Anchored off Mt. La Perouse in Dundas Bay

Sea otter Inside a glacial cave at Reid Glacier
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Cruising Southeast Alaska: Glacier Bay


Glacier Bay has long been high on our list of places to visit. And after nearly a week cruising southeast Alaska, the first day of our permit to enter finally had arrived. We'd technically been in the park for two nights already, as Dundas Bay is inside Glacier Bay National Park but doesn't require a permit. Glacier Bay proper, however, was the goal--that's where the larger glaciers are. We would stay there for five nights, and spend hours taking in the spectacular rivers of rock and ice. (Map of Glacier Bay; Map of Area.)


The clear weather continued as we cruised from Dundas Bay through Cross Sound. This is looking north to 3,300' Whitecap Mountain, between Dundas Bay and Glacier Bay.

We entered North Inian Pass at 10:30, about halfway between a maximum ebb of 5.6 knots at 0815 and slack 1206, but didn't notice much current. We're used to swift currents in the constricted channels along the Inside Passage, and were surprised that such a wide channel would have much current. The area has such extreme tidal ranges however, with Juneau and Skagway reaching 25 feet, that seemingly unconstricted channels have strong currents.
All boaters entering the park must first stop at Bartlett Cove for an orientation session. This was our first time at a dock since we left Seattle, so we took the opportunity to remove and stow our storm windows. A few other boaters were at the dock while we were doing this. Not knowing we'd made the run up offshore, they likely thought us faint-hearted to have installed storm windows for travelling the Inside Passage.
At the orientation we were given copies of the park newpaper, The Fairweather, and watched the Glacier Bay Boater Orientation video. We recognized two of the people in it--they had shared the anchorage with us at Dundas Bay the night before. After the video, a park ranger explained various rules, including speed limits and restrictions around wildlife. She also recommended points of interest. We used the notes we took from the session quite a bit during our stay.
One of the rules was a 13-knot speed limit in the lower portion of Glacier Bay. Since we can only do 9.5 knots flat-out, we weren't too concerned, but the current was carrying us along swiftly enough that we actually had to throttle back. Our orientation was in the afternoon, and we were eager to cover reach an anchorage near the head, about 50 miles away. So we sped up outside of the restricted area--the boat almost throws a rooster tail at full throttle.
We'd been so lucky with the weather that even if it rained for the rest of the trip we wouldn't mind. This is one of the pocket cruisers that tour the area, the Spirit of Discovery, of the now defunct operator Cruise West.
In the distance we could see something that looked liked a small boat, but of an unusual shape. We couldn't figure out what it was until we got closer and realized it was an big chunk of ice, technically called a "bergy bit" because of its size.
Wave action had worn the bergy bit into an unusual shape. We backed the boat as close as we could stand for a photo-op. Icebergs have a nasty habit of rotating with little warning, and can be a real hazard.
In the orientation, the ranger said a whale that had died and washed ashore a few days earlier, and the local bears apparently were gorging on the carcass. We found the carcass a short distance beyond the bergy bit, a few feet from the beach. A bear stood in the water behind it, pulling off large chunks at a continuous pace.
Spitfire went out on deck to look for the source of the horrible smell. The carcass reeked--the bears didn't seem to care though.
It was nearly 8pm when we reached our anchorage for the night, on the east side of Russell Island (near the 42-fathom sounding is on this snippet from Chart 17300). The scenery there was spectacular, and the sky later glowed pink and orange in the sunset.
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Last updated 2011.05.01