SAY HELLO TO YOUR NEW KAYAK INSTRUCTORS IN VALDEZ, ALASKA

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Beautiful day to hit the water in Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

I’m a kayak instructor now!

Along with 4 of my kayak guide work mates, I’ve been sworn in as an official Level 2 ACA (American Canoe Association) sea kayak instructor. Our swearing-in ceremony involved many cold dunks in Kachemak Bay near Homer, Alaska. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of these frigid dunks. Just take my word for it. Brrrr. Good thing I packed enough warm layers to last me a month for our 4-day course. Having 3 sleeping bags helped too:)

The ACA is the leading organization in the U.S. for all things paddle sports. Whether you are looking to get certified as an instructor, or simply want to learn and develop skills (canoe, sea kayak, SUP, raft, white water kayak, surfski, rescue, adaptive paddling), check them out here.

I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Levi Hogan, our wonderful instructor and new paddling friend. Levi and his wife operate Turnagain Kayak (located in Hope, AK), who specialize in outfitting groups for paddling in South Central Alaska, as well as kayak instruction. Levi is a BCU (British Canoe Union) 5 Star Sea Kayak Leader and ACA Level 4 Open Water Coastal Kayak Instructor Trainer. . . he’s kind of a big deal. For those of you who don’t know what the stars or acronyms mean, essentially Levi is a badass kayaker and loves to share his skills and knowledge with others in the courses that he offers. I highly recommend him as an instructor.

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View from our campsite on Right Beach, Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

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Aidan and Jared making lunch on a sunny day, Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

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We only have a little bit of gear. . . Homer, Alaska

Five of us returning guides for Anadyr Adventures (Valdez) piled into a company van and took off on a fun road trip to Homer. It’s impressive that we didn’t end up killing each other in the van. Just kidding (?). We love each other. We spent 4 days with Levi camped at Right Beach in Halibut Cove (Kachemak Bay, less than an hour water taxi from Homer), working on refining paddling skills and teaching each other. Forward, sweep, reverse sweep, draw, sculling draw, low brace recovery, T-rescue, self rescue, towing, scoop rescue, Hand-of-God rescue. . . these are all paddling strokes and skills that we practiced and taught to each other. We also taught each other about paddling topics, such as cold water immersion, communication and signaling devices, weather and tides, and paddle and kayak design. Good stuff!

 

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On the drive to Homer, Alaska

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Black-Legged Kittiwakes fly around Gull Rocks, Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

I’m super excited to practice and teach to others the paddling skills that I’ve been developing over the past decade. As much time as I’ve spent playing and working on the water as a sea kayak guide, it’s great to take the time to slow down and go back to practicing and refining foundational paddling skills, such as the forward stroke. After this course, I feel better equipped to teach the subtleties of these foundational skills to beginner paddlers.

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Gorgeous May sunset over Kachemak Bay, Homer, Alaska

Paddle with certified instructors

. . . Which brings me to Valdez, Alaska. There are two sea kayaking companies in this beautiful coastal town. One is Anadyr Adventures, for which I am going into my 7th guiding season. Anadyr has been in operation since 1989, and is the leading tour operator when it comes to kayaking. In addition to myself, this year Anadyr welcomes back 4 returning guides, of which 3 are returning for their 4th season! That’s pretty impressive. I’m not going to say anything negative about the other kayak company, as we have a friendly and professional relationship. However, they tend to have almost all-new kayak guides each year. This says a lot about Anadyr and the level of experience, commitment, and passion that the guides have. There is a reason that we keep coming back to paddle in Prince William Sound with the same company. Simply put, we love it! For Anadyr guides, especially myself, kayak guiding is a lot more than just a summer job. Paddling is a huge part of our lives. We do it for work. We do it for fun. We talk about it all the time. And most of us are planning on continuing to work towards higher-level kayak skills and instructor certifications. So, come join us. Come paddle with certified kayak instructors in one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places in the world! Check out these amazing kayak camping itineraries for an unforgettable Alaskan adventure. We’ll see you on the water.

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We like to eat good. . . Alaska salmon with a tarragon butter sauce

LIVE THE DREAM IN 2018: GLAMPING IN ALASKA (& Panama)!

GLAMP IT UP IN 2018! Read on for my favorite glamping gear.

