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Published: October 26th 2008
Your boat sits in front of Margerie Glacier and you wait. Sometimes your voice is a little hushed, listening for the first telltale clunks and splashes that might be the harbingers of something larger, much larger. If they are close you might hear and shift you focus in time to see a chunk, or a mammoth chunk or even a ¼ of the entire glacier front crash down into the ocean. It is a spectacle, the calving of a tidewater glacier.
Technically if the ocean water touches a glacier, it is tidewater. But not all tidewater glaciers are created equal... Some glaciers in Glacier Bay are barely kissed by the ocean on periodic higher high tides. If you went shopping for a tidewater glacier and came home with Reid Glacier, you'd probably take it back for a refund after you'd seen Margerie... Each is spectacular but the reality is that the calving of big glacier ice directly into deep ocean water is the hallmark of a 'tidewater' glacier. It is what draws and awes millions to the upper fjords of Glacier Bay. Reid is a spectacular place, and I go there often, but you'll never see Reid ice fall in
to water that is more than a few feet deep. And most of Reid's terminus is now a low angled slope that never calves at all.
Most folks come into Glacier Bay for sights that can only be seen at four locations: Margerie Glacier, Lamplugh Glacier, McBride Glacier and John Hopkins/Gilman Glaciers. McBride has a narrow shallow mouthed entrance to its' inlet making it inaccessible to vessels much larger than a zodiac. Johns Hopkins Inlet is closed to larger vessel traffic for much of the summer to protect seals giving birth on icebergs. Lamplugh is beautiful but doesn't seem to calve much. So most cruise ship passengers make the trip to Glacier Bay to sit in front of Margerie Glacier, and wait.
Marylou and I got up early to get there before the cruise ships. The wind at our anchorage on the east side of Russell Island was whipping and we had to buoy off the stern anchor in order to retrieve the bow anchor. But as we cruised up Tarr Inlet the day turned clear, calm and bright as it often does at the far end of Glacier Bay's West Arm. The early morning light sluiced across
Margerie and it sparkled and glistened. We got up close to the ice wall, and waited.
Marylou had done this hundreds of times as part of her job as naturalist on the cruise ships and tour boats. But she said it was different, quieter and more peaceful without the focused attention of 2000 visitors and the muffled rumblings of the giant diesels. I was in awe despite having been there several times before. The sheer size, up-close in a little boat, the wall of electrified blue ice filling our view...
We'd been lucky, sometimes the floating icebergs are too thick for my little boat but this morning they were scattered and we got close. The light was perfect. Crack and splash! You are far enough away that there is a time delay. I remember standing at the top of Schuyler Street hill when I was a kid watching a fellow dribbling a basketball at the bottom of the hill. With only a city block between us the sound of the ball hitting the pavement was way out of sync with the sight of the ball hitting the pavement. Well, you sure want to be more than a city
Margerie from the air
Mt. Fairweather center left
block away from a calving glacier. ¼ mile is recommended, we were a bit closer... but still we would hear them, and turn... but doh! Too late!
Some cracks and booms are surprisingly loud yet you may see nothing or just a few 'small' chucks falling. But Margerie was in a feisty mood and I was a kid with a candy basket. Booms, cracks and slashs from Margerie, whoops and awes from me. I was thinking I got a few good shots. Marylou was having fun just watching me wide-eyed, grinning and screaming with the splashes. And she knew... I'd brought the expert... 'Watch there...' and as the big one started to fall the camera started clicking and I yelled “Backup! Backup!!!” But we were fine; distances are deceiving through a zoom lens. Plus the existing floating icebergs tend to flatten out the initial crests. By the time the 3 foot waves reached us they were long swells and the boat just rode them up and down. Marylou wondered why I'd stopped shooting.... “Ran out of card memory just as the big ice started down....” So the really big one from that day is a burned in bionic memory
with camera control icons along the edge... but hey, it's Margerie, she's still up there calving away and maybe I'll try again, another day...
Tot: 2.401s; Tpl: 0.025s; cc: 11; qc: 28; dbt: 0.0182s; 2; m:saturn w:www (188.8.131.52); sld: 1;
; mem: 1.3mb