Sailing up Tracy Arm

Glaciers, wildlife, and spectacular scenery. Aren’t they what everyone who cruises up the Inside Passage hopes to see? Weather is often uncooperative in the fjords that wind among the mountains. Tops of peaks disappear. Sparkling blue waters turn flat grey.

Holland America's Zuiderdam in Tracy Arm

We traveled in mid-August. Knowing how iffy the weather can be, we were thrilled to sail up Tracy Arm under blue skies. The big cruise ships can’t maneuver narrower channels. So I hopped on a catamaran for a closer look at the Sawyer Glaciers.

Part of the route took us past slopes with a distinctly purple cast. I took photographs to show my eight-grade art teacher. (She’s dead now, but I will never look at purple mountains without thinking of her.)

Purple mountains
Mid-day sunlight gave the mountains a purple hue
Purple Mountains Majesty
Mountains rice high, blue, and purple above the fjord

The South Sawyer Glacier had obviously been calving. The catamaran wove carefully among all the chunks of ice, but at this point had to give up taking us any closer.

South Sawyer route
Turnaround point en route to South Sawyer Glacier
South Sawyer Glacier
We could see the South Sawyer Glacier ahead, but icebergs kept us from maneuvering any closer

We turned around and headed for the North Sawyer Glacier. The pilot still moved cautiously as he neared the glacier, but the water was open enough that we spent an hour watching harbour seals cavorting, an eagle diving for prey, gulls resting on icebergs or flying around the boat, and—what we were all hoping for—huge chunks of ice splitting off with loud crashes, icy sprays, and boat-tilting waves.

Harbour seal
Harbour seals swam, dived, rolled all around us
Calving glacier
On a warm day, hunge chunks of ice were breaking off the calving glacier

Sun filled the fjord that ends at the North Sawyer Glacier. The swirls of red and orange that give the hills their distinctive burned-over colouring were eye popping. Our return trip took us through walls scoured smooth or deeply gouged by the retreating glacier.

North Sawyer Glacier
The receding North Sawyer Glacier leaves behind rock walls scoured by ice
Streaky rock
The rock walls around us were designed by the incredibly artistry of nature

Our last stop was at Ice Falls, a favorite of the catamaran’s pilot. The only sad note of the trip emerged here, when the distinctive shape a hump-backed whale appeared, with a shredded gill net tracing its grey form. The guides promised to call NOAA to check on the whale.

Ice Falls
Our last stop in Tracy Arm, the beautiful Ice Falls

Then we picked up speed for the hour and a half run to Juneau. We docked shortly after the big ship dropped anchor.

I stepped off the catamaran with a satisfied sigh. Money well spent, for a memory that won’t soon fade.

Icy sphinx
Looks like an icy sphinx having a conversation with another 'berg

3 thoughts on “Sailing up Tracy Arm

  1. Michelle Jarman

    Wow, spectacular photos. As I sit in my office for another city day – it fills my spirit to think of the magic in nature you’ve shown us here in these photos.

  2. Maree Leopold

    We are booked on an Inside Passage cruise in August this year on the Volendam and are considering the Tracey Arm tour as an option to get closer to the glaciers than the large ship can. Sounds like it would be worth doing!

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