Glamping: the activity of camping with some of the comforts and luxuries of home. 

Okay, glamping may not be quite as cozy as a hotel room in Fairbanks. . . but it still makes you want to jump up and down for joy!

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Jumping up & down for joy in Fairbanks, Alaska

When I talk with people about the trips that I guide in Alaska and Panama, there are those who automatically envision “roughing it in the wilderness” as a miserable experience; cramped tents, sleeping and sitting on the hard ground, instant mashed potatoes every night and plain oatmeal every morning, bugs flying in their face while they’re trying to eat, standing out in the rain, etc. I completely agree with them. That sounds like a horrible way to spend a vacation. Don’t sign me up for that! (However, if this sounds like fun to you I can certainly arrange for it. Although, I’ll be dining on Alaskan salmon while you’re stuffing yourself with those instant mashies.)

However, a trip with me is oh the contrary to the bare bones misery that may have scarred your memory from a Boy or Girl Scouts trip when you were a teenager. If you haven’t done much camping (or it’s been a while), fear not! The advances in glamping equipment have brought camping trips to a whole new level of comfort and ease. A trip does not go by without guests exclaiming to me how surprised they are in the equipment that allows a level of luxury they didn’t think possible on camping trips, especially sea kayaking trips when everything has to fit into the kayaks. Actually, it’s this very fact that we’re packing into kayaks that allows us to bring along such luxuries as the following list. It’s amazing what you can squeeze into a kayak. Tables, chairs, stoves, oh my! I love showing people the wonderful items that I use to enhance their experience. Here are ileneinakayak glamping must-haves. Scroll to bottom for links of the following products.

My Top Ten Glamping Essentials for Alaska

  1. Screen House Shelter – A 4-walled bug-netting structure with a water-resistant ceiling allows us to be protected from pesky insects, without sacrificing the gorgeous view. It’s the living room of the great outdoors. (Shown in photo at top)
  2. Camp chairs – Your butt shall not make contact with the cold or wet ground,  nor shall you struggle to lift yourself from the ground!
  3. Roll-a-Table – One of the greatest glamping innovations; a firm and sturdy table with detachable legs that rolls into a neat bundle with a handle. It only takes about 1 minute to set up and break down.
  4. A kitchen with all the bells and whistles – I don’t skimp on my kitchen, as this is where the magic happens:) I love having a single-burner camp stove (MSR Whisperlite), which boils water very quickly, and a two-burner stove to cook on. I cook with a full set of pots and pans, cooking utensils, plates, bowls, cups, cutlery, cutting boards, sharp knives, sponge, dish soap, and yes, even napkins. There’s not much that I can’t do in this outdoor kitchen. I would not consider a trip in Alaska to be complete without dishing up wild Alaskan seafood.
  5. French Press – To make the finest cup of coffee that you’ll ever enjoy gazing at a glacier.
  6. Thermos – I’m talking about a stainless steel 8-cup thermos, that allows piping hot tea and hot chocolate (and mid-day coffee) to be served up in an instant, 12 hours after I’ve boiled the water. I worship the thermos for dish washing too.  Have you ever tried washing bacon grease from a plate using glacier water? Exasperating!
  7. Self-inflating sleeping pads – A far cry from the thin foam pads of yore. These fill up with air on their own, insulate you from cold ground, as well as provide cushy comfort for a well-deserved sleep after a day of paddling.
  8. Roomy tents – If you come on a trip with a friend or your sweetheart, you’ll get a spacious 4-person tent. Solo? You’ll luxuriate in a 2-person tent. This gives you enough space for you and your gear.
  9. Rain tarps – No, I will not have you standing out in the rain! I bring along a number of different sizes of tarps, and can set them up quickly during lunch and rest breaks. If it rains, I’ll keep you dry out there!
  10. Soft food coolers – These allow me the ability to pack all of my food in an organized fashion. From glass jars of sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives, and capers to fresh Prince William Sound prawns and salmon, and cartons of Half-and-Half, these coolers protect what’s inside and keep things cool.

There you have it. . . glamping like a pro in Alaska! Stay dry, stay cozy, stay comfortable, stay well-rested, well-fed, and well-caffeinated in style.

