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Kayaking Columbia Glacier

August 28, 2011

After being blown out by the weather for our kayaking trip in Seward we were determined to kayak to a tidewater glacier. We had booked a full day trip to Columbia Glacier which is the second largest tidewater glacier in the USA.

This meant that we had to meet at the shop, Pangaea, on the harbour at 8am. When we woke it wasn’t raining but as soon as we drove into town a fine drizzle had started again – unfortunately this was to keep up most of the day – but that is what rain gear is for.

We were handed paddles, PFD’s, spray skirts and given a safety briefing on the kayak and then we moved across the street to the harbour where we boarded a small water taxi after being fitted to a double kayak each. The kayaks were loaded on the roof and we sat inside in the warm and dry (much better than our water taxi in Homer).

The Journey to the drop off point took just over 2 hours and the views were pretty limited because of low lying cloud/fog. We did see a couple of sea lions lying on a buoy though. The drop off point was actually just outside the lateral moraine of the glacier near to a passage into the fjord where the glacier itself lies.

The Colombia glacier is retreating incredibly quickly (90ft a day) and we were dropped off around 14 miles away from the face. However because of the fast retreat it is calving a stupendous amount of ice and the water even this far out can be completely clogged depending on tides, winds etc.

Sea kayaks are controlled by the means of a small rudder which is directed using foot pedals. These pedals are controlled by the person in the back. Naturally I elected to be in control – over Sarah’s protests. So we all got in the kayaks and were split into two groups. We were with an instructor called Liz and two other Kayaks of people.

We paddled from the beach where we started through a small passage in the lateral moraine into the main bay which was littered with icebergs. This is what we had come for. We started off following Liz but ended up going off on our own and exploring around some of the icebergs. Unfortunately the rain was still coming down making it a bit difficult to take photographs.

We made our way to a beach in the bay (pretty muddy) and parked up (is that the right expression for kayaks). This gave us the opportunity to jump around a bit to get warm as it was pretty cold on the water (among the ice). Liz surprised us all by cracking open a thermos and offering hot chocolate drinks around which was very welcome. Over lunch we walked up part of the moraine that we were lunching upon and had some great views of the bay and icebergs. Also the rain slackened off and we got a glimpse of the glacier all those 14 miles away.

Back in the Kayaks we travelled back through the icebergs by a different route. As well as the big icebergs, which you had to be careful around as pieces dropped off or more worryingly splintered off the 9/10ths underwater and rocketed to the surface, there were small chunks of ice floating at water level which we had to try to avoid (or ram straight over).

The pick-up point was a couple of miles away from the icy area and we had to paddle along the shoreline and around a couple of islands. However on arriving at the pick-up point there was a black bear with two cubs just next to the beach. The mother bear was a bit worried by our arrival so she sent her two cubs up a tree and prowled around for a few minutes. There was no way that we could land with the bears there. Eventually she decided that it was time to split so called her cubs down the tree – one of them adorably fell off half way down.

We landed, packed everything up and then loaded up the water taxi which arrived shortly after we landed and then travelled back to Valdez.

This trip was really good fun and I achieved an ambition to paddle around Ice. However this trip could easily be done independently with a water taxi arranged to drop you off in the Colombia glacier area and pick you up later. I’d really like to come back in the future and do a multi-day trip in this area.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Ron Armacost permalink
    August 28, 2011 7:57 pm

    That looks sooooooooo cold

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