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!

 

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:)

 

PACK YOUR BAGS. PANAMA IS WHERE IT’S AT! (part 1)

Guides

Kayak guides celebrating another season

Hi there! It’s been a while. The end of my 6th season sea kayak guiding in Alaska sadly came to an end a few weeks ago. What an amazing season filled with adventure, wonderful clients, and exciting camping trips. The other kayak guides are all off to start new and exciting chapters of their lives. Whether staying in Valdez to enjoy backcountry skiing and ice climbing, which Valdez is a world class destination, or venturing off to Idaho, California, Utah, New Zealand, or Central and South America, we all share a tight bond formed in Prince William Sound.

 

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Dalton and I topping out in City of Rocks, Idaho

As for me: Since I’ve left Alaska I have been road tripping with a fellow kayak guide through Washington, Idaho and Utah, mostly rock climbing (Leavenworth, WA and City of Rocks, ID) and hotspringing (Idaho is amazing for this!). I am currently in Park City, Utah, recertifying my Wilderness First Responder (medical training). As much as I love sea kayaking, the shoulder season sure is fun, when I get to experience other places and activities!

PANAMA, HERE I COME!

I’m getting excited for the upcoming paddling season in Panama. There is still space on an all-inclusive 9-day sea kayak and yoga retreat. This is a wonderful opportunity for people of all experience levels to escape to warm, tropical sea breezes and to do something healthy and nourishing to welcome 2018! This trip explores both Caribbean and Pacific coasts and also includes touring a scenic area of Panama City, stand-up paddling, snorkeling, and a visit to the famous Panama Canal. Contact me for more information (but hurry, as it’s right around the corner and space is limited!).

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Here are some scenes that await you in Panama!

WANT TO EXPERIENCE MORE OF PANAMA?

I figured that most people who join this trip will travel from pretty far away and will want to extend their stay in Panama, which is an incredible and diverse country that has a variety of unique and beautiful areas with fun activities to check out. I’ve been going to Panama since 2010, and each visit I discover new places that I love, as well as make annual trips to my favorite spots, where I’ve developed close connections with the people there. Here are a few of my favorite discoveries. (It was hard to choose just a few.)


GET YOUR CITY FIX: PANAMA CITY

Most likely you’ll fly into Tocumen International Airport, and it’s worth it to spend a couple of days exploring this modern and colorful city, located right on the Pacific Coast.

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Panama City

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Fishing boats at the Mercado del Mariscos

The yoga/sea kayak retreat does include some of the best-to-do in Panama City, including a visit to the famous Panama Canal and museum, as well as an overnight and farewell dinner in Casco Viejo (a charming “Old City” on the waterfront, also where the President resides). More time spent in this area offers visits to historical sites, churches, museums, theaters, beautiful plazas, galleries, and some of the best options to dine on Panamanian cuisine and to shop for traditional crafts from all over Panama. There are many colorful craft markets to enjoy. One of my favorite spots is the Mercado Del Mariscos (Seafood Market), where you can eat as much fresh seafood as you like, while you watch fishing boats bring in the fresh catch-of-the-day, while Pelicans dive all over the place. I like to sample the different kinds of ceviche. This is extremely popular for both tourists and Panamanians.

I have spent hours strolling along the Cinta Costera, a long path right along the coast, which is very popular among Panamanians to spend time with their families, as well as a popular biking, jogging, and exercising strip. The Cinta, as it is often referred, will take you all the way to the Amador Causeway, a narrow land-bridge, built with rocks excavated during the construction of the Panama Canal, that connects the continent with four islands next to the Pacific Ocean entrance to the Canal. Here you will find lots of restaurants, shops, and the Biomuseo, the Biodiversity Museum (the colorful building in the bottom left photo).

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Amador Causeway

 

If you’d like to take in great views of the city, as well as get exercise and see wildlife without leaving the city, head to the Parque Metropolitano, which is an unspoilt tract of tropical rainforest that is home to more than two hundred species of birds and mammals, including Geoffroy’s tamarin monkeys, white-tailed deer, sloths and agoutis.

Beautiful vista in El Parque Metropolitano


HEAD TO THE MOUNTAINS: SANTA FE

If cool mountain air, more solitude, and adventure is your style, head to Santa Fe in the province of Veraguas, about 5 hours from Panama City. I love this small mountain town and make a trip here each year. Some of the activities here are swimming, rafting or tubing down one of the many unspoiled rivers (lots of waterfalls!), horseback riding, hiking through virgin rain forest as far as the Caribbean coast, birding, and visiting organic (coffee, flowers, and produce) farms and orchid gardens.

