Our Alaska cruise itinerary listed several port stops and a couple of glacier viewings. If you’re like me, then you are really sure what to expect when the itinerary includes Hubbard Glacier and Sawyer Glacier.
The shortest answer, is these are viewings. The ship will pull in, getting as close as it can, and hang out for a while so you can watch in wonder, take photos, and just be overcome with emotion.
If you have never stood in front of a glacier, you might not really understand all the hype. But in truth, the massive natural ice structure towering over me sort of takes my breath away and leaves me staring in wonderment.
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We stood in silent awe as we admired the massive Hubbard Glacier reaching up 350 feet in front of us (with another 250 feet below the waterline). Our Alaskan cruise ship got in close enough to see the ridges and details of the largest calving glacier in North America.
In truth, we only saw a small portion of the 76-mile long Hubbard Glacier, but it was enough to captivate us.
This was our Hubbard Glacier tour, seen from the NCL Sun it is our first official destination as we cruised down the wild Alaskan coast from Anchorage (Whittier) to Vancouver Canada.
We had already been on board for about 40 hours and now Hubbard Glacier glimmered before us. While some passengers watched from their cabin’s balcony, others through huge windows in the lounges, we opted to be on the foredeck and to take in the full-wide expanse that nature lay before us.
Even while staring at it, the glacier itself was unimaginable. This giant hunk of blue ice in Alaska was a vivid shade of aquamarine, noticeable from some distance away.
A closer look at the ice
What a difference a day makes! While I have seen photos of both glaciers (Sawyer and Hubbard, and the ice itself looks quite similar, it really all depends on the weather.
A thick fog rolled in as we sailed through the Tracey Arm heading to the twin Sawyer Glaciers at the end, preventing us from getting anywhere near as close as we were able to get to Hubbard Glacier above. We were sailing along the interior passage somewhere between Juneau and Skagway.
While we didn’t spot wildlife due to the fog, we knew it was out there. Like in so many of the areas we visited on our Alaska Cruise, the wildlife in the area includes both black and brown bears, deer, wolves, harbor seals, and birdlife.
If you get a clear day, bring binoculars and have a look at the base of the Sawyer Glacier. You are likely to spot mountain goats in the higher elevation areas.
Why is glacial ice blue?
Rocket scientist hubby offers a simple explanation: A glacier grows from the top as large amounts of snow compact and partially melt to form a whitish granular snow called firn. Over several years, as water seeps in and the air is forced out under the weight of accumulating snow, the granules merge together forming bluish glacial ice.
Under the continual gravitational pull down the valley, the glacier slowly moves forward like a giant ice river. The ice slowly melts as it reaches the more temperate lower levels closer to sea level.
Small pieces of glacial ice floated in the water, and the ship passed through them with ease. My first thought was that it is a grim reminder of the global warming and the sad loss to these magnificent examples of mother nature. But Hubbard is a calving glacier and therefore still increasing in total mass rather than retreating with global warming.
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Have you seen either Hubbard or Sawyer Glacier?
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