Dawes Glacier, Fords Terror
  • Daily Expedition Reports
  • 11 Jul 2021

Dawes Glacier, Fords Terror, 7/11/2021, National Geographic Sea Lion

  • Aboard the National Geographic Sea Lion
  • Alaska

The day dawned with great promise … no rain, warmish, and partly sunny. Just before breakfast, a handful of guests on the bow saw a solitary humpback whale slowly patrolling back-and-forth within 50 feet of a sharply sloping shore. The quiet conditions allowed us to observe the undisturbed shape and sound of the humpback’s exhalations. After watching the quiet, almost mesmerizing scene, we traveled further and soon spotted a solitary black bear on the shore. It watched us for a few minutes, then got bored and slowly sauntered into the forest. And all this was before breakfast.

After breakfast, we climbed into Zodiacs for an amazing trip up to and around Dawes Glacier, the southernmost tidewater glacier in the world. It has receded 62 meters/year since 1985, a recession that can be calibrated by the vegetation patterns on the steep fjord walls. Several harbor seals were lounging on ice flows near the glacier’s face and paid us scant attention. Large ice flows were laced with vivid, almost luminescent streaks of blue, a characteristic of old ice. We first heard (a sharp crack), then saw small calving events dropping tons of glacier ice into the water below. On the way back, a sharp-eyed guest with binoculars focused on a small white dot high on the cliff face, which resolved into a solitary mountain goat!

Following lunch and downloading numerous photos from the morning, we set out by Zodiac to explore Fords Terror, a narrow cut bounded by high cliff walls. The National Geographic Sea Lion anchored near a particularly narrow entrance into the inner portion of Fords Terror, which we entered by Zodiacs through swirling and strong tidal currents. The inner portion was lined on both sides by waterfalls 100s of feet high, precariously perched tall trees, and intricate patterns of uplifted rocks and leached minerals … abstract art by Nature. Truly spectacular views. As we exited the narrow passage during a milder part of the tidal cycle, we noticed a sailboat anchored in a potentially dangerous area, necessitating a rescue by Zodiacs and a lengthy tow by the Sea Lion to a safe anchorage. All in all, a splendidly memorable day and more will follow.

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