Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska

Tracy Arm is a fjord in Alaska near Juneau (outlet at 57° 46′ 40″ N 133° 37′ 0″ W). It is named after the Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Franklin Tracy. It is located about 45 miles (72 km) south of Juneau and 70 miles (110 km) north of Petersburg, Alaska, off of Holkham Bay and adjacent to Stephens Passage within the Tongass National Forest. Tracy Arm is the heart of the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, designated by the United States Congress in 1980.

Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness contains 653,179 acres (2,643.32 km2) and consists of two deep and narrow fjords: Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm. Both fjords are over 30 miles (48 km) long and one-fifth of their area is covered in ice. During the summer, the fjords have considerable floating ice ranging from hand-sized to pieces as large as a three-story building. During the most recent glaciated period, both fjords were filled with active glaciers.

Many cruises include a stop at Tracy Arm and its twin North and South Sawyer Glacier, either as a compliment to viewing at College Fjord or as a replacement for Glacier Bay as the sole glacier viewing stop on a round-trip Inside Passage cruise out of Seattle (or sometimes out of Vancouver).

The Fjord itself is utterly spectacular and worth the trip in its own right. At some 30 miles in length (about 6 of which are covered in glacier), the Fjord has magnificent, steep cliffs running along much of its length, often covered with lush trees and shrubs.

Waterfalls intermittently plunge off the cliffs and into the waters of the Fjord below, making for a seemingly endless number of photo opportunities as you head along its length.

As with the other glacier viewing locations in coastal Alaska, you need to be prepared when you visit Tracy Arm Fjord in order to really be comfortable and enjoy the experience. This means dressing in layers and also having some sort of waterproof coat with you to wear on deck. The weather in the Fjord, as it is elsewhere in this region, is incredibly fickle, often damp, and can switch quite rapidly from clouds and overcast to sunshine and then back to drizzle.

Of course it is the twin Sawyer Glaciers that are the true draw for the cruise ships, and they are quite spectacular too.

They are both actively calving glaciers, meaning that they continually break off in chunks of ice which the plunge into the water below in an amazing cloud of shredded ice. It’s the calving that everyone waits for, and it always draws the “oohs” and “ahhs” from everyone on board.

As the Celebrity Century cruise ship approached the upper reach of the Tracy Arm Fjord with the beautiful glacier in full view we were allowed access to the bow deck giving us a close and unsurpassed view of the Sawyer Glacier and stunning steep walls of the fjord.

The deep blue colour of the glacier ice was incredible contrasting wit the dark grey walls of the fjord walls. Blue ice occurs when snow falls on a glacier, is compressed, and becomes part of a glacier that winds its way toward a body of water. During its travels, air bubbles that are trapped in the ice are squeezed out, and the size of the ice crystals increases, making it clear. There were many chunks of ice of various size, shapes and colors floating down the fjord from the glacier making it difficult to navigate and maneuver the ship.

As we prepared for our sail out of Tracy Arm Fjord we had many of the senior crew members of the Celebrity Century, including the Captain, come out on the bow deck and did the ALS ice bucket challenge – a very appropriate location to do this I thought!

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