July 31 Day 26 Columbia Glacier Cruise

Valdez Day 26_3101The skies were again cloudy when we woke, but it didn’t matter because we knew one way or the other we would see something wonderful, even if it rained. Once again I was so grateful for the previous day of sunshine that allowed us to see the stunning landscape around Valdez and Prince William Sound.

Columbia Glacier east armUntil now, when I heard the name Valdez, the first thing that came to mind was the oil spill of the Exxon Valdez in 1989 and the horrendous contamination of Prince William Sound, some of the most pristine waters in the world.  What I didn’t know about Valdez was that the original town was completely destroyed in the great 9.2 earthquake in 1964.  There are three great museums in Valdez, and I didn’t want to miss a chance to visit them, but with Abby looking forward to a day in her crate, Mo decided to stay home while I drove into town to see the museums before we boarded our boat at noon.

a happy pairI hope to write about these museums in a separate post, but for now, the road is calling and I don’t want to miss the chance to describe how it felt to cruise into Prince William Sound to Columbia Glacier.  We decided on the shorter cruise more because of the time rather than the cost, because it was only $30 more to do the 9 hour cruise that also traveled to Meares Glacier. 


As I view this map from Google, I can see that the imagery was taken before that last major retreat of the glacier. Columbia is now in what is called a “catastrophic retreat”.  oil for an oil hungry worldThe glacier waited longer than many and only began that retreat in 1980. In the last few months there has been so much ice released from the glacier that the cruise boats haven’t been able to approach as closely as we managed yesterday.  According to our captain, Andrea, only about 2,000 people have approached Columbia from the water at the 1.2 mile distance we reached since 2007.  A brilliant skipper, she negotiated the icebergs carefully, slipping in quietly to the glacier face.  We were still more than a mile away, but the size of the glacial wall was breath taking.  The front wall from the east arm to the west arm is more than 4 miles. 

Captain Andrea, been doing this for 16 yearsI loved listening to Andrea talk about Columbia like a much loved family elder, respectful, but familiar and knowing.  It was much the same way she spoke about the pod of orcas we found on the way out of Columbia Arm.  This singular pod is now in the process of extinction.  There are 8 individuals with a specific genetic signature, and this family will not mate outside their pod.  The breeding females were lost in the Exxon Valdez oil spill.  Orcas can live to be 80 years old, but the pod will eventually die out.  Andrea has an image of A-2, the large male we saw with two of the females, tattooed on her arm.  She was delighted to see him.

Orcas are actually large dolphinsWe saw no humpbacks today, so my only humpback viewing has been from the beaches of Oregon. But we did see rafts of sea otters playing on the icebergs.  I fell in love, they look like big cuddly teddy bears with the most precious faces, on a par with baby seals or a newborn horse.

he said the icebergs are more blue when it's cloudyThe fresh-faced young man working his first summer for the Stephens family told us we were lucky to have a cloudy day since the icebergs only show their bluest color in the overcast.  I didn’t enhance or alter the color of any of these photos by the way, the bergs were exactly that blue.  I’m so glad that the camera captured it.

Valdez Day 26_3144I enjoyed visiting with Stan Stephen’s wife, Mary Helen, who was working on the cruise.  She laughingly told me that she now works for her daughter who runs the business.  Here is a link to the very interesting history of the now 100% Alaskan owned and operated family business.  Mary Helen also laughed when I asked if she might ever retire.  She said that her sister thinks she should, but she loves sharing the unique beauty of Prince William Sound with people like us.  Also, like many of us,  two of her three daughters have scattered, one to Minnesota and one to Seattle. 

Here is a link to the captain’s log for the day of our cruise with the animals we saw and more information about each species. 

Valdez Day 26_3100As I attempt to write about the trip and the glacier, words fail me.  It was an experience that will stay with me always. I now add glaciers to volcanoes in my deep heart space.  I finally understand why Erin and Mui travel to the cold places of the world, the Antarctic and Arctic, to see the wildest parts that are left in our planet.

If you liked the iceberg photo at the beginning of this post, be sure to check out the rest of the photos linked here.  I deleted a bazillion, but when looking at blue icebergs, my delete key refused to work properly. There are still many shots of icebergs, the glacier, sea otters and the breathtakingly beautiful fjords and waterfalls.

Author: kyotesue

Soil scientist/mapper working for 35 years in the wild lands of the West. I am now retired, enjoying my freedom to travel, to hike without a shovel and a pack, to knit and quilt and play, to play with photography and write stories about all of it.

12 thoughts on “July 31 Day 26 Columbia Glacier Cruise”

  1. Goodness, words fail me… Your trip and blog has been the high light of my mornings for days now and will continue to be so. It is just wonderful!!! Beautiful blue, sad about the orcas…


  2. Goodness, words fail me… Your trip and blog has been the high light of my mornings for days now and will continue to be so. It is just wonderful!!! Beautiful blue, sad about the orcas…


  3. Your posts have made me get out my Alaska books and even make a trip to the library looking for more books. Especially your post about Seward, a few years back before my husbands illness got worse, I was planning a 6 month or longer trip for us to Alaska, I looked into renting a furnished apartment in Seward, in the off season, because they said the port never freezes, I figured the weather would be a bit milder than up north. In Chicago we are subjected to wind chills below zero, and freezing ice storms and high snow, so I figured we could handle a few months there. I wanted to publish a book of photographs that he would have taken. So, now I need to do it, anyway. Need to start making plans again. Thanks for all of the posts and pics and for sharing your trip with us.


  4. Simply fantastic … seeing your images, I'm ready to go back anywhere that has icebergs. (By the way, what Mui and I have is called ice virus … and it can be very contagious.) Have not managed to get to Valdez yet … looks like we better get there sooner than later. And those otters are such cuties … you even got a reflection. I'm off to check out your online gallery.


  5. Those ice bergs are truly an aqua blue. I have seen small chunks of blue ice here on Lake Huron but nothing like those big blue icebergs you are seeing. With all the heat & humidity in our part of the country it is surely nice to cool off with your great photos. Liked that Otter one especially.


  6. Hey Sue! Finally catching up with your travels now on the travel blog. You've easily got a few books ready for publishing straight out of this blog! Started with today's post, August 13th, and have been working my way back. What a fantastic journey you've had, and what a way you have with words bringing it to life for us folks still stuck in traffic and brown haze. Your posts have put a 'spring in my step' this morning, especially seeing that one iceberg pic you took (#116 in your Picasa Web Album from this day). No words for that deep blue light eminating forth. Love it. I see a grizzly bear in that left ice form…sorry, can't help myself transferring the cloud game to the ice 😉 Hope you have a great day tody driving and seeing the sights around British Columbia. Safe travels!


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