Dawes Glacier

We were late leaving Juneau because of a delayed delivery of food from Anchorage. The captain decided having food on board was better than being on schedule – we agreed. Daylight is long at 58 degrees N in late spring so Captain Ron wasn’t worried about getting to a quiet cove to anchor for the night. Destination for the next day was Dawes Glacier and then to Ford’s Terror for the night’s anchor.

Leaving Juneau as the sun was getting low.

Leaving Juneau after dinner, as the sun was getting low.

We were warned that the captain would start the engines early, at 6:30, to make up some lost time by our late departure (we later learned why this was so important). I slept very soundly but at the first quiet rumble of the generators starting, my feet hit the floor – I didn’t want to miss anything.

Our stateroom was on the second deck, close to the bridge (everything is close on a small ship) so I joined Captain Ron as the anchors were being hoisted on the bow of the first deck.

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Anchor hoisted on starboard side.

There is a door on each end of the bridge where we could go outside to a very small viewing deck. I eagerly greeted the morning with camera in hand, three layers, earmuffs and gloves, even though Captain Ron was summer barefoot.

We traveled south in Stephen’s Passage, surrounded by mountains. I was equally awed by sun-drenched snowy mountains and cloud-shrouded peaks. This is the Tongass National Forest, a giant temperate rain forest, so I knew to expect some clouds and rain but on this early morning I basked in the shining sun.

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Mountains with sharp peaks rose above the many glaciers that have moved through this area. The rounded mountains were under ice.

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When we entered Endicott Arm that leads to Dawes Glacier, we were greeted by floating ice shining in the morning sun. We had been told that the temperature would drop as we approached the glacier and I felt the coolness sharpen as the boat moved forward.

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Endicott Bay is a 20 mile long fiord that is 1,000 feet deep in many places. Fiords were formed by glaciers as they moved, carving out deep valleys, scouring and grinding the rock with the large boulders and stone rubble they carry. On each side of the fiord, the mountains rise straight up showing beautiful rock formations formed by the glacial action.

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The line on the rock above the water line is pine pollen, unusually heavy this year, deposited as the tide was receding.

As we worked our way down the fiord, the pieces of ice increased in number. Captain Ron slowed the engine so he could pick his way through the ice – hitting the ice at high speed increased the risk of damage. The silt from the glacier turned the water a beautiful shade of aqua.

The going was very slow and we didn’t have time to go as close to the glacier as we could have. The captain had to allow sufficient time to reach the entrance to Ford’s Terror because there is just a 15 minute window at slack high tide when it is safe to go through the narrow passage.

We did get close enough to see a piece of the glacier fall into the water, called calving, but I wasn’t quick enough (or lucky enough) to catch a photograph.

What looks like tire tracks across the glacier are actually embedded characteristics in the ice. The face is one mile wide and goes deep beneath the water. It is called a tide water glacier.

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The face of the glacier is as much as 20 stories high above the water line. Getting too close can be dangerous because of the ice breaking off.

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After the screams died with the falling ice and resulting huge splash, we turned around to slowly make our way back to Ford’s Terror. I will explain how it got its name in my next post.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also want to read my first post in this series on cruising the inside passage of Southeast Alaska, Life Aboard a Small Ship.

21 thoughts on “Dawes Glacier

  1. Holy fazole! You got some amazing photos Pat! Very interesting about your 15 minute window. You’d have to be pretty good at scheduling to pull that off regularly.


    • We only did the inside passage so there was only one time when the boat banged against waves. But it is still a boat and the water is so cold, hypothermia can set in quickly – ice cold water. 🙂 And I regretted not taking my silk long underwear. Glad to take you on the journey from the comfort of your warmth.


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