Alaska Inside Passage

Endicott Arm: Bergie Bits and Glaciers

Wednesday, August 12, 2015S.V. CAMBRIA

We left Sandborn Canal at 8 o’clock Tuesday morning and weaved our way through the crab pots that filled the inlet. Our experience left me wondering if we shouldn’t just cut our losses, pack it in and move south – not solely because of this one incident, but the culmination of several disappointing anchorages and too many 50-mile days to reach them: My hope was that Tracy and Endicott Arms would change my mind.

It was another long day and the wind was blowing 25 knots as we approached the mouth of Endicott Arm. The fjord was lined with snow-capped mountains that seemed to be inviting us in for a closer look, but they’d have to wait. It’d been another long day and we were ready to anchor for the night – the closest and best option for that was Tracy Arm Cove at the mouth of (you guessed it) Tracy Arm.

It turned out to be another disappointing anchorage, open to much of the wind and chop, but at least there was a good view . . . and a few brown bears to help keep us entertained – a mother and her two cubs came out to feed at low tide and there was a solitary male on an opposite beach.

We had a big day planned for Wednesday, so I set the alarm for 6 am but knew it would be in vain: The barometer had been falling steadily and rain was forecasted to move into the area, which it did. There was no point in travelling up Tracy Arm if we couldn’t see. So, we waited it out that day . . . and then the next. Even the cruise ships were turning back, one of which was completely swallowed up by the dense fog.

But the barometer made a nice, slow rise overnight and was sitting at 1015 Mb Friday morning – a sign that the next batch of good weather might last longer than a day or two. In the meantime, our plans had changed: We would make a run up Endicott Arm first (where we didn’t need clear skies), spend a night or two in Fords Terror, and then do Tracy Arm.

We upped anchor and made our way out the channel through swirling currents and into Endicott Arm. Every now and then the clouds would break free of their hold and show us a glimpse of what they were hiding: rugged mountain tops, hanging glaciers, lush glacial valleys fed by waterfalls. But it was the ice in the water that held our attention. The larger icebergs, many of which resembled floating sculptures, reflected the most amazing shade of blue.

We reached Dawes Glacier, at the head of Endicott Arm, around one o’clock and floated around while we had lunch. It was our first tidewater glacier and we were completely overwhelmed by the experience and the raw beauty of it all.

A glacier is a river of ice that flows from a mountain ice field down to sea level, a process called “advancing”. If the glacier advances far enough, it will eventually reach the sea and become what’s called a tidewater glacier. Alaska is one of only three areas in the world where tidewater glaciers still exist (Scandinavia and Chile are the other two), and they’re melting faster here than anywhere else. So, despite the fact that thousands of people come every summer to view them, seeing one is rare and privileged event . . . and we felt it.

We were tempted to move in for a closer look but decided there wasn’t much to be gained, not for the distance we were willing to concede (which was only ½ mile). There were too many small pieces of ice in the water, and they were proving very difficult to see. We weren’t surprised or disappointed. From what we’d read, Dawes Glacier calves a lot of ice and is usually difficult to approach within a couple of miles. So, after an hour, we reluctantly turned our backs and started to slowly motor down-inlet.

It’d been an exceptional day, but it wasn’t over yet. Not even close. From Dawes Glacier we slowly made our way back to the entrance of Fords Terror, a small, side inlet off Endicott Arm that many have called the most beautiful place they’ve ever seen . . . we were finally going to find out whether or not we agreed.

Note: This blog entry was written on Friday, 19 June 2015

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  1. So, it sounds like those 50 mile days and rough anchorages are worth it in the end? How cool to see a glacier like that!

    1. That's it exactly. Once you get to Stephens Passage, it starts to feel like you're really in Alaska!