SKOAC: Trip Reports - Glacier Bay National Park 2003

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Trip Report by Sarah Ohmann

Bill Newman, Ellen Nacik and myself recently returned from a kayak trip around Glacier Bay, Alaska. If you haven't paddled Alaska before (and we hadn't), it's hard to give a sense of the place without falling into a series of cliches, and the pictures we took really didn't do it justice, either. We were all struck by the scale of the place and constantly had trouble estimating the size and distance of objects.

The park is basically a series of fjords that recently exposed by retreating glaciers, leaving narrow inlets hedged by 5,000 ft. mountains. As you paddle from the southern end of Glacier Bay north to the smaller inlets, you see less and less vegetation as you come to land which was glaciated until a few decades ago. The lack of greenery in the northern parts of the Bay give that area a barren, arctic feel.

At the end of each inlet are the Glaciers that give the park its name, some now terminating well back from the water, but many still tidal, or calving directly into the water. Some were very active while we were there, constantly thundering and groaning as the ice fell away from the face of the glacier. For the most part we were able to wind our way through the iceberg maze near these glaciers, and catch glimpses of harbor seals resting on the larger bergs.

One of the more impressive sights was the narrow entrance to the lagoon at the foot of the MacBride Glacier, where tidal rips form and numerous large icebergs spin in the whirlpools formed by the current - Bill was tempted to "run the gauntlet" but after some closer observation decided to go fishing instead.

Besides the glaciers, icebergs and incredible scenery, the other thing that amazed us was the number of critters: humback whales, orcas, seals, sea lions, sea otters, mountain goats, leaping salmon, moose, grizzlies, and one wolf were among the creatures we sighted. Grizzlies are present in large numbers, and the park service requires campers to use bulky but supposedly grizzly-proof containers to store all food. We saw a number of these humongous bears carelessly flipping large boulders with their claws and paws to get at oysters and other treats along the low tide line- very intimidating animals. One wandered into camp one afternoon, and snuck up behind me - Bill says it backed away once it saw me and is convinced that it caught one whiff of unwashed camper and beat a hasty retreat. Whatever the reason, it largely ignored us and went about vacuuming the berries off the bushes.

Ellen and I had a crash course in reading tide tables and dealing with the 20 foot tidal range, but quickly got the hang of it and are glad to report that there were no tide "incidents".

The trip definitely whetted our appetites for more travels in southeast Alaska - I'm sure we'll go back when we've accumulated enough frequent-flier miles! Page not found – SKOAC Superior Kayak and Outdoor Adventure Club

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