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Day 7: Hubbard Glacier

overcast 52 °F

Today we were to cruise the Hubbard Glacier. As we entered Yakutat Bay from the open sea the waves calmed from seven foot swells to nearly dead calm but we were enveloped by fog. It is 52 degrees outside with a 20 mph breeze blowing on our bow. As we sailed further toward Disenchantment Bay, I yearn that this body of water does not live up to its name by hosting, along with us, this horrid unending soup.large_FogBlocksDisenchantmentBay1.JPG

Hubbard is a much larger glacier than the Mendenhall of three days ago. It originates just west of Mount Walsh at 11,000 feet and reaches us—at the sea—76 miles later. We can see the mountain through the layer of cloud and fog. large_MountainsInFogOverDisenchantmentBay.JPGAlong the way it is joined by the Valerie Glacier. In May of 1986, Hubbard surged forward and blocked the outlet of Russell Fjord creating Russell Lake. Around midnight of October 8 the dam broke sending 1.3 cubic miles of water (equivalent to 35 Niagara Falls) gushing through the gap reconnecting the glacier to the fjord. It was the second largest glacial lake outburst flood in history. HubbardGlacier.jpg

From head to sea, it takes about 400 years for the ice to traverse the glacier’s length. That means that the ice we were to look at from Silver Shadow froze about four centuries ago. When it calves (pieces of the glacier breaking off and sliding into the sea) the chunks are about the size of a ten-story building—but most of that ice is below the surface—and creates a dramatic wave. We would keep our distance from the edge of the glacier if we were in Disenchantment Bay because calving is an unpredictable event. As it is, we are not entering Disenchantment Bay for fear that we might collide with such an obstacle without seeing it (because, of course, ice does not appear on any navigation chart). This is a piece of floating ice shot by Jami this morning to give you an idea of what the Captain would have to dodge.large_JamiIcebergPic.JPG

Hubbard Glacier is named for Gardiner Greene Hubbard, the first president of the Bell Telephone Company and the founder of the National Geographic Society; one of his daughters was married to Alexander Graham Bell whom Hubbard financed to develop the “acoustic telegraph.”

Russell Fjord was so named in 1906 by Marcus Baker of the U.S. Geological Survey in honor of the then recently deceased explorer Israel Cook Russell, apparently no relation to yours truly. Russell was born in New York in 1852, long before my grandfather emigrated from Ireland. Israel Cook Russell is also the inspiration for the names of Mount Rainier’s much smaller Russell Glacier in Washington State, Mount Russell in California and Lake Russell in California’s Mono Basin. Insofar as I know, nothing is named for my grandfather nor for myself. Maybe we can refer to the weather as "The Failure of The Russell Luck."large_BayDressedInLayers.JPG

I was last here on August 31, 2013, aboard my ship, the Royal Caribbean Radiance of the Seas which, during this year's Alaskan cruising season, arrived in Skagway at 7:00 this morning before heading here tomorrow. Small world. I remember that day almost exactly five years ago quite well. The temperatures were in the low forties and was misty as I came to a dead stop about a thousand yards from the glacier face. We were told—all 2,500 of us—to be perfectly quiet. We watched and heard sheets of ice calve from the glacier, slide into the sea and send waves toward the Radiance of the Seas. When they arrived at the ship, I remember being surprised that, due to the size of the vessel, half again longer than the Silver Shadow, I felt nothing. It was that day that motivated me to vow to repeat a cruise to Alaska and today, alongside B4, here I am. The experience is completely different because none of what I just described is available this morning. It is just too dangerous to steam into Disenchantment Bay without being able to see uncharted obstacles such as larger icebergs.

When one can see them, the colors of Hubbard are remarkable fading from stark white to azure blue. This is quite different from the color of regular ice. Glacier ice is so dense that it absorbs every other color of the spectrum—except blue—so blue is what you see. Inside this ice is dirt and gravel and organic matter that has collected inside as the glacier moved down the mountain at its slower-than-snail’s pace. It also contains countless pressurized air bubbles; no, this isn’t regular ice at all.

Hubbard is one of 616 officially named glaciers in Alaska but there are many that are unnamed that make up the balance of the approximately 100,000 glaciers that are found in this state. For a bit of local color, know that around 700,000 years ago, a continental ice sheet extended all the way to downtown Kansas City and was estimated to have been “hundreds of feet thick.” My curiosity aroused, I did a bit of reading and came across this: “A partially filled spillway valley crosses the central portion of Kansas City, Missouri. The Union Station is located in this valley which is filled with as much as 200 feet of sand and gravel. This valley functioned as a meltwater spillway when the ice margin lay across modern downtown Kansas City, Missouri. The Missouri River was blocked and upstream meltwater from the Missouri and Kansas River valleys overflowed to erode a series of outlet channels across Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri.”