Here’s a few photos of glamping in the Caribbean in Panama. A lot of the trips there involve the addition of a motorized boat that accompanies us, which opens up the glamping possibilities beyond your wildest dreams! Take a look:

Inspired to come glamping with me? Contact me. I’d love to hear from you. What are your favorite glamping essentials?

Links for glamping gear

No, I’m not sponsored by these companies (although I wouldn’t say no to that). These are all items and companies that I have used as an outdoor enthusiast and professional sea kayak guide for many years. There are lots of other great options out there, and I will continue to search for and test out (then inform you about) new products and companies, especially those who can say “Made in USA, and who implement Earth-friendly practices. Please share your knowledge/suggestions in this regard. The following are simply what I trust and recommend.

  1. REI Screen House Shelter
  2. REI Flexlite Camp Chair and Camp Time Roll-a-Stool (Made in USA! Camp Time also sells brand new blemished bargains)
  3. Camp Time Roll-a-Table (Made in USA!)

    I am in love with this!

  4. Glamping kitchen: GSI: Cookware, Stoves, Utensils, Dinnerware, & Camp Furniture, MSR: Tents, Stoves, Cookware, and Water Treatment, and Coleman: Pretty much all things camping (I love this Fold-and-Go Stove)
  5. French press: GSI Portable JavaPress
  6. Thermos: Stanley Stainless Steel Thermoses
  7. Sleeping pads: Therm-a-Rest Sleeping Pads
  8. Tents: Mountain Hardware Tents and MSR Tents
  9. Rain tarps: I use the Mountain Equipment Co-op Scout Tarp for an emergency, lunch, and rest break tarp. It is a Canadian company. The best heavy-duty rain tarp that I ever had the pleasure of using on a 3-week sea kayaking expedition in Haida Gwaii (aka Queen Charlotte Islands, B.C., Canada) is the La Caverne from another Canadian company called Chlorophylle. When I contacted the company wanting to purchase one for myself (Sept 2017), I was told that they were only shipping to Canada. If you can find a Canadian address, this tarp is well worth it! I guess Canada knows their rain tarps, eh?
  10. Soft food coolers: NRS soft food coolers

Here is an article that I enjoyed entitled 10 Must-Haves From Brands That Make the Earth a Better Place.

Thanks for reading. Please share this blog with anyone who might like it. Or maybe you’ve been trying to convince your partner or friends to come camping with you, but haven’t been successful yet. This is the perfect article to nudge them in the direction of glamping enlightenment:) Glamp on!

 

 

 

NOLS WILDERNESS FIRST RESPONDER, AT YOUR SERVICE

Before I launch into who and what NOLS is. . . enjoy some photos of friends, clients, and me over the years (they go as far back as 2008, when I was but a wee one) in beautiful and remote places, partaking in what my mom would consider dangerous activities. Ok, she would think only some of them were dangerous. Now when you look at these, I want you to imagine “What could possibly go wrong?” (Absolutely nothing went wrong in any of these, by the way. . . except for one of them. More on that later. But I still want you to imagine, just to get in the mood for this blog;)

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Haines, Alaska

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Misdup, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Some island, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Aaron, bless his heart, Skaha, Penticton, British Columbia, Canada

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Somewhere snowy in British Columbia, Canada

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Underneath the Root Glacier, Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, Alaska

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Misdup, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Some island, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Misdup, Guna Yala, Caribbean, Panama

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Columbia Bay, Prince William Sound, Alaska

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Lago Serrano, Patagonia, Chile

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Somewhere icy in British Columbia, Canada

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Rio Serrano, Patagonia, Chile

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Worthington Glacier, Valdez, Alaska

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Somewhere snowy in British Columbia, Canada

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Somewhere rocky in Canada or the U.S.

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Quadra Island, British Columbia, Canada

If you’re like my mom (or grandma) you’re probably feeling a bit nervous looking at some of these photos, even though I already assured you that nothing went wrong in any of them (except for that one. . more on that later). But if you are feeling nervous, that’s good! That means you followed directions and thought “What could possibly go wrong?” The truth is that any number of things could have gone awry in any of these photos. Some of them involved awfully sharp objects. . . some mighty long falls. . . some coooold water. But another truth is that there’s a lot of fun to be had in amazing and remote (or not so remote, nor so amazing) places. I’m not gonna stop doing this stuff! However, there are many ways that I, as a professional guide, can commit to mitigate the risks and consequences if something were to go awry. One of these ways is to educate myself in the wonderful ways of wilderness medical training.

