Wednesday, August 4

Hubbard Glacier

After a disappointing experience at the Mendenhall Glacier on Saturday, Garry and I decided that our Icelandic glacier adventures had spoilt us for life. That is, until we saw the Hubbard Glacier today. Shortly before 6am our cruise ship sailed into misty Yakutat Bay. The morning air was still and the water, usually calm; perfect conditions for getting up close to Hubbard Glacier that lay ahead. Little did we know just how perfect conditions were. Two hours later we found ourselves floating barely 400 metres away from a soaring 300-metre high wall of blue ice – closer than the ship is usually able to venture.

The experience is also impossible to describe. Imagine if you can an impossibly long wall of jagged, blue ice tapering off into the distance. Behind lie towering, snow-clad mountain peaks. Every so often this serene picture is shattered by the sound of ice growling and groaning as it inches towards the sea. Suddenly, without warning , a large chuck of ice cracks with an explosive boom. As you watch, it breaks away from the glacier’s face and crashes into the water below. It’s hard to decide if the initial sound, accompanying ice avalanche or almighty thundering splash are the event’s most dramatic moments.

Hubbard calved constantly while we were sat in front of its imposing face. Perhaps the highlight was a particularly dramatic pinnacle of ice, rising several hundred metres, that came crashing down literally moments after the photo of Garry and I above was taken. You can see the ice pinnacle in the first photo below, and see that it’s missing in the second photo. The accompanying splash spray I've captured has been thrown more than 100 metres into the air. This section of the glacier is known to calve regularly thanks to a strong current and daily rip tides that flow between it and nearby Gilberts Point.

We later learnt that Hubbard will sometimes advance right across this narrow stretch of water, shutting off Russell Fjord from the sea. The last such ice dam occurred in 2002 when it surged across the fjord in less than month. In 1986 Hubbard blocked the fjord for five months, resulting in a lake that rose 83 feet above sea-level. At the time it surged an unprecedented 30-metres a day. With so much activity, icebergs usually litter its face and chock the bay making it all but impossible for cruise ships to get particularly close. Today’s remarkably close encounter was a rarity.

Everything about Hubbard is big, really big. It’s the world’s longest alpine and tidewater glacier, stretching more than 113 kilometres from its source. The glacier originates in the Hubbard Icefield in the shadow of 15,000 foot Mount Hubbard, and terminates in Disenchantment Bay where its face spans an astonishing 13 kilometres of coastline. Hubbard is so wide that its scale isn’t initially apparent as you approach. The size of this ice giant came into stark relief on closest approach. As we stood more on the ship’s highest deck, more than 25 metres above the water, Hubbard was finally towering above us, stretching kilometres in either direction.

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