During the night on board the National Geographic Sea Bird, we cruised south from Juneau and entered Endicott Arm, which is a glacially carved fjord cut into the mainland of southeast Alaska. The presence of icebergs floating in the fjord indicated to us that a tidewater glacier must be nearby. The clear blue color of many of the icebergs made them look like precious gemstones and some icebergs even appeared to have been sculpted at the hand of an expert ice-carver. Humpback whales surfaced nearby.
During breakfast, the National Geographic Sea Bird maneuvered carefully through the floating ice toward Dawes Glacier. Sheer granitic cliffs towered above us that were polished and scraped by glacial activity during the Ice Age, which ended only about 10,000 years ago. After our morning briefings, we bundled up and were ready to depart the vessel to explore this impressive glacier up close.
When we reached the upper part of the fjord, Zodiacs were launched that allowed us to reach the fjord’s upper reaches and the face of Dawes Glacier, where we approached to within three-quarters of a mile of its 250-foot-high face. Interestingly, Dawes Glacier has retreated and thinned dramatically in recent years. We also marveled at the classic signs of glaciation: glacial striations, bowl-shaped cirques, U-shaped valleys, rounded domes, and hanging valleys complete with waterfalls. The skies cleared and the brilliant sun made perfect lighting conditions. Meanwhile, harbor seals on ice floes and in the water curiously watched our every move.
After lunch, as we exited Endicott Arm into Stephens Passage, our friendly shipboard geologist Al Trujillo gave a presentation entitled “Al’s Amazing Alaska Anthology” with a description of Southeast Alaska geology and glaciers. Later, we visited the small group of islands called Midway Islands, which were notable for an abundance of wildlife including northern sea lions, harbor seals, bald eagles, harlequin ducks, and even tufted puffins.
In the evening, after cocktail hour, recap, and dinner, we continued cruising north past Juneau and up Lynn Canal toward Haines. The sky was clear and the sun was shining when we saw even more humpback whales. As darkness slowly dimmed the Inside Passage, many of us thought about our wonderful day and what new adventures were in store for us in this great land.