Petersburg’s Local Glacier

While spending a few days back in Petersburg we decided to use a gift certificate I gave Jim for a trip to our “local” glacier, the Le Conte, about 15 miles away.  Normally the Le Conte inlet has quite a bit of brash ice and it’s not at all safe or sane to take our boat in there.  Several captains in town run small aluminum boats with protected props or jet drives to get to the glacier – that’s the way to do it. 

There is a shallow bar at the entrance to the glacier’s inlet – which is the terminal moraine – the farthest point the glacier reached, plowing rock and rubble like a gigantic bulldozer.  Often big icebergs will run aground in the shallows at the bar, and today’s trip had a few……especially this massive one that was the size of a house.Proceeding up the inlet, we saw a U-shaped valley off to the side – a clear sign that it was carved by a glacier, now just a small ice field and melt stream.The Le Conte is the southernmost tidewater glacier in North America – “tidewater” means that the glacier’s snout comes down to the sea.  The Le Conte is unique in that the ice is very deep – as much as 800′ under the water, while the visible part of the glacier is about 300′ high.  Most people are familiar with glacial calving – where chunks of ice fall off the face……but the Le Conte also calves from underwater, producing “shooters” that can erupt in spectacular fashion.

Glacier ice can be white, clear, gray, black, or blue……and this huge iceberg that calved off as a shooter really shows how intense the color can be. Glacier ice is the preferred haul-out for harbor seals – they’re safer from predators where the ice is thick.  They’re curious, but wary.

We spotted hundreds of seals resting and sleeping on the ice – a variety of fat sausages in speckled colors.

A trip to the Le Conte is a special treat, and each time can be so different.  Sublime.

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