Kayaking among the icebergs

by • May 10, 2015 • UncategorizedComments (0)1017

If shopping for a boat can be compared to dining at a buffet, most would consider a powerboat with all the trimmings to be the main course, while a kayak might be a bite-size appetizer, with a skewering toothpick for its paddle. However, there are times when a main course can be too much, and an appetizer is just what you need.

Photo by Chris Batin Sea kayakers enjoy the brilliant blues of the glacier.

Photo by Chris Batin
Sea kayakers enjoy the brilliant blues of the glacier.

Indeed the satisfaction that a freshwater kayak adventure can deliver ranges from the savory zest of knifing through whitewater, to the sweet tang of portaging a kayak to a remote and rarely visited lake.  Add saltwater and some ice and you’re in for an experience that can only be described as magical.

Sea kayaking among icebergs is one of those quintessential Alaska experiences, unique and thrilling even to a jaded old adventurer like me. Thunderous booms issue from towering glacial face as chunks of ice break away and crash into the sea. Get up close to even the tiniest of glacial ice chunks and listen as they hiss and whisper, releasing pristine air captured millennia ago when the ice was formed. In some destinations, fleets of icebergs groan and crash as they drift with the current. In others they comes ashore and becomes stranded, creating solitary, otherworldly tableaus of water, rock and crystalline ice.

Alaska is one of the few places in the world where ice-paddling experiences can still be had, you just have to find the right combination accessibility, protected water and a glacier to provide the ice. If you’ve never experienced paddling in such dynamic environments you should give it a try. There are many places throughout southcentral and in southeast where it can be done. I recommend testing the waters with a guide first, here is one of my favorite destinations.

Heather Bay in Prince William Sound is as magical as it is mysterious for kayakers looking for ice. Columbia Glacier, Alaska’s second largest tidewater glacier, falls into the sea nearby and its icy castoffs are funneled into Heather Bay by tide and wind. Here an eerie icescape forms, composed of frozen sentinels that groan, crackle and grind at the turning of each tide. Seals perch on their icy flanks watching indifferently as kayakers glide past. Icebergs, sculpted by wind, rain, and ocean, tower one and two stories tall all the while melting away, soon to be absorbed by the sea.

Heather Bay inspires contemplation in me but other find it exhilarating says Pangaea Adventures guide Matt Vial. “Its popularity is based on a combination of getting clients out of Valdez Harbor, and unlike most day trips, it takes people to a remote location to where they see lots of wildlife.”

The trip begins in Valdez Harbor where Pangaea Adventures staff offers a crash course in paddle strokes and emergency kayak procedures. The two-hour water taxi ride to Heather Island provides plenty of time to review the lessons with your guides if you can keep your eyes off the views of cascading waterfalls, finning orcas, sea otters, bald eagles and puffins slipping by.

At Heather Island you’ll stop for lunch and stretch your legs on a boulder-strewn glacial moraine. The price of the tour included drinks and snacks during the ride out, but I recommend packing additional food and drink to keep you nourished during your adventure. After a safety briefing on the dangers of approaching icebergs—they’re prone to rolling over with out any warning— you’ll take a boat tour through the ice field before boarding your own kayak for a two-hour paddle back to the transport boat and the two hour ride back to Valdez.

Give yourself and your friends an icy indulgence this year by taking a tour of Alaska’s coastal icebergs.  I promise this is one cool experience you’ll never forget.

For more information visit www.alaskasummer.com.

Christopher Batin has written about Alaska outdoors and adventure travel for over 40 years for national and regional magazines. Follow him online at  Facebook.com/TheAlaskaAngler.

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