Tracy Arm, Sawyer and South Sawyer Glaciers
  • Daily Expedition Reports
  • 20 Aug 2021

Tracy Arm, Sawyer and South Sawyer Glaciers, 8/20/2021, National Geographic Quest

  • Aboard the National Geographic Quest
  • Alaska

The final full day of our voyage found us cruising more than 20 miles into the Tracy Arm/Fords Terror Wilderness Area. This valley was carved by repeated advances of the ice during previous ice ages over the last several million years. The ice last stood at the mouth of the fjord probably around 1,500 years ago, but now only the Sawyer and South Sawyer Glaciers stand in tidewater at the head of the valley, and they have retreated dramatically over the past few decades. Massive rock faces, sculpted by the ice, dominate our view from the waterline. With the good weather, we were able to explore the upper reaches of the valley, now flooded by the sea, on Zodiacs and by kayak. Numerous streams tumbled down from the heights in a series of cascades, creating a bright washed look to the valley walls, while the weathered rocks exhibited the scratches, and carvings, and polishing characteristic of glacial erosion.  One hundred and fifty years ago, John Muir paddled these same fjords to observe the effect of moving ice on rock, and he used these observations to convince the scientific world that the same forces created the similar features of the High Sierras in valleys like Yosemite.

We saw mountain goats strolling and grazing on the bluffs, calm and serene in the nooks and crannies that you or I would find terrifying. Numerous harbor seals lay resting on bits of ice that would chill us to the bone. The ouzel, or dipper, a small gray bird, was at home dashing in and out of the cascading streams searching for aquatic insects. And, at the face of the glacier, we saw a few towering seracs of ice shatter into pieces and plunge into the water. Plunging, indeed, was what some brave voyagers did at the end of the afternoon, taking a quick dip of their own into the chilly waters.

During the evening, we enjoyed the last cocktails and dinner of the voyage. We sat with family and new friends to reminisce over our own pictures of the journey. With the marvels of Southeast Alaska fresh in our minds, we can all take home our own stories and thoughts to share with others, confident that we have been enriched and informed by the experience.

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Exploring Alaska's Coastal Wilderness


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