Thursday, July 08, 2010

Road Trip 2010: Day 29
Glacier Cruise out of Valdez

UPDATE: See the bottom of this post for Photos!

We took a long cruise today out of Valdez Harbor to both Columbia Glacier and Mears Glacier. Along the way we watched for and saw plenty of puffins, humpback whales, Stellar's sea lions, harbor seals, and sea otters. We also got to see plenty of salmon fishing going on as the pink salmon are running and the professional seine netters were out in force.

The weather at the outset was cold and wet and it got a whole lot colder and wetter as we traveled through the narrows and to the terminal moraine of Columbia Glacier. At the closest approach, your still some 10 miles from the face of the ice but the calved blogs of glacial ice large and small block any nearer approach.

It rained even harder as we approached the face of Mears Glacier. That glacier--which is still advancing--we could approach to within a quarter of a mile. From that vantage point we watched several small calving occurrences.

The salmon fishermen were still out as we returned around 7 PM and a few were apparently preparing to continue to fish tomorrow as they had off loaded today's catch to tenders (larger boats that would collect the catch and take it into processing plants) and were already rafting up (tying to one another like so many weekend boaters preparing to party).

Once again, I find myself with so many photos to process that it will be several days before I can catch up--if I can get decent internet connection. I'm only a week or so behind. Stay tuned.


Cruise to Columbia and Mears Glaciers aboard the Spirit of Valdez.

Rain. Much of the day. Rain.

Rain when we boarded the boat at 9:30 AM and rain when we traveled through the Valdez Narrows to head out to Columbia Glacier.

Rain while we worked our way up to the terminal moraine of the Columbia thorough huge chunks of ice and even some bergs that had managed to get into the open water in front of the submerged gravel bar that is the terminal moraine and which had grounded nearly all of the larger blocks of ice that had calved off the face of the glacier now some 10 miles away.

Rain as we watched Stellar’s Sea Lions resting on the rocks and beaches at the base of the cliffs.

Rain as we watched Humpbacked Whales blow and porpoise in the waters around the ship.

Rain as we sought out Horned and Eared Puffins on the water.

Rain as we sailed further southwest to the face of Mears Glacier. Unlike, the Columbia, Mears is still advancing slightly and has not produced the many square miles of grounded ice chunks in front of its face. We were able to sail (slowly) to within ¼ mile of the 300-400 foot tall face. Then, as the captain idled and then killed the engines, we watched and waited for calving to occur. And we did witness a few very sizable incidents while we sat there for half an hour—mostly in the rain—before heading back to Valdez.

And then the rain stopped. And the sun actually began to illuminate the mountains in the distance. Some folks even saw a rainbow appear.

Back in Valdez Bay, the salmon boats were still hauling their seine nets as the final hour for fishing approached. Some, anticipating another day of open fishing on Thursday, were rafting together to spend the night on the water. Some were off-loading their catch to tenders—larger vessels with holding tanks—so they could remain at on the water. Our captain informed us that the Northwestern under the command of Captain Sig Hanson was spending her summer in the area as a tender. Vessel and captain are well known to those who watch The Most Dangerous Catch as one of those who goes out into the Bering Sea in search of crabs.

We set sail for an 8-hour cruise.

It was overcast and drizzling.

Across the bay is the Alyeska Pipeline terminal.

With the Pink Salmon returning the state opened
the season and seine netters were out in force.

Hauling net.

The Fast Ferry zoomed past us on its way to Valdez.

Ice floes and bergs from Columbia Glacier

The terminal moraine of Columbia Glacier.
Twenty-five sq miles of ice chunks between here and the actual glacier
--10 miles away.

Stellar's Sea Lions lounge on Bull Head.

Horned Puffin at sea.

Tufted Puffin

Humpbacked Whale

Sea Otters

Harbor Seals

Mears Glacier

Mears Glacier

View as we head back to Valdez and the sun comes out.

The Northwestern serves as a tender to the salmon fishermen.


JihadGene said...

Standing by for those photos!

RT said...

WOW! (Kept saying that as I looked through the photos.)