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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.