The Glaciers of Kenai Fjords

I had never been on a boat tour before, so you’ll have to skip over all this detail if you’re a pro or if you know all about glaciers, or if my low level of research here is annoying. I want to set this stuff down here while I can still remember a bit of it, but I also don’t want to bore anyone, least of all my future self.

The deal is that in Seward, Alaska, we went on an all-day tour—on a giant boat—of part of the Kenia Fjords National Park. It’s centered around the Harding Icefield: a large expanse of ice (duh) from which flows something like 40 glaciers. When the glaciers were really big, they carved dramatic mountains and valleys, and the water-filled valleys are the fjords. Our boat tour took us along the fjords to see several glaciers, as well as animals that live on islands that pop out of the fjords. (I posted here about the orcas we saw spy hoping, and here about other animals we saw and land masses.)

Harding Icefield

I’m not sure exactly what I saw throughout the day that was the Icefield because it was peeking through the mountains; we were not on it. But it did seem to loom above more often than not.

A mist stayed hovering over it and over Resurrection and Aililk bays. When I saw the kazillion sailboats in the port of Seward, I wondered why someone would sail in Alaska, but as soon as I saw the mist around these mountains and glaciers, I could easily imagine silently sailing through this loveliness.

Doug and Melanie spent a day hiking the Icefields, so I’ll wait for them to publish Doug’s photos to show you what it’s really like.

Melanie texted me this one. Just imagine! They had to hike all day long and up 3,000 feet to get this view.

Bear Glacier

I grabbed a shot of this glacier because I’ve seen that zigzag pattern coming down the ice before and not known what it is.

According to our tour captain, two glaciers slide down facing mountains and knit together to form this seam, like a zipper.

Here’s an example with Exit Glacier, also near Seward. A glacial zipper!

Aialik Glacier

Our boat went right up to the toe of this one. It’s amazing from a distance, so big and imposing.

But closeup it’s even more fascinating.

We stood there on the boat railing braving the glacial winds: warm air rises from off the water and hits the cold air from off the glaciers, which creates this strong wind that blows right down the toe straight at you. We would park the boat alongside the glacier and get pushed back, then sidle up alongside again then get pushed back, over and over. Three cheers for our captain who kept us there so we could stare at this fascinating thing.

When parts of the glacier fall off into the water, it’s called calving, and it sounds like thunder. And I mean loud thunder. The caved bits are icebergs. And the bright blue sections are super-dense, old ice.

Holgate Glacier

This one has receded to reveal the ablation area: rocks and dirt left behind.

That tour boat is a little smaller than ours, and it gives a bit of perspective.

We’ve been moved by presentations of receding glaciers in British Columbia and Yukon and Alaska: signs with the year on them are mounted in the bare ground or the forest showing that the glacier’s toe was there as of that year.

It was difficult to see glacial change for the ones on this tour because their toes end on the fjords, pretty much, but here’s a recent signpost for Exit Glacier: it means that the toe reached where the sign is in 2005.

Glacier Margarita

Our captain and crew knew a ton about the park (per the job) as well as the boat, but they also knew how to woo their passengers. Among several treats from them were glacial margaritas.

The crew netted a chunk of ice, then broke it up in the lunch buffet area, turned on Jimmy Buffet, and served us terrible-tasting but very cold margaritas with lots and lots of clear ice.

I’d felt slightly gypped that we hadn’t been to the ice museum (I think it’s in Fairbanks) where you can take home martini glasses carved from solid ice, and this certainly made up for it. This is glacier ice, baby. No one was blowing out their flip flop here, though. We were hanging on to our hats and wiping sea foam off our lenses. Just as celebratory!

6 thoughts to “The Glaciers of Kenai Fjords”

    1. I was thinking of you while watching the commercial fishing boats. I’d love to hear your stories from your time here, one day, in person.

  1. It’s going to be very sad when all the glaciers are gone. I’m glad you got to experience one up close! I have never been on a cruise and have zero desire to ever be on a cruise, unless it’s an Alaska cruise. THAT is one I would totally do.

    1. I’m the same way about cruises. This was just one day though, and thankfully only the interesting people stayed up on deck the whole time, so I was in good company.