TEAMWORK MAKES THE DREAM WORK: 9-day kayaking trip to Columbia Glacier

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Tranquil evening in front of Columbia Glacier

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Day 1 of 9, Unakwik Inlet, Prince William Sound

“Teamwork makes the dreamwork!” Corny? You betcha! However, it’s a fantastic motto to live by on any paddling trip (and life). I can’t imagine this trip without my paddling companions, Evan and Katie, who flew into Valdez for this kayaking adventure. (I guided this trip with Anadyr Adventures.) But first, a little backstory, as this was not our first Alaskan adventure together:) The following photos are from our 2017 trip together.

 

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Katie & Evan exploring the salmon stream in Sawmill Bay, 2017

My luck started last year when I guided Katie and Evan on their first multi-day kayaking trip (a 3-day), in which we fought the wind from Valdez harbor to Shoup Bay (it was a pretty wild first experience, yet they did amazing). We camped right in front of Shoup Glacier, then paddled to the serene Sawmill Bay the following day. Read my blog about that trip here. They discovered how much they love sea kayaking. I hooked ’em! We kept in touch throughout the year and how thrilled was I when Katie wrote with the good news that they wanted to do another LONGER trip with me this season!

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Enjoying Sockeye salmon with a tarragon, lemon & butter garlic sauce, Unakwik Inlet

Paddling to the face of two tidewater glaciers in Prince William Sound was the new goal, which is normally a 7-day trip. To my good fortune, it wasn’t that difficult to convince them to add another 2 days to make this a 9-day expedition. All that I had to do was agree enthusiastically with Katie when she proposed the idea of adding more days. Preparations began (putting together the gear and creating a menu plan) and before we knew it July 5th arrived. We departed in beautiful sunshine. After a few minutes of paddling, we all wished that we had packed tank tops. I think it got into the 70’s. Who woulda thought?

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Home for the first 2 nights, Unakwik Inlet

DAYS 1 – 3

We got dropped off at the mouth of Miner’s Bay, on the east side of Unakwik Inlet, (mid-Prince William Sound, about 40 miles west of Valdez). We spent the first two nights at this gorgeous camp, which allowed us to spend our entire 2nd day at the face of Meares Glacier, where we basked in rays of sunshine.

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Paddling to the face of Meares Glacier, Unakwik Inlet

Holy moly. All that sunshine caused the glacier to become quite active. We witnessed a huge calving! An apartment-sized chunk let loose just as we arrived onto a rock overlook for lunch. After freaking out just a little (it was so amazing), we headed for higher ground, while the rock overlook got splashed from the waves. It’s a good thing that I had anticipated such an event, therefore carried our boats high up the beach.

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Lunch spot, Meares Glacier, Unakwik Inlet

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Katie & Evan enjoying Meares Glacier, Unakwik Inlet

Along with being mesmerized by the glacier and mountains, we saw dozens of Harbor Seals in the water and on top of the ice. The face of the glacier is quite protected for seals to give birth to their pups. I was excited to discover blood on the ice from the birth of a Harbor Seal pup.

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Then we got a wee bit of precipitation. . . DAYS 4 – 6

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A little friend (Black-Tailed Sitka Deer)

No photos actually exist from these few days. NOT because we didn’t have a lot of fun. . . oh, we still maintained a high level of fun and hilarity (boisterous merriment, if you will), however no photos captured these good times. We hunkered down in the beautiful Cedar Bay, nestled on the muskeg surrounded by the tall snow-covered peaks of the Chugach Mountains. It truly was a beautiful spot. . . just a bit on the wet side. Thank goodness for rubber boots:) We hung out in the screen tent, which serves as the kitchen/dining/living room. We played Farkle (a dice game) for hours and hours. . . told stories. . . listened to music. . . ate large amounts of hot food. . . and Katie fell in love with hot water bottles, which I happily made for her to cuddle and sleep with.

On our 6th day the weather improved a bit and we were able to bid farewell to Cedar Bay, our haven in the storm. We made it surprisingly quickly to Fairmount Bay, and set up camp near Granite Point, where we continued to play Farkle while Katie’s love for the hot water bottle blossomed.

DAY 7. . . The magical bump from Captain Scott

With conditions a bit too rough for us kayakers to round Granite Point, we got picked up by Anadyr manager and boat captain, Scott. He brought us a resupply of food, dry tents, and smiles from town. A boat bump later we found ourselves in Columbia Bay, set up to spend our last few days near the face of the largest tidewater glacier in Prince William Sound (cue the dramatic orchestra). . Columbia Glacier.

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Looking down on the face of Columbia Glacier

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Paddling to the face of Columbia Glacier

The sunshine returned. We dried ourselves out and with inflated spirits spent an entire day on an adventure which allowed us one of the most incredible views that any of us had ever seen. No exaggeration here! It was unanimous. With the retreat of Columbia, a new beach provides access to climb above the glacier and to see a large part of the Chugach Icefield. (I feel obliged to encourage people to go with an experienced guide on outings such as this.) Our climbing efforts paid off and we spent hours gazing and contemplating our spectacular view. Of course we took some jumpshots too!

