Tracy Arm Glacier Fosters Pristine Wilderness

Tracy Arm Glacier in Alaska Truly Gets You Away From It All


Christine Smith

A guest recently asked me if I have a favorite place in Alaska. I didn't need to think before I blurted out my answer, "Tracy Arm-Ford's Terror Wilderness." Of all the places I've gone cruising, I've had my fondest memories there. I've experienced an unbelievable level of solitude and wildness of nature.

Tracy Arm-Ford's Terror Wilderness is roughly fifty miles southeast of Juneau and encompasses just over 653,000 acres. Most of it is along the sides of two thirty-mile long fjords - Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm. At Tracy Arm-Ford's Terror Wilderness I've experienced the grand magnitude of blue-faced tidewater glaciers as they calve off fantastically shaped icebergs. I've watched brown bears in meadows and black bears eating barnacles at low tide on impossibly steep fjord walls. The high alpine waterfalls that lace themselves down the sheer-walled fjords are breathtaking.

Two weeks ago, after my husband Jeffrey and I spent a long day of dodging tightly packed icebergs in the rain and fog, I stood on deck in the misty rain with one of our guests watching a humpback whale feeding. Its flukes arced gracefully and then slipped under the surface. A couple of minutes later the whale's whole body rushed out of the water, tail curled up and flippers slightly flared at its side. It crashed back into the water with a grand splash. We cheered with delight. I thought it couldn't get any better, when a bit of sunlight broke through the mist and a very low rainbow appeared off the starboard bow. As if it knew we were watching, the whale breached again. This time its body reached through the rainbow. Unbelievable, I told myself over and over.

I thought Mother Nature couldn't give us any more that day at Tracy Arm glacier, but about 30 minutes later she did. Jeffrey spotted a wolf. It gently loped across rocks as it followed a well-defined animal trail that skirts the shore near a place called Twin Meadows. The wolf was a rare find. It's only the second time I've seen one in the wild. Unbelievable, I told myself again.

Besides the whales, bears, and wolves, there's more to this wilderness. When we go ashore and push through the tangle of alder and Devil's Club that forms a boundary into the mature forest, I'm filled with a sense of wonder. The forest opens up and mossy soft trails crisscross the ground. Many "calling cards" are left on these trails and I always enjoy trying to identify the scat. Once my eyes adjust to the dusky green of the forest light, subtle and delicate wildflowers with names like Shy Maiden and Fairy Slipper reveal themselves in the shadows of ancient spruce and hemlock trees. The forest drips with life and it's a joy and an honor to walk where the bears and wolves have walked.

Whenever we're at anchor in Tracy Arm-Ford's Terror Wilderness, I always take a few minutes at the end of the day to go up to the bow of the boat, close my eyes, and listen. The breathing of humpback whales feeding in the nearby deep water, the mournful cry of a distant red-throated loon, and the upward spiral song of a Swainsons thrush concealed in the forest give me the solitude I crave. When I open my eyes I scan the beach for a chance sighting of a bear or a wolf. I never know what I'll encounter next. Whatever it is, it will undoubtedly be unbelievable.