Glacier Bay National Park (July 26-29)

Intuition in front of Reid Glacier (Photo Credit: Les Rohlf)

Words by Les and Kel Rohlf (more photos will be on Kel’s FB or added here later when internet is stronger…)

Les’ Notes

Monday, July 26, 2021

Hoonah to Shag Cove

Miles: 65

Hours: 9.3

We left Hoonah’s harbor at 6:30am to head toward Glacier Bay. My plan was to stop at the Visitor Center in Bartlett Cove at around 10:00am. After spending an hour or two we could take advantage of the flood tide for most of our run up the bay to the planned anchorage at Shag Cove.

We got a little later start than planned, so ran plane after entering Icy Strait. We cruised at 15-16mph until a few miles short of the Glacier Bay boundary when the motor’s overheat warning came on. We stopped and bobbed around in the thankfully calm Icy Strait while we accomplished some rudimentary troubleshooting. There was no obvious obstruction on the cooling intakes; I also re-checked the oil and prop and saw no immediate issues. We restarted the motor, noted a good tell-tale from the cooling system. We continued for a while at slower speed, then at 15 mph for a few more miles without incident. Glacier Bay requires everyone entering or exiting the park boundary (a line between Point Gustavus and Point Carolus) to inform them via radio. Glacier Bay then provides the latest speed and operating restrictions for the whale protection areas in the south bay. We arrived at the Bartlett Cove public dock at 10:45am. We checked in with the rangers at the Visitor Information Station. Kel found out that Ryan, the ranger on duty is from St, Charles, MO.

Checked out the Healing Pole, Tlingit Community House, and whale skeleton outdoor exhibits. We then walked to visitor center in Glacier Bay Lodge; and went through their well-done displays. We left Bartlett Cove at 12:15pm and enjoyed the peak of the flood tide as we went through Sitakaday Narrows. With a throttle setting that normally gives us 6-7 mph, we saw 13-14.

As we continued north we saw numerous whales north of the “Whale Protection Zone.” We arrived at Shag Cove by 5:00pm, and were challenged to find a good place to drop the anchor, get enough scope, and keep a reasonably swing radius. We had to retry after the first drop.

Tonight, there’s a light NW wind, and we’ve got an annoying wave action hitting us on the beam as we swing with the tide at anchor. I imagine a strong north wind would make things uncomfortable. I can’t complain too much, as the scenery is spectacular.

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Shag Cove to Reid Inlet

Miles: 68

Hours: 10.5

It was perfectly calm when we left Shag Cove at 6:00 am.  As we headed north in the main bay, I looked up and saw an AIS contact behind us going 18 knots.  Toggling to get information, the boat name was “Nieuw Amsterdam”. Looking over my right shoulder, it was clear from 7 miles away that this was a big cruise ship (Holland America Line). They passed us at a distance of 1.5 miles as we approached Blue Mouse Cove.  At least at 1.5 miles, the wake involved only big slow rollers.

We continued up the Johns Hopkins Inlet. They don’t allow cruise ships into the inner part of the inlet, so the big cruise ship and two smaller Nat Geo ships were on their way out by the time we got there. The Johns Hopkins Glacier is impressive – you see it as you turn the corner into the inner section of the outlet from about 5 miles. We weren’t able to get any closer than about 3 mile due to ice.

We headed out of Johns Hopkins Inlet and decided to go ahead and run up the Tarr Inlet today, rather than waiting until tomorrow. Our timing was good, as the Holland America ship was departing the inlet as we approached, along with one of the Nat Geo ships. By the time we got to the head of the inlet, it was just us and Carte Blanche, 160 foot cruiser. We got within about a mile of the face before we started getting hemmed in by the ice as the flood tide started.

We found a decent anchoring spot in Reid Inlet beside two sailboats. This is a fairly unique and stunning anchorage with the face of a glacier just a couple miles away.

We grilled chicken for dinner, then at about 9:00 pm, a moose emerged from the brush at the point just north of our anchorage. She wandered around for a short while before becoming spooked and running back into the thicket.