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Speechless above Columbia Glacier. Yes, Evan carried his REI camp chair up there:)

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Katie and I show our excitement, Columbia Glacier (it only took about 6 tries to get this shot)

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Photos can’t do justice to the view that we enjoyed, Columbia Glacier

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Katie & Evan paddling through brash ice back to camp, Columbia Bay

What an incredible adventure! It’s not often that I get to guide such a long trip, and paddle to the face of two tidewater glaciers. In fact, you can read my blog from the only other 9-day trip that I’ve guided with Anadyr here. My blogging skills have certainly improved since 2014:)

As the title of this blog states, I am extremely grateful for the enthusiasm, sense of humor, positive energy, and support of Katie and Evan. We worked as a team to accomplish everything on this trip. Yes, I was the guide. However, we shared the sentiment that we were all in the adventure together, and that supporting each other was important for the success of the trip. Plus, it made it so much more fun. The giggles could be heard from afar, I’m sure:) From packing their own boat, to carrying the kayaks, helping to chop vegetables, and even setting up my tent(!!), Katie and Evan helped create a dream team to make this one of the greatest adventures that any of us has been on. I’m excited for the next one!

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Our last night, 11PM sunset over Columbia Glacier and the Chugach Mountains

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The Farkle Dream Team (Evan, Katie & me), Columbia Bay, 2018

I hope that you enjoyed reading about this 9-day kayaking adventure. More blogs to come from summers in Alaska and winters in Panama. Stay tuned. Feel free to contact me, especially if you’d like to talk about paddling.

PS. We did see two Humpback Whales on this trip (no photos), lots of Harbor Seals, Bald Eagles, and Sea Otters, along with a multitude of birds and ducks. Plus, we had lunch with that adorable Black-Tailed Sitka Deer. That was pretty neat:)

PPS. I also want to make it known that we ate fresh Prince William Sound prawns. . . lots of them, to Evan’s chagrin and Katie’s and my delight!

 

 

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!

 

MILLENNIALS EXPLORE ALASKA BY KAYAK

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Frolicking in front of Shoup Glacier

The title of this blog might sound like the newest action-packed (with some romance, of course) film coming to a theater near you. I hope you won’t be let down that it is about three different three-day sea kayaking trips that I had the pleasure of guiding here in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Yes, the trips were action-packed and yes, some of the clients probably enjoyed some romance. I’m here to share some of the highlights from these great trips.

This three-day sea kayaking trip starts and finishes in beautiful Valdez, which offers a glorious coastline to paddle. What makes this trip so wonderful? Old-growth forest, rushing waterfalls, colorful wildflowers, juicy Blueberries and Salmonberries to eat, Bald Eagles diving for jumping salmon, serene bays, snow-capped peaks, adorable Sea Otters and curious Harbor Seals, and the holy grail of exploring the magnificently blue and alive Shoup Glacier.

Look at all of those millennials having such a good time! I’m a millennial myself, so it was really fun (and entertaining. . . I mean, we understood the same social references, and could quote the same movies!) to share what I love with people around my own age. It was also inspiring to see my cohort getting out in the world and exploring amazing places, such as Prince William Sound, partaking in an adventure they might not have ever done before, such as an overnight sea kayaking trip near a glacier.

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Waking up to new snow on the mountaintops in Shoup Bay

This string of three trips in a row were with 100% millennials. Gosh, I hope that I’m right about that. If not, I’m in trouble. Although it should definitely be taken as a compliment if I thought that people were younger than they actually are:) People often ask me who are the clients who do camping trips with me. “Really, kind of everybody, except for babies and geriatrics. I’m talking really geriatric. . . like 90’s. I’ve had a handful of 12-year-olds who did amazingly well on long paddle days, as well as a 12-year-old who was the only one of us to sleep through a torrential downpour that lasted for 15 minutes in the middle of the night in a hammock. On a few of my trips the strongest group of paddlers were within the ages of 55-75! For those of you who have gone on a trip with me in Guna Yala, and know what a paddling beast Nemesio is (I always tell every single client that if they can even keep up with Nemesio. . not pass him. . simply keep up with him, that they would be the first to do so). And the 75-year-old was the one in the group to paddle the closest to Nemesio for the entire trip. Very impressive. My first day trip of this season I was in the back of a boat with an 89-year-old woman traveling around Alaska for a couple of months by herself. So, my answer to that question of who are my clients is quite varied. However, these three trips definitely tip the clientele in favor of millennials.

One of the coolest perks of a job that takes you to the same places throughout the season is that you get to see the fascinating changes that occur, especially at such a dynamic environment as a glacier. Glaciers are often where the “adventure-packed” part of a trip occurs. We get to witness the ice shifting and changing. (Below photos) The “after” photo on the right was taken a couple of weeks after the “before” photo on the left. Pretty cool.

So millennials: here’s to you. . . (here’s to us) and your young, energetic professionalism that allows you to travel the world and do awesome things, like a three-day sea kayaking adventure with an equally energetic guide!

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Happy Hour on local hand-picked free range glacial ice:)