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Dawes Glacier and Bergy Bits


By Khrys Melgar, expedition guide, Wilderness Discoverer

As I awoke this morning within the Tracy Arm – Ford’s Terror Wilderness, I could hear the sounds of glacial ice making slight contact as it scraped along the hull of the boat. When I walked out onto the fan tail aboard the Wilderness Discoverer, the clouds were low and gray, just barely covering over the rounded dome mountain tops. The view of Dawes Glacier was clear and impressive with snow white and translucent blue ice in full glory along the face. The water color was a greenish blue with the finest glacier flour sediment flowing in all directions. At this time, the water was not littered everywhere with bergy bits and brash ice but had one meandering line of floating ice over a 100 yards long in the center of the fjord like an ice snake. If you’re wondering what bergy bits are, it’s a term used to describe the size of ice that calves with more than 3 feet of floating ice above the water but not as much as 16 feet. Any piece of ice larger than 16 feet is classified as an iceberg and anything smaller than 3 feet is a growler.

Dawes Glacier and group

It is always exciting for me and guests to bear witness the grandeur of glacially carved shear rock walls that rise over 1000 feet high. The surrounding scenery is truly breathtaking and so is observing the massive river of ice flowing down the valley to meet the sea. Dawes Glacier is known as a tide water glacier which has eroded the surrounding rock 500 – 1000 feet deep below the water and has carved Endicott Arm over thirty miles back from Holkham Bay.

Glacial Ice Alaska

On this morning, Max Pushack our skiff driver took ten guests and myself as the guide to within 1/4 mile from the snout of the glacier for a closer view. As we approached, the thunderous sound of ice breaking apart reverberated in the canyon and minutes later, right of center, a gigantic piece of ice calved. It looked like the size of a 3-story building. We all were wowed in amazement, taking pictures and watching the gulls dive down into the water scooping up stunned fish. The wave generated from this event was felt two minutes later as our small boat rocked up and down. After spending a lengthy time in front of the glacier and withstanding the katabatic winds blowing down the canyon, we headed back to the mother ship to warm ourselves up.

Polar Plunge Alaska

Soon after, guests and crew were preparing themselves for the polar plunge into the 33-degree water. About a dozen guests and six crew members jumped off the boat into frigid water with the perfect background, Dawes Glacier. It was the last time this season the Wilderness Discoverer would be visiting this scenic area in Southeast Alaska, so it was only right that I too should jump into the water to say farewell.

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