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A History of Alaska's Famous Sawyer Glaciers

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When you think of Alaska, one of the most common images that come to mind are the massive glaciers that have carved some incredible land features, and provide quite a view for tourists to see. One of the most famous glaciers in Alaska is the Sawyer Glacier , which actually has two separate parts, the north and south. Let’s explore some of the history of these glaciers, and find out more about what makes them such an amazing sight to see on your Alaska fishing vacation.

What is a Glacier?

Before we get into the details of the famous Sawyer glaciers, let’s first define exactly what makes a glacier. These incredible natural features are the result of many years of snow falling and compressing. When enough snow falls, and the environment is cold enough to keep that snow in a single location over time (rather than melting into streams and rivers), it turns into a large mass of ice.

They often have water underneath, so they actually flow like a river, but in very slow motion. Glaciers make up about 10 percent of the total land mass of the earth, and are concentrated primarily in the cold regions of Antarctica, Greenland, Canada, and Alaska. However, there are glaciers on every continent, including Africa and South America.

The Tracy Arm

Tracy Arm is the name of a fjord in southeast Alaska. A fjord is a long, narrow strip of sea nestled between mountains or cliffs on each side. The are common in Norway and Iceland, as well as some parts of Alaska.

A fjord is generally formed by a glacier, and the Tracy Arm is no different. It is about 30 miles long, named after Benjamin Franklin Tracy, Secretary of the Navy under President Benjamin Harrison, who probably never visited the fjord or saw its majestic beauty since he lived in New York until he died in 1915. However, he was close friends with William H. Seward, who oversaw international affairs during the Civil War and negotiated the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867.

The most common way to access the Tracy Arm is through Stephens Passage, a waterway in Alaska’s Inside Passage that is part of the Tongass National Forest. The area is at the center of the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness, an area spanning 653,179 acres that the U.S. Congress designated as a national wilderness in 1980. The “Fords Terror” part of the name comes from an 1899 voyage by a navy crewman named Ford, who paddled a boat into the narrow passage of and was trapped for several hours in a tidal surge of floating ice chunks that can block access in and out of the fjord.

Sawyer Glacier

The Sawyer glacier is actually divided into two separate glaciers: North and South. The South Sawyer Glacier at the end of the Endicott Arm fjord can be very difficult to access, and is only visible on limited days of the year where there is good weather. The North Sawyer Glacier is the more common part that people visit, and it’s the one located at the end of Tracy Arm fjord. The glacier itself is white above ground, giving way to an incredible cobalt blue as it extends deep under the surface of the ocean.

The face of the glacier is about a half mile wide, make it easy to view from the water (you cannot access it from the land). It’s an active tidewater glacier, which means that you can often see “calving” events where a large chunk of ice breaks off and falls into the ocean below. The ice that falls off could be a small chunk or a section the size of a cruise ship, depending on the day. The ice chunks hit the water below, which reaches depths of as much as 600 feet, and also has sections of the glacier under the surface. In fact, calving events can also happen underwater, and you will see the calved chunk of ice emerge from the water like a submarine and float away.

On either side of the Tracy Arm are mountain peaks that soar to 7,000 feet above sea level, and you can find waterfalls and wildlife all over the faces of the cliffs. If you look closely you can often catch a glimpse of mountain goats, seals, and birds on the glacier itself or the nearby mountain slopes, and might even be lucky enough to see a whale or two in the water below.

Visit Pybus Point to See the Sawyer Glacier

If you want to catch a glimpse of this majestic glacier, an all-inclusive Alaskan vacation to Pybus Point Lodge is one of the best ways to do it. We offer regular day trips to the glacier that are included as part of your visit, with experienced guides to ensure your safety and get you as close as possible to the ice and wildlife. Book your trip today and join us for a tour of this and other amazing natural sights.

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Discover why people like you can’t stop talking about Pybus Point Lodge. More than 30 years ago, the lodge opened as a simple fishing camp, drawing a devoted following in spite of basic accommodations. With new owners and experienced captains and crew, our corner of Alaska has become an unbeatable fishing and eco-tourism resort.

Andrea Tate

Incredible Experience!

Pybus Point Lodge has some of the most stunning scenery I’ve ever seen. I mean absolutely breathtaking! In addition to the amazing fishing, I hiked to a beautiful secluded lake, soaked in some hot pots, saw several waterfalls, went whale watching, saw bears and all kinds of wildlife and marine life. As a photographer, photographing a wedding under a waterfall will remain a highlight of my life.

Shirley Johnson

Pybus Point Lodge - WOW!

We had the best time! This was our first visit to Pybus, but it definitely will not be our last. The stunning scenery, amazing fishing experience, and the joy of meeting new friends – all outstanding! We did not want to leave!!! If you are thinking about this trip – don’t think any more, just book it. You will not regret it!!!

Sharon Hedding

Trip of a Lifetime!

We had such an amazing time the staff was so wonderful and the lodge was fantastic! capt Joe was so helpful and always doing what ever he could do to make each day special. a special thank you to both Scott and Jody for taking the time to make us feel like family. can't wait to go back next year

Jason Nielsen

Wonderful and Magical Place

We had an amazing business retreat to Pybus Point Lodge.  Everything was top notch... the fishing, the staff, the boat captains, the food, the accommodations, and especially the scenery. I really liked that Pybus took care of everything from start to finish. Chef John is an amazing cook. We had delicious hot meals the entire trip.  The cabins were amazing and very comfortable.  The fishing was awesome and that’s coming from a guy that doesn’t fish that much.

Brandon Foote

We brought home 100lbs of fish!

My wife and I spent a week at Pybus Point this Summer. We had a beautiful, private room overlooking the bay and our own new, ensuite, private bathroom. What an amazing place for couples to get away together. We set our own breakfast time, met our boat captain after, fished the day along, and returned to clean up and enjoy a nice dinner at the restaurant. Next time Alaska is on the trip list, Sherrie and I will go together, and it will be to Pybus Point!

Kent Danjanovich

Fun in Alaska

This was my first trip to Pybus Point. I stayed in one of their new cabins. The accommodations were incredible, the view onto the bay in the mornings was stunning. I loved the staff and the food was really very good. All of this and they have new boats to take you out onto fairly calm waters to fish. The fishing guides were great. Overall a great experience. Definitely going back.


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