While on the dock in Taku Harbor before we went to Juneau, we chatted with several local boaters. They often asked how far north we were going and our reply, Glacier Bay, often elicited the response “have you been to Tracy (or Endicott) Arm.” We have been to both and while both are spectacular, they capture only a portion of what makes Glacier Bay so enjoyable. Tracy and Endicott are long winding fiord-like features with tide water glaciers at the end that calve ice into the water. Glacier Bay also has glaciers that calve ice but it offers more.
First, it encompasses a larger area than either Tracy or Endicott Arms, with more cruising opportunities and a wider range of environments. It has a fascinating natural and human history as Glacier Bay was created in relatively recent times having its origins during the “little ice age” of the 1700’s. The native Tlingit people have oral history that tell of the advancing glaciers that pushed them from their lands that were first covered by ice than by water when the glaciers receded. The wild life is extensive, with many marine mammals (e.g., sea otters, sea lions, whales), birds (e.g., eagles, puffins) and land animals (bears, moose, wolves). While the permitting process for entry is a nuisance, it ensures a quality experience and protects the environment from being loved to death.
Because of Covid related changes, we did not have to do an in-person orientation at the Visitor Center in Bartlett Cove prior to going up bay into the park. With that flexibility, on Wednesday, August 5, we decided to make the long push from Juneau to one of our favorite anchorages, North Sandy Cove, for the night. The route took us by South Marble Island where we saw the requisite sea lions and puffins. While no bears on the beach greeted us, we did have a resident pair of sea otters paddling about and later were serenaded by a pack of wolves, yapping, yipping and howling for several minutes.
Given a forecast of deteriorating weather in future days, the next day we continued up bay to the head of Tarr Inlet and the Margerie Glacier. The absence of cruise ships and the closed Glacier Bay Lodge meant there were no large vessels up bay. Besides the handful of recreational vessels like ourselves, the only commercial vessels operating in the park were small (~30 feet) and fast boats hauling kayakers or taking guests from Gustavus lodges on tours. The ice in the water wasn’t difficult to navigate through, mostly easily dodged large car/truck sized pieces rather than vast swaths of smaller pieces covering an area.
After leaving the Margerie Glacier, we anchored the night at the NE corner of Russell Island, an exposed location with poor holding. The next day, Friday 8/7, we returned to North Sandy Cove. The forecasts were becoming increasingly dire for the weekend, and on Saturday we returned to Bartlett Cove to sit out the storm. We did paddle to shore and give Drake an opportunity to feel something not rocking under his paws.
As this is being written, we are on the tail end of the storm that brought gale force winds to most of the inner channels. We saw gusts in excess of 30 knots and sustained winds in the 20’s. Bartlett Cove is reasonably protected from southeast and south winds which were the initial predicted direction. Unfortunately after we settled into Bartlett Cove to sit out the storm, the track shifted slightly and the tail end of the storm brought 30 knot west winds and 6-foot seas to Icy Strait, a direction to which Bartlett Cove is exposed. This (Monday, 8/10) morning, in the anchorage, we are getting 3-foot rolling waves coming from Icy Strait. We are counting on the forecasted afternoon change to east winds in Icy Strati bringing more settled conditions to the anchorage.
The weather on Tuesday, 8/11, for most inner channels is 10 knot winds and 2-foot seas and we will begin our meandering journey southward.