July 12, 2017: I came into the kitchen, still stretching the sleep from my body, to greet my housemate, who announced the news that an iceberg the size of Delaware has broken free from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica. “It’s 2,300 square miles,” he told me. “It was already floating though, so apparently won’t make global sea levels rise.”
I didn’t have much time to chat or research this massive calving event for myself, as I had a trip to Columbia Glacier that day. (Nor is this blog a scientific report on this massive calving event. Refer to the end of my last blog post for links with more information and a video about it.) However, later that afternoon, as I stood atop a hill overlooking the impressive iceberg-filled bay in front of Columbia Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in Prince William Sound, my clients and I reflected on how wondrous a thing it is to witness the incredible natural phenomenon of tons of ice floating in the water right in front of our eyes. “I feel lucky to see so many glaciers in Alaska, especially here [Columbia Bay], where we can witness how drastically the landscape has so recently changed from the retreat of this glacier,” a client mused. “What an amazing experience to get to paddle around all of this ice!”
The iconic Columbia Glacier, which started a catastrophic retreat in the early 1980’s when it broke free from its’ terminal moraine, (a deposit of land debris -rocks, gravel, sand, clay, boulders- left over from a glacier) is currently about 14 miles further back in the bay from the moraine. For most people that I take sea kayaking in Columbia Bay, they are paddling around icebergs that are grounded on the moraine that were under the glacier in their lifetimes! That always gives them something fascinating to ponder.
For most people on this planet, however, their relationship with ice goes no further than what they slip on shuffling to their car in the cold winter months, or what gets plopped into their cocktail glasses at the bar, or lemonade glasses (if they’re under 21, of course). Or maybe they’ve skated across a frozen lake (for all you northerners or Canadians), or sang along to the songs in Frozen (although, I prefer Happy Feet). Or maybe it’s only on a computer screen or spread across the pages of a glossy National Geographic magazine, where they’ve witnessed the myriad blue patterns on icebergs.
I, however, am fortunate enough to return to Columbia Bay, as well as other glaciers in and around Valdez, on a daily basis. This allows me plenty of time to reflect on my own experiences in the wonderful world of ice. And for anyone who has paddled with me, I make it quite evident how much I LOVE ice. On more than a few occasions I have been hurried along by my own clients to stop photographing icebergs so we can continue our paddle:) Visit my “Iceberg Gallery” to get a further glimpse of my love for this beautiful, freezing substance.
Ice, beautiful ice, fills my world on most days. As a sea kayak guide in a part of Alaska that is no stranger to glaciers and iceberg-filled lakes and bays, I get to guide hundreds of clients throughout each season on many of their first experiences seeing, hearing, walking on, kayaking next to, touching, and even tasting ice. Oh, what a joy it is to see the pure delight in their faces when they discover how blue ice can appear, or how exciting it is to see a large iceberg split in half, sending lots of smaller pieces of ice crashing into the water. Many a time I have heard proclamations, even from 5-year-olds, of “this is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen in my life!”
Check out this video from my YouTube Channel of kayaking in Columbia Bay.
Just like life, people pretty quickly pick up on the fact that the ice is constantly changing, never appearing the same for more than a brief moment. That’s why I love paddling around so much. It’s a constant reminder that life is in a state of constant change. And that’s a beautiful thing. You can sit and watch an iceberg melt right in front of your eyes, morphing shape, color and size. You can fill your water bottle underneath a waterfall cascading down from an iceberg. You can hear the popping, sizzling, groaning, and hissing as air releases from air pockets in the ice. It’s an experience not to be missed in this lifetime.
Well, enough about my love for ice. Here’s a wild idea: come to Alaska and allow me the pleasure of paddling with you around ice, so that you may experience for yourself the wonderful world of frozen water! These people certainly loved it. The Sea Otters and Harbor Seals love it too.
As always, thanks for reading. I’ve just returned from a 3-day Shoup Glacier to Sawmill Bay trip and have a Glacier Island to Columbia Glacier 4-day trip coming up, so stayed tuned for a post about these.