Tracy Arm - South Sawyer
Glacier (south of Juneau) - would we see
it? That was the big question this year.
Sawyer Glacier is usually quite
approachable, but this winter's excessive snowfall
changed everything. Most cruisers
who tried to go up Tracy Arm earlier this
summer could not get up far enough to see
the glacier. We
kept hearing these reports as we approached
SE AK the end of May so we changed
our trip plan to make this destination come
at the end of our voyage rather than the beginning.
We were keeping our fingers crossed we would
see the glacier.
Here is an example of the view off to our
sides as we started along our way up Tracy
Arm on July 21.
This rock wall (NB
Mr. Geologist) loomed up at us in our
winding passage, as did more ice in the water.
Did I imply you were finished looking at icebergs?
Nope. See that one? There were many more beyond
Now you are getting the
idea. Just one week before our passage, Pat
and Stew on Pegasus reported that they could get
only as far as bringing Sawyer Island into
sight - but no view of the South Sawyer Glacier.
They had to turn around because there was just
too much ice in the water. That's hard on the
gelcoat of the boat and hard on the props. It
can get downright dangerous if you squeeze up
too far and the ice pack closes in behind you.
So... at this point we were still wondering if
we would be able to make it up all the way to
the face of the glacier.
Here we are, all bundled
up for glacier viewing.
Photo by Mark Bunzel
This is North Sawyer Glacier
in the distance. You can see it off to your left on
the way to the larger South Sawyer Glacier at
the end of Tracy Arm.
And here is our goal, in
sight! Lucky us. South Sawyer Glacier. Hurray.
We got this far. Dave and I especially wanted
our guest, Mark, to see South Sawyer on his first
trip up Tracy Arm. When we got this far we were
hoping to inch our way up even closer to the face.
However, the ice was getting
quite thick. These pictures don't show the
reality of the ice in the water. But the Captain
could see it and called a halt for the Royal Sounder at
a very pretty little waterfall along the north
side of Tracy Arm.
Photo by Mark Bunzel
Dave decided that
he would stay with the mothership and Mark and
I should hop into the Green Devil (18' skiff made
of plywood and fiberglass; 40 hp motor) and make
our way up as close as we could to the face of
the glacier. What great fun that was!
Photo by Mark Bunzel
In the Green Devil, Mark
and I threaded our way through the bergs
as if we were on a slalom course. OK, so
you're seeing a nice open ice-free pool in the
photo above. Believe me, it wasn't like that very
We sure liked what we saw.
How close would we be able
This close.They don't call
South Sawyer Glacier spectacular for nothing.
It is big and blue and beautiful. Hearing
the gun-fire-like cracking, the thunder of
calving ice, and seeing the ice falling and spewing
water is a hair-raising experience. Especially
when you're in a skiff and wondering how far the
swell with its ice carpet will move towards your
vulnerable boat if the calving happens when you're
near the face.
For much of the distance
we traveled in the skiff we were able
to proceed slowly and sort of "bumper-car"
our way through the bergie lines we encountered.
Mark was snapping photos and shooting video at
a rapid pace. [Stay tuned for the upcoming Bunzel
Discovery Channel special; just kidding.]
At this point, the bergs were so numerous that the
prop was beginning to ping on the ice and started
to sound a bit like an ice-cube grinder.
Not good. The Green Devil's prop is a small,
fragile thing and rowing back through the icebergs
did not appeal to us.
So we sadly turned around
at this point. On the return leg I tried
to get right in behind a metal charter vessel
and take advantage of the flat water behind his
wake. However, he gunned along pretty fast
and kept making hard turns to left and right.
That churned up the water and threw up the
ice pretty badly. I backed away from that
idea and we made our way slowly and carefully
back to the Royal Sounder and our very patient
(!), very gracious Captain. We had been gone over
an hour and he only called us on the VHF once
to check up on us and give advice for a return
route that he could see but we couldn't.
The Royal Sounder, with Captain at the flybridge
helm, awaited our return. The time stolen in this
wonderland added yet another Southeast
Alaska adventure-memory to my treasure chest.
M/V Royal Sounder