I'm living on a sailboat that travels at about 5.5 nautical miles per hour through the water. I say through the water because depending on which way the tide is going our speed over the ground is quite a bit slower or faster. Depending on how long of a day Bob and I decide to put in we can easily make over 50 miles in a day. That's kind of a slow day, but not compared to a day of traveling only 6-8 feet. That's how far the Margerie Glacier travels in a day. And while 50 miles in Wings of the Dawn can feel quite leisurely, 6-8 feet for the 350' tall, 1 mile wide, 21 mile long tidewater glacier appears violent and spectacular.
The Margerie Glacier is just one of the many glaciers in Glacier Bay National Park. When it was first visited by Europeans in the 1700's, Glacier bay was not really a bay, it was a massive field of ice that had forced the Huna Tlingit (pronounced like "cling-it") tribe from their lush meadow village in one swift push sometime in the 1600's. By the time it was re-visited in the mid 1800's by John Muir the ice had retreated 40 miles back into the new bay the giant glacier had carved. This week Bob and I traveled 65 miles up into the bay to see the glaciers at it's northernmost point.
The vistas within glacier bay are breathtaking. Sheer mountain faces rise up from the water to heights of over 15,000'. The water as you get farther away from the sea picks up a massive amount of silt and takes on a milky turquoise color that I've never before seen. Within some of the inlets to the north, the calving glaciers fill the water will great amounts of ice. Beyond the amazing geology and scenery, the bay is home to large amounts of wildlife, and it is nearly impossible not to see tons of marine mammals and other unique creatures if you just look around.
And the glaciers. Anywhere where the snow was given a chance to collect it did. With 70-75 inches of precipitation annually, the snow eventually weighs itself into dense ice, pushed downhill by the weight of the ice above it. When it is finally given a chance to escape into the water, it makes a thunderous boom. Bob and I sat open mouthed in awe as we watched block after block of ice fall hundreds of feet from the sheer wall of ice into the inlets, all the while sounding like a mid-west thunderstorm that was never going to end.
Speaking of never ending, that would be the days up here. Our maximum northern longitude was 60 degrees north, and even though the sun sets a bit after 10, it never gets a chance to get very far below the horizon, and when I woke at 1:30 am to take a whiz off of the stern of the boat, there was still a brilliant white glow where the sun used to be behind the mountains.
I've been to several national parks this year, and many more in my lifetime, but never have I been anywhere quite like this.