Tracy Arm Fjord and South Sawyer Glacier

Aug 27, 2018 - National Geographic Quest


There is nothing quite like waking up to an arresting view of steep fjord walls covered in spruces and painted in fine lines of fog, and there is perhaps nothing as quintessential as a bit of foggy weather and rain in Southeast Alaska. We began our morning sailing into Tracy Arm Fjord, one of the jewels of the Tongass National Forest, the largest temperate rainforest in the world.

As our first morning together as an expedition team, we partook in a briefing on how expedition operations go. Staying indoors for part of the morning was ideal, given that the rain was falling. But, seeing as portions of this national forest can receive over 400 inches per year of rainfall, it made sense for us to dawn our raincoats and boots and head to the bow of National Geographic Quest.

After taking in the sights of ephemeral waterfalls and Sitka spruces, we broke for a delicious lunch and immediately prepared for our first Zodiac tour. In this first excursion, National Geographic Quest parked just a few miles from the face of South Sawyer Glacier, one of two glaciers in Tracy Arm, and an area described by John Muir in the 1880s as an unfinished iteration of Yellowstone. Indeed the views, and in particular, the geology of this part of Tongass National Forest are remarkable.

Not only does South Sawyer Glacier offer spectacular geology, but it is also the location of an actively calving glacier. Our nimble Zodiac crew disembarked National Geographic Quest and sailed toward the glacier to see and hear the calving, and to see the creation of icebergs. Not only were we witness to several large calving events, but on our way to the glacier face we were greeted by two charismatic mammals: mountain goats and harbor seals. We observed several hundred individual seal pups and mothers hauled on the ice, while we watched mountain goat kids and nannies foraging for alder among the steep slopes along the fjord. To cap off the Zodiac tour, our boats were greeted by a friendly crew of Vikings who served us hot chocolate. After our warm treat, we headed back to the ship for dinner and an overview of our exciting day ahead in the storied fishing town, Petersburg.

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About the Author

Hunter Snyder

Cultural Specialist

Hunter Snyder is an American anthropologist and a National Geographic Young Explorer. His ethnographic research has focused on fisheries, subsistence livelihoods, and social-ecological disruptions in the Arctic. From 2014-2015, he was Greenland’s first Fulbright Fellow where he carried out fieldwork among small-scale fishers and hunters. In 2015, while a National Geographic Young Explorer, he studied shifts in the subsistence economy of Qeqertarsuatsiaat, Greenland as well as sharing and competition behavior in the small-scale fishing sector.

About the Photographer

Ralph Pace

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Ralph is a freelance underwater and environmental photographer based in San Diego, California. Having grown up in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, Ralph’s love of nature and the outdoors came at a young age. He holds a graduate degree in marine biodiversity and conservation from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography where he used the economic value of a surfing wave along with photography to stop the construction of a marina project that would have ruined a lagoon, a critical sea turtle nesting habitat, and a world-class surf break.  

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