#6 Kenai Fjords: Into The Ice Age
Everything came to standstill. Silence. Suddenly, a thunderous crash echoed through the fjords. The glacier was alive...
The Alaska trip with my father in the Fall of 2014 is one I hold very close to my heart. It was epic. For our Fjords leg, we reached the port of Seward on a beautiful morning. The Catamaran would take us deep into Kenai Fjords National Park up to Northwestern Glacier itself. The full day cruise took us on a journey to one of the most pristine places of Earth through the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge.
We departed from Seward into Resurrection Bay and immediately got a sense of the rich marine life those waters contained. In the Bear Glacier area, we spotted the first pod of orcas (killer whales). (FYI, killer whales are not whales; they are dolphins) Highly intelligent creatures, these orcas were quite playful; enjoying swimming in the boat's wake.
It was time to equip the 400 mm telephoto I had rented! Fortunately, we had a sharp-sighted guide.
The captain was very knowledgeable and also possessed an excellent eye for wildlife. His experience and skill took us to various seal, otter, and sea lion hang outs. He advised us to be on the lookout for blowhole sprays - a positive indication of whale presence.
He then steered us closer to the fjords which had been accompanying us on the right. They were impressive. Sheets of ice on rock that met the blue Pacific. We turned starboard into Harris Bay and things became more epic. The deep blue of the ocean turned a shade lighter. It then turned glacial blue as we transitioned into Northwestern Lagoon. We were in a different world. We were in the Ice Age.
Still water. A mirror. The fjords actually belonged from the last Ice Age! The chunks of ice in the lagoon increased in size as we approached the pinnacle of our journey - Northwestern Glacier. A jagged wall of blue ice flowing out from the 23,000 year old Harding Icefield, the glacier commanded everyone's attention. The captain shut the engines.
Everything came to a standstill. Silence. Suddenly, a thunderous crash echoed through the fjords. The glacier was alive. Then, I remembered from my geography lessons, the definition of a glacier. They were essentially, slow moving rivers of ice. You could not see Northwestern Glacier move but you could hear it. The massive amounts of moving ice of the tidewater glacier resulted in canon-like booms.
For a moment, some basking sea lions diverted our attention...until another boom refocused it to the glacier. It happened before we realized it. An entire chunk of ice separated from the glacier and plunged into the icy water in an avalanche! I was stunned for a few seconds. Fortunately, for photography purposes, it continued long enough to capture some moments of the cruise's climax.
However, the journey was not over! On the return leg, we took a more south-eastern route through the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge for some bird-watching. Our captain was an avid birder and recognized every feathered vertebrate that crossed our sight. He was cognizant of the nooks and crannies where a particular type of sea bird might perch. He reminded us that there is no one species of bird called a "seagull." We saw a host of gulls, puffins, and pelicans. Then, my peripherals caught a spray above the water...
There she blew! Sure enough, we witnessed the signature tailfin of a whale. It was a Pacific Humpback.
The captain carefully brought us in for a closer look. We saw a couple of whales at least as we sailed to port.
I found my land-legs as we disembarked. But, my mind was still adrift in the glacial lagoon of Northwestern Glacier. I would recommend every visitor take the Northwestern Fjord Tour in Kenai Fjords National Park. There are other, shorter day cruises on offer, but the 9 hour journey provides a comprehensive experience. Pristine landscape, a taste of the Ice Age, whale sightings, and a very professional and friendly crew made for an unforgettable day that I shared with my father!