Glacier Bay National Park

Flip Nicklin, National Geographic Photographer

  • Daily Expedition Reports
  • 03 Sep 2013

Glacier Bay National Park, 9/3/2013, National Geographic Sea Bird

  • Aboard the National Geographic Sea Bird
  • Alaska

Hot coffee and the comfort of new friends warmed us on the bow early on this chilly morning. Cameras softly clicking, we waited in blue light alongside immense tidewater ice flows. Both the Margerie and Johns Hopkins glaciers splashed great chucks of compressed snow from their faces while “white thunder” (a Tlinget description of that powerful cracking sound) reverberated across the fjords. Steep rock walls composed of exotic terranes offered rugged views. Hanging blue ice and huge waterfalls colored by glacial sediments dominated while here and there among the rocks and trees were red and yellow hues, a sure reminder that the season is turning to fall here in the far north.

Across the great bay, behind Russell Island, sharp eyes spotted shapes moving along the upper tide lands. Three brown bears morphed out of the rocks—a large sow and two first year cubs (one distinctly larger than the other). She ambled into a stream, plucked a salmon from the water and tucked back into the shrubs with cubs running at her heels. Lucky us!

Gloomy Knob—a protrusion of glacier carved dolomite, was especially rewarding to photographers and viewers today. Mountain goats were in residence, and several of them were low enough for portraits! We watched three nannies with their robust kids; one pair leapt across precipitous terrain and set some rocks tumbling down the cliffs.

Oh yes, did I mention the killer whales? Pointed dorsal fins suggest that these were mammal eaters or transients—though known as silent hunters, the whales may have been traveling as our hydrophone picked up many interesting squeaks and squeals.

South Marble Island, cacophonous and isolated, is still covered with seabirds though the season is rapidly nearing its end. Stellar sea lions’ low growling leant a bass note to the shrill black-legged kittiwake’s cries, while tufted puffins flew across the bow.

Our incredible day was wrapped in three million acres of wilderness. The U.S. Congress, when it wisely decided to protect these lands was nearly poetic in its description: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

Perhaps it is worth a bit of thought to decide for ourselves the value of wilderness and what we can do in these times to protect it. What a day to remember…

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