Cruise and flight to Glacier Bay

June 1998

Glacier Bay is a deep fjord with many smaller branches, where several glaciers flow from different ice fields, straight into the Pacific Ocean. The best way to visit Glacier Bay is by both cruise ship and small plane, so that you can have different views and observe also the icefields on the top of mountains from where the glaciers actually flow down.

GENERAL INFORMATION ABOUT GLACIER BAY

Glacier Bay is a fjord about 108 kilometers long and featured by many lateral arms. Only 200 years ago it was buried under an immense sheet of ice up to 1300 meters thick and extended from the current fjord's mouth, up to the Wrangell / St. Elias mountain range. This was the situation that Captain George Vancouver found here while exploring the area in year 1794, but during a following expedition conducted in 1879 by the naturalist John Muir, it was discovered a totally different situation, with the glacier retracted for well 80 kilometers toward the inland. Up to year 1916, this immense glacier continued to retract at a very fast rate, until it reached the current lenght of about 108 kilometers. From then, it continued to retract --- sometime to advance slightly --- but never at the impressive rate that have characterized the past centuries. It seems that a so fast glacier retraction has no similar cases in the history of the Planet. The lands that was covered by a huge sheet of ice short time ago, are now covered by a dense vegetation and a rich fauna, either terrestrial and marine.

MAP OF GLACIER BAY AREA (The entire fjord is about 60 miles long, the pink lines show the glacier's tongue limit over the years. Click to enlarge.)

Map of Glacier Bay

 

Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska
Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska
The ship leaves from the dock on time this morning. It will be a daylong cruise to reach the current glaciers' limits and come back to Gustavus. The scenery on the way is breathtaking. On the bottom-left picture, some excursionist travel by kayak in a remote inlet.

 

A female brown bear, walking with her cub on a beach.

 

Gulls and puffins nesting on the rocks.

 

Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska
Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska
Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska After several hours of navigations, the ship reaches Margerie glacier and thence, the Grand Pacific which marks the end of the fjord.

 

Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska
Grand Pacific glacier. The dark patches are created by huge amount of debris carved out from the surrounding terrain.

 

Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska
Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska
The ship is now heading back to Gustavus. On the way, it makes frequent stops near the most accessible glaciers.

 

Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska
Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska
Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska
Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska
Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska
Other nice pictures from Margerie, Lamplugh and Reid glaciers. The walls of ice are often more than 30 metres high.

 

The fjord has many smaller brances, often filled with small icebergs where seals rest on.

 

Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska
Glacier Bay cruise, Alaska
In some place, the ice was totally melted and disappeared. In this case, just the old moraine can be seen and in a couple of century everything may be covered with a dense forest like around Gustavus now.

 

Glacier flight, Alaska Glacier flight, Alaska
Glacier flight, Alaska The following day I take a wonderful flightseeing tour on a small Cessna for about one hour. The view from above is absolutely *impressive*, even from just taking off from Gustavus.

 

Seals resting on a beach.

 

Glacier flight, Alaska
We soon reach mt. Fairweather (the Southeast's tallest peak) where there is a feeding zone for glaciers running down into the sea.

 

Glacier flight, Alaska
Other spectacular views on the mountains.

 

Glacier flight, Alaska Glacier flight, Alaska
Glacier flight, Alaska With a series of 360 degrees turns, the airplane descents into the fjord, where there is a beautiful view of a glacier.

 

Glacier flight, Alaska
Glacier flight, Alaska Glacier flight, Alaska
Glacier flight, Alaska Glacier flight, Alaska
Other nice views over the glaciers and icefields.

 

Glacier flight, Alaska
The snow, which accumulates on the "feeding" areas, may exceed several hundreds of feet in thickness, before flowing away in the bay and breaking into huge icebergs.

 

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