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Entries about fjords

Southeast Alaska in June

Whales in the Night, Trees, The Devil's Thumb, and Returning to Tracy Arm.

overcast 60 °F

AN ALASKAN WELCOME
The Alaskan Inside Passage Welcoming Committee consisted of several pods of actively feeding humpback whales. In fact, we were surrounded by them. I counted ten, in three different pods. Humpbacks migrate to Alaska in the summer months to feed before returning to warmer southern waters to repopulate themselves. They don’t eat when down south (a fact I’m skeptical about) and to me it’s understandable that they might be a tad bit hungry by the time they get back to Alaska.

It was getting late, but in mid-June in Alaska, there is still enough light to see several hundred yards away. To the southwest the water was bright like polished silver. A smattering of stars were dully poking out through broken gray clouds, the islands were a black outline of fir trees and impassive mountains.

The whales were tail slapping the surface of the water in order to stun their food. They would then lunge through the collected ball of fish mash with their mouths agape breaking through the surface of the water to salute the stars before clamping their big mouths shut. Humpbacks are baleen whales which strain the fish from seawater using a baleen. A baleen runs lengthwise along the top of a humpbacks mouth in a long series of combs designed to catch the fish, but allow the seawater to pass through.

I watched this amazing behavior through the high powered bridge binoculars. As the whales broke through the surface with a giant mouth full of fish, I swore I saw them smile. Then they would quietly sink back into the water.

TREES
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We were sailing south through Glacier Bay National Park, and were exploring a small bay in hopes of seeing some wildlife. The sun was at a perfect height in the southwest to brilliantly highlight the foothill forest that surrounded the mountains. The deciduous trees have a healthy full coverage of leaves now, though their season is a lot shorter then other parts of the country. Summer has taken hold of Alaska. The forest was a good mix of brightly lit deciduous and very dark fir trees. The contrast between the light and the dark made both types of tree stand out.
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“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now.” ~Chinese Proverb

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“I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.” ~Willa Cather, 1913

THE DEVIL’S THUMB

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This monolith was first climbed by Krakauer. It sits high above the small island community of Petersburg, and is seen best on brilliant blue sky days that happen occasionally here in the inside passage.

TRACY ARM

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Tracy Arm never disappoints. Today I saw two harbor seals lounging peacefully on an ice flow. They watched the boat, but sensed no harm in the dozen of us that were taking photographs.
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Look at the amazing layering and color of this glacial iceberg. This is a color found only in glacial ice and I find myself watching it for long periods of time. I don’t know why I’m so drawn to it, but it’s hypnotizing.
I wish my eyes were this color; I could get away with anything I wanted to.
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Posted by Rhombus 08:58 Archived in USA Tagged trees wildlife travel fjords whales ice alaska oceans glaciers photography foliage icebergs writing Comments (0)

Fjords, Glaciers and Elfin Cove

Tracy Arm, South Sawyer Glacier, and Elfin Cove: Population 12

semi-overcast 46 °F

This time of year in southeast Alaska, it gets light out at about four o’clock in the morning. I like to take advantage of the early morning light because nobody on board is awake. As a deckhand who works the night shift, I have ample time to watch the alluring scenery pass by. I’ve been known to pull out my camera while on duty, but that is a fringe benefit of this job. I like to get my early morning chores done as quickly as possible to allow for more quality time enthralled with these marvelous Fjords. I like fjords. The word fjord is fun to say, and the geological feature is a great place to explore.
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I was sitting on a deck box of the aft deck of our upper deck, sharing a blueberry muffin from Heritage Coffee with one of my deck partners and sipping good mint tea. Bakery tastes better when it is shared, especially with good comrades.
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I decided to count all of the waterfalls I could see around me, and I finally gave up after I reached nineteen. It’s not that there weren’t more of them, it’s just that deckhands lose interest in numbers after awhile, and really I just enjoyed being surrounded by falling water.
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The waterfalls ramble down the rock face of the cliffs of the fjord in long narrow ribbons often falling hundreds of feet into the water. The surrounding mountains have a lot of melting snow at this time of year, and with the continual rainfall of southeast Alaska, their flow is constant and healthy.

