Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Day 15 - Tracy Arm and Williams Cove

Weather: We don't know what the temperature was because we don't have easy internet access anymore, but it was very cold in the morning and near the glacier, then warmer when we got to Williams Cove. Mostly overcast, with some sprinkles in the middle of the day.
Steps: Shaun - 4,329 steps, 10 floors climbed; Shannon - 4,702 steps, 14 floors climbed (yay! I finally have more steps than Mom!)
Critter count: about 5 harbor seals, 2 adult bald eagles and 2 juveniles, 3 mountain goats, including a baby one/kid, and some other birds (we don't remember what they were called). Plus, a bajillion gnats that followed us all the way down the Arm.

The day started rather ignominiously (go ahead, look it up). We had set the alarm for 7am so that we would have time to get ready before going to breakfast at 7:30, but at 6:30, Cindy, our Expedition Leader (aka Cruise Director), came on the PA and said that we were passing by a big waterfall called Hole-in-the-Wall Waterfall. Of course we wanted to see that, so we jumped into clothes and ran out to take pictures. Neither one of us had slept well, so we must have resembled zombies, and who knows if our clothes even matched, but we got to see the big waterfall.

The destination for the morning was Tracy Arm, a fjord that ends (or begins, depending on how you look at it) at two glaciers, Sawyer and South Sawyer. The route is bounded by high hills that are dotted with mountain goats and lots of waterfalls, and there is a ton of other wildlife, such as harbor seals, harbor porpoises, and many different kinds of birds. 

We had our first breakfast aboard ship, then met with everyone in the lounge, where the staff told us what we would be doing today and how we would be doing it. We were afraid that we weren't going to like being directed after spending two weeks doing our own thing, but it's kind of nice to give up control and just go with the flow. The only choices we have to make are what we want for dinner and whether we want to hike, kayak, or both.

The first part of the day after breakfast we spent with the glaciers. We took zodiacs (small rubber dingy-type boats) up to within a 1/4 mile of Sawyer Glacier, and because the boats were super small, we were able to get up real close to the calved ice floating in the water, and Shannon got to touch some of it! Real glacier ice finally! 

As we had seen in the other glaciers we've come across, it was a bright cobalt blue where the ice had recently been exposed, and we were able to see new calves that still had that blue color. We were also able to see some beautiful waterfalls on the way, as well as the harbor seals and unknown birds I mentioned above. 

We get sort of complacent about these glaciers now, but it's still amazing to see them, even from a quarter-mile away because they are just sooooo massive. We try to get perspective by looking at the birds flying around the terminus of the glacier and comparing those specks to the massive block of ice, or hearing the naturalist say that this glacier often produces calves that are bigger than houses, but it doesn't do it justice. Then you hear the crack of the ice separating and see small pieces falling into the water, and you can just imagine the sound that would result from a house-sized calf. We didn't get to see any big pieces fall, but the group that went to Sawyer Glacier after us did and said the sound was thunderous.

(like this very strategically placed bell?)

These two below are like Where's Waldo, only it's Where's the goat and eagles? I'll give you a hint: the top photo has the goat and the bottom one has the eagles.

When our group returned to the ship, the next group went in the zodiacs to Sawyer and we went in the ship to South Sawyer. We obviously couldn't get as close in the bigger ship, but we were able to see the terminus, and we saw three mountain goats in the hills. They looked like little white specks, but with binoculars, we could see that they were a nanny and kid and another separate one. I still can't believe the seemingly sheer rock faces they were hanging out on, but I guess that's what they're made for. Also, on our way back to pick up the zodiacs, a group with the mega-mondo cameras found a juvenile bald eagle sitting in a tree on an island, which was quite a trick considering that the eagle didn't yet have the distinctive white head. We only saw that in passing, but it was still pretty cool.

Once everyone was back on board, we had a few presentations by the National Geographic photographers and naturalists on staff, then we had lunch and prepared for our afternoon in Williams Cove. 

The cove is basically just a quiet inlet in the Tongess National Forest that has a beach and some paths. We opted to walk with the experts first, then kayak for an hour. We split up, and Shaun went with the photography expert (read geek) while Shannon went with a naturalist. These were not actual hikes, as we didn't go much more than a mile in distance, but they lasted for 1 1/2 hours.

The photo hike really concentrated on looking at the forest in a different way and taking pictures to tell the story. The photographer talked about composition, noticing light, and using the camera's different settings for different situations. Shaun found it very interesting, but it was a bit too slow for her liking. Here are a few examples of her pictures:

Aren't they cool?

The nature hike was led by a very gregarious, yet quite knowledgeable naturalist, who, when he introduced himself to the passengers said that the only things he doesn't like are fungi and whales. Of course, now we all can't stop ribbing him for this. He told the group about the marine versus temperate rainforest conditions, the plants, wildlife, and more. He talked A LOT, so we went over our allotted time, and while it was interesting, Shannon was ready for it to be done.

From there, we met back up with each other, and we headed out in our two-person kayak. For those who don't know, up to this point, Shaun was deathly afraid of kayaking because of a previous incident she had being pinned under a canoe. So, it was definitely a milestone for her to face her fear. However, looking at her as we got in the kayak, you would never know that she was afraid, and we had no issues during the ride, other than our zigzag approach to navigation.

We were able to kayak out to the middle of the inlet and see the ship framed by beautiful mountains and trees, and then we paddled to a floating piece of ice that had calved from one of the glaciers. It was a peaceful hour spent listening to the water while trying to perfect our strokes. We were fairly unsuccessful in this endeavor.

As will be the norm for the next week, after our excursion, we all gathered in the lounge for hors d'oeuvres, and a presentation and recap of the day. Then we headed to dinner, where Shaun tried real King Salmon, and actually enjoyed it. We ended up sitting with four members of the staff, including our gregarious naturalist, and he and Shaun really livened the party up. We'll just leave it at that, but 50 Shades of Gray may have come up...

We were exhausted, so we went to bed, which is why this post is a day late. Sorry!  

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