And now there’s this:

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What ya got goin’ on there, Naomi? Victoria, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Now for a little background: NOLS stands for National Outdoor Leadership School. Founded in Wyoming in 1965, it is a global nonprofit wilderness school that educates students around the world in leadership, wilderness skills, and risk management. You can participate in courses anywhere from 6 days Canyoneering in Utah, to 135 days in Patagonia. Rock climbing, sailing, backpacking, ski touring, sea kayaking, mountaineering, ice climbing. . . the list goes on.

(Don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten to get back to that one photo.)

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This is not an ad, even though it sure does look like one

I participated in a 3-month NOLS Semester Program in 2008 in Patagonia, Chile. Prior to embarking on consecutive month-long remote mountaineering and sea kayaking expeditions, we started off with a ten-day (80-hour) Wilderness First Responder (WFR) Course to learn the best practices for responding to medical situations (and emergencies) in a wilderness setting. For most of that program, we were more than a days travel to definitive care (and that would be if the horses could gallop!). A WFR course teaches students invaluable skills in how to prevent, determine, and take care of almost any medical situation “in the field” with the limited resources available (think of you with a med kit the size of a loaf of bread, ski poles, ice axes, and sleeping bags in lieu of a hospital filled with doctors, unlimited medical supplies, crutches, and a hospital bed). I’ll never forget the lesson on how to relieve testicular torsion. Unfortunately, no photo available. Yikes!

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Me on my NOLS course, Somewhere in Patagonia, Chile

I also learned in my WFR course how to make good decisions regarding evacuations and group/risk management. In a wilderness setting I’m dealing with a lot more than simply a client with a belly ache. I’m dealing with the rest of the group, inclement weather, difficult terrain to accomplish a safe evacuation, spotty or non-existent communication with the “outside” world, and limited resources. Questions that WFR course instructors have drilled into my head are 1) Can this person stay on the trip, or do they need to be evacuated? 2) If they need to be evacuated, how and how quickly? I can’t just dial 911 (on my cell that has no service) and wait ten minutes for an ambulance with a team of medical professionals to whisk away my client who is complaining of abdominal pain. I am taught to become a detective to try to solve a medical mystery. However, more importantly, I know that it’s not necessarily essential that I figure out precisely what the cause of the mystery abdominal pain is, but I do need to make a decision and act on it. KC needs to go asap! I need to wrap her in a sleeping bag so she stays warm, keep talking to her to provide comfort and to monitor her, and use my satellite device to contact the office to get a helicopter here right now, as well as make sure that the rest of my group is warm, safe, and not freaking out. (This scenario is a true story, by the way. My co-guide, KC, got evacuated via helicopter from Columbia Bay on the last day of a 5-day sea kayaking trip in Prince William Sound, Alaska. From the moment she first approached me complaining of severe abdominal pain, to the moment that she landed at the hospital in Valdez, about 1.5 hours had passed. Not bad. Plus she got a heli ride over the largest tidewater glacier in the Sound out of it. She was fine, by the way.)

Here is a link to a DeLorme Satellite Communication device, similar to the one that I take on every trip. This is what saved us after it became clear that my VHF radio communication wasn’t going to do the trick. I highly recommend one of these communication devices. It could save your life, or the life of someone who you care about.

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My friend, Naomi, checks my pulse during my first WFR Recert. course in Victoria, B.C., Canada

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Naomi practicing building splints during our WFR Recert. course in Victoria, B.C., Canada (ex-boyfriends can come in handy)

 

Now that I’ve been guiding professionally since 2010, and have dealt with medical situations, as well as evacuations, I see the value in fostering these decision-making skills. I know that it’s negligent of me to walk away after giving someone a cup of water whose breathing is labored and who is the color of a lobster, sitting directly underneath a bunch of coconuts on a tropical island. I’m a WFR! And along with that comes the responsibility to treat this person to the best of my ability. You never know who (and in what condition) you are going to come across out there.

