Monday, August 23, 2010

Rivers of Ice

On Friday night, we boarded M/Y Safari Quest, our home for the next seven days. Technically, we were on a cruise, but it bore little resemblance to traditional cruises. With just 21 passengers, the Quest can go places that 2,000-passenger ships can't.

Case in point: our visit to Dawes Glacier at the top end of Endicott Arm. Our voyage up the arm got off to an early start on Saturday morning, as an incoming iceberg forced the crew to raise anchor (noisily) at 4:45am. After that, we cruised amidst increasing numbers of white and blue icebergs, fresh from the glacier.

Dawes is a tidewater glacier--it reaches the sea, which melts the ice, often in dramatic fashion. Sometimes the front of the glacier falls into the water; such calving can send up large waves - a real risk for unwary kayakers.

Then there are the sliders, which fall off of the sides where the glacier meets the shore line. And best of all are the shooters, pieces of ice that come rocketing up from the depths from submerged parts of the glacier.

Here's John Muir (Travels in Alaska) on shooters:

But the largest and most beautiful of the bergs, instead of thus falling from the upper weathered portion of the wall, rise from the submerged portion with a still grander commotion, springing with tremendous voice and gestures nearly to the top of the wall, tons of water streaming like hair down their sides, plunging and rising again and again before they settle in perfect poise, free at least, after having formed part of the slow-crawling glacier for centuries.

Harbor seals seem to favor tidewater glaciers; we saw many of the skittish critters as we kayaked among the fresh icebergs.

Note: The photos of kayakers in front of Dawes Glacier and of seals on the ice flow are by fellow travelers.

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