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

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Tranquil evening in front of Columbia Glacier

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Day 1 of 9, Unakwik Inlet, Prince William Sound

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

 

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

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

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

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

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Home for the first 2 nights, Unakwik Inlet

DAYS 1 – 3

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

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Paddling to the face of Meares Glacier, Unakwik Inlet

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

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Lunch spot, Meares Glacier, Unakwik Inlet

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Katie & Evan enjoying Meares Glacier, Unakwik Inlet

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

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

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A little friend (Black-Tailed Sitka Deer)

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

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

DAY 7. . . The magical bump from Captain Scott

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

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Looking down on the face of Columbia Glacier

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Paddling to the face of Columbia Glacier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

FIVE DAYS KAYAKING IN ALASKAN PARADISE

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Hélène and Bruno show off some skin, Prince William Sound

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

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Hélène and Bruno enjoying the ice, Columbia Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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Hélène and Bruno discover a waterfall, Heather Bay, Alaska

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

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Iceberg in Columbia Bay

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Hélène joyfully displaying a rainbow, Heather Bay

 

 

 

 

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

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7-Day Glacier Island-Columbia Bay-Valdez Itinerary

Map of Itinerary

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

The Opportunity

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

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

The Itinerary

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

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

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

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Sunrise at Elf Point, Heather Bay

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An ice-free Columbia Bay

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

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Columbia Bay often looks like this

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

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

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The face of Shoup Glacier

What Did We Eat?

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

Make It Happen!

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

 

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.