Tracy Arm Ford’s Terror Wilderness Area

Aug 25, 2018 - National Geographic Quest

This Saturday we awoke in a misty wonderland, located roughly 50 miles south of Juneau. The Tracy Arm Fords Terror Wilderness Area is over 650,000 acres of pristine nature within the Tongass National Forest. Yes, that is wilderness with a capital “W”. The 1964 Wilderness Act protects nearly 110 million acres of wilderness areas from coast to coast, protecting ecosystems from roads, vehicles, or any permanent structures to be created. Wilderness areas represent the nation’s highest form of land protection, allowing people to enjoy pristine areas across the country.

In Tracy Arm—the northern of two fjords ending in tidewater glaciers—the narrowness and steepness of the canyon creates an air of mystery rarely found in the modern world. With the clouds hiding the tops of the mountains from our view, Zodiacs zigged and zagged in between bergy bits and icebergs that had recently separated from the face of South Sawyer Glacier. Pausing to peek at some pupping harbor seal females, we gazed at the glacial giant in front of us. South Sawyer extends just over 20 miles east towards the Stikine Ice Field that feeds it, only half of which is on the United States’ side of the Canadian border. With calving pieces the size of apartment buildings raining down from above, the 300 feet of glacier below the surface becomes more destabilized, sending shooters of the deepest blue ice to the surface with almost no warning. Cocoa boat Vikings “reverse plundered” each Zodiac, offering hot beverages to warm fingers that had started to go numb from being exposed to the elements while taking hundreds of photos. Everywhere we looked there were amazing textures—in the icebergs and on the granitic cliffs surrounding us—nothing that could truly be captured any better than what could be found in our memory.

After lunch, our brave Bosun took the participants of National Geographic Lindblad Expeditions global explorers for a private Zodiac-driving lesson. When they completed the task—with no damage to life or Zodiac—22 guests and 13 crew and staff members jumped into the crystalline teal waters just four miles away from the face of the glacier they had taken tours near just hours before. We cruised out of Tracy Arm, enjoying a slideshow of our week documenting the great friendships we’ve made, fantastic places we’ve explored, and all the spectacular wildlife we’ve gotten to observe. While every trip to Alaska is special, this week has truly been one for the record books.

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About the Author

JIll Niederberger


Jill is an aquatic biologist, naturalist, divemaster, and captain with a love for everything living in and depending on water. Whether sailing catamarans, leading snorkeling tours, or assisting with cetacean field research projects, she enjoys connecting others to the wilderness around them. Her most recent adventures have led her into a focus on marine mammals – those creatures with fur and blubber that defy the odds by living in or depending on an environment in which they cannot breathe.

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