Discovery of Glacier Bay of Alaska

 Chapter X

The Discovery of Glacier Bay

From here, on October 24, we set sail for Guide Charley’s

ice-mountains. The handle of our heaviest axe was cracked, and as

Charley declared that there was no firewood to be had in the big

ice-mountain bay, we would have to load the canoe with a store for

cooking at an island out in the Strait a few miles from the village. We

were therefore anxious to buy or trade for a good sound axe in exchange

for our broken one. Good axes are rare in rocky Alaska. Soon or late an

unlucky stroke on a stone concealed in moss spoils the edge. Finally

one in almost perfect condition was offered by a young Hoona for our

broken-handled one and a half-dollar to boot; but when the broken axe

and money were given he promptly demanded an additional twenty-five

cents’ worth of tobacco. The tobacco was given him, then he required a

half-dollar’s worth more of tobacco, which was also given; but when he

still demanded something more, Charley’s patience gave way and we

sailed in the same condition as to axes as when we arrived. This was

the only contemptible commercial affair we encountered among these

Alaskan Indians.

We reached the wooded island about one o’clock, made coffee, took on a

store of wood, and set sail direct for the icy country, finding it very

hard indeed to believe the woodless part of Charley’s description of

the Icy Bay, so heavily and uniformly are all the shores forested

wherever we had been. In this view we were joined by John, Kadachan,

and Toyatte, none of them on all their lifelong canoe travels having

ever seen a woodless country.

We held a northwesterly course until long after dark, when we reached a

small inlet that sets in near the mouth of Glacier Bay, on the west

side. Here we made a cold camp on a desolate snow-covered beach in

stormy sleet and darkness. At daybreak I looked eagerly in every

direction to learn what kind of place we were in; but gloomy

rain-clouds covered the mountains, and I could see nothing that would

give me a clue, while Vancouver’s chart, hitherto a faithful guide,

here failed us altogether. Nevertheless, we made haste to be off; and

fortunately, for just as we were leaving the shore, a faint smoke was

seen across the inlet, toward which Charley, who now seemed lost,

gladly steered. Our sudden appearance so early that gray morning had

evidently alarmed our neighbors, for as soon as we were within hailing

distance an Indian with his face blackened fired a shot over our heads,

and in a blunt, bellowing voice roared, “Who are you?”

Our interpreter shouted, “Friends and the Fort Wrangell missionary.”

Then men, women, and children swarmed out of the hut, and awaited our

approach on the beach. One of the hunters having brought his gun with

him, Kadachan sternly rebuked him, asking with superb indignation

whether he was not ashamed to meet a missionary with a gun in his

hands. Friendly relations, however, were speedily established, and as a

cold rain was falling, they invited us to enter their hut. It seemed

very small and was jammed full of oily boxes and bundles; nevertheless,

twenty-one persons managed to find shelter in it about a smoky fire.

Our hosts proved to be Hoona seal-hunters laying in their winter stores

of meat and skins. The packed hut was passably well ventilated, but its

heavy, meaty smells were not the same to our noses as those we were

accustomed to in the sprucy nooks of the evergreen woods. The circle of

black eyes peering at us through a fog of reek and smoke made a novel

picture. We were glad, however, to get within reach of information, and

of course asked many questions concerning the ice-mountains and the

strange bay, to most of which our inquisitive Hoona friends replied

with counter-questions as to our object in coming to such a place,

especially so late in the year. They had heard of Mr. Young and his

work at Fort Wrangell, but could not understand what a missionary could

be doing in such a place as this. Was he going to preach to the seals

and gulls, they asked, or to the ice-mountains? And could they take his

word? Then John explained that only the friend of the missionary was

seeking ice mountains, that Mr. Young had already preached many good

words in the villages we had visited, their own among the others, that

our hearts were good and every Indian was our friend. Then we gave them

a little rice, sugar, tea, and tobacco, after which they began to gain

confidence and to speak freely. They told us that the big bay was

called by them Sit-a-da-kay, or Ice Bay; that there were many large

ice-mountains in it, but no gold-mines; and that the ice-mountain they

knew best was at the head of the bay, where most of the seals were


Notwithstanding the rain, I was anxious to push on and grope our way

beneath the clouds as best we could, in case worse weather should come;

