Monthly Archives: September 2009

Our Alaskan vacation – Ch. 2: Glaciers

This is the second installment of our Alaskan adventure, where I’ll show you the glaciers we visited. Chapter One is here and describes the wildlife we saw on our trip.

Our ship, the MS Westerdam left Seattle on Sunday, September 6th and headed north to Glacier Bay National Park where we arrived on Tuesday.  Glacier Bay was one of the main reasons that we picked this itinerary and we were looking forward to seeing it.  The morning started out beautifully, with a very nice sunrise.

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While cruising in Glacier Bay, we visited Lamplugh, Johns Hopkins, and Marjorie glaciers.  Several cruise ships had been unable to reach the Johns Hopkins glacier this season due to ice, so apparently we were lucky.  Here’s a panorama I made from the 4th deck of the Westerdam at Johns Hopkins glacier.

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One of the first things we noticed is that the color of the water close to the glaciers is a very distinct greenish blue.  According to this article on wired.com (which also has some stunning photos of glaciers taken from space) the color is due to the very fine silt that is ground away from the valley walls by the glacier and deposited in the water.  This “glacial flour” can be very reflective and turns the water this color.

At Marjorie glacier, I was in the right place at the right time to photograph the ice calving.  Here’s the middle photo of a three photo sequence (you can see the others when you visit the gallery for this post).

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When we exited Glacier Bay, we headed for Juneau where we also visited Mendenhal Glacier, among other things.

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When we were back on board in Juneau, the captain made an announcement about gale force winds and 40 foot seas that were expected off of Sitka, which was supposed to be our next stop.  To avoid this weather he decided instead to cruise through Tracy Arm fjord, where we spent all of the next day (Thursday, September 10th).  Tracy Arm is a truly spectacular place that isn’t often visited by cruise ships as large as the MS Westerdam.  We were able to get in there since our Alaskan waters pilot was very familiar with the place.  It was amazing to watch the ship maneuver in such tight waters — at times we were within 30 yards or so of cliff walls and we must have seen hundreds of waterfalls.  There was quite a bit of fog and haze, which made photography difficult, but I did manage to get some good shots.  Here’s one example of the scenery:

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I also put my Canon G9 on a Gorillapod, mounted it to the balcony rail and made some movies. Here’s a time lapse video (one frame per second) that I made in Tracy Arm. It has a sequence of clouds forming and moving along with the ship.  We saw this same phenomenon several times that day.  Was it perhaps the great spirit of the northwest accompanying us on our tour?

That night after exiting Tracy Arm fjord, our course carried us back into the Pacific Ocean in order to get to Ketchikan.  It was still pretty rough with about 25 foot seas.  We had a great view of the ocean from the second deck during dinner.  It was like eating on a roller coaster!  The next morning, when we arrived in Ketchikan, we had seaweed on our 6th deck balcony!

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You can view the rest of my glacier photos in two places.  I added a set of glacier photos here in my photo galleries.   You can also look at all of our Alaska photos together in a single time ordered set here on Flickr.  Clicking on one of the photos above will also take you to Flickr, where if you click on the “all sizes” button, you can see the photo in a higher res version.

Coming next:  “North to Alaska, Ch. 3: Miscellaneous photos.  I’ll also probably wrap up with a Chapter 4: Photo hints.

©2009, Ed Rosack. All rights reserved.

North to Alaska, Ch. 1: Intro and Wildlife

Lynn and I have talked for a long time about taking a cruise to Alaska.  Since we’re celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary this year, we finally decided to book on Holland America’s MS Westerdam.  We did this early in the year and it seemed like forever before we departed Seattle on September 6th for Glacier Bay, Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, and Victoria.  We spent some time before boarding with our good friends, the Sullivans who cruised with us in the next stateroom with a shared balcony.

It was our first visit to the US northwest and Alaska, and we saw spectacular things that we’ve never seen before except on TV.  Coming up with words to do justice to what we experienced will be hard.  We came home already talking about plans for our next trip. I hope I’ll be able to share some of the feelings of being there through the photographs I made.  Although far away and expensive, this vacation most definitely qualifies for the “Must do list” .

