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Harriman Expedition Retraced

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Expedition Log: July 28, 2001

Melanie and Kim Heacox

Glacier Bay

Thar she blows! Our expedition leader Mike Messick promised that if whales were sighted he'd sound the alarm and wake us from our slumber. And that he did. At 5:30 a.m. the Clipper Odyssey was surrounded by humpback whales. It was the beginning of what would be an incredible day. We learned from our many experts the various terms that describe whale behavior -- flipper flapping, tail lobbing, spy-hopping, sounding, lunge-feeding and the grandest of them all, breaching. It was hard to imagine how a 40-ton whale could possibly propel itself clear out of the water, but it did. Not many caught it on camera as it came as such a surprise. But many witnessed the exciting event that left a huge splash. We spent an hour and a half in the presence of these gentle giants, so close you could hear them breathing. Point Adolphus was touted as a hot spot for whales, but even that did not prepare us for the wonderful viewing we had that morning. Amazing that we would actually thank Mike for waking up us so early, but we did, heartily.

At 8:00 a.m. the National Park Service patrol boat, the Serac, came along side and seven new passengers joined us for the day. We quickly met the distinguished guests who would present a panel discussion later that day. But our time for introductions was cut short when we sighted puffins ahead. Park Ranger Rosemarie Salazar invited us out on deck for a look at South Marble Island. This small dot on the map is one of Glacier Bay's many bird sanctuaries, and this was our first look at puffins - bright colorful birds that look like the invention of a child's imagination. Exceeding our expectations were 200 plus Steller sealions clustered in a bachelor colony alive with action, posturing, and smell. We were close enough to have an excellent view (and whiff).

Then it was onto the glaciers. The morning had begun a bit dim and gray, but by lunchtime the skies cleared as we arrived at the Margerie Glacier, our first close up view of a tidewater glacier (under blue sky no less). Hats and gloves came off, sunglasses and brimmed hats went on, and gaiety filled the decks. We tried to watch for icefalls and listen for the sound of "white thunder" but a huge golden brown bear walked next to the glacier and stole our attention. Everyone had a good long look, even without binoculars. The hump between its shoulder blades and the dished face (and its bulk) told us that we had left the black bears behind and we were now in the company of a brown bear. Just like E.H. Harriman, over 100 years before us, finding a brown bear was much anticipated. But unlike then, we would capture the bear only on film. We traveled into Johns Hopkins Inlet to view the glacier of the same name, then passed by Lamplugh Glacier on our route south, back down the bay to Bartlett Cove and Icy Strait.


Margerie Glacier

The jumbled ice, bare bedrock, and emerald waters at the terminus of Margerie Glacier. (Photo by National Ocean Service, NOAA).
Click image for a larger view.

That afternoon our guest panelists discussed the many serious issues facing Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve: commercial fishing, Native rights, vessel management, tourism, and wilderness preservation.

We dropped off our guests at 7:00 p.m., enjoyed yet another excellent dinner, and that evening heard from a panel of experts on subsistence in Alaska, a seemingly intractable issue that could change the state constitution. As we bedded down for the night, the Clipper Odyssey passed Port Althorp, where George Vancouver anchored in 1794. We turned past Cape Spencer, entered the Gulf of Alaska on flat calm seas, and left behind the Inside Passage on our journey north.

(View the day's photos: glaciers)

(View the day's photos: the natural world)


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For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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