June 24 - 25, 1987
I've always wanted to see Glacier Bay. I'd seen pictures of John Muir gazing at the miles-long face of a tidewater glacier and watched films in which whale flukes dwarfed startled kayakers. I had visions of whales spouting all around us while calving glaciers crashed into the sea.
It's just an hour-long flight from Skagway in the Cessna if all goes well. It didn't. The first pass we tried was fogged in, and we had to make a lengthy detour back to a lower pass. The clouds were lowering into it as well, and it was difficult to distinguish between the snow-covered earth and sky at times. There was just enough space and visibility to clear the pass. We descended a ways and flew high over the bay. I looked for whales and gigantic glaciers in vain.
At the airport, we inquired about fuel, as we'd used more than expected because of the detour. A sharp-faced woman came out, looking peeved. "No fuel here," she said. "No possibility of fuel, either." So far, I was disillusioned with Glacier Bay, and the 10-mile hike we had to make to get to the National Park didn't help. But as we started walking, everyone who passed us stopped. Those who couldn't offer us a ride stopped to apologize. A couple of young women eventually picked us up and took us to the Glacier Bay Lodge.
To secure a camping permit, we had to be briefed on bears. Stow all food and smelly items such as toothpaste and cosmetics in the cache. Cook in the intertidal zone. Keep no food near the tents. We'd heard it all before, and didn't think much about it.
We bought a fresh crab from a fisherman and dutifully cooked it in the intertidal zone. Halfway through dinner, what should come out of the bushes on our stretch of the beach but a fair-sized black bear! He looked at us for a moment as we frantically wondered what to do, then ambled down the beach the other way. In the photo, you can just see the bear's ears.
The midges also joined us for dinner—clouds of tiny flying insects that settled on our food and our bodies. They crawled by the dozens into noses, eyes and ears, and bit! Dennis finally had to flee into the relatively bug-free forest.
After all that, the sweet fresh crab tasted delicious. Inside the lodge, people were paying $20+ for the same meal (sans bear and midges).
We broke the budget to take a boat ride up into the bay—$112 each for the cheapest trip available. We saw minke whales, puffins and glaciers, but nothing as nice as we've seen in Prince William Sound near Anchorage. The glaciers have retreated back into the mountains, leaving barren rock. Few whales were in the bay, perhaps because of all the motorized traffic on the water.
Except for the bear, Glacier Bay seemed like little more than an expensive tourist concession. I'm glad we went, but I wouldn't want to return.
We got back to the airport at about the same time as a large group of tourists who'd been on our boat that day. They boarded their Alaska Airlines jet while we did a preflight and strapped ourselves into the Cessna. Dennis radioed his intention to take off before the jet pilot did, so the big plane taxied up behind us to take his turn.
Go on to Snakes
Source: www.SusanCAnthony.com, ©Susan C. Anthony