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Reid Inlet to Berg Bay

Miles: 41

Hours: 4.5

We slept in and pulled the dinghy off the roof about 8:30am this morning. We loaded everything and headed for the Reid Glacier to see how close we could get. As we headed up the inlet, a large inflatable from “Kruzof Explorer” entered the inlet. They sped up the bay and unloaded a dozen people on the southwest corner of the inlet, and we crossed to the other side and beached our tender on the southeast corner.  Low tide was a couple hours away, so we pulled the dinghy out of the water and tied an extra line to a rock a little higher up.

The Reid Glacier is not a tidewater glacier and ends on a rocky, silty flat. It was a good half mile walk at low tide across the rocky flat to near the glacier face.  Two fast and high streams kept us and the other group from being able to walk up to the face itself, but I think we were within a hundred yards or so. We took a bunch of pictures and marveled at how big it is close up.

I wrestled the dinghy back on top of the boat, and we departed Reid Inlet toward the south at 1:30 pm. Today there was ice in the channel for a few miles south of Reid Inlet, while yesterday we had to travel several miles farther north up the Johns Hopkins and Tarr Inlets before we saw any significant ice. We took our time going south and enjoyed watching several whales, porpoises, and sea otters.

We needed to enter Berg Bay at around high slack, as the narrow entrance is shallow with strong currents.  Berg Bay is where John Muir first setup shop during his exploration of Glacier Bay in 1879. We arrived a few minutes early, waited a moment for the whale transiting across the entrance, and entered Berg Bay to find… river otter haven. There must have been 100 otters in the bay, all of whom seemed slightly curious as we motored toward the north end of the bay looking for a good anchorage. They seemed less interested once we dropped the anchor.

I grilled burgers for dinner, while Kel made fried mac and cheese balls. It’s very calm here, and the sea state has been effectively calm for our three days in Glacier Bay. The otters have quieted down and there are a couple porpoises making regular circuits of the bay. Tomorrow’s the last day on our permit here, so we’ll be heading back to Hoonah. I had wanted to see Dundas Bay, Elfin cove, and Pelican; however, we’re at a point where we need to make some choices about where to visit during our remaining time in Alaska. We want time to explore Sitka and several bays along the east side of Baranof Island, so we’ll stock up again in Hoonah tomorrow and start toward Sitka on Friday.

Kel’s Musings

We covered 160 miles over three days exploring Glacier Bay National Park. When we crossed the line on the map saying that we entered the park, I snapped a photo. We were welcomed by a parade of sea otters floating on their backs, looking quite relaxed. Coming into the park, little did we know that much of what makes Alaska stunning can be seen while touring around on the waterways. Of course, if you choose to hike in the forest or kayak in the backwaters, you’d see even more. The park encompasses 1500 square miles including forested land, mountains and glaciers to name just a few land forms. We saw sea otters, humpback whales, harbor porpoises, river otters, and various kinds of water birds, and the lone moose in Reid Inlet. Even though we had seen much of this scenery and wildlife along our travels to experience it all in one place was pretty spectacular.

Photos and words cannot even begin to describe this amazing national treasure, and also the story of how the Tlingit people and the National Park Service chose to be honest about their struggle and misunderstandings about the use of the land over the years. To see the totem dedicated to healing the relationship was a witness to the possibility of coming to terms with past hurts and moving toward a more meaningful relationship.

Before entering the park, we watched an orientation video to prepare us for our visit. A Tlingit Elder spoke as a voice for the land welcoming us to Glacier Bay. He said on behalf of Nature, “I look forward to seeing your face.” The phrasing struck a chord within me, and I felt welcomed and eager to meet the “voice” that longed for us to be there. I truly felt that getting a chance to go into the park was slight, and when we got the permit to go, I was thankful to God for providing us the opportunity.

