour boat carrying about 80 passengers, departed Glacier Bay Lodge in Bartlett Cove for a trip up the east arm of Glacier Bay. The first tidewater glacier it would reach was McBride Glacier. In those days, many kayakers were dropped off by the tour boat at McBride or Riggs, camping in this vicinity and then paddling back down bay to Bartlett Cove. Note the glacial scouring on the rock face above McBride. This photo was taken from White Thunder Ridge. In this 1976 photo the Inlet that was to become McBride Inlet is completely full of ice.
Breaking trail up the middle of the broad Grand Pacific Glacier on our approach to climb Mt. Fairweather. This is day 6 of a 35 day expedition. Storms were frequent, so when the weather was good, we made as many miles as our strength and endurance allowed. It was brute work to pack and pull 200 pounds apiece of gear and supplies through fresh, heavy snow.
Skiing up Grand Plateau Glacier on the climb of Mt. Fairweather. At this point we were about 50 miles from where we started skiing at the head of Tarr Inlet in Glacier Bay. We'd skied the entire distance, pulling sleds that haul most of the weight.
These lupine plants are growing near the summit of Tree Mountain, a peak named by John Muir. When Muir was in Glacier Bay in the 1890s, Tree Mountain was a 'nunatak' ñ a mountain surrounded by glaciers with just the summit poking above the ice. Tree Mountain is no longer ringed by glaciers; in fact I climbed it 80 years after Muir was here without stepping on any ice at all.
This is the same lake as in the previous photo. When we camped here in 1980 the Brady Glacier (shown in the distance) dammed the lake full. The glacier-scoured rock surface in the foreground attests to a time when the lake and the surrounding region were overrun by glacial ice.
(Muir Glacier, 1976) In 1976 the terminus of Muir Glacier was at a far different place than today. Back then, Muir and nearby Riggs Glacier were active tidewater glaciers. Between them their icebergs provided an early summer pupping location for hundreds of harbor seals. It was a rare day, usually late in the summer, when one could get this close to the face because the water was usually packed thick with floating ice.
The Tatshenshini-Alsek river journey ends in Dry Bay and we begin to transition back to 'civilization'.
Over the years people have used many kinds of boats to visit, explore and work in Glacier Bay. The Bay's first inhabitants, the Tlingits, used canoes created from massive trees. Prospectors built wooden boats, like this one, with simple gas engines to reach their mining claims in the upper bay. Today most folks visit Glacier Bay onboard luxurious cruise ships.
When the salmon run, the bears eat. And they can eat a lot. We often find 'bear belly holes' in the upper intertidal grasses next to salmon streams. The brown bears dig shallow pits, lie in them for hours, then go back to the stream to gorge.
Traversing under a cornice on the way to the high saddle on the west ridge of Mount Fairweather. The summit of Mt. Fairweather was straight ahead, and we weaved our way through crevasses in the most direct line to the top.
This photo is from a hiking trip I did in the East Arm of Glacier Bay in the 1970s. Most of that trip it rained; this was the nicest weather I had, and it didn't last long. In those days, the drop-off boat left hikers in the East Arm where there were tidewater glaciers and open hills where you could hike for days. While this intertidal scene probably hasn't changed much, the hills where I walked are now covered in thick alder shrubs, deterring most modern day hikers.
These logs are part of an abandoned fish trap near the park boundary with the city of Gustavus. Fish traps were used in Southeast Alaska to catch salmon until the late 1950s and were an important source of income. A line of logs led from the shore to deeper water. Nets hung from the logs and channeled salmon into a maze where they were then harvested.
A grand view of the ice complex at the ìdoglegî of Muir inlet. Riggs Glacierís tidewater front separated from Muirís in 1961 and was still calving into the sea in 1967. At that time, McBride Glacier ice was being contributed to Riggs from the right, but that soon would end as McBride retreated in its inlet and its ice level quickly dropped. Notice, however, that in the McBride tongue, older ice was being overrun by a pulse of newer ice (demarcated by a black moraine) suggesting that McBride had just made a small pulse forward in its general retreat.
This forest remnant south of Geikie Inlet has been cleanly sheared off below 1600 feet, giving a precise elevation for the height of ice when Little Ice Age glaciation had reached its maximum extent in Glacier Bay about 250 years ago. Ice removed all life from surfaces below this elevation; when this photo was taken in the 1960ís, plant succession had proceeded only to the alder stage, and conifers had yet to reassert dominance.
The view across Johns Hopkins Inlet to Kashoto Glacier on July 14, 1967.
