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We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.

 Anais Nin

Europe is having a heatwave.   In the zoos, the big cats are getting blood iceblocks, and the monkeys, frozen fruit.

I shall think of glaciers.

On the way to Switzerland, we cruised south-east Alaska. It had been on the wish-list for a while. Then a well-priced opportunity to do it on the way to our Swiss summer, and have a few days with old friends on Vancouver Island into the bargain, presented itself. Opportunity exists to be grabbed, yes?

So – glaciers. Fabulous glaciers. And many of them.

I sit here with sweat trickling down my back, and think of huge expanses of ice, flowing imperceptibly, but flowing, into rivers and arms of the sea.

Glacier 1. The Hubbard.

IMG_5223_1Oh the drama of it.

We cruised into Yakutat Bay in a blanket of heavy sea fog.

Nothing but nothingness.

 

We set up the chessboard in the glassed-in Horizons lounge – then looked up.

...through the blue tint of the windows....
…through the blue tint of the windows….

A glimpse of mountain tops.

 

 

 

IMG_5258_1And with every metre, more – the bay unveiling itself Salome-like until only a decorative wisp of mist remained, and then revealing the glacier glistening in full sun.

IMG stitched 5413 5414

All six-miles-wide of it (9.5ks) leaning into the sea with chunks constantly cracking off and dropping in.   And behind what we could see, more cracks and rumbles like an unseen thunderstorm as the whole glacier moved onwards.

The Hubbard is not what they call “glacially slow” – indeed, in glacial terms it’s galloping!   A couple of times in recent years it has moved forward sufficiently to block off the Russell Fjord which (should) flow into Disenchantment Bay, and created a short-lived lake.

Russell Fjord to the right

Russell Fjord to the right

Landsat colour-adjusted image ex Wikipedia

Landsat colour-adjusted image ex Wikipedia

Oh – a wry smile.   I’ve just looked up Wikipedia – and it seems that Hubbard’s progress is partly driven by a tributary glacier – Valerie – which joins with it just a bit “upstream”, and pushes it along.

Valerie wasn’t mentioned in the on-board lecture about Hubbard. All the Valeries in the world know why I’m smiling.

Our Oceania Regatta nosed close to the snout.

viewed through the bow screen --  the excitement of the first ice-fall

viewed through the bow screen — the excitement of the first ice-fall

One of the officers said, rather proudly, “our captain will go much closer than most”.

And there we stayed, apart from a slow turn to give the starboard side a half-hour full facing, and then the port.

The initial rush to get an elbow’s-width of railing space relaxed.

The urgency of catching the moment a chunk of ice plunged into the water diminished as we realised there were heaps more to come.   Mani and I identified two splendid cracks and put a bottle of bubbly on which would break away first. Neither did – and if either had, the ship would certainly have rocked from the ensuing wave!

See the crack of the right-hand pillar? There's a smaller calving to the left.

See the crack of the right-hand pillar? There’s a smaller calving to the left.

Our second crack-contender.  The wave is from a smaller chunk dropping. Imagine if "ours" went.

Our second crack-contender. The wave is from a smaller chunk dropping. Imagine if “ours” went.

 

 

 

 

IMG_5364_1Time slowed, and we were quietly watching for long enough to track the shifts in colour as the sun moved over the ice.

 

Post-cruise, we heard of friends-of-friends who’d been there when there were three large cruise ships negotiating viewing space – and only then realised how lucky we’d been to have such an experience of splendid isolation, IN splendid isolation.

 

 Glaciers 2-6.

That was the “Five Glaciers and Taku Lodge Feast” excursion, out of Juneau.   Juneau must be the only state capital without road access. Float planes rule! OK – we’ve been in an alphabet of aircraft, from Aeroflot, to Microlites to the Zeppelin, but a float plane, not yet. So this ticked the boxes – flying over five glaciers, and landing by one for a feast of barbequed salmon.IMG_5539_2_1

IMG_5682_1

Glaciers where the surface looked marble-smooth, with pools of deep turquoise water

Glaciers where the surface looked marble-smooth, with pools of deep turquoise water

glaciers where the ice was crushed to look like frosting on a cake,

glaciers where the ice was crushed to look like frosting on a cake,

 

 

 

glaciers where you could see the merger-lines as the rock-scrapings from the sides of two valleys converged

 

…such ice, so many centuries of ice and inexorable movement.

 

 

 

AND – yes Daniella – there was a bear!   Up till then, it seemed the animals themselves were slow to leave their hibernation and show themselves, as we’d peered out from the ship and the plane.   But….

Black Bear contemplating BBQd salmon

Black Bear contemplating BBQd salmon

But – we landed the float plane at Taku Lodge, walked up the path …. And there perched in a tree hopefully surveying the BBQ grill – a black bear. They’re resolutely not fed, but our guide tells of seeing one licking the still-smoking grill plate on a previous visit. Cast-iron tongue on cast-iron plate.

One of the staff stood by with a sturdy pole to ensure that the animal headed for the woods rather than into the clicking claque watching it.

Taku Lodge guy on bear-patrol. Hole-in-the-Wall Glacier behind.

Taku Lodge guy on bear-patrol. Hole-in-the-Wall Glacier behind.

Object of desire...

Object of desire…

 

 

 

 

Mani with plane on Taku River. The Hole in the Wall Glacier was named when it could only be seen through the gap in the hills, which it has now advanced through.

Mani with plane on Taku River. The Hole in the Wall Glacier was named when it could only be seen through the gap in the hills, which it has now advanced through.

Taku Lodge famously belonged to a woman, Mary Joyce, who bred huskies and proved both her dogs’ and her own mettle by sledding from there to Fairbanks – a 1000-mile journey through ice, and snow, over glaciers and frozen rivers.    Her story was proudly told by the team there – how she’d started out at Taku Lodge as the nurse-companion to a chap whose mother had bought the lodge as a detox facility for him… and went on to create her own fame and fortune. No “Valerieism” there.

 

Mani with Capt Meinhardt Hansen, and (needed today ) ... ice picked up from the Hubbard Glacier - or was it Valerie?!
Mani with Capt Meinhardt Hansen, and (needed today ) … ice picked up from the Hubbard Glacier – or was it Valerie?!

 

Back to thinking cold thoughts in a heat-wave.

Let me think again about ice.

And check the fridge.

 

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