Sunday, June 15, 2014


Compact snow so intensely blue it appears painted, frozen peaks of silt stained glacial ice and large chunks sheared from a tide water glacier adrift in the sea, will forever define my thoughts of Alaska after our Silversea cruise. 
Over the past week we have visited the isolated towns of Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka and Skagway enjoying a variety of activities designed to showcase the natural beauty of this part of the world. These small coastal towns swell from May to September each year as people come to experience the abundant glacial ice and marine life.

In Juneau we soared high above the Mendenhall glacier in a helicopter ride which helped give perspective to its enormous scale and dramatic beauty - glacial ice hung over cliff precipices forming a deceptively fragile topography, while surface ice peaked in patterns reminiscent of icing on a birthday cake. The glacier itself appeared pockmarked – wave like peaks of ice stained by glacial silt ground from the rocks – a result of the froes of gravity across its surface.

On our ascent to the landing area high on the glacier, our highly skilled helicopter pilot nonchalantly flew so close to the shear mountain rock face that we felt we could reach out and touch it. (Not surprisingly he had read ‘Chickenhawk’ the non-fiction epic about a Vietnam helicopter fighter pilot at aged 14).

Landing high on the glacier enabled us to trek across its surface to gain a closer view of the deep crevasses and blue lakes. Seeing the graduating intensity of the blue ice at close range was so picturesque that even consistent rain could not dampen our enthusiasm – the “liquid sunshine” an obvious necessity for longevity of a glacier! We also lay on the ice to sample the pure glacial water directly from the summer stream – crisp, cold and devoid of any man made additives.

Overall the clarity and graduating intensity of the blue ice will be a lasting memory. We usually think of snow and ice as being white in colour, but as it compacts, density and thickness increasing, the absorption of blue from the colour spectrum decreases, thus the deeper the ice the more the intense the blue.

In Skagway we took a catamaran ride to a remote island where we paddled across Davidson lake to walk on the Davidson glacier. There was a group ice climbing on the glacier and their presence enabled a scale comparison to appreciate its enormity. On our way there we saw whales playing in the ocean plus a large sea lion colony whose boisterous males were using their impressive bulk to aggressively defend their female pack from younger males sea lions.

In Sitka we rode bicycles along a quite forest lined inlet to hike through rainforest with a gushing glacial fed stream. An enjoyable way to appreciate the peaceful natural beauty of this location.

Then on our final sea day we rose early to marvel at the tide water Hubbard Glacier. A snowflake that falls on its surface today will take about 400 years to reach its base – a fact which makes its huge scale even more impressive. Like all glaciers it is constantly moving – evident by the large chunks of ice adrift in the surrounding sea and the occasional sound of it shearing off at the edges.

On each of our shore trips we were warned of what to do in case we happened upon a bear in the wild and it was the only disappointing aspect to my trip that we didn’t encounter any! - However with no "bear mace" (the locals really do carry it - they tell me it is like normal mace but on steroids!), in our backpacks perhaps that was not such a bad thing.

Mendenhall Glacier seen from the helicopter

Cravass on Mendenhall Glacier
Drinking the Glacial Water directly from the stream

Paddling across Davidson lake to Davidson Glacier

Hiking in the glacial fed rain forest at Skagway 
Hubbard Glacier
Ice chunks adrift in the sea at Hubbard Glacier
Hubbard Glacier as seen from the deck of our Silversea ship