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The Sobering Nature of Calving

One of the major draws of Southeast Alaska's glaciers are their calving activity. Because there are so many tidewater glaciers here, including one of the last advancing glaciers (until two years ago), the glaciers are much more active than most others in North America. But honestly, calving is random, and there's no way to know if you're going to see a big event or just a series of smaller ones. For us, the primary glaciers we would see calving in were South Sawyer, and Margerie Glacier. South Sawyer Glacier in Tracy Arm is the most active glacier I've ever experienced, and the loud dynamite-like booms can be heard throughout Tracy Arm at times.


South Sawyer Glacier, Tracy Arm Alaska

Because of it's rapid activity, it's rare that we can safely find a way to launch kayaks and see the glacier up close. But sometimes we did get lucky and, whether from a break in calving, or the water flowing in the right directions, a clearing would appear and allow us to kayak in peace around one of the largest glacial faces in Southeast. This event is so special, that after nine weeks, once we finally got an opportunity to do so, I was beyond excited. As the season went on, it became a lot more common, and the second time we were able to do so, something extraordinary happened.

Only about 3 minutes into our kayak, the glacier began calving. And kept calving. Normally when a calving happens, its useless to try to capture as by the time you get your camera out and ready, it's done. This event was so massive, I thought about it, waited for a while, took out my camera, captured about 45 seconds of it, and cut the video before the calving even ended. So many things were going through my mind at that time, mostly running thru safety protocol, but also awe of the opportunity to see such a thing and be able to feel the rumbling through the water.

A guest was able to capture much more of the event, and we estimated the calving sustained itself for about 180 seconds. That is an INSANE amount of time and of ice breaking off. An entire spire coming from the face simply chunked off, in massive pieces. This would bring a big wave, and create quite an ice field in front of us. The swell came eventually, but slowly enough for us to prepare, and after a dozen or so swells of 6-8 feet, we had survived most of the dangerous parts of such an event. So now, we could really enjoy it.

In the calving, two particularly massive sections of ice had fallen. We saw them hit the water and then begin to float out towards us. Lucky for us, the tides were coming out very quickly, and the current was pushing these brand new icebergs towards us. And my god were they beautiful. The ice which was above water was from inside the glacier, and held the stunning and indescribable blue that glaciers are so famous for. The larger of the two was about 140 feet long and 60 feet tall, with streams and waterfalls and other features, each as amazing and stunning as the last. We kayaked and explored these icebergs for over an hour, the guests completely flabbergasted by both their luck and the scene unfolding in front of them. We drank from them, and posed for pictures, trying to use scale to capture the true magnitude of the ice, though we knew going home and telling the story could never portray the beauty.

Eventually, we rounded up and got back in the boat, but this event marked the whole week. Every week in the wild there's something happening that you've never seen before. It's what makes my job so amazing and unique, and for this week, it was a calving like I may never get to see again.




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© 2019 Photography by Benjamin Bialek

Operating under BRBAdventures LLC.

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