An Up-close Encounter with Davidson Glacier

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North America » United States » Alaska » Skagway
September 13th 2009
Published: September 24th 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

When Mariner docks in Skagway on a foggy morning, Alan and I wonder if we’ll be experiencing a repeat of our Juneau experience. But, the ticket says our Speedcat to Glacier Point excursion happens rain or shine. So off we go to paddle a canoe to the face of Davidson Glacier.

As soon as we board the high-speed catamaran for the 1-hour ride to Glacier Point, it’s obvious that we’ve made the right decision. Our guide (whose name I forget to write down) is entertaining as well as knowledgeable. While the boat zips through the water, we watch for sea life and admire the views of hanging glaciers and waterfalls that decorate the deep fjord.

Once on shore at Glacier Point, the group boards school buses for the short ride to a staging area to gear up in boots, rainproof overalls and jackets. From the bus, we spot an immature eagle, trolling close to shore, looking for a morning salmon snack. When the terrain turns from new growth to old-growth temperate rainforest, the difference is striking.

At the staging area, we’re handed boots, waterproof overalls and a waterproof jacket. Soon, we’re waddling around like rubberized humans. On the walk through the rainforest to the river, I stop to photograph huge, red mushrooms that have sprouted from the rainforest floor.

Obeying our guide, Jennifer’s, instructions, I step into the river, turn my back towards the canoe and hope my body makes contact with the canoe seat. Then, I swing my legs into the canoe, sliding over to make room for Alan. Once we’re all seated, Jennifer, gives the go ahead to begin paddling.

Propelled by our efforts, the canoe moves quickly through the glacier-fed river. “Stop,” Jennifer says. She lectures about the area as we give our arm muscles a rest. Then, it’s time to row again.

“Rest your arms,” Jennifer says, ordering us to stop paddling again. This time, she starts the outboard motor. We’re close to the face of Davidson Glacier now. Jennifer shouts over the sound of water rushing into the river from the glacier. A cold wind whips around us, creating whitecaps on the water. From this viewpoint, the glacier is much taller with jagged edges of ice at the top of the face.

Jennifer maneuvers the canoe back and forth in front of the glacier, giving all of the photographers a good angle for taking photos. Eventually, she turns the canoe back down the river and orders us to paddle again. The effort warms us.

When it’s time to disembark, I step out of the canoe into the river and walk to land, relieved that I made the journey without falling in.

At the gearing station, we take off the boats and waterproof clothing. Then, we’re bussed back to Glacier Point to board the catamaran. On the return ride, Alan and I sit on a bench enjoying a boxed lunch of turkey sub sandwich, multi-grain chips and chocolate chip cookie.

In the evening, as Mariner sails away from Skagway, we sit in the Observation Lounge watching the beautiful scenery of the fjord pass before us one more time. Raising our champagne glasses, Alan and I toast to one of the best excursions that we’ve ever had.

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