Tracy Arm Fords Terror Wilderness Area

Jun 23, 2018 - National Geographic Sea Lion

While rubbing our eyes and sipping our coffee, this morning we were called onto the bow for the encounter we had been waiting all week for: an American black bear in the intertidal zone, enjoying its breakfast. As we quietly watched from the ship, this bear munched on the barnacles and rockweed that was not quite submerged as the tide slowly rose. After about half an hour, we turned away, continuing into Tracy Arm fjord. Once again enjoying a spectacular lack of rain, the sun shone on the sheer mountainsides and sea foam green water that we would follow until it ended 22 miles later at the face of South Sawyer Glacier. This fjord is one of two arms of the Tracy Arm Fords Terror Wilderness Area, a pristine wilderness covering over 600,000 acres within the Tongass National Forest. For our morning excursion, National Geographic Sea Lion sent us exploring the last few miles in to the face of the glacier; it towers 200 feet above the surface of the water and continues 21 miles back to the Stikine Ice Field.  On the expedition landing craft, we cruised around, hoping to see wildlife in the area, and our expectations were exceeded. Rounding one corner, we found a large family of mountain goats with their kids on the mountainside. The next corner exposed hundreds of harbor seals and their pups hauled out on icebergs, nursing until the pups are large enough to venture into the open ocean on their own. There was even a harbor porpoise cruising quietly through the water.

After warming up with a delicious lunch of homemade chili, the captain made one more stop before exiting Tracy Arm fjord. With a rescue boat and photographer boat close by, and an iceberg looming less than 100 yards away, 24 brave passengers ended their trip with the grand finale of a polar plunge. Jumping into 43 degree water, they made sure this week would be one adventure to remember for a long time.

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About the Author

JIll Niederberger


Jill is an aquatic biologist, naturalist, divemaster, and captain with a love for everything living in and depending on water. Whether sailing catamarans, leading snorkeling tours, or assisting with cetacean field research projects, she enjoys connecting others to the wilderness around them. Her most recent adventures have led her into a focus on marine mammals – those creatures with fur and blubber that defy the odds by living in or depending on an environment in which they cannot breathe.

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