Tracy Arm

Aug 28, 2017 - National Geographic Sea Lion


It was a gorgeous first morning aboard the National Geographic Sea Lion.  A mix of low cloud and muted sunshine greeted us as we approached Holkham Bay, the entrance to vast Tracy Arm – Ford’s Terror Wilderness, part of the Tongass National Forest.  Ducking into Williams Cove before our long journey to the head of Tracy Arm fjord, from the ship’s bow we spotted bald eagles, pigeon guillemots, and large rafts of bright-billed surf scoters.  The moment we sat down to breakfast, we were rudely interrupted by a brown bear ambling along the shore, no doubt drawn by the salmon streams of Williams Cove.  So we rushed back outside with cameras and binoculars, leaving our breakfast and coffee to cool.  It’d still be there when the bear was long gone. 

Next we rounded the corner into Tracy Arm, watching the topography grow steeper, narrower, and ever more dramatic.  We spied mountain goats on the cliffs a thousand feet above, suspended above the sheer drop, unfazed.  Some 30 miles deep into this narrow fjord, around the corner from South Sawyer Glacier, we finished lunch, bundled up in every layer we’d brought, and climbed aboard our zodiacs, bound for the glacial face.  We slalomed through the icebergs and small “growlers,” watching harbor seals at rest on the floating ice.  All of these bergs are evidence of a very active tidewater glacier – flowing quickly downhill from its “accumulation zone” in the Stikine Icefield, and calving lots of ice at its face.  In fact, the South Sawyer Glacier, as with over 95% of Alaska’s glaciers, is in rapid retreat.  Before long, we had booming evidence of the glacier’s movement, as large chunks of ice, some the height of 10-story buildings, began to calve off the glacial face.  It took a second for the “white thunder” sound to reach us; several minutes later, our zodiac was bobbing in the large wave generated as the ice splashed down.  It was a thrill to be in the presence of such power – the cracking of the glacier echoing off vertical granite walls carved by the glacier itself.  What an introduction to Southeast Alaska! 

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About the Author

Zach Brown

Naturalist

Zach Brown grew up surrounded by the wilderness of Southeast Alaska.  With parents in the National Park Service, Zach had ample opportunity to explore Glacier Bay and the Tongass National Forest as a boy.  These experiences gave him a lasting love of the natural world. 

About the Videographer

Sarah Culler

Video Chronicler

Sarah was raised on a multi-generational family dairy farm, established circa 1815 in Lucas, Ohio. Consequently, her first paying job was milking cows! Rewarding as it was to get paid for the first time, she found her passion behind the lens of a camera. Growing up on the farm gave her not only a strong work ethic but also the love of nature and being outdoors. 

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