Whenever I’m in Santa Fe I love to stay at Hostal La Qhia, a beautiful mountain retreat, which offers tranquil respite from the bustle of the city. This is a great place to launch local adventures and you will find lots of information (and maps) there about what to do in the area. You can conveniently arrange tours here as well. The above photos are from my last visit (Dec ’16) with my good friends, Jared and Suzannite. We hiked through a beautiful mountainous landscape to an organic farm, where we sampled delicious and fresh food and coffee, as well as hired a local guide to take us to gorgeous waterfalls.

We also discovered the most amazing Cambodian food that I’ve ever eaten at Anachoreo Cambodian Restaurant, which also offers lodging. We were so delighted to discover such authentic food so far away from Cambodia, that we ate there two nights in a row!


REMOTE BEACHES, TRADITION, ADVENTURE & CONSERVATION: AZUERO PENINSULA

The Azuero Peninsula, which many Panamanians proudly refer to as the “heartland” of their country, was a new discovery for me, filled with many unexpected and memorable experiences. This area is extremely rich in tradition, folklore, farming, and partying! That’s right, you will find town-wide parties every weekend (probably multiple parties a week if you’re really gung-ho!) with traditional live music and all-night dancing. Not to mention sampling Panama’s Seco Herrerano, something of which they are also very proud of. Seco is a white spirit distilled from sugarcane. We became friends with a family who invited us to a couple of these parties. Talk about dancing all night! My friends and I were also the only non-Panamanians at these parties. . . I’m talkin’ authentic Panamanian partying!

Traditional Panamanian music

Heading south my friends Jeff, Jared, and I took multiple buses down the western coast of the Azuero Peninsula, an area of great beauty (and remoteness in many parts). We stayed at a lovely locally-owned place in the small beach town of Malena called Hostal Iguana Verde. Upon our arrival the hostal owner, Anna, invited us to join her to liberate dozens of newborn sea turtles to Mama Mar (Mother Sea). What an experience! Anna is part of a group of local conservationists who strive to increase the survival rate of these sea turtles. You can easily get involved in a project like this. Visit the Facebook page for Marine Turtle Conservation Panama for info on how to get involved. It feels good to help out such a worthy cause while you’re on vacation! Plus, these sea turtles are ridiculously adorable.

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Go little buddy, go!

From Malena it is a short ride to another, more developed beach town called Mariato, which offers a variety of accommodations and activities, especially surfing. Anna told us it was possible to walk along the beach from Mariato back to Malena, so we enjoyed an afternoon sampling food and beer (some of the best fried fish I’ve ever had, and patacones) to fuel up for a gorgeous sunset beach hike.


GET REMOTE: CERRO HOYA NATIONAL PARK

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The boys get loaded in with the pigs, Las Flores

Continue farther down the peninsula if you really want to get remote adventure! I had read about an infrequently visited National Park called Cerro Hoya. You’ve got to make sure you catch the sometimes only once-a-day bus to a tiny end-of-the-road town called Las Flores. (There are more populated and accessible routes and towns on the eastern side of the Azuero Peninsula.) Created in 1984, this 80,450-acre national park contains some of the last remaining primary forest on the Azuero Peninsula. Until recently, the park was extremely difficult to reach and only explored by intrepid travelers. We got off the bus and immediately met a friendly pig farmer named Rueben, and his son, Ruebencito, who loaded Jeff and Jared into the back of their truck with the pigs (to my extreme delight and amusement – they made me sit comfortably in the front, the pig-free seating). We were welcomed into their home by Rueben’s wife, Celmira, where we stayed for a few days and enjoyed river walks, traditional food, and becoming part of their family.

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Las Flores, Azuero Peninsula

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The pig farmer, our guide, and new friend, Rueben

It would be hard to write here how to be in touch with Rueben and his wonderful family, who are very interested in tourism and acting as local hosts and guides to those adventurous travelers who wish to get an authentic and off-the-beaten-path experience. Contact me for more information. It was well worth the travel and planning to get to this beautiful and remote part of Panama. Jared and I have a plan to return to Las Flores and buy a few pigs for a giant pig roast for the whole town! You’re invited:)


I know I said I’d only highlight just a few places in Panama, but as I write this I still have more places that I’m itching to write about. I will be continuing my “Panama Is Where It’s At” series. So look forward to more about Panama, as well as Alaska (because Alaska is where it’s at also!).

