Cruising Among Calving Glaciers: Prince William Sound, Alaska

Cruising Among Calving Glaciers: Prince William Sound, Alaska

The Most Dramatic Ice Falls

An estimated 90% of glaciers are receding in Alaska. Climate change isn’t entirely to blame, but it does appear to be accelerating the normal process of glacier calving. “Calving” is what happens when large pieces of ice—sometimes as big as a home or office building—fracture and separate from a tidewater glacier, crashing into the sea. The trend is clearly visible in Prince William Sound, an otherwise blissfully serene place. In fact, it’s hard to believe that the Exxon Valdez crashed here just over 20 years ago. The disaster spilled 11 million gallons of crude oil, damaging 1,300 miles (2,000km) of shoreline and polluting one of the country’s most plentiful fishing areas. But since then, at least $2 billion has been spent on cleanup and recovery efforts, and the area remains one of Alaska’s most popular tourist destinations. Cruising around, it’s easy to see why.

The sound covers nearly 15,000 sq. miles (39,000 sq. km) and is home to at least 150 glaciers, secluded bays, and diverse wildlife. For the best adventure in this icy wonderland, steer clear of the large ships and instead opt for a small boat that offers a multiday “live-aboard” experience. Discovery Voyages (see below) will take you on a six-cabin, 65-foot (20m) motor yacht with frequent opportunities to kayak on the sound and hike along the coast. These up-close-and-personal encounters give you a unique perspective on glacier calving.

Although kayaking through Alaska’s icy blue water can be cold, the strong sun—not to mention your adrenaline—helps ward off a major chill. You’ll be wowed by the spectacular Harriman Fjord and, depending on the weather, you might even be able to paddle farther off the beaten path toward Chenega Glacier, one of the largest tidewater glaciers in Prince William Sound. Wherever you go, you’ll be awestruck by the landscape. Skyscraping mountains and massive ice formations surround you, as you cruise past adorable harbor seals, sea lions, and sea otters resting on floating chunks of ice. Salmon and halibut swim underwater, and a whale spouts in the distance. Then, just when you’re completely relaxed, enjoying the pristine setting, a giant piece of a glacier plummets into the sound. Your heart pounds so hard and fast you think it’s going to jump out of your chest. This awesome sight and thunderous sound is truly mind blowing.

When you’re ready to rest your paddling arms, there are ample opportunities to stretch your legs on dry land. The surrounding Chugach National Forest is home to brown and black bears, deer, and a variety of birds including bald eagles. But the main event is on the water. As Dean Rand, the captain of Discovery Voyages, says, “When people first witness [glacier calving], they almost always say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know it would be like this!’ There’s nothing else in the world to compare it to.” —JS

Travel Alaska, 524 W 4th Ave., Anchorage ( 800/478-1255; Chugach National Forest (

Tour: Discovery Voyages, P.O. Box 688, Whittier ( 800/324-7602;

When to Go: May–Sept.

Ted Stevens Anchorage Airport.

Niagara Falls: New York, U.S.A. & Ontario, Canada The Na Pali Coast by Zodiac: Kauai, Hawaii, U.S.A.
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