Alaska – Gravel, Grandeur & Goofy Grins (Part 10)
The captain moved the throttles full ahead and once again we were motoring towards our next destination, Aialik Glacier the largest glacier in Kenai fjords. Unfortunately, we found that the ice was too thick in the bay to enter so we motored on towards the Holgate and the Surprise glaciers. Along the way, we would be on the lookout for whales and if we found any, we would stop and observe them for a while.
It wasn’t long before we spotted our first pod of whales. A small group of Humpback whales rolled and dived in front of us. The captain pulled back the throttles and put the boat into idle. We were now floating free and the whales seemed to enjoy the throbbing of the boat’s engines. They slowly and easily swam over towards the boat and appeared to be as curious about us as we were about them. Some swam right alongside the boat and rolled on their sides to view us as we leaned over the side of the boat to view them.
They seemed to revel in our wonderment of them. They showed us gracefully sweeping and flowing tails that slowly rose and then glided below the surface. Long white and barnacled pectoral fins slapped the water and rolled from side to side as they showed us their ribbed and streamlined undersides. With slow dives they vanished from view and came back to us with blasts from their blow holes. We watched their display for half an hour until they became bored with us and decided that something else was more interesting and they slowly swam away leaving us wanting more.
Showtime over, the captain again brought up the throttles and we were once again on our way towards the Holdgate glacier. This boat had real power and we were moving with all due speed toward our destination. A wide and churning white wake was left in our stead as we motored along. Soon land and mountains came into view. The mountains were snow and ice covered and before long, we started coming across small chunks of ice floating in the water. They were of many different shapes and sizes called, from a foot or so to ten or so feet in diameter. These smaller chunks of ice were affectionately known as “bergy bits”.
This could only mean that we were getting close to glaciers. We didn’t have to wait much longer as a white wall of ice and snow known as the Holgate glacier came into view. Far from smooth and stark white, it was a jagged, multi-colored sheet that seemed to have a life of its own. It creaked, cracked and groaned. Huge chunks fell and crashed off the sides creating gigantic splashes sending birds scurrying for cover and creating new icebergs or bergy bits.
As we got closer, a cold stiff wind blew directly off the glacier and straight at us. It was bone chilling. It was also continuous and steady causing us to bundle up if we wanted to stay outside and view the Glacier. The wind seemed like a river of water flowing directly off the glacier and that was exactly what it was. It was the trapped super cooled air that literally flowed from the top of the glacier over the edge and down to the ocean, just like a waterfall.
Bundled up we stood at the boats rail while the captain maneuvered us around to get a better and closer look at the Holgate glacier. Up close, we could see veins of different colors running through the glacier caused by the rocks and earth it had accumulated as it had scraped its way to the ocean’s edge. There were also caverns and cracks of significant size, large enough for people to enter if they could walk on water. It was truly an amazing force of nature.
Before we knew it, the captain told us over the loudspeaker that our time was up and we would have to head back to Seward. He also said if he saw anything interesting we’d stop to take a look. As he was turning the boat around, we rounded a part of the bay and lo and behold… there was another glacier. Aptly named Surprise glacier it had gotten its name because it was only visible from certain angles such as the one we now had as we exited the bay. It was not as mighty as the Holdgate glacier, but it was indeed exciting to be surprised by a glacier. It was not something that one normally imagines could sneak up on them, but the Surprise glacier had done just that. We roamed around the Surprise Glacier for about ten minutes and then the captain said we would be leaving for Seward again shortly.
Kim and I were getting cold and we headed back from the bow of the boat to the cabin to warm up. Just as we were passing the pilot house, the captain who I had been chatting with earlier about my Kindle and our Alaskan adventure ride opened the door, said hello again and…
Asked me if I wanted to drive this 7,200 horse power twin engined 95 foot long boat back to Seward for a while. Would I? Would I? Well hell yeah! He then calmly told me that the power quadrant and thruster controls were all mine and to go for it. He just said, “Don’t hit any of the big bergy bits, OK?” Wahoo!!! To say the least, I was thrilled. And so it was for about twenty minutes of cruising back towards Seward. But all good things must come to an end and in what seemed like just a few seconds, the captain asked for his ship back and I begrudgingly gave it back to him.
About 40 minutes later, we spotted more whales. This time it was a pod of three Orcas. It looked like two adults with an adolescent. The merrily breached and blew their way along the ocean’s surface, moving fairly quickly and paying little attention to us or to the other boat that appeared to enjoy them as well. It was great to see these wonderful creatures in their natural environment instead of in a captive setting. The Orcas seemed to have a destination in mind and they had little time or interest in us so our time with them was quiet short. They quickly were getting out of viewing range since it is illegal to chase the whales in Alaska. But we were good with the time we had with them and this time we were heading back to Seward for real.
The remainder of the trip was a bit of a blur since we had enjoyed the day so much. Before we knew it we were back at the dock and disembarking. We were thrilled with the days events but a bit sad for it to be over. The overwhelming feeling was one of thanks for having the means to go on such a wonderful adventure for we knew our time in Alaska was growing short. Before we knew it, we would be heading back to New Hampshire. But lucky for us, there were a few surprises to go and we’ll tell you about them in the final chapter.