Kayaking Around Ice to Discover Emotional Freedom

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Happy couple at the face of Columbia Glacier, Prince William Sound

It’s been a while since I’ve written; my entire 8th season guiding in Alaska has passed. I’ll use the excuse that I was too busy pondering my emotional freedom while paddling around icebergs. I’m currently in Panama, eagerly awaiting my first sea kayaking trip to Guna Yala next week. That will kick off a busy paddling season here! (Promotional plug: There are still trips with space available. Contact me.) 

When the owner of Best Marine & Outdoors, a company that sells kayak accessories and safety equipment (available in the USA, Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, & Spain), invited me to contribute to their wonderful blog about the benefits of kayaking, I happily got to writing. Check out their blog and website here. I wanted to write something both relevant to our current rapidly changing environment, as well as something that encourages us to think about transformation in nature in a different way; that can invite acceptance and freedom from emotional turmoil, which we all experience in life.

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Finding emotional freedom at the face of Columbia Glacier (& rocking the double glasses!), Prince William Sound

Kayaking can make us better human beings. In addition to the more obvious physical benefits of any type of exercise, kayaking has the ability to positively impact our emotional and mental states. How does this look for me? Read on to learn how paddling specifically in Alaska around icebergs has affected my mental/emotional health and ability to go through life with more grace, non-attachment, and joy, especially through difficult times, so that you might give it a try too and enjoy these same benefits.

Icebergs are one of the most beautiful things in this world, and one of my favorite parts of paddling in Alaska. There is ice everywhere, even in the warmer months of summer. I’ve spent countless hours marveling that ice can take such diverse form, size, color, and density. . . each piece unique in its stage of life and movement. I love to observe the different sounds that emerge from ice: popping, hissing, sizzling, and groaning. I’ve sat in a kayak and watched icebergs the size of an apartment building split in half and roll around seeking equilibrium, water and ice cascading and spraying into the air. Oh, how marvelous!

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Iceberg, Columbia Bay, Prince William Sound

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Ice transforms to water, Columbia Glacier, Prince William Sound

I look to ice as a great teacher, offering a sense of freedom, as well as pacifying turbulent times in life. Contemplating the transient nature of ice teaches me to approach life in the same way, especially uncomfortable situations. Ice is in a constant state of transformation (not for one second is it ever the same as before); melting and freezing, breaking apart and floating away, becoming water. No piece of ice will ever exist again in that same way. This sentiment is extremely liberating, as it can be applied to all feelings and thoughts, which we know can be quite terrorizing and overwhelming. Whether it’s sadness, anger or even ecstatic happiness that I’m experiencing I look to the ice and a sense of tranquility immediately passes over me. It will pass. Whatever it is. . . It will pass. There is nothing to hold on to, just as the ice does not struggle to hold on to the water that comprises it nor the ocean in which it’s floating. That’s comforting, isn’t it?

I’d like to share an excerpt from my journal on October 15, 2016, the day that I left Alaska after my fifth season kayak guiding for Anadyr Adventures in Prince William Sound.

. . . All of these natural wonders take away the clutter in my mind. . . teach me the value of letting go of what does not matter in life, and to cherish what does, which is the present moment, love, compassion, and gratitude. Somehow these wonders are teachers. Somehow a floating chunk of ice teaches me that nothing ever stays the same. . . everything is constantly in a state of transformation; thoughts, feelings, and emotions included. I learn to let go of all of them, watch them pass by as I watch floating ice pass by, never to be experienced quite the same way again. Just like the ice I will watch millions of thoughts go by, and I must let go of each and every one of them. It is a struggle, for sure. Yet, does the ice struggle? I think not! 

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Amongst the ice, Columbia Bay, Prince William Sound

There you have it. Ice. Is. Amazing. If anyone has any thoughts they’d like to share, I’d love to read them. How does kayaking benefit you? How has paddling around ice (or nature, in general) impacted your life? Thank you for reading and stay tuned for more. I won’t let another full season go by without writing more blogs. Take great care, everyone! Peruse my website, blog, and contact me for information on day and multi-day sea kayaking trips based out of Valdez, Alaska, as well as Caribbean & Pacific coasts of Panama.

