Baird Glacier and Thomas Bay: June 15, 2011
27 June 2011 | posted at Juneau
Photo: Baird Glacier from its outwash plain.
If we had paid attention to the cruising guides in 2007, the first time we went to Thomas Bay, we never would have experienced Baird Glacier’s fascinating outwash plain. The guides warned t hat Scenery Cove, the only possible place to anchor while you explore the plain, was too deep to be safe. One of the guides even advised leaving an anchor-watch on board while the rest of the party goes off in the dinghy. And once we got to the outwash plain, we were supposed to leave someone else in the dinghy while the rest of the party went ashore; there was no safe place to leave a dinghy, the guide advised. With only two people on board Osprey, following those precautions would have made visiting the plain impossible. So we anchored in Scenery Cove anyway. It was deep, 100ft, but the worst problem wasn’t the depth, it was another boat with a 5-1 anchor scope taking up much of the room. And when we got to the outwash plain, we found a nook between the two rivers where we could drag the dinghy up onto the cobble plain.
The view from the outwash plain of Thomas Bay’s grand domes was a majestic site. And the outwash plain with its birds, flowers and glacial sediments was fascinating. But its vast distances, cold winds and surrounding barren cliffs also made it a bit scary. And knowing that we were doing something others felt was unsafe added to my unease. I was glad when we returned safely to Osprey.
Having been there once without incident, I felt less nervous about approaching the outwash plain a second time. As before, we anchored in Scenery Cove. This time there were no other boats and we found a spot only 70 ft deep. At half-tide rising-tide, we took our dinghy out of the cove and across the bay to the outwash plain.
We did do a couple of extra things to make our trip safer. We carried a small hand-held depth sounder to help find our way through the uncharted shoals. And we brought with us a hand-held VHF radio in case we got into trouble.
As before, we found a nook between the two outwash rivers and dragged our dinghy up the beach, leaving an anchor in the sand for extra measure.
On the plain we walked across a vast bed of moss, so soft it felt like a shag carpet -- albeit one laid over a bed of cobble. Small pink fireweed flowers poked up through the moss along with white clumps of lichen, lupens and small alder bushes. White forked-tail terns wheeled overhead making sharp “kik, kik, kik” cries, while killdeer ran in front of us pretending injury to distract us from their nests. In the distance we could see the long gray tongue of the glacier sweeping down the mountain between gray domes.
We crossed the plain until we came to one of the rivers running out from under the glacier. From its bank we could look upstream to see the glacier smoothed and sculpted by the river. The gray glacier, brown river and gray cliffs above had a desolate look. But if we turned and looked another direction, we could see green hills with waterfalls.
We were the only ones to explore the plain that day, although several other boats came into Thomas Bay, looked at the glacier, and then left. They missed the best part.