More Glacier Bay Treats

The glaciers that give this National Park its name are in the north end of the bay, but there is so much to see on the journey up to the ice!

The sea otters are some of the most adorable critters, especially when they’re clutching their little pups. But they’re not popular with fishermen since they have no natural predators and they’re voracious eaters. They will eat everything in sight, wiping out the crabs and other bottom creatures, until the food is gone and they move on to another area. At some point, their numbers will overwhelm the available food sources and their population will crash. But yes, they are really cute.

We spotted a number of bears, and because it was early in the season, it was mating time. Males follow females that they’re interested in, and we saw several pairs of persistent males and uninterested females. This male was steadily pursuing his love interest, and she kept trotting and eventually running away from him.

We spotted three different “romantic” couples, as well as one female with a nice big second-year cub.

As we got closer to the glaciers, we started seeing harbor seals resting on floating ice. As it was still early in the season, the seals were giving birth so we needed to keep a big distance from them so we didn’t disturb the fragile new pups.

And finally we arrived up at the main glaciers – the Reid, Lamplugh, Johns Hopkins, Margerie, and the Grand Pacific. We’re lucky enough to be able to anchor by the Reid, giving us time to just look and listen to it for hours and hours.

What’s sad is that we can see more and more of the mountain underneath, and we’ve witnessed the very noticeable changes yearly since our first exciting visit to see it in 2014.

All the glaciers are changing so quickly – it’s like watching old friends decline, and it breaks our hearts.

We had the upper part of the bay all to ourselves one day, and we headed up to see the “show glacier” – the Margerie, that one that the cruise ships spend most of their time visiting. It’s splashy-flashy, as glaciers go, though not as blue as some of the other ones.

A little bit of calving…

We were lucky this time – we heard some cracking like thunder, then silence… then the whoosh of some bits of ice falling. The glaciers are always making noises – they’re rivers of ice that are constantly flowing down the mountain, carrying snow that fell about 200 years ago that’s now compressed into dense ice. This day, the Margerie was more active than we’ve ever seen, eventually gifting us with a nice big calving event. You’ll note that the video is quite short, because we were fairly close to the glacier’s face, and the ice-laden wave was not to be trifled with.

You can hear Jim yelling about the wave, so I had to put the camera down and get the boat moving back and angled to take the wave. Yowza!

Bears, Whales and Ice

What – MORE bears? Haven’t we seen enough already? (No, you haven’t.) We were on our way north up Chatham Strait, and just had to make a stop at Pavlov Harbor on Chichagof Island – it’s a good stopping point on the way to Juneau via the northern route. And Pavlov just happens to be a great place to see brown bears!

Sow and her two cubs

We only had one afternoon to hang out with the bears, and the action was a little slow at the falls, but still… bears!

We couldn’t stay longer – we were meeting friends in Juneau and had to keep going, but it’s a safe bet that there will be more encounters with large brown furry things before the summer is over. In the meantime, we saw another large mammal – the humpback kind. This one was pec-slapping – making a pretty good racket by slapping its long pectoral fins back and forth. In the video, you can hear the delayed “whomp” after the fin hits the water. We could feel it!

We continued on towards Juneau, rounding the top of Admiralty Island to see the lighthouse at Point Retreat.

Making the hairpin turn around the point, we could see a fog bank towards Juneau. It was pretty to see, and fortunately it cleared up before we got there.

We met dear friends from New Jersey in town – they were there on a cruise ship for the day, so it was pretty cool to spend a little time with them. On our way out of town, we passed by a huge private yacht that we saw a few times over the summer. “Dreamboat” is 295′ long, built in 2019 for $180 million, and is owned by Arthur Blank – owner of the Atlanta Falcons football team. Tough life. The tender (small boat) shown in the second photo is probably 45′ long, and it’s just one of a fleet of boats carried by the mother ship.


Preferring glaciers to yachts, we headed south down Stephens Passage towards Tracy Arm and the Sawyer Glaciers. As we crossed the shallow bar at the mouth of Tracy Arm, we could see the Sumdum hanging glacier. The name comes from the Tlingit language and represents the booming sound of ice breaking off.

We anchored nearby in a protected cove, and I headed out in the kayak to investigate some large blocks of glacier ice grounded in the shallows near the entrance bar. The colors and shapes are amazing, and the blue of the ice really stood out against the gloomy sky.

When you look closely, you can find some surreal formations and shapes, rocks trapped in the ice, crystal clear ice, blue ice, and all manner of textures. It’s mesmerizing.

Unfortunately, our plans to visit the Sawyer Glaciers were thwarted by the weather forecast. A big front was heading our way, and the wind was going to blow hard for days. We needed to move to a well-protected anchorage, and position ourselves for a planned trip up to Pack Creek a week later, so we cruised across Stephens Passage and tucked into Gambier Bay well in advance of the storm. It was an easy ride across, and we had a nice whale escort.