but Charley was ill at ease, and wanted one of the seal-hunters to go

with us, for the place was much changed. I promised to pay well for a

guide, and in order to lighten the canoe proposed to leave most of our

heavy stores in the hut until our return. After a long consultation one

of them consented to go. His wife got ready his blanket and a piece of

cedar matting for his bed, and some provisions—mostly dried salmon, and

seal sausage made of strips of lean meat plaited around a core of fat.

She followed us to the beach, and just as we were pushing off said with

a pretty smile, “It is my husband that you are taking away. See that

you bring him back.”

We got under way about 10 A.M. The wind was in our favor, but a cold

rain pelted us, and we could see but little of the dreary, treeless

wilderness which we had now fairly entered. The bitter blast, however,

gave us good speed; our bedraggled canoe rose and fell on the waves as

solemnly as a big ship. Our course was northwestward, up the southwest

side of the bay, near the shore of what seemed to be the mainland,

smooth marble islands being on our right. About noon we discovered the

first of the great glaciers, the one I afterward named for James

Geikie, the noted Scotch geologist. Its lofty blue cliffs, looming

through the draggled skirts of the clouds, gave a tremendous impression

of savage power, while the roar of the newborn icebergs thickened and

emphasized the general roar of the storm. An hour and a half beyond the

Geikie Glacier we ran into a slight harbor where the shore is low,

dragged the canoe beyond the reach of drifting icebergs, and, much

against my desire to push ahead, encamped, the guide insisting that the

big ice-mountain at the head of the bay could not be reached before

dark, that the landing there was dangerous even in daylight, and that

this was the only safe harbor on the way to it. While camp was being

made. I strolled along the shore to examine the rocks and the fossil

timber that abounds here. All the rocks are freshly glaciated, even

below the sea-level, nor have the waves as yet worn off the surface

polish, much less the heavy scratches and grooves and lines of glacial


The next day being Sunday, the minister wished to stay in camp; and so,

on account of the weather, did the Indians. I therefore set out on an

excursion, and spent the day alone on the mountain-slopes above the

camp, and northward, to see what I might learn. Pushing on through rain

and mud and sludgy snow, crossing many brown, boulder-choked torrents,

wading, jumping, and wallowing in snow up to my shoulders was

mountaineering of the most trying kind. After crouching cramped and

benumbed in the canoe, poulticed in wet or damp clothing night and day,

my limbs had been asleep. This day they were awakened and in the hour

of trial proved that they had not lost the cunning learned on many a

mountain peak of the High Sierra. I reached a height of fifteen hundred

feet, on the ridge that bounds the second of the great glaciers. All

the landscape was smothered in clouds and I began to fear that as far

as wide views were concerned I had climbed in vain. But at length the

clouds lifted a little, and beneath their gray fringes I saw the

berg-filled expanse of the bay, and the feet of the mountains that

stand about it, and the imposing fronts of five huge glaciers, the

nearest being immediately beneath me. This was my first general view of

Glacier Bay, a solitude of ice and snow and newborn rocks, dim, dreary,

mysterious. I held the ground I had so dearly won for an hour or two,

sheltering myself from the blast as best I could, while with benumbed

fingers I sketched what I could see of the landscape, and wrote a few

lines in my notebook. Then, breasting the snow again, crossing the

shifting avalanche slopes and torrents, I reached camp about dark, wet

and weary and glad.

While I was getting some coffee and hardtack, Mr. Young told me that

the Indians were discouraged, and had been talking about turning back,

fearing that I would be lost, the canoe broken, or in some other

mysterious way the expedition would come to grief if I persisted in

going farther. They had been asking him what possible motive I could

have in climbing mountains when storms were blowing; and when he

replied that I was only seeking knowledge, Toyatte said, “Muir must be

a witch to seek knowledge in such a place as this and in such miserable


After supper, crouching about a dull fire of fossil wood, they became

still more doleful, and talked in tones that accorded well with the

wind and waters and growling torrents about us, telling sad old stories

of crushed canoes, drowned Indians, and hunters frozen in snowstorms.

