Cruising Southeast Alaska - 2009

By Linda Lewis


13. Fords Terror & Bergie Bits in Endicott Arm


We have been up Tracy Arm (south of Juneau) to see the Sawyer Glaciers numerous times and we love both the scenic cruise up the arm and the beauty of the Sawyer Glaciers – especially south Sawyer. However, this time we wanted to see Sawyer’s near neighbor to the east, Dawes Glacier at the end of Endicott Arm.

Our arrival time at Endicott Arm made it possible to go all the way up to the end of the arm, see the Dawes Glacier, then backtrack to anchor in Fords Terror. It’s a long trip up Endicott Arm (27 miles) with plenty to look at. As you enter Endicott Arm you can see the Sumdum Glacier (right side of photo).

Here’s a closer look at the Sumdum Glacier. This is called a hanging glacier - because it does not reach the water line. (By contrast, the Sawyer Glaciers and Dawes Glacier are tide-water glaciers because they come right to the water’s edge.)

Fords Terror is a special place. Two years ago we anchored in the outer bay and enjoyed a skiff ride through the narrows into the inner bay. The place is just glorious - with its massive high walls and ubiquitous waterfalls. We were eerily silent that year as we glided through the narrows at slack water and found ourselves surrounded by such majesty. We had finally visited this spot because we had gained some local knowledge that made us comfortable enough to tackle the challenges Fords Terror presents: avoiding the shoals in the deep, poorly charted outer bay and getting through the narrows at the right time to be able to explore the inner bay. Oh, yes, and being able to anchor.

There are two keys to successfully transiting the narrows at Fords Terror: timing the slack water and avoiding the shoals. The Douglass "Exploring Southeast Alaska" cruising guide ( says to be sure you are going through at high water slack. OK. But the question I had back then was: just when is HW slack, really? The local knowledge we heard that year indicated that high water slack at the narrows occurs 40 minutes after high water at the (nearby) Woodspit Station. We tried it and it worked! The second key also came from someone with local knowledge. Go to the base of the waterfall in the outer bay to start your transit. From that position, steer a course of 290 degrees magnetic towards the narrows’ opening. The picture below is taken from our anchorage – showing the outer bay waterfall and the shoal that needs to be avoided.

That course-line tip is important because of those very poorly charted shoals that lie on either side of it. You must work with the available small-scale [1:80,000] chart (with little detail) and the shoals only show as a few scattered asterisks. (See Linda's website at for a chart screen-shot with these local-knowledge notations.)

Here’s what those scattered asterisks really look like. The asterisks loosely represent a big, long, broad shoal that uncovers at low water; as well as a second narrower, but very long shoal parallel to the big one. We were coming in at high water this year. Knowing the shoals were out there, we approached the anchorage carefully - working our way up along the shoreline and then hooking back towards the narrows a bit as we scoped out the bottom. Someone had already found our favorite “shallow hump” so we had to find a new spot.

It’s not an easy anchorage. You go from 100-200 foot depths to 10 feet (and less) in a very, very big hurry. (And the tide range is about 15-20 feet.) We were here on a Spring Tide (with its wider tidal range) so we were even more cautious about where we planted ourselves. This is what it looked like after awhile as the water level dropped.

And continued to drop. This is a big, long shoal that uncovered so much we couldn’t even see the passage through the narrows over the top of it after a while.

It was fun to be able to watch the infamous “Terror” narrows running (ebbing in this photo).

Eventually the falling tide caused the shoal to block our view of the narrows. But until then we watched as the Spring Tide ebb displayed 1-2 foot overfalls and a current that looked like it was running about 10-13 knots!

The carnival ride of the day was the (multiple) charter boats taking their guests up through those narrows – against that ebb – doing a quick tour of the inner bay, then rocketing back out. Even with their 90 hp engines, their skiff entrances (with 6 people on board) were might iffy looking for the first ten minutes. We were glad we weren’t anchored up inside the inner bay as we figured we would end up being their roundabout. Part of the glory of that place is the isolation – magnificent isolation. That seems to be a thing of the past now.

But I have gotten ahead of myself with these Fords Terror stories. What about the trip up Endicott Arm and the Dawes Glacier?

We weren’t sure we could make it all the way to the glacier. We had heard that their was too much ice just two weeks before our visit, but we were determined to give it a try. Our trip up Endicott Arm certainly gave me the chance to take lots of pictures of Bergie Bits (chunks of glacier ice floating in the water). We were fortunate and found that there were not so many that we had to stop and turn around. We got all the way up to the glacier (August 6).

Here are some of the glorious things we saw on the way to the glacier.

And how about this glowing example? This one is my favorite this year. The deep deep blue indicates very old ice that has been compressed by all the years of pressure.

There are often several bergies near each other that present as a bit of a pack.

But they’re not all beautiful. Here is an example of a dark, grey one.

No matter what their color, the rumor you have heard that icebergs show up on radar is absolutely true.

I love to “see things” in the bergie bits. What is this?

And how about this one? Dave says it’s a duck. I think it looks like a teacher and two students.

A streamlined rabbit?

It’s a celebration!! “Y – M – C – A” [dah dah dah dah dah dah]. “Y – M – C – A” OK – I definitely gave away my age with this one.

There were also plenty of 1000 foot-high rock faces to stare at along the way.

We were continually amazed at how different the rock faces looked in this channel.

More bergies - with a sawtooth.

One more? Just one more?

OK, I’ll stop. I guess I forgot to show you the actual glacier. Not really; I just ran out of room. The next installment will show you Dawes Glacier.



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