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Columbia Bay, Prince William Sound, Alaska


I will sign off by saying that of all the places in Panama that I have visited, Guna Yala (San Blas Islands) remains my all-time favorite place. This is where I guide sea kayak tours in the winter and this is where the sea kayak portion of the aforementioned retreat will be held. This is why: It is one of the most spectacular places for sea kayaking. The Guna are my favorite people. It’s as simple as that. Click here for more info on Guna Yala.

Thank you for reading. I hope you are inspired to join me January 6 – 14, 2018, and that you visit more of the beautiful country of Panama. Stay tuned for more blog posts. You can also follow Ileneinakayak on Instagram and Facebook.

 

 

 

 

ALASKAN SEA KAYAK GUIDES PRE-SEASON TRAINING

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHappy Memorial Day weekend! I thought I’d share with you some of the pre-season and ongoing training that us kayak guides partake in to keep you safe and knowledgeable out there. The sea kayak season in Valdez, Alaska is picking up as we get excited for June. The other kayak guides have been here for a few weeks already. It’s wonderful to have the anadamily back together again. If you read my last blog you’ll be familiar as to who comprises, and what in tarnation is the anadamily. Spirits are soaring as we settle in to being back amongst the magic of this awe-inspiring corner of Alaska. It can get difficult for a sea kayak guide to be away from icebergs for so many months during the winter, although Palm Trees are not a bad alternative. May has been a month to replenish the lack of Alaska in our lives, as most of the guides were far away during the winter months.

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May is the time to get back into our sea kayaks and paddle in Port Valdez to test the waters, as we do at the start of every season. We don dry suits, which are full-body waterproof suits, and practice rescuing one another. Yes, that’s right, we willingly plunge ourselves into the cold waters of Prince William Sound to ensure that our kayaking skills improve each season. We hope to not have to utilize these rescue skills during the season (and we rarely do), however it’s good to have them at the ready if necessary. You’re in good hands with this well-trained crew!

Another annual training session occurs at the Valdez Glacier. We paddle across the Valdez Glacier Lake and practice our crevasse rescue skills on the glacier. The Valdez Glacier is one of Anadyr Adventures’ most popular day tours and includes paddling around this freshwater lake, alongside massive icebergs.

We then take a hike on the glacier to check out all kinds of fascinating ice features, such as crevasses (fissures, or deep clefts, in glacial ice) and moulins (cavities worn in a glacier by surface water falling through a crack in the ice). These are beautiful (and often gorgeous blue) ice features that we get very close to, which makes this tour a favorite of the guides and our guests. It’s a unique opportunity to experience the mysterious and constantly-changing life of a glacier up close.

Here we are practicing crevasse rescue on the glacier, another important skill that all Anadyr guides have.

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You might be surprised with the wildlife found at the face of a glacier

Of course, as naturalist sea kayak guides we spend a great deal of time learning about and discussing the natural history of the area, a topic that one could easily spend an entire lifetime studying. This corner of northeast Prince William Sound offers a myriad of habitats, major historical events, flora and fauna, and great Alaskan personalities. From the rush of gold-mining prospectors to the area in 1898, to the major oil spill of the Exxon-Valdez tanker in 1989, to the catastrophic retreat of the Columbia Glacier in the 1980s, and the intricate ways that the natural world interacts in this northern Boreal forest and glacially-carved landscape, there is always more to learn. In the evenings the guides are often gathered together, sharing the diverse things that we’ve seen while on our day tours and camping trips. This keeps us engaged and excited to share this knowledge with our guests.

A visit to the wonderful Valdez Museum at the start of each season reminds us how much there is to learn and share.

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Learning about the 1964 “Good Friday” Earthquake

When we don’t have a trip to go on (and it’s a bit wet outside), we still thirst for knowledge.

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Anadyr guide, Mark, studying up on his natural history

As always, I look forward to taking you out on sea kayaking and glacier hiking adventures in beautiful Valdez, Alaska. Thanks for reading and stay tuned for the next blog, which follows my first camping trip of the season, a four-day kayaking adventure in Prince William Sound, in which we experienced all kinds of Alaskan weather.

