Alaska Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay: Bartlett Cove

Sunday, September 27, 2015S.V. CAMBRIA

Sailing to Glacier Bay National Park on your own boat can be a bit of an officious experience: Permits are required to enter the park from the first of June through the 31st of August, and you can’t apply for one more than 60 days before the date you arrive. There are only ten permits issued by reservation available, and they go quickly. Reservations have to be confirmed by phone 48 hours before the scheduled entry date or they’ll be cancelled. Before crossing the border into the main park area, you have to call the ranger station by VHF to check in and receive instructions. And you’re required to attend a mandatory orientation that doesn’t exactly inspire or inform. In other words, you end up doing something most of us try our best to avoid – sailing to a schedule.

But it’s worth it.

We approached the park boundary close to 2 o’clock Sunday afternoon and David radioed in to receive permission to continue. The ranger on the other end instructed us how to proceed within whale zones and advised us that we were required to keep our speed under 20 knots – no problem there. With permission granted, we made our way up to Bartlett Cove, the only developed area within the park boundaries and the park headquarters.

Our orientation wasn’t scheduled until 5 o’clock, so we tied up to the dock and walked up to Glacier Bay Lodge and Visitor Center in hopes of finding a television to watch the Women’s US Soccer Team play Japan in the World Cup Finals. There was none to be found, so we browsed the displays in the Visitor Center about the history of Glacier Bay (it was only 235 years ago that the spot we were standing on was under ice) and walked along the trails to see ‘Snow’, a humpback whale that was killed by a cruise ship in 2001, and Tlingit Indian tree carvings.

The orientation lasted no more than a half an hour, but it was scheduled late enough in the day that we’d missed slack water at Sitakaday Narrows and had no chance of bucking against the 6-knot current that was already flowing. So, we called it a day and went out to anchor, spending our first night in Glacier Bay in Bartlett Cove.

Glacier Bay Timeline:*

  • Circa 1600: Glacier Bay was a valley with active salmon streams and had been the ancestral home of the Tlingit Indians for thousands of years. At the end of the Little Ice Age, the glaciers began to advance and drove the Tlingit 30 miles south to Huna. 

  • 1750: Glaciers begin to retreat.

  • 1778: Captain James Cook arrived on the H.M.S. Resolution and named Mount Fairweather. George Vancouver and William Bligh were part of the Resolution’s crew.

  • 1794: Captain George Vancouver returns aboard the H.M.S. Discovery and describes Glacier Bay as a “compact sheet of ice as far as the eye could distinguish.”

  • 1879:        John Muir enters Glacier Bay in a dugout canoe guided by Tlingit Indians from Wrangell. The ice has retreated 40 miles since 1794.

  • 1925: President Calvin Coolidge establishes Glacier Bay National Monument.

  • 1939: President Franklin Roosevelt doubles the size of Glacier Bay National Monument.

  • 1953: The first modern cruise ship arrives.

  • 1966: Glacier Bay Lodge opens.

  • 1980: Glacier Bay is given national park status and preserve lands are added.

  • Present day: Approximately 500,000 people visit Glacier Bay National Park each year, most of them by cruise ship, which are limited to two ships per day.

Note: This blog was written on Monday, 06 July 2015.
* Information from The Fairweather Visitor Guide published by the Alaska Geographic Association.

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