Ford’s Terror

Just south of Tracy Arm fjord is another arm off Holkham Bay called Endicott Arm.  Among the features in this long arm is the aptly named Ford’s Terror – a very narrow, steep fjord with an entrance that’s a bit challenging.  As you can see on the chart, there is a very tight pinch point full of rocks (indicated by asterisks).  This chart is the most detailed available for the fjord, and note that depths are in fathoms (6′ = 1 fathom).Fords Terror chartIn addition to the poor chart and rocks, that pinch point becomes a nasty rapid when the tidal current is running – people come to surf on the standing waves.  The night before we made the transit I was wondering why we were going to go in there (“Robin’s terror!”), but other people have done it successfully and we had some points of reference from the blog of a very respected training captain from Seattle.

fords terror map closeupWe cruised up to the entrance keeping an eye on the time so we would arrive at slack current after high tide, cruised close to the big double-waterfall, and turned to look for the rock reefs that line each side of the narrow channel.  We called a “Securitay” on the radio in case any boats were trying to exit – there is room for only one boat in the pinch and no visibility due to the blind corner.  Fortunately I could see the rock reefs under the water pretty well, but we had to stop the boat and nudge a chunk of glacier ice out of the way in the narrow part.  After some nervous moments we made it through and began to appreciate why this place is so special.  The fjord walls are steep and the channel is close – it’s so dramatic and gorgeous!  I think it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.20140807 503 fords terror adventures bowl psrOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe best part is that we had the fjord all to ourselves for two glorious nights.  We just sat and soaked in the beauty, I kayaked, and we explored in the dinghy.  In addition to several big flashy waterfalls, we watched a mother black bear and her two cubs prowling the meadow in front of the bow all day long.20140806 364 fords terror black bear cubs 2 psr20140807 485 fords terror adventures speck circled psrSee the little red circle in the photo above?  That’s ADVENTURES anchored in the west arm of the fjord.

When we took the dink to explore we decided to head out the narrow channel to get some better bearings for running the entrance, and we found a huge chunk of iceberg probably aground, though it was so big we couldn’t tell for certain.20140807 424 big bergy bit with rock psrNote the small rock embedded in the ice on the far left.  Glaciers pick up all kinds of things and transport them great distances.20140807 428 blue ice closeup psrThe blue glow was eerie, and the color almost fake!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo why is such a magnificent place named “Ford’s Terror”?  Apparently a fellow named Ford was crew on a survey ship around 1899, and he was either sent in to explore the fjord or he decided to go in to hunt, but the bottom line is that he and his row boat were trapped inside by the vicious current until the tide turned and it scared him more than a little.  The trip was well worth the “terror”, and we will definitely return again.

After we reluctantly left the fjord we headed farther up Endicott Arm to see the Dawes glacier, but we weren’t able to get very close because the water was choked with brash ice.  It was a misty, gloomy day, but at least we could see the glacier from a distance and it had a great moody feeling from the weather.  We got closer than the photo shows, but not much.  20140808 527 dawes glacier ice and fog psrWe cruised back down the Arm to anchor, and I loved how the blue bergy bits stood out against the gray misty mountains.20140808 538 grounded bergy bit tracy arm psr

Glaciers and Ice

After our adventures in the only two towns with a road that actually goes somewhere, we headed back to Juneau for a quick overnight – we needed some plumbing parts, and we were able to hop on the bus, walk a bit, and get what we needed without too much fuss.  From there we headed to new territory south of Juneau – Tracy Arm, which is a fjord with a 90 degree turn and two glaciers at its head.  As we got closer, we started seeing good-sized bergy bits in the water, and we had to cross a bar that was created by the glacier sometime in the distant past, when it was more than 50 miles longer.  Some of the bigger bergy bits run aground on the shallow bar, and we were amazed at how very blue they were.20140808 543 grounded bergy bits tracy arm psrThe trip up Tracy Arm is just beautiful, though it’s easy to get too focused on the glaciers up at the end.  All along the way there are waterfalls and sheer walls, and we loved investigating them, up close and personal.20140814 629 adventures bow waterfall psr20140804 192 tracy arm waterfall psrThe weather wasn’t always the nicest, but even some drizzle and fog made the landscape look beautiful.20140814 634 misty waterfall psrAlong the sides of the fjord we sometimes saw smaller valleys with the classic “U” shape that indicates it was carved by a glacier.20140804 005 tracy arm classic glacier valley psrThe highlight at the far end of the fjord were the two glaciers – Sawyer and South Sawyer.  We headed up to see the smaller north Sawyer glacier first, and were excited to see all the blue ice, even on a dreary day.20140804 031 n sawyer glacier blue ice psrThe view of the South Sawyer glacier was a bit more dramatic – it was visible at a greater distance.20140804 063 south sawyer over bow psrNot only was this glacier bigger and more beautiful, it played host to a large population of seals hanging out on the ice calved from the glacier.20140804 246 seals at glacier psrWhat’s more interesting – the glacier or the seals??  It’s a tough call, but we dropped a kayak in the water so I could get closer to them while Jim kept ADVENTURES away from the biggest bergy bits.20140804 107 paddling with bergs psr20140804 097 adventures at s sawyer glacier 3 psrWe had radios so we could talk to each other, and Jim kept me posted about the little gang of curious seals that were following me, and popping up to watch.20140804 260 curious ice seal psrMy favorite was this little seal that was fast asleep on the ice.  He looked like a fat sausage…20140804 112 sleeping seal 2 psr20140804 313 sleeping seal face psrIt was fun to watch him until he finally woke up and looked at me with sleepy eyes.20140804 117 sleeping seal 3 psrI paddled farther away when he woke up, and when I looked back he was returning to his nap.  All the seals were curious and kept an eye on me, and I had fun watching them and seeing the wide variation of their coloring.20140804 275 ice seals psrBefore we left the glacier we had to scoop up a bit of the super-clear, dense ice – it keeps drinks cold longer, and it’s just neat to drink ice formed from snow that fell about 200 years ago.20140814 666 jim catching glacier bit psr