Tracey Arm and the Sawyer Glaciers

We left “No Name” cove in the morning to travel up Tracey Arm to see the Sawyer Glacier, a tidewater glacier with two arms that can be reached by boat.    The challenge in visiting these glaciers are the icebergs and “bergy bits” that come from calving of the glaciers.  Of these, the bergy bits are actually the bigger challenge, as some of them are clear and very difficult to spot in the water. 

The glaciers are about 25 miles up the Fjord, and to the left is the North Sawyer Glacier, which is often easier to reach.  Sometimes it is possible to also continue on to the South Sawyer Glacier, but on this trip we had heard others say there was too much ice, and friends in past years have not been able to make it in either, so we didn’t have high expectations.

We made it to the North arm easily, only having to slow down once to pick our way through.  Ted and Sarah observed that the route was much clearer than their previous visit in 2014, good for us, but a bad sign of climate change.  We got up to the head of the inlet and there was the North Sawyer glacier rising from the water up the valley. 

It was a magnificent sight…couldn’t find the words to do it justice.  We went in fairly close to get a picture of the boat in front of the glacier, and from our electronic charts, we could clearly see how much the glacier had receded since the chart was made.  You can see the symbol from our boats over the hatched area that represents the glacier.  The green is the radar overlay showing the actual position of the glacier.

After viewing the North Glacier, we decided to proceed down the South arm to see if we could at least get close to South Sawyer. 

A couple of high speed tour boats went by, so it was clear that we could make it, but this time we had to slowly pick our way through in many spots.

  On the way in we saw mountain goats up on a rock outcropping.  

Turning the corner from there, we saw another magnificent vista – the South glacier is much larger than the north and obviously goes through much more calving, reflected by the number of icebergs at the head of the inlet. 

We stopped for pictures again, admired the scene, and then turned around to work our way out. 

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South Sawyer Glacier

All in all a fantastic day… our first opportunity to see tidewater glaciers up close.  Our friend Ted says it was one of their best days on the boat… high praise indeed from these long time Northwest boaters.

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Miss Miranda in front of South Sawyer Glacier

The weather has continued to be spectacular.  No rain, sunny and warm.  The only downside has been the beginning of smoke in the sky, we assume from the forest fires up in the Seward/Anchorage area.  It is nowhere near as bad as what we experienced in the Gulf Islands of BC last summer.

Happy to have made it to see both glaciers!

Ford’s Terror

Update: We are currently in Juneau for a few days over the 4th to resupply and most importantly pick up Miranda from the airport today! We are very excited to have her be with us for the remainder of our time in Alaska. Our other job is to get up to date with blog posts on where we have been.

One of the bucket list spots on any Alaska cruising itinerary is the Glaciers of Tracey Arm and Endicott Arm, about 60 miles South of Juneau.  We headed there last Wednesday. We were stunned with the views of Sumdum Glacier as we approached the area and then started to see icebergs in our path and became on high alert for any ice in our path. Even little bergs can cause damage to a hull, so they need to be avoided.

Sumdum Glacier
Gwen’s favorite iceberg to date – the blue striations were intense. There is an eagle perched on top.

Our first night we anchored in the main accessible anchorage of the whole area which is actually not really named – people call in No Name Cove. We had great fun exploring icebergs, no too close, in the dingy and collecting some bergie ice for drinks.

Clear iceberg – tiny ones are great for drink ice, but larger ones like this can be dangerous

There is one anchorage up Endicott Arm known as Ford’s Terror, with some justification.  The area is poorly charted and there is a very narrow set of rapids that must be traversed at high slack water.  The problem is that it is very difficult to predict when that will occur.  Conventional wisdom says arrive at high slack as reported at Juneau and wait until the rapids disappear.

We set out the next morning from No Name Cove, arrived about a half hour early and talked with a sailboat the came through the other direction and reported 3 knots, about 45 minutes before the slack.  There was a small berg marking the turn into the entrance, and when we peered in it looked flat, so we went ahead.  We ran right over a rock marked on the chart and confirmed the observations of others that it was not there.  (We did this deliberately based on others’ advice that better to avoid the shallows on either side which are not charted and are actually there. )

The challenge with the entrance is that it is narrow, shallow, and has a 90 degree turn, all with current behind pushing and limiting steerage control.  The main concern was depth, but we saw nothing shallower than 13 feet, and then we were through the very short difficult part. 

Entering Fords Terror dogleg.

Rounding the corner up the Fjord revealed a stunning vista, much like that of Princess Louisa Inlet in BC, but even larger in scale and more beautiful.  Running up to the end, we turned for the anchorage and saw that it was empty.  Perfect!

Anchorage at Fords Terror
Us anchored at base of waterfall

The anchorage has multiple waterfalls, and a great supply of shrimp! We spent two nights and had two crab pots out the whole time, harvesting twice a day. We’ve enjoyed some great shrimp dinners and even have some in the freezer for Miranda. The weather was fantastic – warm and sunny during the day – on our second day we went to the base of the waterfall to sit in the rapids and cool off! Only downside was the massive horseflies that bite.

We departed after two nights there to return to No Name Cove and stage our next exploration of glaciers. On our way to the rapids, we were treated to a bear swimming across the inlet. He effortlessly made the crossing and ran right up a rock face into the woods.

Catching Up – Petersburg

Despite having to come to Petersburg to fix our electrical woes, we greatly enjoyed exploring this little town.  Petersburg was settled by a Norwegian, first name of Peter, to develop a fishing community just before the turn of the 20th century.  Of course, it had been the site of a native fishing community for long before that. 

Looking north toward the North Harbor and mountains hiding behind clouds.
Local boats and one of the fish canneries (the green buildings) across from our slip.

In the early years Petersburg had its ups and downs but has been thriving for decades and has had a stable population of about 3600 focused on commercial fishing and fish processing.    We moored at the North Harbor, right next to the Petersburg cannery and on a dock with many working fishing boats of various types.  It was quite entertaining to see the fishing boats come and go, hear the discussions on the fishing activity and see a bit more of a cannery in action.    Here the fishing boats were quite a bit larger than we saw in Point Baker and focused on purse seining rather than trolling. 

Some of the large fish boats are at the far dock.

We enjoyed walking the various trails and paths to see some of the historic buildings, neighborhood houses – some of which have amazing views of the water and glaciers – and a nature walk through the muskeg – which is Alaska equivalent for wetlands in my understanding.

The focus of Norwegian heritage. Closed while we were there except when a National Geographic cruise was in town for that tour group.

We visited the local museum which had a small but dense collection of items from the last 100 years and lots of photographs.  I found a couple of facts particularly interesting or amusing.  Petersburg incorporated as a town and formed its’ first government in the early 1900s and their very first act was to impose a $2 tax per dog.  Apparently, feelings that dogs have too much liberty is not just a 21st century urban issue.  The streets were paved with wood planks until the 1950s which must have made for some challenging driving at times.   Japanese, Chinese and Philipino immigrants played just a big a role in Petersburg as we have observed in other Alaskan towns, along with the strong Norwegian history. 

The weather was rain alternating with sun when we arrived but turned sunny.  On our final morning the clouds were gone and we were treated to stunning views of mountains and our first sighting of a glacier. 

Our first glacier sighting!
A common hang out for sea lions.