Even brave old Toyatte, dreading the treeless, forlorn appearance of

the region, said that his heart was not strong, and that he feared his

canoe, on the safety of which our lives depended, might be entering a

skookum-house (jail) of ice, from which there might be no escape; while

the Hoona guide said bluntly that if I was so fond of danger, and meant

to go close up to the noses of the ice-mountains, he would not consent

to go any farther; for we should all be lost, as many of his tribe had

been, by the sudden rising of bergs from the bottom. They seemed to be

losing heart with every howl of the wind, and, fearing that they might

fail me now that I was in the midst of so grand a congregation of

glaciers, I made haste to reassure them, telling them that for ten

years I had wandered alone among mountains and storms, and good luck

always followed me; that with me, therefore, they need fear nothing.

The storm would soon cease and the sun would shine to show us the way

we should go, for God cares for us and guides us as long as we are

trustful and brave, therefore all childish fear must be put away. This

little speech did good. Kadachan, with some show of enthusiasm, said he

liked to travel with good-luck people; and dignified old Toyatte

declared that now his heart was strong again, and he would venture on

with me as far as I liked for my “wawa” was “delait” (my talk was very

good). The old warrior even became a little sentimental, and said that

even if the canoe was broken he would not greatly care, because on the

way to the other world he would have good companions.

Next morning it was still raining and snowing, but the south wind swept

us bravely forward and swept the bergs from our course. In about an

hour we reached the second of the big glaciers, which I afterwards

named for Hugh Miller. We rowed up its fiord and landed to make a

slight examination of its grand frontal wall. The berg-producing

portion we found to be about a mile and a half wide, and broken into an

imposing array of jagged spires and pyramids, and flat-topped towers

and battlements, of many shades of blue, from pale, shimmering, limpid

tones in the crevasses and hollows, to the most startling, chilling,

almost shrieking vitriol blue on the plain mural spaces from which

bergs had just been discharged. Back from the front for a few miles the

glacier rises in a series of wide steps, as if this portion of the

glacier had sunk in successive sections as it reached deep water, and

the sea had found its way beneath it. Beyond this it extends

indefinitely in a gently rising prairie-like expanse, and branches

along the slopes and cañons of the Fairweather Range.

From here a run of two hours brought us to the head of the bay, and to

the mouth of the northwest fiord, at the head of which lie the Hoona

sealing-grounds, and the great glacier now called the Pacific, and

another called the Hoona. The fiord is about five miles long, and two

miles wide at the mouth. Here our Hoona guide had a store of dry wood,

which we took aboard. Then, setting sail, we were driven wildly up the

fiord, as if the storm-wind were saying, “Go, then, if you will, into

my icy chamber; but you shall stay in until I am ready to let you out.”

All this time sleety rain was falling on the bay, and snow on the

mountains; but soon after we landed the sky began to open. The camp was

made on a rocky bench near the front of the Pacific Glacier, and the

canoe was carried beyond the reach of the bergs and berg-waves. The

bergs were now crowded in a dense pack against the discharging front,

as if the storm-wind had determined to make the glacier take back her

crystal offspring and keep them at home.

While camp affairs were being attended to, I set out to climb a

mountain for comprehensive views; and before I had reached a height of

a thousand feet the rain ceased, and the clouds began to rise from the

lower altitudes, slowly lifting their white skirts, and lingering in

majestic, wing-shaped masses about the mountains that rise out of the

broad, icy sea, the highest of all the white mountains, and the

greatest of all the glaciers I had yet seen. Climbing higher for a

still broader outlook, I made notes and sketched, improving the

precious time while sunshine streamed through the luminous fringes of

the clouds and fell on the green waters of the fiord, the glittering

bergs, the crystal bluffs of the vast glacier, the intensely white,

far-spreading fields of ice, and the ineffably chaste and spiritual

heights of the Fairweather Range, which were now hidden, now partly

revealed, the whole making a picture of icy wildness unspeakably pure

and sublime.

