The Unending Wonders of Glacier Bay

06-17-2019

By Jessie Mathews, expedition guide on the Legacy

It could not be a more perfect day in Glacier Bay. The sun is shining, and the blue sky brings out the greener tones of the glacial waters surrounding the Legacy.

This morning’s group of hard chargers sit excitedly in one of the skiffs. Four crew members join the group of seven passengers. The crew jumps on the chance to go on the glacier ridge hike, even if it means getting up early. Spencer, a deckhand, wouldn’t normally start his day for another four hours. He clutches a thermos of coffee and yawns as we cruise past the glacier to the far shoreline. At such a distance it is hard for us to wrap our heads around the fact that the glacier’s face is half a mile across. 

Once on shore, we quickly shed our PFDs and swap our rubber boots for hiking boots. We are too eager to get started to waste any time. This hike is not for the faint of heart and we begin scrambling up rocks almost immediately. On top of the first set of rocks, we keep our eyes peeled for the well-worn game trail that will lead us along the ridge overlooking Lamplugh glacier. After a few moments of searching, we find the trail and begin our ascent.

Every so often the trail levels out and we stop to de-layer and take in the view. As we climb a furry head pops up just above us. We’ve spotted a marmot! Despite our close proximity, the marmot barely glances at our group before returning its gaze back to the bay. We turn to see what holds the marmot’s attention and find a giant cruise ship steaming past. We creep up the path almost right next to the marmot before it scurries away. 

Finally, we burst forth onto a plateau teeming with alpine lupine at the end of the well-trodden path. It is by no means the highest peak around, but it is as high as we will go. Above us, the mountains still hold snow and below we hear the rush of meltwater exiting the glacier. To the left, Lamplugh glacier seems to stretch on forever and to the right, we can barely make out the tiny blot of white that is the Legacy.

After enjoying the view and taking advantage of the photo opportunity, we begin our slow decent down the rocky ridge. I have barely stepped off the path back onto the rocks before I hear someone behind me yell “Orcas!” I turn in disbelief towards the bay. Whales rarely venture into glacial waters. The glacial flour that gives the water its splendid color also makes the visibility very low and thus makes hunting difficult for whales. 

We hear the orca’s characteristic puff of breath out before three dorsal fins break through the surface of the water. There are a male, a female, and a juvenile female swimming together. Our group sits in stunned and appreciative silence as we watch these magnificent creatures mill about. The juvenile spy hops; she pops her head up out of the water to take a quick peek around the air-filled world we humans inhabit. 

Our stunned silence stays with us until we arrive back at the Legacy. When asked how our hike was, we simultaneously begin to gush about the wonders of Glacier Bay.     

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