Over a period of more than 60 years beginning in 1925, Dr. Bill Field kept faithful track of glacier activity throughout Glacier Bay from a series of photo stations at key vantage points. More than any other person, Dr. Field is responsible for our precise knowledge of ice behavior in the park. His patient record forms the foundation for all other studies of glaciology and biology that have subsequently made Glacier Bay famous. The rock pile marks Photo Station Number 9.
This photo shows Plateau Glacier in Wachusett Inlet on June 5, 1967.
By the time of this photo, Plateau Glacier was a mere remnant of the great icefield that once included the Carroll Glacier system and the vast Muir system once roamed on by John Muir in the late 19th century. The low gradient and lack of heavy crevassing shows that by 1967, Plateau glacier was no longer fed actively, but had become a stagnant mass being melted from above and nibbled away from the side by sea. A decade later the ice was gone and Wachusett Inlet stood in its place.
Reid Inlet during the winter of 1967-68
How wonderful winter patrols were in those days! Weíd go up-bay in the park vessel Nunatak (anchored in the background) and make snowshoe forays into the hinterlands, making note of the state of nature at this critical time of year. In this photo, the Ibach cabins still stand, marking a bygone era when Joe and Muz Ibach worked their gold claims here. Nearby, the tent frame used by field rangers as a summer base camp is half buried in the snow, while Reid Glacier looms out of the mist in the background.
Barb Streveler and her daughter Kathy stand in front of Charlie Parkerís prospecting cabin at ìIndepencence Lakeî (now known as Bartlett Lake), about 1967. A prominent citizen of early Gustavus, Charlieís indefatigable letter-writing campaign had much to do with the eventual exclusion of Gustavus from the park by President Eisenhower in 1955.
This is an aerial view from over Muir Glacier on April 11, 1968. In the distance is Riggs Glacier on the left and a portion of McBride Glacier on the right.
In this early spring view, winter pan ice locks the prodigious output of ice from Muir and Riggs Glaciers into a single sheet. A great event in those days was the ice breakup, which resulted in a flush of ice down the bay, stopping most boating until things thinned out. By the middle of May, over a thousand seals massed in upper Muir Inlet, many of which were pregnant females using the ice as a refuge on which to bear their pups. Now the glaciers have grounded and this grand spectacle of ice and life is no more.
You always know when youíve seen something for the first time, but knowing when itís the last time is not so easy. Here is Muir Glacier in 1991, the last time I saw it before it ìwent terrestrialî (about 1993) and Glacier Bay lost another tidewater glacier, for now.
Within a couple of years of the first tourist steamer's entry into Glacier Bay in 1883, Muir Glacier was being touted as a "Wonder of the World." Glacier Bay became one of the principal tourist attractions on the West Coast, and was served by several steamship lines.
The caption from the reverse of the postcard reads:
"Muir Glacier, at the head of Glacier Bay, is the largest in Alaska. No trip to the north without a view of this gorgeous mountain of ice."
From the Pacific Coast Steamship Co. brochure, "Alaska via Totem Pole Route,Summer 1905, pg. 4.:
"Have you been to Alaska? Have you climbed a glacier?" These are the questions that rovers of the world's highways are asking each other these days. ìAnd if you have not, why not?î For the Alaskan trip today has taken its place among the world wonders, among the things that the well-informed must enjoy.î
From the Pacific Coast Steamship Co. brochure, "Alaska via Totem Pole Route, Summer 1905, pg. 5-6:
ìThe new steamship Spokane, of the Pacific Coast Steamship Company, was designed especially for this service; was built so that not only will she carry passengers in comfort and safety, but will permit every possible facility for sight-seeing and general enjoyment. There is a big observation room where passengers can lounge at ease and see all there is to be seen and yet be sheltered from the winds that at times carry with them an icy breath from the snow-capped Fairweather or St. Elias. Nearly every stateroom is an outdoor room and every bed an idly of restfulness, and the dining-room--that is a center of interest of which the voyager never tires. Five meals a day are scheduled, and with the calm seas of this inside passage, there is seldom an absent passenger at mealtime. The steward's department holds an army of assistants from the best chefs to the agile-footed and attentive waite
The handwritten message on the back of the postcard reads:
"Dear Mike: Would you like to cool off? If so just come up here and scale a Glacier or go yachting on an iceberg.î
Winter overflights are a gamble... often revealing a seemingly endless mix of snow and gray and gray and snow. We got lucky here, at the end of the day with the reflections of the mountains mixing with the icebergs from Johns Hopkins Glacier to the right.