Glacial Madness

It was time for Jupiter to cool her keels and visit Alaska’s iconic tidewater glaciers.

A new view as we round each bend in Tracy Arm

The turbulent entry channel into Tracy Arm is well marked by buoys, and by icebergs run-aground on its shallow bars.  We proceeded up the narrowing fjord to a bifurcation with inlets leading to Sawyer and South Sawyer Glaciers.  The long approach to both glaciers was, on this day, unimpeded by ice, and Jupiter was able to approach to within a respectful half-mile of each face – close enough for these actively calving juggernauts.

The active calving wall of South Sawyer Glacier

At days end we retraced our track back down the deep valley to anchor for the night at No Name Cove, the only protected anchorage nearby.

The following morning we left Tracy Arm and entered Endicott Arm for a critically timed rendezvous with a narrow, dog-legged set of rapids that serve as the guarded gate to Ford’s Terror.  These rapids challenge navigators wishing to visit Alaska’s legendary anchorage.  Passage up Endicott arm was similarly clear of bergs – surprisingly so given that Dawes Glacier at the terminus is a prodigious ice parent.

The simple voyage belied the complexity of timing slack-water through a small gap in the mountainous walls at Ford’s Terror.  At other times the current runs wild at twelve knots with three foot falls.  Critical as this timing is there are no published tidal predictions here, but reference is made to the tides in Juneau, and mariners are advised to arrive early to watch with an eagle-eye for the aqueous stillness between flood and ebb, normally occurring between 15 and 45 minutes after Juneau’s high.

A fellow boater’s notes on entering the dreaded Ford’s Terror

We arrived punctually to watch and wait, our observations enhanced by long trailing kelp fronds attached to dangerous rocks along the constricted passage.  At 41 minutes after the mark we deemed the water quiet, and anxiously centered our boat’s approach.

The looming rock walls inside Ford’s Terror. Note the tiny kayaks at the foot of the wall.

Serenity lay beyond the fearsome rapids, and sheer rock walls vaulted to five thousand feet around us.  Waterfalls and cascades plunged into the deep channel, and our view of the sky was reduced to a small slice of normal.  The fabled anchorage at the fjord’s end merits its reputation as dramatic in the extreme.  We slipped our heavy anchor chain into frigid water more than a hundred feet deep, and spent a night with the surrounding cataracts loudly declaring nothing, and everything.

Ford’s Terror is a place impossible to visit without a boat, and difficult to achieve even then.  After running the rapids in reverse the following afternoon we rejoined the Endicott Arm to find that a wind shift had blown copious bergs, large and small, into the path of our return, along with the dangerous, clear, dense, bergy bits that are so difficult to see.

Bergs in the way in Endicott Arm

Three hours of slow sashaying among these icy denizens found us safely back at our original moorage where we came to rest under the spectacle of a luminous rising full moon.

Full moon rising over No Name Cove




  1. Paula Ankney says:

    Amazing post and photos! My favorite photos thus far: “Morning Fog in Ford’s Terror Sound” and “Full Moon Rising over No Name Cove” — fabulous.

    • You’re absolutely right, we should have, except that the moment of high slack that allowed us egress was getting later and later in the day, and the fjord was long with no anchoring possibilities until we got back to No Name Cove. Constantly juggling tides and times.

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