Looking southward, a broad ice-sheet was seen extending in a gently

undulating plain from the Pacific Fiord in the foreground to the

horizon, dotted and ridged here and there with mountains which were as

white as the snow-covered ice in which they were half, or more than

half, submerged. Several of the great glaciers of the bay flow from

this one grand fountain. It is an instructive example of a general

glacier covering the hills and dales of a country that is not yet ready

to be brought to the light of day—not only covering but creating a

landscape with the features it is destined to have when, in the

fullness of time, the fashioning ice-sheet shall be lifted by the sun,

and the land become warm and fruitful. The view to the westward is

bounded and almost filled by the glorious Fairweather Mountains, the

highest among them springing aloft in sublime beauty to a height of

nearly sixteen thousand feet, while from base to summit every peak and

spire and dividing ridge of all the mighty host was spotless white, as

if painted. It would seem that snow could never be made to lie on the

steepest slopes and precipices unless plastered on when wet, and then

frozen. But this snow could not have been wet. It must have been fixed

by being driven and set in small particles like the storm-dust of

drifts, which, when in this condition, is fixed not only on sheer

cliffs, but in massive, overcurling cornices. Along the base of this

majestic range sweeps the Pacific Glacier, fed by innumerable cascading

tributaries, and discharging into the head of its fiord by two mouths

only partly separated by the brow of an island rock about one thousand

feet high, each nearly a mile wide.

Dancing down the mountain to camp, my mind glowing like the sunbeaten

glaciers, I found the Indians seated around a good fire, entirely happy

now that the farthest point of the journey was safely reached and the

long, dark storm was cleared away. How hopefully, peacefully bright

that night were the stars in the frosty sky, and how impressive was the

thunder of the icebergs, rolling, swelling, reverberating through the

solemn stillness! I was too happy to sleep.

About daylight next morning we crossed the fiord and landed on the

south side of the rock that divides the wall of the great glacier. The

whiskered faces of seals dotted the open spaces between the bergs, and

I could not prevent John and Charley and Kadachan from shooting at

them. Fortunately, few, if any, were hurt. Leaving the Indians in

charge of the canoe, I managed to climb to the top of the wall by a

good deal of step-cutting between the ice and dividing rock, and gained

a good general view of the glacier. At one favorable place I descended

about fifty feet below the side of the glacier, where its denuding,

fashioning action was clearly shown. Pushing back from here, I found

the surface crevassed and sunken in steps, like the Hugh Miller

Glacier, as if it were being undermined by the action of tide-waters.

For a distance of fifteen or twenty miles the river-like ice-flood is

nearly level, and when it recedes, the ocean water will follow it, and

thus form a long extension of the fiord, with features essentially the

same as those now extending into the continent farther south, where

many great glaciers once poured into the sea, though scarce a vestige

of them now exists. Thus the domain of the sea has been, and is being,

extended in these ice-sculptured lands, and the scenery of their shores

enriched. The brow of the dividing rock is about a thousand feet high,

and is hard beset by the glacier. A short time ago it was at least two

thousand feet below the surface of the over-sweeping ice; and under

present climatic conditions it will soon take its place as a

glacier-polished island in the middle of the fiord, like a thousand

others in the magnificent archipelago. Emerging from its icy sepulchre,

it gives a most telling illustration of the birth of a marked feature

of a landscape. In this instance it is not the mountain, but the

glacier, that is in labor, and the mountain itself is being brought


The Hoona Glacier enters the fiord on the south side, a short distance

below the Pacific, displaying a broad and far-reaching expanse, over

which many lofty peaks are seen; but the front wall, thrust into the

fiord, is not nearly so interesting as that of the Pacific, and I did

not observe any bergs discharged from it.

In the evening, after witnessing the unveiling of the majestic peaks

and glaciers and their baptism in the down-pouring sunbeams, it seemed

inconceivable that nature could have anything finer to show us.

