The Hubbard Glacier
From what we'd heard, the Hubbard Glacier promised to be the highlight of our seven-day Alaska cruise. As our cruise ship slowly approached the Yakutat Bay, the Hubbard glacier lay like a hazy piece of land in the distance. Excitement was rife among the passengers as everyone headed for the Crow's nest at the front upper-level deck. All eyes were fixed on the distant vista while our guide narrated what we were about to witness. Some people whispered while they got their binoculars and cameras ready. I fished out my camera, checked the settings and held it, waiting.
Facts about the Hubbard Glacier
The Hubbard glacier is located in eastern Alaska and part of Yukon, Canada. The glacier extends 7 1/2 miles wide and 76 miles long, and is the highest tidewater glacier in North America. It forms part of the subpolar icefields located in the Wrangell - St. Elias National Park, the largest U.S, national park, equal to six Yellowstone parks, and Mt. St. Elias, which at 18,000 feet high is the third largest mountain in North America. It takes about 400 years for ice to travel the length of the glacier, therefore the ice at the foot of the glacier is 400 years old.
The Hubbard glacier stands 350 feet above water, with 250 feet below the water. Unlike most glaciers which continue to retreat, like the Mendenhall glacier which we visited in Juneau, the Hubbard glacier has been advancing toward the Gulf of Alaska since it was first mapped in 1895. For this reason it is called a "galloping" glacier. Experts say that If it continues to advance, it will close the entrance to Russell fiord and create the largest glacier-dammed lake in North America. In fact, the glacier did block part of the entrance twice, in 1986 and in 2002, causing the water level to rise dramatically to about 90 feet above sea level and threaten the nearby Yakutat community.
While the ranger-guide continued his narrative of the history and folklore behind the Hubbard Glacier, we made our way slowly through Disenchantment Bay and closer to the glacier. Peaks of blue and white ice rose before us with the aquamarine blue of the glacier in the forefront. A hush came over the room as we waited for the grand display of the glacier's majestic movement - calving. At that moment nothing else mattered. I felt like I was one with nature as I viewed this huge expanse of blue ice, flanked by massive ice-capped peaks and the green mountainous ranges of the Tongrass forest. It was nature at its best - raw, unspoiled, majestic.
The ranger paused in his story, and the ship stopped moving. The air of expectancy in the lounge was almost palpable. Then, there before our eyes, it happened: the glacier calved. A huge chunk broke off and fell into the water below to join the rest of floating ice in the bay, or later to become a small iceberg. We witnessed two more calvings in a space of 10 minutes.
If you decide to go
Cruising is one of the best ways to see this amazing glacier. You will need to book an inside passageway cruise which usually starts and ends in Seattle.
Choose the time that is best for you. Fares are lower in the cooler months, like May, September or October, but if you don't like cold weather, you may want to travel in the summer. However, we were fortunate when we visited in September. On our first day, the temperature in Juneau was a comfortable 70 degrees, and it stayed around that for most of the cruise.
Prepare for the cold. Even in the warmer months, temperatures may drop below 60 degrees in the evenings, so make sure to take a few sweaters and a jacket. The lowest it got while we were there was around 57 degrees.
Prepare for rain. There is usually a lot of that, but again we were fortunate, in that it only rained one day for the entire cruise. We purchased rain jackets on the ship, so we were well protected.
Wear comfortable shoes. Even on a cruise you will be going on tours, some of which require a fair amount of walking over uneven, and sometimes wet, ground, so prepare accordingly.
Our visit to Alaska and the Hubbard glacier exposed us to nature in all its unspoiled beauty. Therefore, it was no wonder that our ranger-guide chose to tell us the story of creation from the point of view of the native American Indians. Even though the story differs hugely from creation as told in the Bible, it speaks of a young virgin who gave birth to a son, called Raven, who became the creator of the world.
To speak of Alaska is to speak in superlatives, and as I sat there, shooting picture after picture of the glaciers and icy peaks surrounding them, I was reminded me of the superlatives of God. That He could create something as great, as magnificent, as beautiful, as awe-inspiring, as inimitable, as amazing ... Need I go on? I left with one indelible impression - God is so much greater than all His awesome creation.
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