Photo: The lagoon downstream of McBride Glacier
We motored up Muir Inlet, looking for McBride Glacier. From four years before, I remembered a blue terminus spilling into a lagoon where kayakers paddled around giant blue icebergs.
We rounded a corner and there was the lagoon, scattered with icebergs, just like four years ago.
But something was missing: the glacier.
"Are you sure it was there four years ago?" Steve asked.
A small powerboat was motoring out the lagoon, weaving through the icebergs. It motored over to Osprey
and stopped. A young man leaned out to talk to us.
"I hope you're not planning to go in there," he said. "There's not enough water for a sailboat at this tide."
"We were just wondering where the glacier was," said Steve.
"It's about three miles up, around the corner."
"I remember seeing it four years ago," I told him. "Has it retreated that far?"
"If you were here four years ago, you would have seen it. It's retreated about a mile and a half in four years."
So that was it. I wasn't deluded; I had
seen it four years ago. Now it was gone.
Photo: the lagoon downstream of McBride Glacier in 2011. Note the blue glacier with dirt top.
I remember reading Alaska Days with Muir by S. Hall Young, the Presbyterian Minister who accompanied Muir on his explorations of SE Alaska. Young mused angrily that someone had stolen his glacier - the glacier now known as Dawes Glacier originally named Young Glacier. He was frustrated that there seemed to be no laws against glacier theft. How much angrier would Young have been, I wondered, if someone had taken the whole glacier away, not just its name. Because that's how I felt. Someone had stolen my glacier.
Glaciers in Glacier Bay have been retreating since Captain Cook first sailed by it in the 1770s, but the rate of retreat is increasing with global warming. This year that retreat seemed even more dramatic because low snowfall the winter before made the surrounding lands look barren. When we visited John Hopkins Inlet two days earlier, I'd been struck by how much smaller the glaciers looked than when we 'd last seen them, in 2007. I remembered the inlet as full of ice, glaciers and snow. This year it had merely been an inlet with several glaciers, albeit still beautiful.
Glacier Bay's glaciers are melting. Get up there soon to see them.