Thursday, June 24, 2010

Entering Glacier Bay National Park … and Orientation at Bartlett Cove

Tuesday, June 15

One of our tour books describes it this way …

“Glacier Bay National Park is a place where the word “awesome” was appropriate long before it became a cliché.”

We have to agree.

Glacier Bay, located across Icy Strait from Chichagof Island, is 62 miles long and 10 miles at its widest point, and is surrounded by mountains. The Fairweather Range to the west is dominated by Mount Fairweather at 15,300 feet, and includes some of the most beautiful glaciated mountains in the world.

Glacier Bay was designated a national park more than 85 years ago to serve as a natural laboratory for scientific research. Sixteen separate glaciers flow from its two arms, which including the bay encompass more than 4,400 square miles … but ONLY 25 pleasure boats and 2 cruise ships are allowed in the bay at a time, primarily to protect the wildlife population.

You must apply for a permit to enter at least 60 days in advance (we had applied for our permit months ago while we were still in Vermilion) and immediately upon entering the bay you are required to radio in and proceed directly to Bartlett Cove for a mandatory orientation presented by park rangers.

We pulled up to the docks just before noon and had 2 hours to kill before the next orientation at 2 pm, so we walked up to the Glacier Bay Lodge for lunch (passing a wild porcupine that was waddling along the road on the way). After lunch, Roland and I walked down to the ranger station (AGAIN passing the same porcupine) for our orientation while Lydia, Eric and Cade walked the Forest Loop Trail, getting their first taste of the lush rainforest mosses, ferns and undergrowth of the Pacific Northwest.

In the meantime, I found our orientation fascinating. We watched a film (just like my old high school biology classes!) and learned that many of the glaciers we had hoped to see were closed to protect wildlife, such as harbor seal breeding in Johns Hopkins Inlet; that there was a speed limit of less than 13 knots in the whale waters in the initial few miles of the bay to reduce the impact of noise disturbance to humpbacks (NO problem for us, we run at 7-8 knots); and we also were told to stay a mile off shore or stay mid-channel…. which apparently WAS a problem …. 15 minutes after we left the docks we received a “friendly reminder” from the park ranger over our marine radio that we were still in whale waters and needed to stay a mile off shore. Oops!

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Engelenbak is a custom-built 62-foot steel trawler ... designed to cruise anywhere in the world.