Alaska Journey Day 40 / by Dave Hileman

The Day the Ice Fell

We were up early and into Valdez to attend church on the Lulu Bell, a neat old boat. The captain took her out of the harbor a bit and church service was about 45 minutes. Music, prayers and a short “sermon” were delivered by the minister from First Baptist. We returned to dock and Cindy and I had breakfast across the street at the Fat Mermaid. Slow service, mediocre food. 

Back to the Lulu Bell for a tour boarding at 10:30. We travel a long distance on this beautiful boat ending at the Columbia Glacier miles from port. The Captain has been doing this for four decades. Everyday all summer and he talks nearly the entire time with entertaining descriptions and history and gentle humor. The boat is full of teak wood, nice seats, galley with reasonably priced food and nice viewing all the way around and up to the second deck and the flying bridge. There were about 40 people on board so it was not crowded at all. We first encountered a raft of about 20 otters and spent a bit of time there, then we sailed about 30 minutes to watch a commercial fishing boat and crew complete a catch with a narrative by our captain as to how it works. Interesting. Then we passed brownies over to the crew of the fishing boat via a long handled net. Soon we were along shore with scores of sea lions. Noisy group. And then we nosed into some sea caves to see puffins. He put the front of the boat into the cave and it was tight. Super neat. We actually did two caves. The puffin were hard to photograph, dark spaces, small twitchy birds and a rocking boat. Moving along we spotted two mountain goats, mom and her baby on a cliff and he idled us right up to the edge. We also saw dolphin and dozens more otters lounging on ice bergs. About 3 hours in and we round the bend to see Columbia Glacier. We are still five miles out and it is huge. Ice bergs large and small dot the sea. We approach the ice wall and sit less than 1/4 mile from the 200 - 300 foot ice cliff that stretches across the bay. He says we will sit for an hour so we get a good event. Well the event occurred in less than 20 minutes and it was huge, according to the captain the largest he ever saw in 41 years of leading tours. It lasted several minutes and a massive wave ensued. The boat was up and down and the bay so filled with ice that the Lulu Bell had to push the ice away with the prow of the boat. People were visibly nervous when the large berg turned over and the spray rose high in the air. We did not see too much on the return and no whale, the only minor flaw in a nearly perfect day. 

The other aspect to the trip is the personnel of the boat. Captain Fred has been doing this for 41 years. He is a delight to listen to and you are confident you will see everything you can on the trip. No short cuts, no time is up, if there is something to see you will see it. A relaxed atmosphere prevails on the ship. HIs wife working the desk and taking care of details is kind and thoughtful. The young folks working on the boat were excellent and efficient. The boat was clean and well maintained, the wood shined, the signs current. To be treated well and fairly, to enjoy the whole experience, nobody says, “Well we saw a lot but…” - is just immeasurable. I think the Lu Lu Bell is a type of vanishing institution in America and if I could say there is a “must do” in Valdez it is this trip hands down.

Cadillac’s Most Correct Viewpoint

The conundrum of ice. I don’t get HP at all. Ice seems to be nearly as important as T-shirts but not in the home territory. Since we have been on this journey they bought ice in a little bag, have walked on ice, they have flown over ice (I actually did a great job there) and now they went on a boat to watch ice fall in the water. In the Moose world ice is a problem that keeps you from the finest of roots and grasses and hurts the nose when you don’t see it on the top of the pond. Still, I guess I will be pro ice since it is so important to these HPs. And not just the guides there were other people oohing and pointing and even peering like the Driver. The good thing about the day was I got to drive a boat for miles and plow over ice and stuff. I am a great captain. As soon as I figure out the HP thing and get them to promote Moose Rights, it is back to the air and sea. I think I need a boat that flies, how perfect would that be? No word from BdB yet on the project. Where could he have gone it was not that hard.

The blue vertical you see is about 200 feet high, the berg that broke off is upside down with a small portion of the black bottom showing.

The blue vertical you see is about 200 feet high, the berg that broke off is upside down with a small portion of the black bottom showing.