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The splint that earned me my first WFR Recert., Victoria, B.C., Canada

 

To keep up with my skills and to continue honing them, as well as to keep my WFR certification current, I take a NOLS Wilderness Medicine Recertification course (3-day, 24-hour) every two years. These courses are scenario-based, which is the best way to get as much practice as possible responding to medical situations. This past October I completed my 4th course in Salt Lake City, Utah. These courses, often in beautiful locations, are challenging, fun, and a great way to meet others working as outdoor professionals. I highly recommend them. In fact, being a WFR is a requirement for a lot of jobs in the outdoor industry. Even if you don’t work in the outdoor industry, but you spend time in the outdoors (or not even), I still recommend taking a Wilderness Medicine course, or First Aid. There are varying levels of courses, depending on how far you want to take your training.

So get out there and get educated. Visit NOLS and NOLS Wilderness Medicine to learn more and to find courses, as well as for resources to assemble your own adventure medical kit (very important!). NOLS has a lot of other great activities and environmental initiatives going on as well, so check ’em out!

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Lenticular Clouds on my NOLS course, Somewhere in Patagonia, Chile

To all of you Ileneinakayak prospective clients, rest (and paddle) assured that I, your guide, will be up-to-date with my wilderness medical training.

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Keepin’ it safe! Canadian Rockies, Alberta, Canada

 

Here are some photos from the NOLS Wilderness Medicine website to give you more of an idea of the fun that awaits you on these courses.

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My official NOLS WFR Seal of Approval

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My official Alaskan Seals of Approval

Oh yea, I almost forgot! The one photo at the beginning of this blog where something actually did go awry is the one with. . . . actually, you have to write in the blog comments which photo you think it is and what you think happened. I’ll mail the winner something cool! Good luck:)

 

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:)

AN ODE TO ICE: AN ALASKAN PADDLER’S RESPONSE TO THE MASSIVE ANTARCTIC ICE CALVING

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.”

The 2,300 square mile iceberg that broke free from the Larsen C Ice Shelf in Antarctica          Photo credit: John Sonntag/NASA

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.

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The iconic Columbia Glacier

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.

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What a beauty! Columbia Bay

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!”

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The face of Shoup Glacier

Check out this video from my YouTube Channel of kayaking in Columbia Bay.

 

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Photographing ice on the moraine 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.

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Peering into an ice chasm at the Valdez Glacier

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.

 

A 5-DAY ALASKAN SEA KAYAKING ADVENTURE TO THE FACE OF COLUMBIA GLACIER

Preface: Enjoy this blog about an unforgettable adventure. Stick it out to the end to see my top two all-time favorite icebergs, and find out what finally merited busting out the emergency tequila:)

Photo is so nice, I had to use it twice. Cheers!

For five days in a row I awoke to the sound of two Brits giggling in their tent. That’s right. . . giggling like school children! (I don’t think they’d mind me saying so.) As I lit the stove to boil water for coffee, gazing out over the ice-filled bay in front of Columbia Glacier, I thought giddily to myself, “somewhere along the line I must’ve made a really good decision if this is what I do for my life’s work”!

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Our vessels of choice at our campsite in Columbia Bay

 

Double-bladed adventurers in Columbia Bay

I get to share with wonderful people the most beautiful places in the world using my favorite mode of transportation, sea kayaks. This trip, a five-day kayak and camping expedition starting on the south side of Glacier Island and finishing off with three amazing days exploring the recently-revealed landscape at the face of Columbia Glacier, was one of the best yet! A huge thank you and enthusiastic cheers goes out to my two clients, Rob and Anya, who just happened to squeeze in this kayak adventure amidst their lengthy motorcycle tour starting in Washington. Umm, yea. . . they’re kind of badasses on two wheels. Now they can proudly say they’re badasses with double-bladed paddles.

This is Alaska. . . coastal Alaska, so there’s no shame in saying that we experienced some pretty wet and cold conditions, however this was supplemented with sporadic sightings of what we called the strange yellow orb in the sky. No harm done though, as we equipped and dressed ourselves for the occasion. Anya made some important discoveries that wearing two pairs of wet weather gear is considered a norm. Well, why wouldn’t you wear two pairs of rain pants and two rain jackets? And this is where the impressive amount of giggling came into play. Rob and Anya maintained lively spirits, adventurous attitudes, and senses of humor that would have anyone laughing up a storm in any weather conditions. Yellow orb in the sky or not, the three of us had a blast!