Back in Alaska, around 9:30, after lingering at the mouth of Disenchantment Bay, we retreat to make way for the Celebrity Infinity to take our spot. We enter dense fog as we stand off. The mood aboard Silver Shadow is shadowy indeed. The silence is broken by the sound of foghorns, forlorn and moaning as if, well, disenchanted.

At 10:30, the worst occurred: the captain gave up. He announced that we are disembarking the Alaskan pilots and then heading out, away from Disenchantment Bay. I had held onto false hope that we would persevere and that, perhaps, the low cloud and fog would burn off. It is not to be. I am heartbroken that B4 does not get to see what my mind's eye recalls with such clarity. The foghorn's lament speaks for us all.

To sooth our disappointment, we go to "Rock & Roll Diner" at 12:15. "Join us for traditional diner comfort food and a good old fashioned rock 'n roll sing-along with the Voices of Silversea and the Silver Shadow Trio." We have been unimpressed with the Voices of Silversea but this is a different genre or music so we are hopeful. But, as it is with hopes sometimes, these were dashed. These six young people kept the lyrics to their songs in their hands and, believe it or not, had to read them to know the lyrics. You are thinking that the songs were obscure, perhaps. No. The songs were: "Sweet Caroline" by Neil Diamond, "Let it Be" by Paul McCartney, "Too Good to Be True" by Frankie Valle and the Four Seasons, "I Saw Her Standing There," by the Beatles; they had to read the lyrics, they did not harmonize nor, seemingly, had they rehearsed because they would come in and go out at times different one from the other. It was amateurish and nearly high-school-ish. We were seated with newly met Paulette and Ken from Chicago along with Fred and Jami and we all sort of looked at each other in amazement. But then, high comedy sometimes originates from low places so we laughed and we needed to laugh. We just tried to not let the Voices know that we were laughing at them.

Jami was at Reception and overheard a gentleman inquiring as to whether or not he and his wife could sign up for the 4:15 BRIDGE TOUR. "No," said the receptionist, "it is sold out." Jami, being Jami, popped in and said, if you can get them to do an extra bridge tour, I have four people who would like to attend. Why don't you see if you can make that happen."

Our BRIDGE TOUR is at 4:45. You've got to love people who can make things happen.

We didn't eat the traditional Diner Food at the Rock n' Roll Diner songfest because the things that were to be hot were cold. So, we headed up to La Terrazza. Over lunch in La Terrazza, I began to marvel at how unstable Silver Shadow is. The swells are running about three feet yet the ship is rocking and rolling. I intend to inquire, during our BRIDGE TOUR, whether or not Silver Shadow is equipped with stabilizers. I certainly would not want to do a crossing on her as I fear that in truly rough seas she must bob like a cork. I've been on big and on gigantic ships in rough seas and it has never bothered me. Maybe it is the fog that is complicating the feeling we are getting. Without being able to see land or even the horizon, ship movement is probably more disorienting than it might otherwise be.

When we returned to our suite, B4's bag was perched atop a luggage stand with this note on it:PackingAssistance.JPG We agree that this not a service we would utilize. Somehow, it doesn't make sense to me or even seem desirable to me to have someone else pack my bag at the end of a trip. How non-Downton Abbey of me (us).

Here is one area where Abraham and Donna truly excelled. Only once during the entire week did I have to request more ice for this bucket and never did I have to ask for an empty bottle to be replaced with a full one. Kudos Abraham and Donna!ProseccoBucket.JPG

As is customary on cruises, on this the last and final night, we must have our properly-tagged checked baggage out in the hallway by 11:00pm for collection. Since we do not have an early flight, we are lumped with the BROWN group and must be ready with our hand luggage to disembark the vessel between 7:00 and 7:30 following the announcement for BROWN luggage tags. Silversea will transport our luggage to the Egan Convention Center in Anchorage where we will pick it up and make our way over to the Marriott for our one night stay. The weather forecast for Seward tomorrow: Heavy Rain.

More about all of that in tomorrow's missive.

Posted by paulej4 23:22 Archived in USA Tagged alaska glacier hubbard

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