Tuesday, 8:00 am – 9:00 pm
September weather: Average temps of 56°/44°F. Average precip of 8.62″.
We were surrounded by humpback whales, up close and personal with an iceberg, almost close enough to touch a large waterfall, in the midst of ice near South Sawyer Glacier, where we also saw harbor seals, even closer to the North Sawyer Glacier, where there were a few porpoises to go with the ice, and we got to all of it by traveling through beautiful Alaska scenery.
Six o’clock is early in the morning–but we are going to bed relatively early. (Me earlier than Stan–but then, I didn’t take a two hour nap yesterday).
We got off the ship earlier than we expected–we docked early–and had finished breakfast (lox today!) (but the nectarine wasn’t ripe). Just as we were disembarking, Adventure Bound called to check on our status–and we were outside and waiting before Winona got there to meet us. There was one other couple from our ship who were also going, and we were on board in time for an on-time 8:00 departure. Considering we weren’t supposed to dock until 8:00, that was pretty darned good!
Scenery En Route
The scenery en route was amazing.
We hadn’t been underway very long when Stan called me to join him up near the captain–he’d spotted whales (Stan is good at spotting wildlife). On second thought, after grabbing my binoculars and camera, we headed out of the cabin to the stern. The captain stopped the boat–and we were surrounded by whales. There wasn’t a bad place to stand on the deck–there were whales everywhere we looked. We saw (and heard) blow holes–sometimes three or four close together. We saw their bodies, we saw flipping tails. I started out with my binoculars–and was thrilled to have them. Before long, though, the whales had come so close to the ship that I didn’t need binoculars–they were right along side us.
The captain told us to feel free to move around both starboard and port, but there truly wasn’t anywhere we couldn’t see them. He estimated that there were 30 or so whales. We stayed there quite a while, marveling at them.
We had actually discussed going on a whale watching excursion in Juneau–and it turned out that we got one tacked on to our Tracy Arm Fjord trip. We couldn’t have even dreamed of a better whale watching experience!
We’d left an overcast and foggy Juneau, but the further south we went, the brighter it became. Also, as we moved south, we started seeing icebergs–one here, one there. Stan spotted them (even if iceburgs aren’t wildlife) and pointed them out to me. I’d never seen icebergs before. The first ones were small, and although fascinating, didn’t prepare me for the one we stopped the ship to see up close.
It was incredibly blue. Nick (the deckhand) explained that it was because it had recently flipped. As icebergs (which are mostly below water) melt, the top can get heavier than the bottom, and then they flip. The captain pulled up along side of it and stopped so we could all see it. It was best viewed starboard and stern, so the captain asked us to circle around so that each person could see it, take a few pictures, and the move on so the next people could do the same.
I was surprised by the color (bright blue), the color variation, and the texture of the iceberg–I guess I’d never thought about icebergs having texture, but of course they do.
There were lots of waterfalls–mostly narrow streams of water falling though a crevice in a mountain. There were enough of them that the passengers didn’t draw everyone’s attention to them each time someone saw one.
North Sawyer Glacier is a huge chunk of glacier. It seemed strange that it wasn’t surrounded by icebergs.
Then the captain pulled up close to a waterfall that was coming down four different paths. I thought I loved waterfalls because I grew up reading about them but never saw one myself until I was in college. Stan says that everybody loves waterfalls. He’s probably right.
Everyone on board loved this one. I think everyone on the ship has a picture of themselves with the waterfall behind them–most of us more than one at different angles.
South Sawyer Glacier
I was sitting outside at the stern when we turned around the bend and first saw Sawyer Glacier. I was just awestruck–it was such an iconic view of exactly what I expected Alaska to look like. There were icebergs everywhere–some looked like small floating chunks of ice–small enough to pick up (although, of course, I knew those were way bigger than what we could see from the surface). There were iceburgs as big as our boat, too, and then some areas that were mostly (but not completely) clear of ice.
Captain Steve sent Nick to the stern to make sure everyone stayed out of his line of sight and maneuvered his way through the ice to get us as close as he could to the glacier. Apparently, the ice changes daily, and yesterday he was able to get closer to Sawyer, but he said today we had the best icebergs of the season.
There was so much to see that I didn’t know what to look at first. There was the glacier itself–.6 miles wide, hundreds of feet high, blue and white and majestic–and it truly was majestic. The sea full of ice seemed almost surreal to me. I took tons of pictures–I guess I’ll find out if any of them capture the feeling of being surrounded by ice.
