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.

 

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.

 

SPACE AVAILABLE ON SEA KAYAK CAMPING TRIP IN PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND, ALASKA: SEE COLUMBIA GLACIER FACE!

JUNE 26TH – 30TH SPACE STILL AVAILABLE ON A 5-DAY SEA KAYAK CAMPING TRIP.  Join me with Anadyr Adventures on this unforgettable adventure as we paddle the rugged coastline of Glacier Island and to the face of Columbia Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in Prince William Sound, Alaska. Highlights of this new itinerary are what makes this part of Alaska so exceptional and memorable; wildlife, rugged coastline, beautiful beaches with amazing views, sea caves, paddling amongst towering icebergs, remote campsites, and seeing Columbia Glacier up-close.

The face of Columbia Glacier

Iceberg paddling in Columbia Bay

Sea Otter in Columbia Bay

Beautiful campsite

Sea Lion, Glacier Island

Puffins on Glacier Island

I will cook delicious and nutritious meals for you, as well as provide all of the camping and paddling equipment that you will need to stay comfortable, warm and dry out there. You’ll feel like you’re “glamping” in the Alaskan wilderness! That’s right. . . we’ll bring along a table and chairs! You won’t be roughin’ it too much.

Cooking up some fresh Salmon

This trip is just around the corner, so contact me today for prices and more info!

FIRST SEA KAYAK CAMPING TRIP OF THE SEASON IN PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND, ALASKA

Hello everybody! This blog is about the first camping trip of the season that I had the pleasure of guiding for Anadyr Adventures. Enjoy.

What do you do when Alaska throws almost every type of weather at you during a four-day camping trip? Let me tell you. . . You see the beauty in both the driving rain with gusts of wind, and the blue skies dappled with sunshine. You maintain a cheerful attitude, hunker down and discuss the great books you’ve read, eat delicious hot meals, drink a lot of tea, and laugh a lot!

A huge thanks goes out to Siobhan (pictured above, leaping for joy for a much-deserved sunny day in Columbia Bay), who travelled all the way from Melbourne, Australia, to join me on a sea kayak adventure. She was everything that a guide wishes for in a client and paddling partner; helpful, cheerful, funny, adventuresome, and with a “ready to rally” attitude.

Approaching the face of Shoup Glacier

Paddling past the Black-Legged Kittiwake rookery in Shoup Bay

With a less-than-ideal weather forecast for the first day of our trip, we altered the itinerary to include a night at Shoup Glacier, what we called our “bonus glacier”. We endured a bit of rain that day as we paddled to the face of this beautiful blue glacier, then enjoyed a lovely evening as the skies cleared to reveal new snow on the mountaintops.

Beautiful blue face of Shoup Glacier

Clearing skies in Shoup Bay

The previous year a young whale had washed ashore in Shoup Bay, which now offers us a unique opportunity to get up-close-and-personal with the carcass of this massive creature.

Day two we awoke to blue skies, sunshine, and a gorgeous reflection. Shoup Glacier sure does look pretty with these pleasing conditions.

What a gift of a day! We continued on to the magical south side of Glacier Island, where calm seas and light winds allowed us to explore sea caves and enjoy time at the Sea Lion haul-out, where hundreds of these gregarious animals hang out and approach our boat in playful curiosity.

Bald Eagle

We pushed on and made a four-mile crossing from Glacier Island to the south end of Heather Bay, which is right next to Columbia Bay. Tired from an exciting and full day we set up camp and enjoyed the last bit of no precipitation for a little while, as the next day we endured the brunt of a windy rainstorm. Hey, this is coastal Alaska after all!

I don’t have any photo evidence from this wet day, however Siobhan and I still rallied, put on lots of warm clothing, stuffed ourselves with hot food and drinks, and set out into the wind and rain to check out the icebergs in Columbia Bay. We paddled up Heather Bay, seeking shelter in Heather Islands’ protected coves. It took a couple of hours, but we finally managed to land on the moraine, which divides Heather and Columbia Bays. This long stretch of land is the deposit of rock, gravel, and sand left over from when this largest of tidewater glaciers in Prince William Sound (tidewater meaning the face of the glacier is sitting in the ocean) had pushed its’ face (or terminus) to this point in the bay. The glacier has since retreated off of the moraine, leaving a great place for walking, as icebergs often ground themselves in the shallows here.

Lots of ice grounded on the moraine (on a sunny day)

We returned to our camp, dried out, filled up with halibut fish tacos, and endured a bit more rainy weather from inside of our dry tents. It’s a great thing we both had good books! Having experienced all of that rain, we were overjoyed to wake up the last morning to clearing skies, which turned into a glorious sunny day. We had the rest of this beautiful day to return to Columbia Bay and paddle amongst the towering icebergs.

Siobhan is one of the lucky ones to get to see ice in both grey and sunny skies. There is a unique, dramatic blue to the ice with a grey background. And with sunny skies. . . Well, it’s simply magnificent. We must have repeated a hundred times how lucky we felt for this day.

Iceberg reflected in Columbia Bay

What a trip, filled with so many highlights. I look forward to sharing more camping trip experiences with you, as well as lots of other Alaskan adventures. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for more on the blog. Don’t forget to check out all of the wonderful trip opportunities that Ileneinakayak has to offer. Contact me and I’ll help make your Alaska and Panama dreams come true!

Tomorrow I will be preparing for a three-day sea kayaking and camping trip here in Prince William Sound, Alaska. We’ll be paddling in the serene Sawmill Bay and to the beautiful Shoup Glacier. I’m excited to get back out on the water. You can look forward to a blog post about that trip next week. Take care everybody!

Your guide!