While Yahtzee leaned gently with the wind, I stood on the edge of the cockpit and took a long, awe-inspired look at my surroundings — mountains, trees, islands, animals, water. A wide smile spread across my face.
The breeze played with my hood as I spun 360-degrees, basking in the grandeur and pristine world that lives within the borders of this hallowed place. It had been a week since we entered Glacier National Park and Preserve and with each passing moment, I’d come to realize that I was experiencing the world around me in a deeper, more ethereal way than I ever have. We all were.
The park itself is immensely hard to describe in words or pictures, let alone the experience we had, and I can’t accurately provide a day-to-day rundown of our time there. It just wouldn’t do it justice. The concept of time was immaterial and our week unfolded from one anchorage to the next during a magical spell of warm weather, sunny skies, light breezes and just enough gentle rain to make wildflowers pop in bloom.
We spotted humpback whales everyday, multiple times a day, and many times while in the comfort of an anchorage. Bears roamed shorelines. Wolves watched us from a distance. Birds sang. Eagles soared. Oystercatchers squawked. Arctic loons cooed. Mountain goats munched on grassy cliffs. Porpoises dove. Sea lions hunted. Seals sneezed. Sea otters played.
With all the visible wildlife, our running joke became that we wouldn’t have been surprised if we paddled back to Yahtzee to find Santa Clause riding a unicorn on the foredeck while angels played trumpets and fairies sprinkled magic dust from rainbows above. Every anchorage seemed to top the last, while every day was more insatiable and fulfilling.
Certainly the gorgeous weather helped a lot. No cell service, too. Great company, of course. But Glacier Bay was more than daily animal sightings and incredible glacier views. The pristine nature of the place was evident everywhere. Signs of man, including litter in the water and on beaches or campsites and fire rings, were nonexistent — which is a first in all the places we’ve cruised on Yahtzee and other boats.
Covering “3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines and deep sheltered fjords,” the park’s sheer size invokes an existential look at oneself and the very tiny part we play in a world that is so much larger than us. We connected with each other and loved ones who’d passed, excitedly gushed about our dreams and raved over-and-over about the huge mountains that seemed to touch a never-ending sky.
Working north through the bay, the snowy peaks grew taller and closer to the water. Three thousand to 15 thousand foot pinnacles rose from the sea and we cruised amongst it all with few other boats. Glacier Bay NP is like no other national park in the US and the mountains, along with the glaciers entwined in them, are on a completely different level compared to those we’ve seen in the lower 48. And to be so close to it all on our own boat was nothing short of amazing, yet intensely humbling.
The scale of Glacier Bay’s massive wilderness made us feel small, but at the same time alive and living fully in the moment. The raw earth being cut by active glaciers right before our eyes allowed a glimpse at a changing world. And it made us wonder what this place will look like when Porter and Magnus sail back here on their own one day.
Every visitor’s experience in the park is vastly different, which depends heavily on mode of travel, how many days are spent here and the weather. After leaving the bay I can see why it has captured the hearts and imaginations of its native people and the residents, travelers, sailors, adventurers and anyone else who has felt the pull of its majestic mountains and aquamarine waters, succumbed to them and left a changed person.
For the Huna Tlingit clan, this was their holy land. Rugged mountains were their grand cathedrals, the stars their wondrous ceiling, the animals their honored companions, the rivers and streams their life force and the bounty of the sea their ever-respected provider of sustenance.
In 1794, Captain George Vancouver sailed the waters of Icy Strait and ran into a wall of ice that would end up being the mouth of 60-mile long Glacier Bay once it retreated. He had no idea how the bay would morph into what it is today.
Famed conservationist John Muir followed in the late 1800s and was captivated by the epic mountains, glaciers that had receded 50 miles up the bay since Vancouver’s time, blue-green water and hearty people — and his name and legacy remain a part of the park to this day. Muir summed it all up perfectly after his extended time here:
“The very thought of this Alaska garden is a joyful exhilaration. … Out of all the cold darkness and glacial crushing and grinding comes this warm, abounding beauty and life…”