Personal Journey: Floating by a glacier was like a trip back in time

A chunk of ice falls off Margerie Glacier in the Gulf of Alaska in a process called calving.

As I stood leaning against the railing of my friend's balcony aboard the Dawn Princess, I watched icebergs loom larger as they floated by our ship. Some were pristine white; others were streaked with dark stripes; and some were a color blue that can't be compared to anything else I've seen. Some of the bergs in Glacier Bay looked like crumpled pieces of white paper filling the slate-gray waters of this icy wilderness.

I could tell we were making our way deeper into the fjord in Glacier Bay National Park because the air temperature was slowly dropping into the 30s from just a few hours earlier, when we were in the Gulf of Alaska in the Pacific Ocean. Here it was mid-August, and I was bundled up in a coat, scarf, gloves and earmuffs while my friends were sunbathing on some beach at the Jersey Shore.

We slowed to one side of Margerie Glacier, a massive tower of blue ice rising 250 feet above the water and extending 100 feet below. Beyond the glacier - farther in than we could venture - was a wilderness of snow and ice even more isolated from civilization. Margerie Glacier is so close to the U.S.-Canadian border that you can almost see the tundra of the Yukon Territory.

As we glided closer to the southernmost point of this massive glacier, passengers milled around the snack bar or strolled along the decks. But they stopped, and an eerie, yet peaceful, quiet enveloped our ship as we pulled alongside the face of the glacier.

Breaking the silence, the voice of a park ranger reminded us that we were in the midst of where the great Ice Age occurred more than 10,000 years ago. Suddenly, there was a bang, like a loud crack of thunder, and everyone gasped and turned toward the sound. It was the phenomenon known as calving - a mass of ice breaking away from the glacier. Then another chunk of ice calved, accompanied by another thunderous roar, and crashed into the water.

As is the case on most cruises, there was no time to linger. It was time to move on from this highlight to the next. And though I did enjoy each subsequent stop on my seven-day Alaska cruise, it's the image of Margerie Glacier that first comes to mind - a journey to the untouched world of the Ice Age of so long ago.

Judy L. Hasday lives in the West Park section of Philadelphia.