Our trip began in Vancouver, a beautiful green city, and proceeded up the “Inside Passage” through narrow fjords 2,000 feet deep and lined (sometimes on either side) by steep, snow-covered mountains that reach 7,000 feet into the clouds. We stopped in Ketchikan, Juneau, and Skagway before disembarking at Whittier. We spent more time on deck (and on our balcony) observing the scenery than watching entertainment extravaganzas or partaking of lavish meals and fine wines. We took this cruise for one reason: to see Alaska, to experience the power and beauty of its coast, to see the glaciers. No elegant cruise clothes for us. Warm gloves, rain-resistant, fleece-lined windbreakers, and a good camera (and lots of memory or film) were all the gear we needed.
I love glaciers, am fascinated by them, lured towards them, and in Alaska, as in the Canadian Rockies, they are disappearing at an alarming rate; soon (perhaps in our own lifetimes) they may vanish altogether. "See Alaska before it melts" is a phrase we heard multiple times on our journey.
The glaciers flow from beyond the clouds, practically glowing in surreal shades of blue - from sapphire to cobalt to aqua. They tumble into mirror-like glacial pools and the open sea, turning bodies of water shades of cornflower blue or emerald green. And the first sighting of a glacier or a small iceberg (called a "bergy bit") is always a big moment on an Alaskan cruise.
The glaciers and waterfalls and the mountains behind them appear large, but there is no real sense of scale from the tenth deck of an enormous ship. Then suddenly you realize that the glacier with which you are face to face is actually five miles away. Looking around, you see 100-foot trees dwarfed by the sheer immensity of these walls of blue, black and white ice. And as you hear the thunderous roar of a glacier calving spires of blue ice into the water, it’s nearly impossible to imagine that the mass of snow and ice cascading down the mountain and into the sea is the size of a high-rise building. And that small speck, that humble dot against the glacier’s face - a bird? No, it's another cruise ship, so dwarfed by the ice mountain’s majesty it seems a mere speck of dust.