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Jumping for joy for sunshine in Columbia Bay

ANADYR ADVENTURES SEA KAYAKING ALASKA, OPEN FOR THE 28TH SEASON

Getting the Family Back Together for the 28th Season: Continuing the Legacy of Anadyr Sea Kayak Guides in Valdez, Alaska

The kayaks are in the water, the flowers are blooming, the hiking trails are snow-free, and the kayak guides are back! For those of you who don’t know, May through September I am senior sea kayak guide for a company based in Valdez, Alaska called Anadyr Adventures. I am honored to be part of the Anadyr family, lovingly called the “anadamily”, which extends far beyond the current nuclear family of Anadyr guides, office staff and managers. A few weeks ago when I was excitedly anticipating the arrival of the other guides to Valdez, I sent them a message asking, “What are you most excited about for the upcoming season?”

Of course, we are all looking forward to the exploratory perks of our employment as sea kayak guides in a state as vast and wild as Alaska. We often comment on having the most beautiful office to go to every day. Yet, what stands out to me more is the mutual feeling of being part of a special family. This season, my sixth, is number three for Bagel, Aidan, Jared, and KC. It’s the second for Mark, Dalton and Denise. Sami is joining the Anadyr team after guiding for a different tour company in Valdez last year.

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Former Kayak Guide & Office Queen

And as far as the extended “anadamily” in the community of Valdez, it’s hard to go anywhere and not run into an anadamily member (former guide, office staff, client, spouse, child, brother-in-law, niece). I happen to live on the same street as a handful of former Anadyr guides, totaling about 20 years of collective guiding. When we speak of their years guiding for Anadyr, I can detect a glimmer in their eyes as they reminisce about Sea Otters, Glacier Island, Valdez Glacier, and camping trips in Prince William Sound.

 

Anadyr Adventures was started in 1989 by Hedy Sarny, the same owner today. . . so that’s a lot of seasons of kayak guides, office staff and managers. Imagine the number of guests who have walked through our doors, been shown how to put a spray skirt on and been handed a paddle to embark on what many describe as a trip-of-a-lifetime. The heart and soul of Anadyr remains the same as it did 28 years ago: a genuine love and admiration for Prince William Sound.

Without further ado I introduce to you the 2017 Anadyr Adventures Sea Kayak Guides:

BAGEL: I am excited for another season in the mighty Chugach mountains where I have found my peace and connection to this Earth and I hope to share that love with all who come out with us this summer. As the creatures of the Sound migrate back for another season, so do the guides, with enough passion and excitement to fill the ocean. I can not wait to show you our home.

SAMI: I am incredibly excited to be a part of the Anadyr team this summer! The mountains, the ocean, and the beautiful town of Valdez. I am looking forward to exploring and adventuring in new and familiar places. And of course, introducing folks to the incredible place we call home.

DALTON: What I’m most excited for is to be back together with all of the wonderful people that we get to live and work with. I can’t wait to see how the glaciers have changed to again be surrounded by wildlife and ice. I’m looking forward to meeting all of the interesting people who come on our trips, and of course camping trips! I’m so excited to sleep out under the stars next to the rolling waves on the beach, and to climb the mountains up to the hanging glaciers that feed the amazing waterfalls. Valdez is such a magical place.

JARED: I’m excited for exploring new camping spots, seeing where the glaciers are at and checking in on the whale carcass.

GOOSE: I’m excited for camping trips, the training trip, seeing all the guides, and spending another summer in the most stunning wilderness.

KC: Looking forward for everyone to reunite. Can’t wait for endless sun, adventures, icebergs, and softball.


DENISE (our office queen): I’m excited to see everyone again and just to be back in Valdez.


MARK: I’m excited to hear the melodious sound of Ilene’s voice.

 

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ILENE (yours truly): I’m excited for that warm feeling when I run up the stairs to the Anadyr guide’s apartment, swing open the door and am greeted with an enthusiastic “Ileeeene!!”. . . To wake up to the sound of waves rolling into shore from my cozy sleeping bag on the south side of Glacier Island. . . To notice the subtle changes in the ice at Columbia Glacier. . . To feel that contagious joy when someone sees a Sea Otter for the first time.

TASH (honorary Anadamily member): I’m looking forward to seeing you guys {the guides} the most. And the snow nipped mountains, adventures in the icebergs and karaoke.


 

So get ready for another exciting, fun- and adventure-filled summer! Join the growing Anadamily and share your Alaskan experience with us.

Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for the next blog post about all the fun that the other guides and I had while practicing kayak rescue skills in the cold waters of Prince William Sound, and crevasse rescue on the Valdez Glacier. Brrrr. . . Here’s a sneak peak of the good times:

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