Glacier Bay
June 2002
Just a few miles from the airport at Juneau, the Mendenhall Glacier makes for a good day-hiking destination.
I joined my fellow kayakers in Gustavus, site of the headquarters of Glacier Bay National Park, and we loaded the kayaks and began our week-long paddle up the bay. Initially, we paddled through the Beardslee Islands, which kept us safely away from the large cruise ships, whose wakes would have swamped us. The first night, we camped on Kidney Island, which we shared with a moose.
On the shore of Kidney Island.
The weather in Glacier bay is usually gray, drizzly, and chilly (in the 40s), but day two dawned sunny and warm (60°), providing us with a view of the surrounding mountains, which most visitors to this area rarely even manage to get a glimpse of.
Here, we entered Muir Inlet, the east arm of Glacier Bay. The inlet is too small for cruise ships, and most motorized vessels are prohibited, so for the next four days and 25 miles, we had the place pretty much to ourselves. Astonishingly, this area was still under 2000 feet of ice only 100 years ago.
Pulling ashore for a lunch break.
Our campsite on night three, on Point George, with Mt. Wright beyond. Tides on the bay can run up to 40 feet. We had hauled our kayaks all the way up to the tents, but by the middle of the night, water was lapping at them.
The glacier-fed waters often appear very green.
Night four found us in a protected cove off Wachusett Inlet.
An incredibly still dawn on Wachusett Inlet.
Another rest stop, with the rarely-seen Fairweather Range in the distance.
Our campsite for the final two nights was on a beach that was sandy, unlike the rocky shores on which we had been pitching our tents. The area between the high and low tide lines proved to be the pantry for a brown bear, but he ignored us.
Trading our kayaking gear for hiking boots, we hiked to the inlet at the base of the McBride Glacier.
Posing for the obligatory shot.
Bill resorts to extreme measures to beat the heat.
Some of the icebergs shed by the McBride Glacier get stranded by the outgoing tide. We chipped off some pieces, and, using the cream we'd been keeping cool for days, we made ice cream for our dessert - a rare treat in the middle of nowhere.
The mile-wide face of the McBride Glacier. The glacier is retreating at a rate of almost a quarter-mile per year. The shadowy mark on the opposite shore indicates where the face was just a year earlier.
White Thunder Ridge in the morning, from our campsite.
We took a day paddle further up the inlet to see the Riggs Glacier.
The Riggs Glacier.
The Riggs Glacier doesn't calve often, but even so, paddling this close to it is probably not a great idea. Twenty minutes after we left, we heard an enormous boom as the glacier dropped some massive chunks of ice into the bay.
Nanook of the North.
Part of the Riggs Glacier is grounded, and invites ice-scrambling.
Heading back to camp.
Our transport arrives, bringing a new batch of kayakers, who will cover the same route we did, but in reverse, as we fly back to Gustavus. This arrangement means that the kayaks don't have to be flown out. The second plane can be seen just touching down on the inlet, to the left.
The McBride Glacier. As recently as 1970, the face of the glacier was on the inlet, where only a small terminal moraine now stands.
In less than a half-hour, we flew over the 70 miles of water that we had spent the better part of a week traversing.
After the kayak expedition, I spent a few days hiking in the mountains above Juneau. This is Ebner Falls, seen from the Perseverance Trail.
Along the Perseverance Trail.
The Perseverance Trail vanishes into a wilderness of streams and willows.
I took a sightseeing boat to the Tracy Arm, home to many waterfalls.
Approaching the South Sawyer Glacier, an active calver. Despite the danger, the small icebergs were dotted with seals and their pups.
As if on cue, the glacier began to shed some of its ice.
An entire section of the face crashes into the inlet.
The more stable North Sawyer Glacier.
Climbing Gastineau Peak provided a glimpse of a cruise ship headed up the Gastineau Channel to Juneau.
The harbor in Juneau, crowded with cruise ships, most of whose passengers never realize that they're missing the good parts!