Sunday, August 5, 2012

August 4th, 2012: Glacier Sounds from Kenai Fiords National Park Part 2

The ice actually seemed to groan before a large boom sounded. It was really moving and you could hear the pops and snaps as it readied itself to plunge into the sea. Suddenly a crack of thunder echoed across the narrow fiord as a serac of ice calved from the glacier and then fell ponderously into the sea. The distance made it seem like the ice was falling in slow motion but gravity works here at the same acceleration as it does down south, and I did the calculations in my mind.

I had been on glaciers and ice fields before but never while they were moving in the summer’s heat. No wonder the ice fields and falls are the most dangerous part of the high mountains. Here however we were watching a tidewater glacier, Holgate Glacier, in Kenai Fiords National Park.

Birds fed on the fish attracted to the ice calving and its nutrients. Other boats watched as we did, but it was the sounds of tortured ice that I hope to always remember. To the southeast another mass of ice, Surprise Glacier added to the siren’s sound of the ice.

A little later we stopped at a second tidewater glacier and here harbor seals and gulls lazed on the ice. Sea otters also played and ran over the floating masses and an underground river appeared from the left side of the glacier’s snout.

We shivered in the cold falling rain and thoughts of the warmth inside the cabin tempted us, but who knows if we will ever have the chance to hear tortured ice again. I have studied glaciers all my life and yet I have never before been privileged to hear their sounds, (when I climbed ice I didn’t want to hear or see it move).

On Rainer long ago I heard and saw avalanches, the day after our summit climb, but they were in a valley far away and far away I wanted them to be. Here we were what seemed to be so close yet the floating ice that seemed so small was actually the size of bathtubs and rooms and I was glad we had some distance.

The ship moved in for a closer look at the harbor seals and the ice scraped against the hull. I remembered how thin the steel plates seemed as I had inspected the ship’s hull that morning. The captain knew best and so we backed out, again to the sounds of ice scraping on the hull and the sounds of the glacier.

This alone would have made our day cruise worthwhile, at least to me. I have walked on glaciers, digging my crampons into each step and I have crossed snow bridges roped to my climbing partner. As a geologist I have studied and taught ice all my life but I had never before heard its call, only having seen its deadly beauty. Clear skies


  1. Very well written - almost lyerical - unlike my spelling - C

  2. Great post. Wish we were there. Keep the posts coming.

    Safe travels!!!