 

SEE YOU SOON VALDEZ, ALASKA: 8 Things a Sea Kayak Guide Gets Excited For (For her 8th Season)

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One of my favorite places on Earth, the face of Columbia Glacier, Prince William Sound

Although currently finishing up the guiding season in Panama, my thoughts are starting to wander north; to a wild land of calving glaciers, glistening icebergs, bobbing Sea Otters, soaring Bald Eagles, enticing ice caves, midnight “sunsets”, and extravagant dance parties with the other Anadyr Adventures sea kayaking guides. They say that a guide’s 8th season is her best!

When writing about Alaska it’s all too easy to enumerate the state’s exceptional qualities, spitting out superlatives left and right. I’ll leave that for David Attenborough (sounds better in his charming accent anyway). Having returned for so many seasons as a sea kayak guide for Anadyr Adventures, it’s the subtle things that I most look forward to; special moments that I wake up excited for. Without further ado and in no particular order: What I am MOST excited about:

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Yipeeeeeeee, Columbia Bay

1) The precise moment at the start of an ocean kayaking tour in Prince William Sound when our water taxi gets “on step” (the boat speeds up enough to climb on top of the water. . and we’re off!). This is almost a daily occurrence for me and my heart still races with anticipatory excitement for what the day will bring. It is the moment that we leave the Valdez small boat harbor behind and we are all about to experience the magic of eastern Prince William Sound.

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Getting “on step” in Prince William Sound

2) We’ve spotted a whale. I repeat a whale has been spotted! Could be a glimmering dorsal fin in the distance. . maybe the dissipating mist from its breath. Maybe a slight disturbance on the surface of the water. Maybe everyone saw it, or just one of us. It’s as if our breathing simultaneously pauses, and heart rates accelerate as we wait in silence for what comes next. . .

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My heart skipped a beat!

3) Client’s reactions (sometimes silent awe, more often gasps of varying intensities) to a slightly elevated vista of the iceberg-dotted Columbia Bay, where we have just been paddling at sea level. After gazing up at majestic icebergs from our kayak seats we are now treated to a vast expanse of ice and water below us. It’s lunchtime and we have crested a hill called The Mojave. During this 5-minute climb I tell the clients No matter what, do not look to your right! (where the view is) Wait until we’re at the top. Trust me, it’s worth it. It always is.

4) The Secret Passage. If I divulge too much info. . well, then it wouldn’t be the Secret Passage, now would it? I’ll allow this much; getting to paddle through this magical passageway in Heather Bay (on a Columbia Glacier day tour or overnight trip)  involves impeccable timing by the guide.

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This is what impeccable timing allows, The Secret Passage

5) Jump shots! After telling people that I am a professional jump-shot photographer, I am met with enthusiastic consent or nervous acquiescence. Either way no one has ever regretted a jump shot. It goes without saying that watching people zoom in on faces in a jump-shot photo elicits just as much delight as the photo itself.

6) When clients walk away and give me the silent treatment. It’s one of the best feelings in the world. You just go ahead and take a moment to take this all in.

7) Paddles in the air. Put your hands where I can see them, ma’am. Gets me every time. Just lights my heart right up:) Sometimes it’s solicited, but it’s the best when it happens naturally.

8) Last, but definitely not least: Celebrating the spectacularly unique and wonderful Anadyr guides (we cleverly call ourselves the Anadamily). The friends and co-workers who I have shared multiple seasons with in Valdez are like family. This family grows every season. Sure, we work hard, but we play even harder. And we dress up and dance to Elvis Crespo’s “Suavemente” (best music video ever). . and we cook fried chicken and kimchi waffles (yea, they’re delicious). . and we party on a deck with the most amazing view in town. . and we gallivant in search of adventure in our breathtaking Valdez. They are the most fun and weirdest (in the best way) group of individuals who I have ever had the pleasure of spending time with, as well as the most open-hearted and open-minded. (Seasonal guides are all a bit weird, aren’t they?) The love, passion, and playfulness that the guides (and staff. . I’m not leaving out the water taxi captains and office staff!) put into each and every kayaking trip to make it memorable for guests are sincerely inspiring. This is what I look forward to.

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Best view in town, Anadyr Adventures

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Cuddle Puddle to keep warm near Denali

Because I’m sure you’re curiosity has been piqued. . .

