July 27, 2008

Seward - Fjords National Park Cruise

Alaska has hosted a glacier-favoring mixture of climate and topography for the last 12.5 million years. During the Pleistocene age, when the climate was 3 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit colder than it is today, an ice sheet covered a large expanse of the earth, including the islands of southeastern Alaska. Today there are still over 100,000 glaciers in Alaska, although ice covers only 5 percent of the state. http://www.fs.fed.us/r10/tongass/forest_facts/resources/geology/icefields.htm

One of the best examples of these national treasures is in southeastern Alaska. The Fjord's National Park is a "must do" on anyone's list for Alaska. Unfortunately, we were greeted with nasty weather and rough seas on our first "cruise" into the Park. We booked the evening trip with "Fjord's Tours" because we'd get both of us on (including a salmon-bake dinner) for the price of one...a great deal!

As it turned out we got a rough ride, poor visability and a large dinner for one (Kim was too seasick to eat). In spite of being on this beautiful eighty-six foot catamaran, the Aialik Explorer, the heavy winds and seas took it's toll on quite a few passengers.
Heading out into Resurrection Bay from the Seward Municipal Harbor, we had a nice view of their spacious campground which rund almost the entire length of the Harbor. We were lucky to get one of the last slots on the far end, giving us a great view of the many craft that moved in & out each day.

Other local residents were in the Harbor, enjoying those same views from the "bottom up" like this Sea Otter playing tag with one of the many gulls.

Reaching the end of the Bay, Fox Island is off to our left (yes, they actually raised foxes in this area during the "fur era") now a favorite fishing spot for the early run of Silver Salmon. From the number of boats out in this rough weather, they must be in!

Further down the Peninsula just past the entry to Bear Glacier, we spot a few Humpback Whales, but in spite of several attempts to get close enouygh for good pictures, the huge creatures spend most of their time underwater making sounding dives.....perhaps they are don't care for the heavy seas either!
The only residents that don't seem to mind the turmoil are the feathered ones. As we cruise along, we pass countless numbers of gulls, Artic Terns, Puffins & Murres....

We start to approach the open seas and the Aialik Cape and spot a number of Stellar Sea Lions resting on the small rocky islands just shy of the turn into rougher seas. (I didn't get any pictures of us rounding the Cape. The seas out here were ten feet or so, requiring both hands just to keep ones balance on the rear deck.)

Once around the corner things smooth out dramatically, and our first views of the splendid blue ice appear in the distance.
As we get closer, we start to see large chunks of ice floating in the bay against that beautiful background of crystal-blue ice towering some six hundred feet above the waterline. Aialik Glacier is a "tidal glacier" terminating in deep water. See the video of the face at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl0zvouw2Fg

The result is a constant "calving" of large chunks of ice into the sea, creating lots of noise and turmoil near it's face. The resulting icebergs are another source of beauty in this otherwise blue-brown milky soup that our hull sits in. Watch a big one come off! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RcoaqjkwuE
Captain Terry spent extra time at the Glacier, making several passes back & forth. The large front deck of the Explorer proved to be a great platform for watching the spectacle. But soon it was time to head back to Resurrection Bay.

I must say that it felt pretty good to shuck our sea legs after the long rough ride back. And this is the site that Kim was waiting to see...our trailer sitting on stable ground back in the Harbor, no more shaking, rocking & rolling for this evening!

But the story really isn't over quite yet. After spending another day in Seward, we moved on back to Homer to take advantage of what seemed like an improvement in the weather. And is was! We enjoyed another couple of weeks there, which you'll read about in other posts, and then decided to use our other coupon to take a second shot at the Fjords tour. So, before we left Homer, we booked again, this time with the "Renown", an even larger catamaran based at Seward also. Unfortunately, within the three days it took to work our way back, the weather had turned again to those famalier "Kenai Peninsula blues". This time, Kim took dramamine just to make sure things would go better.

When we entered the main cabin on the Renown, we were surprised at how much larger it was, so this in itself suggested a better ride!
The trip out of the harbor proved similar to that on the Explorer, the major difference was that the fishing boats after the Silvers had moved well into the Bay, suggesting that the run was now well underway.

As we entered the gulf and I gazed out the cabin window, I realized that we were faced with lighter seas, but more rain! Pulling into Aialik Bay, in addition to seeing the Glacier again, we notice a couple of brave souls out here in much smaller "tour boats"!

Although it was still cloudy, the sky opened a bit as we pulled close. The glacier appeared brighter on this trip, and Kim now was enjoying the view,
so in spite of the rainey weather as we pulled away from another day at Aialik Glacier, I must say that the trip was worth doing again!