Chapter XIV. Sum Dum Bay
The afternoon was wearing away as we pushed on and on through the drifting bergs without our having obtained a single glimpse of the great glacier. A Sum Dum seal-hunter, whom we met groping his way deftly through the ice in a very small, unsplitable cottonwood canoe, told us that the ice-mountain was yet fifteen miles away. This was toward the middle of the afternoon, and I gave up sketching and making notes and worked hard with the Indians to reach it before dark. About seven o'clock we approached what seemed to be the extreme head of the fiord, and still no great glacier in sight - only a small one, three or four miles long, melting a thousand feet above the sea. Presently, a narrow side opening appeared between tremendous cliffs sheer to a height of four thousand feet or more, trending nearly at right angles to the general trend of the fiord, and apparently terminated by a cliff, scarcely less abrupt or high, at a distance of a mile or two. Up this bend we toiled against wind and tide, creeping closely along the wall on the right side, which, as we looked upward, seemed to be leaning over, while the waves beating against the bergs and rocks made a discouraging kind of music. At length, toward nine o'clock, just before the gray darkness of evening fell, a long, triumphant shout told that the glacier, so deeply and desperately hidden, was at last hunted back to its benmost bore. A short distance around a second bend in the canyon, I reached a point where I obtained a good view of it as it pours its deep, broad flood into the fiord in a majestic course from between the noble mountains, its tributaries, each of which would be regarded elsewhere as a grand glacier, converging from right and left from a fountain set far in the silent fastnesses of the mountains.
"There is your lost friend," said the Indians laughing; "he says, 'Sagh-a-ya'" (how do you do)? And while berg after berg was being born with thundering uproar, Tyeen said, "Your friend has klosh tumtum (good heart). Hear! Like the other big-hearted one he is firing his guns in your honor."
I stayed only long enough to make an outline sketch, and then urged the Indians to hasten back some six miles to the mouth of a side canyon I had noted on the way up as a place where we might camp in case we should not find a better. After dark we had to move with great caution through the ice. One of the Indians was stationed in the bow with a pole to push aside the smaller fragments and look out for the most promising openings, through which he guided us, shouting, "Friday! Tucktay!" (shoreward, seaward) about ten times a minute. We reached this landing-place after ten o'clock, guided in the darkness by the roar of a glacier torrent. The ground was all boulders and it was hard to find a place among them, however small, to lie on. The Indians anchored the canoe well out from the shore and passed the night in it to guard against berg-waves and drifting waves, after assisting me to set my tent in some sort of way among the stones well back beyond the reach of the tide. I asked them as they were returning to the canoe if they were not going to eat something. They answered promptly: -
"We will sleep now, if your ice friend will let us. We will eat to-morrow, but we can find some bread for you if you want it."
"No," I said, "go to rest. I, too, will sleep now and eat to-morrow." Nothing was attempted in the way of light or fire. Camping that night was simply lying down. The boulders seemed to make a fair bed after finding the best place to take their pressure.
During the night I was awakened by the beating of the spent ends of berg-waves against the side of my tent, though I had fancied myself well beyond their reach. These special waves are not raised by wind or tide, but by the fall of large bergs from the snout of the glacier, or sometimes by the overturning or breaking of large bergs that may have long floated in perfect poise. The highest berg-waves oftentimes travel half a dozen miles or farther before they are much spent, producing a singularly impressive uproar in the far recesses of the mountains on calm dark nights when all beside is still. Far and near they tell the news that a berg is born, repeating their story again and again, compelling attention and reminding us of earthquake-waves that roll on for thousands of miles, taking their story from continent to continent.
When the Indians came ashore in the morning and saw the condition of my tent they laughed heartily and said, "Your friend [meaning the big glacier] sent you a good word last night, and his servant knocked at your tent and said, 'Sagh-a-ya, are you sleeping well?'"
I had fasted too long to be in very good order for hard work, but while the Indians were cooking, I made out to push my way up the canyon before breakfast to seek the glacier that once came into the fiord, knowing from the size and muddiness of the stream that drains it that it must be quite large and not far off. I came in sight of it after a hard scramble of two hours through thorny chaparral and across steep avalanche taluses of rocks and snow. The front reaches across the canyon from wall to wall, covered with rocky detritus, and looked dark and forbidding in the shadow cast by the cliffs, while from a low, cavelike hollow its draining stream breaks forth, a river in size, with a reverberating roar that stirs all the canyon. Beyond, in a cloudless blaze of sunshine, I saw many tributaries, pure and white as new-fallen snow, drawing their sources from clusters of peaks and sweeping down waving slopes to unite their crystal currents with the trunk glacier in the central canyon. This fine glacier reaches to within two hundred and fifty feet of the level of the sea, and would even yet reach the fiord and send off bergs but for the waste it suffers in flowing slowly through the trunk canyon, the declivity of which is very slight.