Tracy Arm, Alaska, 7/26/2022, National Geographic Quest
National Geographic Quest
A small contingent of early risers, with their breath and cups of coffee steaming, smiled as if some secret, unknown to the rest of the ship, had been whispered in their ears. We were gathered on the bow, witnessing the curtain of a cool morning sun creep slowly across the south faces of domed rocks in the east. Blue-tinged glacial ice bobbed in the cold water, rocking gently in the ripples of our slowly spreading bow wake. Somewhere in the distance, a bald eagle greeted the dawn with a high-pitched chortle.
This is morning in Tracy Arm––a narrow fiord, carved by ice into what John Muir once called, “Yosemite in the making.”
An autodidact, Jim has spent a lifetime studying and exploring what he refers to as “the intersection of human progress and wildness.” Stumbling on the writings of Aldo Leopold in his early twenties—namely Leopold’s essay Thinking Like a Mountain —la...
Glacier Bay National Park is the ancestral homeland of the Huna Tlingit clans. Covering over three million acres of land, this striking environment lends itself well to discussions about primary succession, a characteristic of temperate rainforests and glaciation. National Geographic Venture started its day with hikes and photography instruction around Bartlett Cove. The ship’s naturalists discussed various aspects of primary succession and temperate rainforests while finding baneberry, fiddleheads, and morel mushrooms. The hikes ended with observing the preserved skeleton of a whale named Snow, a humpback whale killed by a ship strike in 2001. Once all crew and guests were on board, the ship ventured farther into Glacier Bay National Park. Along the way, we observed incredible sightings of humpback whales, Steller sea lions, sea otters, tufted puffins, bald eagles, and a variety of other animals. Farther north, we passed by Gloomy Knob where guests and staff spotted mountain goats whose white fur contrasted well with the dark rocky habitat. Finally, guests and staff celebrated the end of another magical day in Southeast Alaska with cocktail hour while viewing Margerie Glacier calving. The incredible landscape of Southeast Alaska, and particularly Glacier Bay, is an awe-inspiring world that lends itself to exploration and conservation.
At daybreak, National Geographic Quest was cutting through the icy waters of Tracy Arm Fjord, flanked by towering walls of sheer granite. In this space, our expedition vessel seems quite tiny, and scale becomes impossible to judge. On an overcast day like today, the mountain peaks climb right through the cloud cover. Guests breakfasted in the shadow of Sawyer Glacier with waterfalls in every direction. Not a bad way to start the day! Being in position so early in the day gave us the opportunity to offer extra activities. Those who chose to get a little closer to the water had the opportunity to paddle out in kayaks to view the glacier’s face. Anyone who was still a bit sore from our adventurous day in Petersburg had the option of a guided cruise with one of our naturalists. For much of the staff, our daily tasks only add to the anticipation of our visit to South Sawyer Glacier. South Sawyer is a towering wall of blue ice hanging in the tides that always offers an extraordinary viewing experience. Guests were quite vocal about their enjoyment of the morning as they entered photos for the guest slideshow, prepared for disembarkation, and enjoyed lunch. However, the staff was well aware that the best was yet to come. As we left National Geographic Quest , we traveled through geologic history, through an empty trail blazed by millions of pounds of ice. Sheer cliffs of granite gave way to twisting masses of metamorphic rock until we could go no further due to the floating field of ice. Upon the ice in the distance, we started to make out harbor seals, and not just a few but dozens. This year’s mothers were resting safely on the ice as the birthing season fast approaches. The booming of calving ice inside the glacier echoed throughout the fjord as we waited. Eventually we saw a few small bits splashing into the water from the face of the glacier. Then, we saw what we were waiting for. A spire of blue ice the size of an apartment building crashed into the water below, drawing applause from the boats floating near one another. But wait! Before we knew it, we were being charged by a merry band of pirates! The ship’s hotel staff snuck up on us in bearded disguise with a boat delivery of hot chocolate. Spiked drinks were available for those interested. After all were on board, we rested briefly before preparing for the Polar Plunge! A few brave souls opted to swim between Zodiacs in the icy waters of Tracy Arm before dinner was served. Our night ended with our ship pointed toward Juneau as the world premiere of the guest slideshow played on the screens in the lounge. We heard lots of laughs and lots of “ooohs” and “ahhhs” before a final round of applause to end the night. It was a perfect last day to end an unbelievable adventure.
We began our day by hiking into a forest dripping with rainwater, fragrant pink spruce cones, and hanging lichens. A tumbling waterfall captured everyone’s attention, no matter their photographic inclination. We just couldn’t look away. To top it off, we were graced by the presence of a magical bird called the American dipper, or the water ouzal. She proudly perched on a rock for all to see, blinking her feathered eyelids and doing her dipper dance. Dippers are the only diving songbirds in North America, and as such, they are objectively awesome. Petersburg, Alaska was the site of our afternoon activities. These included bike riding, a cultural tour, muskeg hikes, an ambitious hike to Raven’s Roost, and / or the option of exploring town independently. This was our first visit back into civilization since setting sail. Of course, there was a mad dash to the one and only Petersburg bookstore, which offers a variety of local crafts and books that capture the essence of this unique region. Animal-themed zipper pulls are an especially popular treasure. The day concluded with recap, including presentations about sharks of the Pacific Northwest, the love lives of Dungeness crabs, and the life history of American dippers. Following a robust crab dinner, undersea specialist Rachel Crane delivered an evening presentation that highlighted dive footage from a plankton-rich site along our voyage. We went off to bed and dreamt sea star dreams.