Nevertheless, compared with what was to come the next morning, all that

was as nothing. The calm dawn gave no promise of anything uncommon. Its

most impressive features were the frosty clearness of the sky and a

deep, brooding stillness made all the more striking by the thunder of

the newborn bergs. The sunrise we did not see at all, for we were

beneath the shadows of the fiord cliffs; but in the midst of our

studies, while the Indians were getting ready to sail, we were startled

by the sudden appearance of a red light burning with a strange

unearthly splendor on the topmost peak of the Fairweather Mountains.

Instead of vanishing as suddenly as it had appeared, it spread and

spread until the whole range down to the level of the glaciers was

filled with the celestial fire. In color it was at first a vivid

crimson, with a thick, furred appearance, as fine as the alpenglow, yet

indescribably rich and deep—not in the least like a garment or mere

external flush or bloom through which one might expect to see the rocks

or snow, but every mountain apparently was glowing from the heart like

molten metal fresh from a furnace. Beneath the frosty shadows of the

fiord we stood hushed and awe-stricken, gazing at the holy vision; and

had we seen the heavens opened and God made manifest, our attention

could not have been more tremendously strained. When the highest peak

began to burn, it did not seem to be steeped in sunshine, however

glorious, but rather as if it had been thrust into the body of the sun

itself. Then the supernal fire slowly descended, with a sharp line of

demarcation separating it from the cold, shaded region beneath; peak

after peak, with their spires and ridges and cascading glaciers, caught

the heavenly glow, until all the mighty host stood transfigured,

hushed, and thoughtful, as if awaiting the coming of the Lord. The

white, rayless light of morning, seen when I was alone amid the peaks

of the California Sierra, had always seemed to me the most telling of

all the terrestrial manifestations of God. But here the mountains

themselves were made divine, and declared His glory in terms still more

impressive. How long we gazed I never knew. The glorious vision passed

away in a gradual, fading change through a thousand tones of color to

pale yellow and white, and then the work of the ice-world went on again

in everyday beauty. The green waters of the fiord were filled with

sun-spangles; the fleet of icebergs set forth on their voyages with the

upspringing breeze; and on the innumerable mirrors and prisms of these

bergs, and on those of the shattered crystal walls of the glaciers,

common white light and rainbow light began to burn, while the mountains

shone in their frosty jewelry, and loomed again in the thin azure in

serene terrestrial majesty. We turned and sailed away, joining the

outgoing bergs, while “Gloria in excelsis” still seemed to be sounding

over all the white landscape, and our burning hearts were ready for any

fate, feeling that, whatever the future might have in store, the

treasures we had gained this glorious morning would enrich our lives


When we arrived at the mouth of the fiord, and rounded the massive

granite headland that stands guard at the entrance on the north side,

another large glacier, now named the Reid, was discovered at the head

of one of the northern branches of the bay. Pushing ahead into this new

fiord, we found that it was not only packed with bergs, but that the

spaces between the bergs were crusted with new ice, compelling us to

turn back while we were yet several miles from the discharging frontal

wall. But though we were not then allowed to set foot on this

magnificent glacier, we obtained a fine view of it, and I made the

Indians cease rowing while I sketched its principal features. Thence,

after steering northeastward a few miles, we discovered still another

large glacier, now named the Carroll. But the fiord into which this

glacier flows was, like the last, utterly inaccessible on account of

ice, and we had to be content with a general view and sketch of it,

gained as we rowed slowly past at a distance of three or four miles.

The mountains back of it and on each side of its inlet are sculptured

in a singularly rich and striking style of architecture, in which

subordinate peaks and gables appear in wonderful profusion, and an

imposing conical mountain with a wide, smooth base stands out in the

main current of the glacier, a mile or two back from the discharging


legal consultations and travel advisor in the States and within UK

Media solutions , Media company , online classes , learn german , learn english , perfect language , blood cord , rehab , rehabiliations , rehabilitation center , magazitta

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post

Contact Form