Instead of a day by day description, I’ll break this up into subjects.  This will help me organize my editing efforts.  I’ll talk first about the wildlife.  We spent quite a bit of time on the balcony and were rewarded on occasion with whale sightings, like this killer whale.

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North Pacific Killer whale from the MS Westerdam; NIKON D90,300 mm,1/320 sec at f / 5.6

We also saw humpback whales and I was grateful that Chuck loaned me his 80 – 400mm lens, since these were quite a distance away – every millimeter helped.

In Juneau, Sully and I went on a “Photo Safari by Land and Sea”, which was a guided whale encounter and glacier trek run by Gastineau Guiding. Our guide  Rick, and boat captain Gary, were both extremely knowledgeable and helpful in finding whales, seals, and sea lions.  Also eagles were quite abundant, feasting on the remains of the salmon run, which was still ongoing although according to locals slower than it had been.  Here’s a few photos:

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Breaching humpback; In the full res version, the two white dots in tree to the upper left, behind the whale are bald eagles.; NIKON D90,300 mm,1/1600 sec at f / 5.6

The whale in the first photo is an adult female. Her calf was also with her.  He/she seemed to jump upside down or do barrel rolls most of the time. It’s hard for me to imagine they were not having fun doing this.

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Humpback whale calf breeching; NIKON D90,300 mm,1/1250 sec at f / 5.6

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Humbolt Sea lion and gull watch two male Sea Lions arguing; NIKON D90,300 mm,1/1250 sec at f / 5.6

Rick also took us to Mendenhal Glacier in Juneau, where there were reports of black bear sightings.  Sure enough, as we descended to the lake by the glacier, a bear was seen napping under a bush.  I didn’t get a good photo, but here’s one that Sully made.  The bear had more sense than us.  It was sheltered from the rain taking a nap.  We were out in the rain trying to make pictures of it.  When we got back to the ship, another couple we ate lunch with told us about encountering bears on a different path than the one we took at Mendenhal.  I wonder how common they are?

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Bear in the bushes (photo by Martin Sullivan); Canon EOS 40D,135 mm,1/30 sec at f / 5.6

Clicking on one of the photos above will take you to Flickr, where you can see it in a higher res version. I made many more photos than will fit on a blog page and I’ll post them two different ways.  You can look at them all together as a time ordered single set here on Flickr.  I’ll also post them as galleries on my website, organized by subject:

  • Alaska wildlife photos are here.
  • Alaska glacier photos are here.
  • Alaska other photos are here.

Coming next:  “North to Alaska, Ch. 2: Glaciers.”  I’ll also collect my hints for fellow Alaskan vacation photographers into a single post to follow.

©2009, Ed Rosack and Martin Sullivan. All rights reserved.

Back home from Alaska

Lynn and I are so fortunate.  We’re home again after a wonderful vacation! Round trip, we traveled 5,092 statute miles by air to / from Seattle and 1930 nautical miles by ship, as far as Glacier Bay, Alaska.

Along the way we visited our good friends, the Sullivans. We saw beautiful sunsets and sunrises, glaciers, mountain vistas, humpback and killer whales, sea lions, harbor seals, otters, many birds including bald eagles, a bear blob, and several types of fish including spawning salmon. We saw the sites and shopped in Seattle, Juneau, Ketchikan, and Victoria, panned for gold and went to salmon bake dinners. The Holland America MS Westerdam is a superb ship, with a fine crew, although we were also thrilled by roller coaster like rides through gale force winds and 25+ foot seas.

Photography wise, it was a target rich environment, but the weather was mostly overcast with fog, low clouds and frequent rain. I took too much photo gear, but since I had it with me, I used most of it. I made thousands of photographs and my friend Sully made thousands more. Many of these are bracketed or panorama sets. I plan to go through them, choose the selects, and post process them as time permits. Hopefully there will be a few that are worth sharing here on this blog and in some galleries. I think that the next three or four of my posts will all be Alaska related. I also want to go through and create a photo book about our trip.

But we just got home, we’re tired, and we have to go to work tomorrow. For now, here’s one photo I really like.  We saw this rainbow on our first day at sea, about an hour after leaving Seattle.

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