Only 25 boats are allowed in the park at a time, so it was very quiet, and except for navigating with the cruise ships and tour boats, we really had the place to “ourselves” most of the time. There is a lodge and cabins, if you ever wanted to visit by land.

We saw four glaciers up close, as well as the Grand Pacific Glacier and Rendu from a distance. The first one we passed was Reid, and when Les said that we would be anchoring near it, I almost fell off my perch. I didn’t know we could do that. Next we went up the inlet towards Johns Hopkins Glacier, which the cruise ships were circling by, but as Les mentioned could not go up towards it. We rounded a corner, and I thought we had arrived at the glacier, but it was yet another one called Lamplugh. Johns Hopkins and Margerie were the only two that we saw that still calved right into the water. Reid and Lamplugh ended just short of the water with a rocky and silt beach in front of them. We didn’t see any calve this time, but I did collect some bergie bits from the three main ones that we approached, which were Johns Hopkins, Margerie and Reid.

Taking the dinghy over to the Reid Glacier was a highlight of our time in Glacier Bay. The sheer mass overwhelms and awes you at the same time. I really wanted to touch the glacier, and the closest I got was to sitting on one of the icebergs that were beached in front of the glacier, and that was pretty amazing. Watching little rocks slip off, and the trickle of water melting off the face of the glacier made me realize that it was time to retreat. Respect truly was what I felt for the glacier. It thrilled me to be so near it, but also caused my soul to tremble a bit as well.

We hiked back to the dinghy and just kept marveling that we had this experience. Some days it just seems so surreal that we are really here. Les even said that he kept wondering if we’d really ever make it to Alaska, and here we are! What a gift! We had time to get down to our next anchorage, and just as we left the sun broke through the morning haze. I made us lunch while we motored south to our next anchorage. It was called Berg Bay, so I asked Les if we were anchoring by another glacier. Nope, it’s just the bay where John Muir camped when he explored here in 1879. On our way we saw a mother and young sea otter floating together. And more whale sightings. Just too incredible.

We pulled into the cove, and the guide book said there was a “Nifty Nook” to anchor in past one of the islands. Les asked if I felt like checking it out. At first, I hesitated because we had seen a whale on the way in, and maybe it would come near our anchorage if we stayed out closer to the entrance of the cove. But for some reason, maybe because it was called the “Nifty Nook,” my curiosity voted to go further in. When neared the island and saw all the otters (a mixture of sea and river otters) we were a bit surprised. They seemed very curious about us, and I was a little nervous that they would hang around and “whine” all night, as they were doing when we arrived. But little by little they scurried off across the cove. I was sitting by the window, while Les grilled, and I heard what sounded like a spouting whale, but it was a harbor porpoise exhaling as it gently crested next to our boat.

The next morning, we got up early, and while Les checked the oil and got ready to take up the anchor, a feeling of keen tranquility came over me. I looked out the window and a salmon jumped and landed back on its side in the water. A few moments later an eagle swooped down, it was the first one I saw in the park. It caught something in its talons, most likely the salmon. Then instead of flying back out of the water, the eagle swam with its wings to carry the catch to shore. Astounding.

We cruised out of the cove and once again the sea otters and river otters seemed to escort us out, bobbing their heads up, and some even dove toward our boat, as if playing with us. We noticed whales spouting against the shore of an island, and a couple porpoises joined the dance of waving us off. To touch the face of a glacier, to be welcomed by the Tlingit elder and the park, every bit of our time was a wondrous gift.

Come, my heart says, seek God’s face. Lord, I do seek your face! (Psalm 27:9 CEB)

2 thoughts on “Glacier Bay National Park (July 26-29)

  1. What a wonderful account of your time in the Park. You make it sound oh so close and so very real. I can almost feel the cold of the glacier face in your description. And cool to get to see the moose there too, an added bonus along with the swimming eagle. That salmon was too heavy for the eagle to lift out of the water, but it will make a great meal for it and maybe young in a nest somewhere. The “voice of the park” experience sounds like it would be worth the trip just for that. Harvey/SleepyC

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