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Tommy’s famous chicken and kimchi waffles

Well there you have it. Still excited after all these years, and looking forward to what lucky season #8 has in store for me, the Anadamily, and all of my future kayaking guests. If you or someone you know wants to experience the beauty and wonder of Prince William Sound with me or one of the aforementioned wonderful kayaking guides in Valdez, Alaska contact me. I’d love to hear from you. Let me know which one you’d be most excited about!

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Steller Sea Lions as our kayaking chaperones, Glacier Island

Along with day trips to the area’s many glaciers and wildlife viewing hot-spots, there are wilderness lodge, mothership (sailboat), and overnight camping kayaking tours available. Check out the options here, or visit Anadyr Adventures. We also offer ACA accredited (American Canoe Association) Levels 1 and 2 Coastal Kayaking courses, which are a safe and fun way to develop kayaking skills. . in one of the most spectacular places on Earth.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post. Subscribe and stay tuned for an upcoming blog about my recent 24,000,000 centimeter kayaking expedition in Guna Yala, Panama (aka San Blas Islands) to the Colombian border! Join me and Her Odyssey for a wild Caribbean adventure. You don’t want to miss it!

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FIVE DAYS KAYAKING IN ALASKAN PARADISE

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Hélène and Bruno show off some skin, Prince William Sound

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This Steller Sea Lion shows us who’se the boss of these waters, Glacier Island

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Hélène and Bruno enjoying the ice, Columbia Bay

*This trip itinerary can be found here, and is called Glacier Island to Columbia Glacier Discovery Trip 5-Day*

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This Strawberry, Arugula Walnut Salad dwarfs the face of Columbia Glacier, Alaska

I love traveling. It runs in my family. I love seeing how other people live their lives. I love hearing about other people’s passions and what they find to be beautiful and inspiring in the world. I love hearing what makes others crack up laughing (and delighting that we are all quite similar in this department). I love catching glimpses of people living in different weather conditions, speaking different languages, eating different foods, and dancing to different music.

On this trip I loved hearing about Hélène and Bruno’s perspectives on all of the different cultures and places that they have visited.

For Hélène and Bruno (from France!) our five-day kayak camping trip together was a mini journey within a much larger journey; a journey of a greater scope that has taken them around the world (and not for the first time). Check out their blog (it’s in French) with beautiful photography and trip descriptions (and one day a blog in their own words about our trip). While I am inspired to learn about their year-long around-the-globe trips, what is most inspiring from Hélène and Bruno is the amount of time that they choose to spend in each place, be it country or state.

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Hélène and Bruno discover a waterfall, Heather Bay, Alaska

They rarely touch down for brief visits of a week or two. Much of their journey includes stays of a few months to explore, discover, and experience a place on a deeper level. One of these levels that I am grateful to have shared with them for 5 days is the beauty and wildness of a place. Alaska provides wonders for many visitors who are seeking a deeper (or different kind of) connection with their natural surroundings. Prince William Sound is where I feel this the most. It was a pure joy to see Hélène and Bruno be inspired by the majestic and impressive land- and seascapes, which grabbed hold of all of our attention. I often caught them gazing at the mountains across the sea with a look of awe on their faces. (Most people get this look.)

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Iceberg in Columbia Bay

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Paddling by the Steller Sea Lion haul-out, Glacier Island

 

 

 

 

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Hard to tell that the face of Columbia Glacier is a couple 100 ft. above the surface of the water

I hope that you have been inspired by the travels of Hélène and Bruno, as well as the spectacular Alaskan scenery. Keep traveling, whatever it is that grabs your attention and piques your senses. Share it with the world.

Contact me for information on guided multi-day trips in Alaska and Panama.

THREE SPACES AVAILABLE ON A 9-DAY KAYAKING TRIP THIS JULY 5-13. MEARES GLACIER – COLUMBIA GLACIER, PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND, ALASKA

Follow me on Instagram and Facebook @ileneinakayak. I look forward to hearing from you! Thanks for reading.

Side story: On our 3rd morning, we woke up on one side of a peninsula. As soon as I crossed to the other side of the peninsula (in Heather Bay), I was amazed by this rainbow, which at one point was indeed a TRIPLE rainbow! I ran back to get Hélène and Bruno and we all delighted in this beautiful and surprising sight.

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Hélène joyfully displaying a rainbow, Heather Bay

 

 

 

 

WHAT A TRIP: 7 Days Paddling from Columbia Glacier to Valdez, Alaska

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7-Day Glacier Island-Columbia Bay-Valdez Itinerary

Map of Itinerary

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Jack, Sarah, Miki, and I proudly sporting our Anadyr Adventures hats!

