The Biggest Glacier Calving We Have Ever Seen

Location: Le Conte glacier, southeast Alaska

Comments: This has been our most interesting year ever for icebergs at Le Conte inlet in Alaska. The sheer size and number of icebergs that we encountered at the beginning of the season was unlike anything I have ever seen before. Some of the ‘bergs were easily 4 – 5 times as long as the Nautilus Explorer and towered above us. The icepack was so thick on the first couple of trips that I wasn’t able get past the “last bend” and get anywhere as near the glacier face as I would have liked (and anybody who has been on an Alaska trip with me knows how tenacious and patient I am in working my way through the icefields!).

Well, today there were a lot fewer icebergs than we had previously seen and I was finally able to position the Nautilus right up close to massive Le Conte Glacier. This icefield is just enormous and easily towers 500 feet above the water. The rule of thumb that charter boat Captains use is that it is safe to approach within 2 cables (400 yards) of the glacier. I can tell you that it is really something to be parked 400 yards from the glacier, listening to it snapping, crackling and groaning and wondering what is going to happen next. So what happened next? Not much. It was pretty quiet which is likely why there was so little ice in the water. We watched and waited and after an hour or so everyone went inside for lunch.

I wandered over to the other side of the wheelhouse when I heard this enormous BANG CRACK BOOM and holy s%#t all I could see was an enormous splash of water and a series of very steep 10 foot high waves coming straight at us as we were beam to.  I jammed the engines in gear, goosed the throttles and got the Nautilus partially turned around when we got smacked really hard by the first wall of water. What a sight. I would be less than honest if I didn’t say that my hands were more than a shade wobbly and shakey!! Most amazing of all, Karen Straus – one of our guests and a professional photographer – had a funny feeling that was something was going to happen. She left lunch, set up her high definition video camera on a tripod on the hot tub deck, focused on the glacier face which then let go 15 seconds after she hit “record.” Karen captured the whole thing on hi-def video and it is truly an incredible sequence. My thought is that I might hold off by 3 cables (600 yards) next time!!

–Captain Mike

Watch our Alaska 2008 video


Water: Water visibility and temperature unknown.

Weather: High overcast, rain showers, calm winds, temperatures high 50’s.

By Nautilus Staff

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