Anchored off Mt. La Perouse in Dundas Bay

Sea otter Inside a glacial cave at Reid Glacier
Go to Home Page



Cruising Southeast Alaska: Margerie Glacier


When we awoke at Russell Island after our first day in Glacier Bay, AIS showed the pocket cruise ship Safari Explorer anchored out of sight at the north end of the island. They left about 5:30am, heading up Tarr Inlet to Margerie Glacier, and we did the same about 15 minutes later. We were a little disappointed, as we had hoped that by getting up early we'd have some time alone at the glacier. But in the end, we had the place to ourselves for hours. Because its so popular, we were expecting Glacier Bay to be crowded, similar to Desolation Sound Marine Park. But the bay comprises 950 square miles of marine waters compared to 32-square-mile Desolation Sound, and the seasonal permit restrictions limit the number of boats per day to at most 2 cruise ships, 3 tour vessels, 6 charter vessels, 1 passenger ferry and 25 private vessels. We were alone more often than not. (Map of Glacier Bay; Map of Area.)


  The scenery in Tarr Inlet would be enough to warrant a visit--we were lucky to have yet another clear day. 
  We rode up top much of the way, enjoying the views.  We were starting to get pretty excited when the Margerie Glacier popped into view. Bits of ice were in the water along the way, but we could see a lot more in the waters near the head.
  As we neared, the ice pack became quite thick in parts. But fortunately we found a reasonably clear path through. 
  Some of the pieces were quite large. Birds musn't have much sensitivity to cold in their feet-we frequently saw them perched on the ice like this for ages.
  The nearer we approached, the more impressive the glacier looked. The face was massive—extending 250' above the water—and the ice appeared thick and hard. It's hard to believe this solid mass actually is moving at a rate of 6-8 feet per day.
  Occasionally, a large piece would calve off and fall in with a splash.  
  The jagged edges in the top, left from pieces falling away, contrasted with the thick, solid stripes of compressed soil and rock near the water line.
  Some of the shapes and patterns left from the falling ice looked surprisingly intricate and delicate. In places, holes had formed in the pinnacles and we could see clear through to the other side.
  The Safari Explorer, pictured here against Grand Pacific Glacier, left about a half-hour after we arrived. 25-mile-long Grand Pacific Glacier begins and ends the BC-Alaska border. It starts at Mount Hay, on the BC-Alaska border, extends through BC, then terminates at the head of Tarr Inlet, again at the BC-Alaska border. If that glacier recedes much more, Glacier Bay will extend into Canada.
  With the place all to ourselves, we launched one of the kayaks to get shots of Dirona in front of Margerie Glacier. The pictures highlight the size of the glacier's face.
  Paddling out in the ice was exhilarating—both beautiful and a little dangerous-feeling. The ice was constantly in motion from falling pieces and a nearby river. I had to be cautious near larger pieces, as they can rotate easily and tip the kayak.
  Later, we took one of what was becoming our requisite "How close to an iceberg can we bring the stern of the boat?" 
  A few hours after we arrived, the cruise ship Sea Princess appeared. Passengers packed every railing. We all were lucky to be there on such a clear and beautiful day. The ship made a slow pass behind us, close enough that we could call back and forth with the passengers on deck.
  The Sea Princess had communicated with us via VHF radio to let us know their intentions. They seemed as interested in us as we were with them. Some people might not like having the cruise ship there, but for us it was a part of the adventure. And we'd been alone at the glacier for hours anyway.

As the cruise ship made a slow pass along of the glacier's face, we drifted back a bit and had lunch on the boat deck to enjoy the view. The day was so warm that we were down to T-shirts.
  A final shot of Margerie Glacier before we left later that afternoon.
Click for more pictures

                                            [Up]                    [Previous]                     [Next]


Last updated 2011.05.06