We're envelopped in impenetrable fog thicker than a London pea-souper and the Radiance of the Seas is blaring its foghorn every few minutes. Thank Gawd for radar. At this rate we'd be running smack into the Hubbard Glacier and doing a Titanic instead of just admiring its supposedly brilliant blue-hued full frontal pose.
Named after Gardiner G. Hubbard, first president of the National Geographic Society, this gigantic ice cube stretches 76 miles from its source 11,000 feet up near Mt. Walsh, with a shorter tributary flowing down from 18,000 feet on the Logan Range.
At 1,300 square miles in area, it reaches the sea at Disenchantment Bay with a six-mile-wide frozen bluish front, in parts hundreds of feet high, where it calves its icebergs.
We, too, are at bay in disenchantment until the miraculously unexpected that has followed us for the past five days happens yet again - His Majesty the Sun. The fog dissipates, the remaining mists evaporate, and we're presented with magnificent views in brilliant sunshine under a cloudless blue sky.
The Hubbard is one of the world's few glaciers that is still advancing, in contrast to the other retreating ice fields in this age of global warming. It takes about 400 years for ice to pass from its source to the sea, so the front we're now looking at dates from when I began kindergarten.
The glacier routinely calves icebergs the size of ten-storey buildings. As most of the ice is below water, the new calves can zoom up melodramatically, so ships must keep their distance if they really don't want to reprise the Titanic, which fortunately for us Captain Karl of the Radiance of the Seas has no wish to do.
The views of the glacier's wrinkled and ridged face are splendiferous, the surrounding ice-capped Matterhorns on one craggy side are spectacular, and the gentler spruce-clad slopes beneath equally snowy peaks on the other edenic. And the feeling of utter remoteness is total.
Thanks to our ongoing solar miracle, Disenchantment Bay has become Enchantment Bay.
What a splendid finale to cruising the Inside Passage, even if, to be geographically correct, Hubbard is just beyond its end - or start!
From now on it's 20 hours of sailing on more or less open seas to Seward, the cruise's final destination on the peninsula south of Anchorage. The coast, when it appears at all, is way over there on the far distant horizon,
It no longer matters that the clouds have reformed in banks. We've had virtually unbroken sunshine wherever it mattered on this eight-day early-season trip in mid-May.
[Upcoming on Thursday: A new series begins on Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park and Fairbanks]
By the same author: Bussing The Amazon: On The Road With The Accidental Journalist, available with free excerpts on Kindle and in print version on Amazon.