Monday, June 5, 2017

Our Meares Glacier Excursion

Here are some photographs from our 8 and a half hour cruise to the Meares Glacier on the catamaran Valdez Spirit with  Stan Stephens "Glacier & Wildlife" Cruises.

Our day began with an overcast sky, light winds with no rain in the forecast.

Here is a disappearing view of Valdez as we are traveling towards Prince William Sound.

This is the Alaska Oil Pipeline, Valdez Terminal.  The captain of our boat gave us great information about the Port of Valdez, the town as well as info about the Alaska Pipeline and this Terminal.  The Alaska Pipeline terminates here in Valdez from it's starting point at Prudhoe Bay.  To learn more about how the Pipeline was constructed and some interesting facts about it click here.  There are 14 oil storage tanks (only 7 visible here) and they are about 1 acre in size.  Around 19 oil tankers arrive here each month to take crude oil away to various refineries around the United States.

Calm seas

Our knowledgeable Captain and the staff of the Valdez Spirit took great care in making sure customers were comfortable.  The crew kept binoculars in their hands, constantly scanning the water and land for animals and any other hazards.  You were even allowed to enter the boat's helm and visit with them if they were not busy.

The view out the boat's windshield.

We saw several families of sea otters (the Captain called a group of sea otters a "couch".  Click here to learn more about wildlife views opportunities in the Valdez Port) floating on their backs, relaxing with full bellies of fish.

After circling the sea otters for photographs, the Captain turned the boat towards the part of Prince William Sound called "the Narrows".  This is a skinny passage way where the fjord walls surround the water. The depth of the water in parts of Prince William Sound can be as much as 800 feet.

We saw many waterfalls tumbling down the steep mountain sides.

When the catamaran reached more open water, the Captain called our attention to some humpback whales that were breaching the surface.  Ronnie and I recognized that water spray (called a blow) from the humpback whales blowing air from their lungs before a deep dive.  We saw a lot of this activity in our experience from last summer's whale watching off the Oregon coast.

When a whale makes a deep dive, their tale sometimes comes up out of the water, this is called a "fluke".  We saw the tale a few times this trip and I was able to get some photographs here.

We dressed for the occasion, wearing several layers to keep warm.

Traveling on, the Captain points out sea lions resting on a channel marker.

The landscapes we saw were awe-inspiring.

Our Captain soon points out increasing icebergs floating by.  She tells us they are from the Columbia Glacier.  It is calving (dropping or shedding huge chunks of ice into the ocean) at a rate of about 2 square miles a year.

Our Captain circles this iceberg so we can get photographs.  She describes how the blue color isn't from the color of the ice water, but rather from how the light's wavelengths are being absorbed and reflected due to the compacted glacier's ice. To read more about this, click: Why do some icebergs appear blue?

She also went on to relay how we are only seeing a small portion of this iceberg, the greater part of it being under water.  Yep, we are only seeing "the tip of the iceberg".

Soon, it was time for lunch.  This particular Glacier Cruise provides a hot lunch and an afternoon "soup" snack too.

After lunch, the sun came out and we had arrived to the Meares Glacier. What an amazing site to see! The Captain told us this particular glacier is over a half mile wide, 300 feet tall with estimated 300 feet under the water.  It is an "advancing glacier" meaning it is moving forward, pushing up rocks and earth.

As we approached the face of the Glacier, you could hear the cracking, groaning sounds of ice moving.  When she cut the boat's motors off, those sounds really became intense. 

Then suddenly the sounds would intensify and you would see pieces of ice fall off into the water.  This made the most incredible sound, being loud and then booming as the ice hit the water. 

Ronnie and I just stood there, fascinated with what we were able to see, hear and experience

The Captain was able to get about 1/4 mile from the face of this glacier because there were not as many large chunks of icebergs.  Now, the boat's crew had to work around the back of the boat with poles to keep accumulating ice from clustering around the propellers.

 The Captain stayed at the Meares Glacer for about 45 minutes to an hour.  That was plenty of time to take lots of photographs and see several calving episodes.  They all were small chunks (no idea..maybe ice chunks the size of cars??) but thankfully, no severe waves or video to make YouTube.

Motoring away from the Meares Glacier in the Unakwik Inlet.

Our boat Captain still had more sights in store for us.  She took us by the sea caves, resting sea lions all the while looking for eagles, puffins, bears and more humpback whales..

After about a hour or so it was time to move back towards the Port of Valdez.  We were served a hot "soup snack" while we relaxed and enjoyed the fjord views.

Ronnie did spot a bear in a clearing on the mountain side.

We arrived back to Valdez excited with our Meares Glacier experience on the Valdez Spirit with Stan Stephen Glacier & Wildlife Cruises.  We will always remember those sights, sounds and being in awe of the size of that Glacier!

More Later.

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