Interestingly, both Rob and Anya were reading accounts of polar expeditions, and even though we might have been in cold and damp conditions, their daily updates of expedition parties having to winter in Polar pack ice, put into perspective how plush we had it. After all, we didn’t have to worry about getting scurvy or having to kill marine mammals to eat. In fact, Anya often commented on my seemingly bottomless “Mary Poppins-esque food bags”, from which I pulled out many a fresh vegetable and Prince William Sound delicacies, such as Sockeye Salmon fillets and Cod. We even ran into such good fortune (literally we ran into my friend’s boat as he was chucking shrimp heads into the water) as to receive the delicious gift of fresh Prawns. Now that was a sweet treat!

Doesn’t get much fresher than this!

I swear, there is a tent under all of those tarps

View from my sleeping bag. . . not bad

Preparing lunch under the strange yellow orb in the sky, Columbia Bay

Mountain Goats, from our kayaks, Columbia Bay

Along with spending time in the kitchen tent stuffing our faces with my delicious homemade meals, and getting warm and dry, we enjoyed many of the things that make a sea kayak expedition in Prince William Sound such a special and unique experience. We delighted in many wildlife sightings, such as a dozen Mountain Goats that we watched from our kayaks in Columbia Bay. We paddled past the Sea Lion haul-out on Glacier Island to enjoy these gregarious creatures, as well as saw lots of Tufted and Horned Puffins flying in and out of the sea caves that they nest in. Unfortunately, I couldn’t snap a photo of the flying birds. And, of course, we saw quite a few Harbor Seals and the adorable Sea Otter.

The grand finale, the show piece, the main exhibit, the pièce de résistance (you get the idea). . . Paddling through ice to land at a very recently-exposed beach (i.e. one year, as the glacier has retreated back up onto land in this area) between two branches of Columbia Glacier to scramble up rocks like Mountain Goats to set foot on the glacier and glimpse a view of the impressively expansive ice field. Run-on sentence? You betcha. Incredible experience that not many people have had nor will have (unless, of course, you book this trip with me)? Absolutely. This was actually my first time exploring this new terrain along with Rob and Anya, which made the excitement level exceptionally high. I’ve been known to get pretty giddy when I’m seeing something for the first time out there.

Standing on Columbia Glacier

That view from the top!

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Recently-exposed landscape at the face of Columbia Glacier

 

Looking back at Columbia Bay from on top of the glacier

Yes, that’s right, we luxuriated in Columbia Glacial Facials.

Gettin’ that baby’s bottom smooth skin

Now, as prefaced, I must share with you my second all-time favorite iceberg that I’ve ever encountered. Want to see my number one? I bet you do. Just look at it. My number one. We happened upon this beautiful piece of ice on the return paddle from the glacier face to camp. Rob and Anya had to pretty much pull me away from this beautiful iceberg.

The only way we could think to celebrate such an exciting day at the face of the largest tidewater glacier in Prince William Sound. . . Bust out the emergency tequila!

CHEERS!

Our fifth and final day, we paddled back down Columbia Bay, enjoying more ice and a waterfall. I will never tire of paddling around ice.

Getting drops on the camera at the waterfall in Heather Bay

The 12′ x 12′ Arctic Oven tent, my home-away-from-home-away-from-home

Well, there you go. How’s that for a memorable trip? After a five-day expedition of any sort most people want to shower, wash clothes, eat, and sleep. Rob and Anya gloriously completed the first three, then were adventurous (and surprisingly awake) enough to cram into the backseat of a car, drive out of town, and assist me in setting up my Arctic Oven, which is a 12′ x 12′ tent with a wood stove in it. Yea, it’s that plush in there. Upon completion of set-up we hauled four lawn chairs into it, cranked the stove, and commenced a giggle-fest about funny American and British terms.  I guess we all say the darndest things. Rob and Anya, you two are always welcome to come party in my vestibule:)

 

 

 

 

Thank you so much for reading. Check out my other blogs about exciting trips in both Alaska and Panama. Stay tuned for the next post. I will be paying homage to the beautiful and mesmerizing ice that I am fortunate enough to see and paddle around day after day. This is my way to commemorate the gigantic iceberg that recently broke free from the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula. Read more about this massive iceberg from NPR and NASA. And check out the video from The Guardian.