People started pointing out seals–there’s one, there’s one, there’s another–there are dozens of them! I got good views through the binoculars, but it was harder to take pictures, especially when the blue camera (the 18x one) decided it would be a good time to run out of battery. There was a spare (actually two spares) in my purse, but my purse was in the cabin and we were outside watching the seals. Stan thought the one on the left looked like a basset hound.
Several times we heard a large crashing noise–that was the sign that the glacier was about the calve. None of the calves were huge, but we saw them break off and land in the water–and that was cool beyond words.
As we headed away from South Sawyer, the man in front of us said he thought he’d taken enough pictures of ice. I inwardly agreed–but took more anyway–just seconds after that!
North Sawyer Glacier
As we got close to the second glacier, it became clear that I couldn’t possibly have taken enough pictures of ice–there was all that ice I hadn’t seen before waiting to be photographed. This was a different glacier–it had dirty dark areas as well as the white and blue. I didn’t quite catch why it didn’t have the same type of floating ice surrounding it–but it didn’t. That lack of ice let Captain Steve get very close to the glacier, and he kept rotating the boat (very slowly) so that everyone could get a great view.
One of the interesting things about (North) Sawyer Glacier is that it didn’t have floating ice the way South Sawyer does. Nick explained that the South Sawyer Glacier area is wider and there are a lot of different currents from the water, wind, and waterfalls, so that the ice isn’t all swept out of the area. North Sawyer is a much narrower glacier and canyon, and there are strong wind currents.
Lots of people are sleeping, I’m blogging, others are talking (loudly and happily). We’re all strangers, of course, but we’ve chatted all day, taken pictures of each other with great backgrounds, and marveled at the scenery together. We’ve had a great group of passengers, and like us, they’ve been awed and humbled by the incredible views.
We just stopped for the third time for whales–and what a surprise–in additional to the humpback whales we’ve seen today, we saw orcas! They were clearly playing with us–there were at least half a dozen of them on our side of the boat alone. They’re hard to count when they’re moving but I saw about six on the starboard side and apparently there were some on the port side–some of them might have been the same, as they came up close to the ship and swam under it. The water was clear enough to see the orcas underwater. Nick said it was the best orca sighting they’ve had–and this is his third season with Adventure Bound.
The guy next to me helped me find the bald eagle his wife had noticed–I don’t have pictures, but was able to see it with the binoculars. It was sitting in its nest so it’s probably female. I’m told the males sit away from the nest so they’re prepared to do battle if one predator draws the female away.
Just in case orcas and the bald eagle weren’t enough, there were humpbacks doing full breaches further out. I guess they didn’t want us too distracted by the orcas so they were putting on a show for us, too.
The captain started joking about getting back late–and hoping no one had an 8:00 pm Alaska Air flight! We’re supposed to be back by 6:00 but I suspect we really will be late. Given how many whales and orcas we’ve seen, I don’t think there will be any complaints!
We did a little wandering around in Juneau before returning to the ship.
There will be five cruise ships in port on the day we’re there. We dock at the South Franklin Street Dock. Great tourist map of downtown Juneau (and it shows the dock locations).
Tracy Arm Fjord
My friend Terry, who has been to Alaska multiple times, says Tracy Arm Fjord is her favorite excursion. She said the ice just bumps into the boat and the views are amazing. Tracy Arm has active glaciers and most people who’ve been there say they’ve seen the glaciers calving.
I could only pick a single image to display, so here’s what else Google Images showed me. Seeing this, how could I not want to go?
We’re going with Adventure Bound–they usually leave at 8:00, so we’ll be trying to be the first ones off the ship that morning! I do have some concerns based on a few reviews I read, but I’m hoping they were of the “can’t satisfy everyone” type–there weren’t that many negative ones.
Other things I wish we had enough time to do
Trip Advisor says Mendenhall is the second top thing to do in Juneau (Tracy Arm Fjord is the first). Juneau Tours has some great information on how to get to the glacier and what to do when you’re there. The Mendenhall Glacier Visitor Center is open 8:00 – 7:30. Almost every tour review I read complained that they weren’t given enough time on the glacier. The Blue Glacier Express is $20 round trip and runs every thirty minutes–which means you can stay as long as you like.
There are lots of Whale Watching tours out of Juneau. That was our original intention, but Tracy Arm won out.
Since we visited multiple distilleries in the British Isles, it seems only reasonable that we consider visiting breweries in Alaska! The Alaskan Brewery Company offers tours and samples.
Mount Roberts Tram is the only tram in southeast Alaska.