Glacier Bay: Bartlett Cove and Reid Glacier

After anchoring overnight on the 5th in Swanson Cove, we made our way to the entrance of Glacier Bay National Park and into Bartlett Cove for our required orientation and overnight stay in the Cove, the prelude to nearly a week’s stay in the Bay. 

Since we left Juneau, the smoke in the air has continued to increase.  We are not sure when it will abate – there is no prediction of rain for some time.  But it’s not changing our plans.

The waters in and around Glacier Bay are full of nutrients for whales and other animals and we saw many humpbacks feeding near shore both days.  We could sometimes see half a dozen blows at once.  It was awe inspiring to think of so many large creatures near us in the water. 

Skeleton of Snow, a humpback well known in the area who was killed by a cruise ship in about 2007. Recovered and reconstructed for display.

Glacier Bay really didn’t exist 250 years ago.  The story of how it came to be what it is today is an amazing one of natural disaster and cultural resilience.  In the mid-1700s, the glacier that was way at the top of the area we now call the bay, which was land at the time, suddenly experienced a glacier surge. This means it pushed forward many miles in a matter of days.  The Tlingits described it as “moving as fast as a dog could run”, and scientific evidence has born this out.  They had to pack up their village and escape quickly by canoe.  They re-established in the area 25 miles away across Icy Strait that is now called Hoonah.  There were natural disasters around the world at the same time, including two massive volcano eruptions, that led to the “mini Ice-age” and a couple of years of no summers and no growing seasons.  There are descriptions of how this affected many cultures around the world.  I had heard about the mini Ice-Age but had no idea that volcano eruptions were part of the explanation for it.

Over the subsequent century, the ice in Glacier Bay retreated quite quickly and left the very large bay which exists today.  In the 1920s the Natural Park Service (NPS) created the park after writings from John Muir and others increased awareness of it, but did this without consulting the Tlingits who had resettled summer fish camps in the area. 

Tlingit halibut fishing hook – every part of it carefully designed for weight and balance and to hook the mouth of just the right size halibut.

The Park Service eventually kicked the Tlingits out completely, which led to many hard feelings for decades. However,in the current century there has been a great deal of work between the NPS and the Tlingit to create reconciliation, and we saw several new installations at Bartlett Cove that are part of that. 

Just two years ago the Tribal House opened at the cove.  It is a beautiful example of native carving and artisanship. 

The healing totem pole went up last year to depict that history of the area over the last 300 years and the recent reconciliation between the Tlingits and NPS.  We heard the stories of the pole and the Tribal House at an evening presentation by an NPS ranger and a Tlingit cultural interpreter. 

We left Bartlett Cove the next morning and battled a fierce current over 5 knots in Sitakaday Narrows to make our way north 60 miles up the bay towards the glaciers.  Unfortunately, the smoke was even thicker than the day before.  We could tell there were stupendous mountain ranges around us but could barely see them.  In the afternoon we anchored in Reid Harbor, a mile in front of Reid Glacier.  This glacier has receded far enough that it does not enter the water or calve anymore.   We dingy explored up close to get a good view – the stark gravel and silt landscape around the edges of the glacier was broken up by rushing streams of melt water pouring into the bay.   The walls of the bay were a thousand feet high or more, with a lunar landscape of bare rock alternating with what we could tell was low greenery, but it was so smoky we didn’t get much feel of greenery or blue sky.

Reid Glacier bordered by rocky land
How the distant mountains appeared through to smoke above the glacier.

The highlight of this stay was watching the family of orca with at least two juveniles that entered and spent some time feeding on the opposite side of the cove.  Mom eventually led the group out the mouth of the cove again, leaving us feeling privileged for having seen such a healthy orca group – a real contrast to what we see in Puget Sound.

Final Day in Juneau

Thursday the 4th was a record breaking heat-wave day in Juneau and we spent it outside. After doing a final grocery shopping stop for perishables, we decided to take in some sights.

First we took the Tram above the town to explore Mount Roberts and see the city and scenery from on high. The Tram and the Nature and Visitors Centers are owned and operated by the Tlingits, and we got a slightly different perspective on history and learned more about their culture and how they are reviving it. We did a short hike to a high vista and Father Roberts cross, getting eaten alive by bugs as we did so! The views were worth it.

Looking down on all of Juneau.
Miss Miranda is right in the center of the picture – between the cruise ships and the legs of the Tram.

We took a lunch break and I tried to cool off in the shade- obviously I have some heat acclimatization to do before we get to Mexico! While I was sitting in the shade an eagle swooped onto the dock to grab some scraps.

Just before take off.

Then we set off for Mendenhall glacier late in the day, which was a great choice because the majority of the cruise ship folks had departed the site so it wasn’t awfully crowded. The smoke had started to filter into the air but the view of the glacier and the waterfall next to it were still stunning. We walked the Trail of Time path which had marked where the ice was through the last century – it was quite sobering to stand there in over 80 degree heat realizing that the spot we were standing on, quite far away from the glacier, had been part of the glacier less than 100 years ago.

Mendenhall Glacier

The next morning we headed to the fuel dock to top off before heading north. We were treated to both a cool whale fountain on the shore and actual whales not long after leaving the dock!

Fountain across from the fuel dock on Gastineau Channel
Just outside Juneau!

Juneau, July 4th

Yesterday was busy with various resupply runs and boat tasks prior to our daughter Miranda’s arrival on the flight in from Seattle. We learned from Ashley at the Harbor Master’s office that there would be fireworks at 11:59 PM tonight (July 3rd). The reason given was that the mine had the 4th as a holiday and therefore wanted all of the workers to have their celebration hangovers on that day rather than the 5th!

We got Miranda settled in, got groceries put away and had a very nice (second) birthday dinner at local restaurant Salt, where, by the way, I had to request salt for my salad. Everyone had a little chuckle about that.

After dinner we came back to the boat and waited for the fireworks. I took the opportunity to grab a quick nap – the only way at my advanced age to last until midnight. All of the cruise ships departed and we had a clear view of Gastineau Channel where it appeared that the fireworks barge was setting up right in front of us. We had front row seats to a fantastic 20 minute display. It was especially fun to hear the explosions reverberate against the mountains on either side of the channel.

The plan for today is to do a little more shopping/provisioning, maybe get out to Mendenhall Glacier, maybe watch the parade. Tomorrow we are off towards Glacier Bay.

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.

Electrical System Repaired!

We got to Petersburg yesterday and got a list of service providers from the Harbor Master. This morning I called Mattingly Electric and by 9 AM Darby was on the boat. He cut off the bad ends of the old wires and managed to locate the proper breakers, grumbling a bit about the flimsy plastic box and how tight the fit was. Well, he got everything wired up and as he was pushing the whole assembly into the box, the case of one of the breakers cracked.

This would not do. He left and assembled a heavy duty metal box and mounted it on the generator sound shield, as shown below.

The new breaker box

Inside are non-marine, but much heavier duty, 50 Amp, 250 volt breakers.

Much more robust breakers.

This seems to me to be a much better solution. It is easy to access and replace the breaker, if necessary. We are running the generator right now and everything seems to be working normally (and nothing is burning).

We are actually on a maintenance roll today. I got Gwen a 29th Anniversary gift, which was just what was needed to clear the clog in the insinkerator unit that we use to dispose of food waste.

Happy Anniversary honey!

Finally, a surprising number of people have asked about the water pump issues. All resolved by installing the little Jabsco Par Max pump that was bought 9 years ago as a spare by the previous owner. Here’s a rule of thumb… if we aren’t griping about something, that means it’s OK (or we have bigger issues to worry about).

Now it’s time to explore Petersburg.