Wednesday (6/15) we made our way south along the Richardson HWY to Valdez. The portion of the highway south of Glennallen into Valdez is considered by Alaskans to be one of the prettiest drives in the state. We certainly agree! About 50 miles from Valdez is Worthington Glacier. This is the most accessible glacier in Alaska, maybe all of North America. You can drive almost right up to the glacier and after a short 5 minute walk you can be walking on the glacier (carefully!). The Worthington Glacier was worth the stop.
After exploring the glacier we headed further south west and quickly crested Thompson Pass. There was still snow along the pass even though it is only 2,771’ high. Of course, the Valdez area gets between 30 and 50 FEET of snow per winter, so it was no surprise there was still snow in the pass.
After descending down the western side of Thompson Pass we entered Keystone Canyon. On the western side of Keystone Canyon is Bridal Veil Falls. Beautiful!
Upon arriving in Valdez we immediately went to the visitor center. We got a brochure for the Lu-Lu Belle Glacier Wildlife Cruise Company. Since Thursday’s weather forecast was almost perfect I got us scheduled for the cruise – $120 each. We picked out our spot in Valdez Glacier Campground and settled in for the evening looking forward to what Thursday had in store for us. We were not to be disappointed!
Thursday we got up, packed lunch and water, extra layers, spare battery for the camera, binoculars, and headed in to pay for our cruise tickets. By 9:45 we had our tickets and then headed over to the post office to pick up our mail. After a nice stroll along the docks it was time to board for the cruise.
Heading out of Valdez harbor we spotted some Sea Otters and spent a few minutes watching them before accelerating out of the harbor area into the Prince William Sound. All throughout the day Captain Fred shared history, anecdotes, and information about the Sound and wildlife. He has been running the cruise since 1979 and was never without something to share. He welcomed questions and freely shared of his vast knowledge gleaned over the years.
Heading out into the Prince William Sound Capt. Fred pointed out where the Exxon Valdez had run aground back in 1989. From the surface there appears to be no evidence of the massive oil spill. The cleanup crews did an excellent job! Out in the sound we headed over to Glacier Island where the Sea Lions and Puffins like to congregate. Along the way Capt. Fred spotted some Dall Porpoises and headed over to see if they would play in the bow wave of the boat. many of then decided it would be fun to take a break from “fishing” to play for a while. They were very hard to capture on “film” since they wouldn’t stop to say “Hi”.
In the spirit of trying to find Puffins nesting in the rock cliff Capt. Fred took us into a narrow crevice in the island. The water was deep enough Capt. Fred was able to pull the entire boat into the crevice. I was able to touch the face of the rock cliff to the side of us from the front of the boat!
After the entertainment and amazement of getting SO close to the cliff edge we checked out the Sea Lions and then started out into the deeper water to look for whales. Along the way we got to see Puffins on the water and flying along the water. Capt. Fred told us it was too early for nesting yet and that is why we did not see them on their nests in the rock cliffs along the water’s edge.
As a truly wonderful treat we had several Humpback whale sightings. I took this sequence of a Humpback whale diving and thought it was definitely worth sharing.
Breaking for some hot chocolate:
Following the whale sightings we headed back towards the Columbia Glacier. From the edge of the main body of icebergs to the front of the Glacier is about 12 miles. Along the way we got to see all manner of icebergs – large and small, bright blue (very dense ice) and extremely dirty, tall and squat, etc. Each iceberg was unique in its own way. We took over 200 pictures and managed to whittle that number down to the “few” we have posted here for you to enjoy with us.
Capt. Fred has modified his boat with extra strength in critical areas. This allowed him to get to within 1 ½ miles of the front of the glacier before being stopped by a solid wall of ice.
At the closest approach the crew took pictures of everyone who wanted a picture taken at the bow of the boat overlooking the front edge of the glacier. What an amazing experience and was it ever COLD! in the ice pack!
On both the way in and out from the main ice field we saw a couple of harbor seals and some more sea otters.
More iceberg pictures (I told you there would be a lot!):
Check out this cool shot of a bald eagle on the iceberg.
Capt. Fred even let Breann and Hannah “drive”:
As we headed back into the Valdez harbor area Capt. Fred took us through this gap between Entrance Island and the mainland.
Further up the harbor Capt. Fred took us close to the outer edge of the security zone around the Alaska Pipeline Terminal. We were able to see an oil tanker getting loaded with oil.
In my prior post I mentioned another truly epic day had happened since the Skookum Volcano hike. This was that day. It was a truly perfect Alaskan summer day. The temperatures were in the low 70s (on land) with almost no breeze. The skies were bright blue and only a cloud or two to be seen anywhere. Hilary and I stayed out on the deck of the boat from the minute we left the dock until we got back to the dock. We didn’t want to miss a single moment. Even when we were out at the glacier and its 39 degree air we never once left the front of the boat. Oh sure, it got cold while motoring along with the wind of our passage combined with the cold wind coming down the glacier valley, but not so cold we couldn’t stay out on deck. We did end up shivering some, but our perseverance meant that when everyone else went inside we were alone on the front of the ship enjoying all that could be seen and experienced by ourselves. It felt very intimate – just us and the sea punctuated by Capt. Fred’s narration of points of interest as we passed them. The day was EPIC. Due to all the pack ice and time spent looking for and watching whales our 7 hour boat cruise actually took 10 hours. We really got our money’s worth from the day. This is why I and others highly recommend Capt. Fred and his Lu-Lu Belle cruise ship as THE cruise to take if you are in Valdez.
Note: Click on any of the pictures for a higher resolution version (true in any of the posts).