Tracy Arm Wildlife:

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Mountain Goats
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Arctic Tern
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Long Tailed Duck
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Black Bears

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Looking at the rock walls of the fjord, I was intrigued by the striated rock. There is little vegetation that has taken root here. This is because this is the newest rock to escape the icy grinding of the glacier. It’s fresh rock, so to speak, and it was cool to see the effects of a glacier close up, and so soon after it had released its grip on the rock.
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Tracy Arm is an inspiring piece of landscape. There is a beautiful view in every direction to inspire those susceptible to its charm. At its head are two glaciers, the Sawyer and the South Sawyer. I was fortunate enough to spend a beautiful morning watching ice calving off of the face of the glacier and listening to the white thunder.
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As an early birthday present, I witnessed a gigantic house sized hunk of dense glacier blue ice roll off of the face of the glacier and bob into the water. It was incredible. I was lucky to have my binoculars handy, and I had a really good look at this amazing phenomena. A large wave swelled up from the displaced water, and started rolling outward. It made our zodiacs bob up and down while it passed crashing against the far side of the bay.
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“White Thunder” is what the natives would call the sound of ice cracking off of a glacier. It is an apt description. It sounds just like the sound of a thunder clap after a lightening strike, and it’s really cool to hear one echo around in the fjord.

Elfin Cove Population 12.
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Elfin cove is a nice little cove on the west side of Chichagoff Island in Alaska’s Southeast. It’s a very small village, with 12 full time resilient residents, and several dogs. When we walked up the slippery boardwalk that makes up the main street of the village, the welcoming committee came out to welcome us to town.
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My friends could not resist, and gave it all the attention it wanted. Who can resist petting a friendly dog? We explored along through the misting rain until we found a good bench swing facing the bay. We sat down, and cuddled up close to keep warm against the cold wind and increasing rainfall. It was a very pleasant way to spend our time, swinging, talking and slowly getting soaked. I enjoyed the good company, that my fellow deckhands bring, and we capped off our day with hot chocolate when we returned to the boat.
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Should you find yourself in Elfin Cove, take advantage of the hospitality and good seating available at this nice little village.

This ends my first stint in Alaska. After seven months aboard the Sea Bird, they’ve finally decided to give me a break, and I have a month to spend chasing my muse before returning to Alaska in June. Look for me in California Wine Country, on the coast of California, rock climbing at the New River Gorge in West Virginia, and revisiting my old stomping grounds on the shore of Lake Superior.

The wanderer is seldom bored.

Happy Travels!

Posted by Rhombus 17:13 Archived in USA Tagged mountains birds boats wildlife towns fjords ice alaska clouds glaciers bears harbors Comments (0)

One Week in Alaska: Why I love My Life

Twenty Four Southeast Alaskan Scenes of Grandeur

semi-overcast 49 °F

I’ve been re-inspired by Alaska. Close encounters with Orca whales will do that to a guy. Hell, just looking out at the wilderness landscapes of this state will re-inspire a guy. I’m glad to be back in Alaska. I’ve surprised myself this week by realizing how badly I’ve missed this untamed place. Here are 24 photos that are just a glimpse into the vast wildness that makes up this amazing state. I’ve seen all this in only a week. Imagine what a summer could hold…

TRACY ARM
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GREEN SCENES
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WHERE OCEAN MEETS LAND
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ORCAS
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GLACIER
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TREES
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YOUR HERO
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Alaska is everything you've ever dreamed of. Go.

Posted by Rhombus 10:29 Archived in USA Tagged trees birds boats islands ocean fjords whales alaska glaciers forests moss icebergs Comments (2)

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