The Opportunity

When my manager asked me if I had any interest in leading the 7-day kayak camping trip to train the 3 new guides we’d be welcoming this season to Anadyr Adventures (the company that I guide for), I didn’t have to deliberate. I gave an enthusiastic “Yes, of course!” What an amazing opportunity. This trip happens at the start of every season (early May) and teaches the new guides paddling and camping skills, as well as introduces them to all of the areas in northeast Prince William Sound where we guide our clients. In addition, it’s an incredible trip that gets them excited to be working in one of the most spectacular paddling destinations in the world. Let’s begin!

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Tranquility in Shoup Bay at 11 PM, Prince William Sound, Alaska

The Itinerary

Roughly 70 miles this itinerary starts in Irish Cove, in the northwest corner of Glacier Island, and quickly rounds Iceberg Point. It follows the entire coastline of the south side of this rugged and beautiful island, which is a wildlife lovers’ paradise. This is where I had 5 Orcas surface directly underneath our kayaks in a camping trip in 2017. The south side is also where Tufted and Horned Puffins spend their summers, alongside hundreds of Steller Sea Lions at their haul-out. The Sea Lions often accompany us around the island, as they leap and twist around our boats.

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Steller Sea Lion haul-out on Glacier Island, Prince William Sound

After Glacier Island we made the 4-mile crossing to Elf Point, the southeast point of Heather Bay, where we camped for two nights. During the day we paddled the beautiful and serene Heather Bay to get into Columbia Bay, a highlight of this itinerary (and one of our most popular day tours). Columbia Bay is where icebergs float that have broken off (calved) from the face of Columbia Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in Prince William Sound. This glacier experienced much fame during it’s catastrophic retreat in the 80s and 90s. The glacier has since slowed down this retreat, however it still pumps off lots of interesting ice sculptures for us to marvel at.

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Sunrise at Elf Point, Heather Bay

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An ice-free Columbia Bay

This year brought an interesting surprise. Where was all the ice in Columbia Bay? There was none to be found! Usually this bay is filled with ice for us to paddle around. Apparently, the ice was stuck further up the bay, where it was blocked behind a constriction filled with chunks of sheet ice. It was a shame to not be able to introduce the new guides to paddling around ice on the training trip, however, days later the ice broke out of the constriction and Columbia Bay was once again filled with ice.

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Columbia Bay often looks like this

With 3 nights under our belts we headed east, paddled around Point Freemantle and spent a night in the lovely Sawmill Bay. This is one of my favorite stretches of coastline and we were lucky enough to paddle it during the lowest tide of the month. At a negative tide, the rocks were covered with life and we were delighted with thousands of different kinds of Sea Stars and seaweeds. This is also where Jack got “high-fived” by a Sea Lion. If you come to Valdez, ask him about it:)

The paddle from Sawmill Bay into Shoup Bay goes through the Valdez Narrows and along a coastline filled with glacial waterfalls. We spent our final two nights in the Shoup Lagoon, with a gorgeous view of Shoup Glacier. We paddled up to the face, where we explored and I explained how much the glacier has changed since last season, as well as historically (Shoup has gone through a couple of advance/retreat cycles in recent history). And of course took the obligatory jump shots!

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The face of Shoup Glacier

What Did We Eat?

I have to mention how good we ate out there! One of the points of the training trip is to practice our backcountry cooking skills. Each of us had to provide meals for the group. No one was disappointed or hungry on this trip. Due to dietary preferences we enjoyed a vegan menu (meat and dairy options on the side), which I will write a separate blog about with recipe ideas.

Make It Happen!

I’ve paddled this particular itinerary a few times. It’s a winner:) This is an incredible trip with lots of opportunities to experience wildlife, glaciers, and to be awed by the remote ruggedness and beauty that Prince William Sound has to offer. However, if seven days scares you off or doesn’t fit with your schedule, have no fear. This corner of the Sound has many amazing trips to offer; overnight excursions to Shoup Glacier, or longer trips to Mid-Prince William Sound’s Unakwik Inlet to see Meares Glacier. All that you have to do is check out my other Alaska itineraries and contact me to start planning your trip-of-a-lifetime. See you on the water!