The massive crack first opened up in the Larsen C ice shelf back in 2014; by the end of last week, a roughly 3-mile sliver of ice was all that connected the iceberg to the shelf.
John Sonntag/NASA

As upset as some people might be from news like this, I grow more motivated and inspired by the opportunities to see ice, to paddle around ice, to photograph ice, and to touch the ice that is in my backyard of Valdez and Prince William Sound, Alaska. I do not take places like Columbia Glacier for granted, and I hope that you too, like Rob and Anya, will make the trip to Alaska to paddle around with me in the splendor of ice.

 

ANOTHER AMAZING SEA KAYAK CAMPING TRIP IN PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND, ALASKA

There are lots of waterfalls to see from your kayak

Evan and Katie enjoying the scenery

Greetings! I’ve been busy the past two weeks with lots of paddling (obviously), including two camping trips. This post is about one of them; another sea kayak camping trip with amazing clients, memories and scenery. Thank you to Evan and Katie, who joined me from Fairbanks for a three-day adventure out on Prince William Sound. Experienced backpackers and campers, these two wanted to get more experience in a sea kayak.

We began our trip right from the small boat harbor in Valdez, as Evan and Katie learned how to efficiently pack a sea kayak. We experienced a bit of a headwind for the first couple of hours as we made our way to Shoup Bay. They hung in there and we made it to the Inner Shoup Bay, where a view of Shoup Glacier made our efforts well worth it!

The beautiful Shoup Glacier

We set up camp right in front of the glacier, then hiked up to the face to explore and take a closer look at all the cool features there. Katie had said that all she wanted was to touch the glacier. So, of course, that is what we did! Shoup used to be a tidewater glacier, meaning the face (or terminus) sat in the sea water. The glacier has since retreated onto land again, allowing us the special opportunity to walk around at the face. We found a beautiful cave with a pool of water inside of it, pouring out as a powerful waterfall from underneath the glacier.

Making their way up to touch that glacier!

Exploring the lateral moraine of Shoup Glacier

Although I am missing the photo (I got distracted and forgot), we dined on salmon with a buttery tarragon sauce that I made, with rice and steamed broccoli. There’s no reason not to eat gourmet out there! With a screen tent to keep bugs and inclement weather out, a table and chairs, I feel as if we’re “glamping” out there. Sipping on cocktails and hot drinks from our comfy camp chairs, watching the glacier and snow-capped mountains, I don’t think any of us felt as if we were “roughin’ it” out there! We stayed up as late as we could (not very), laughing and telling our best adventure stories.

Day two we bid farewell to Shoup Glacier and paddled to our next destination, the lovely and serene Sawmill Bay. The coastline from Shoup to Sawmill is one of the prettiest in the port of Valdez, with many cascading waterfalls pouring thousands of feet from the glaciers above. We beat the afternoon winds through the Valdez Narrows and made it into Sawmill Bay earlier than expected, allowing us more time to relax and enjoy a short hike along the clear stream next to our campsite.

There are many waterfalls between Shoup and Sawmill Bays

Our third and final morning, we dined on a special culinary creation of S’mores Pancakes! We were glamping, after all. Katie loves s’mores (in fact, she carried her own stash on the trip), so I enjoyed whipping up this special breakfast that I had never made before. I think I’ll be making those again:) We then explored the rest of Sawmill Bay, enjoying the tranquility of floating in the calm waters, surrounded by mountains and watching wildlife from our boats. We saw lots of Bald Eagles being chased by brave Seagulls, as well as a Hooded Merganser with her following of eight little chicks. And Katie even got to enjoy a few hours of the freedom of solo paddling! It brought me a lot of joy to see her so excited to be in her own boat, able to go wherever she pleased. Perhaps two single kayaks are in the future for Evan and Katie:)

So cheers to another wonderful sea kayak camping trip in Prince William Sound. Thank you for reading and stay tuned for more exciting blogs from ileneinakayak. The next one (in a few days) will be about the other sea kayak camping trip that I most recently returned from; a five-day adventure from Glacier Island all the way up to the face of Columbia Glacier with two hilarious San Franciscan Brits. You won’t want to miss that one! Here’s a sneak peak of Rob and Anya standing on the mighty Columbia Glacier (a place where not many have stood before), looking south into Columbia Bay. They look pretty happy!

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