Today our main activity was a trip to the Le Conte Glacier via jet boat. As our departure time was not until 4pm, we busied ourselves with tasks around the boat and Wrangell.
The day before, John from Alaska Charters and Adventures, www.AlaskaUpClose.com, had offered to let me draft off his wireless in order to download the upgrade patch for my Nobeltec. We waited until 12:30pm, when the visitors from the cruise ship were back on board and walked the length of town to his office and his wife’s gallery.
The patch download and installation went without a hitch and we were now equipped with Nobeltec software that should perform as advertised.
As the download process unfolded, John told us tales of hunting, fishing, trapping and catching or shooting all manner of wildlife. All of which were butchered by him and consumed during the year. In the summer, they have three large gardens at their cabin on the Stikine River where they grow and then put up vegetables for the winter. In Alaska, even in one of the top ten populated towns in Alaska, the citizens still live off the land.
We made our way back to the boat with stops in the various shops in town. Souvenirs were on the list along with a couple of fresh produce items.
The trip on the jet boat was much anticipated. Our original plan was to take the trip up the Stikine River to see the wildlife, but the river was too low to get to the spots they usually visit. The snowfall was light this winter in the mountains and the resulting limited runoff had left the river very low.
Eric from Breakaway Adventures suggested we try the 4-5 hour trip to the Le Conte Glacier instead. We were at bit disappointed as we had visited the glacier at the head of Tracy Arm in 2006 on our Grand Banks. This seemed it might be a bit “me too”, but we’re always game for adventure.
Norm and Karen and I set out in the little jet boat at 4pm. We had to cross Dry Strait (mud flats) at high enough water and must return back across before 8pm in order to have at least a foot of water in the lowest spots. The jet boat only draws 6 inches but sometimes that is not enough in these tidal flats. Norm was more excited about this trip than the “river” trip. He said we picked the best one. We were still a bit skeptical.
Norm at the helm of the jet boat. It steers like an air boat. Push the lever forward to go right.
The traverse over the flats was interesting. Given that they constantly shift and move, it was great to have an experienced captain skilled in finding his way in the shallows. Our doubts quickly faded as we approached the entrance to Le Conte Bay and spotted a half dozen freight car sized glaciers stuck on the shallow terminal moraine. These were huge. Many times the size of anything we had experienced in Tracy Arm. And that beautiful blue color that signifies glacier ice.
The first sign of icebergs
As big a freight cars is not an understatement
Karen and Norm picking out their next berg to visit
Got to get the picture
More glaciers guarding the entrance to the La Conte Bay
I could sit and look at these for hours. There are endless variations and details.
After taking a few pictures, we began the seven mile trip up the bay to the glacier. I was surprised to see the density of the ice before us. Glad this is not my boat! And I had no idea how we were going to get very far based on the amount of ice I saw.
Norm did a masterful job of weaving his way through the thinner distributions and when it got thick, he slowed done and bumped his way along from bergy bit to bergy bit.
This was the easy stuff to get through. I would have turned around right then.
This is a very impressive valley, carved by millions of years of glacier activity. I lost track of time, but I suspect it took us an hour to go the seven miles in a boat that travels 33 miles an hour in open water.
Norm pushed on. His goal was to get in a position so we could see the complete face of the glacier. Long after I thought we could go no further, Norm found a way. “As long as you can see water, we’re OK!” Norm’s definition of water and mine diverged. I thought a spot of clear water the size of your fist might be the right unit of measure. I think Norm’s definition was more a thimble.
Good to go for Norm and his jet boat
As you’ll see in the pictures, the trip exceeded our every expectation. It was a true adventure. A trip we could never have made on our own. No dinghy, no Kayak could have made it as close as we did to the face.
Approaching the glacier
I forgot to mention that Norm has a cell phone with God’s number in his speed dial list. As we proceeded up to the glacier face, the clouds continued to dissipate and the sun shined bright across the ice. We enjoyed blue skies and light winds. After almost a week of Alaska cloudy skies, it seemed a miracle.
The glacier's face
Sitting in the ice, admiring this glacier and the valley it carved over the millennium
Ice, ice everywhere. I had no idea we could go though this stuff.
The record shot, just to prove we did it
We sat for about a half an hour taking pictures and listening to the low rumbles from the glacier that echoed though the valley and just sitting in awe of such a site.
On our return we stopped and took pictures of the numerous seal pups and their moms peppered throughout the ice fields.
Moms and pups were hauled out everywhere
Who you looking at?
I would love to know what they said about us
We passed one lone immature eagle on the ice. Seal pups beware!
The ice is starting to thin our as we made our way back to the entrance of the bay
We revisited some of the “big boys” on our departure from Le Conte Bay
Do you think the seagull in front thinks he's the Captain of the iceberg
We stopped briefly at the seal trappers’ cabin remains to stretch our legs before heading back.
Back on the boat after our stop. This gives you a good look at the jet boat.
Perfect end to a perfect day of glacier exploring
Dinner? Nachos at the Hungry Beaver and 2 Alaskan Ambers!