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.

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