Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Kenai Fjords Alaska Kayak Trip

Unable to convince any of my friends to come with me, I joined up with a couple and another guy who had already booked a kayaking trip in Alaska with Kayak Adventures. This was the main reason I was going to Alaska, and the centerpiece of the trip.

Theme song: The Wishing Well by Walter Martin.

The type of trip was called "mothership" which meant essentially we had our own private sailing boat driving us around and being a base of operations for kayaking fun. We ate and slept onboard, which was pretty luxurious compared to a wet tent on a beach. This video gives you a great overview of the trip and introduces Captain Mike and his boat The Starr.

Day 1: Seward to McMullen Cove

It was a gloriously warm sunny day when we left Seward. Resurrection bay is ridiculously pretty, and shortly after leaving Seward we saw a Fin whale, which are apparently fairly rare.

Fin whale

On our way to McMullen we also saw harbor seals, a mountain goat, a bald eagle, and a bunch of different seabirds, including puffins.

It's quite a long way around the cape and into Aialik bay, but by 3:40pm we were in our kayaks on the water, having our first paddle of the trip around McMullen and Quicksand coves. It was great fun exploring the coastline and getting a marine biology lesson from our fantastic guide Emily.

Unfortunately the great weather didn't hold, and it started to drizzle just as we got in our kayaks, but we were all completely waterproof from head to toe so it didn't actually bother us at all.

Paddling towards quicksand beach

Day 2: McMullen to Pederson and Aialik Glaciers to Paradise Cove

This day was the highlight of the whole trip. The tides were perfect for entering Pederson lagoon at a reasonable hour (I talked to someone in Seward who did it at midnight due to tides). There was a ton of ice in the lagoon which actually made paddling a little tricky. We pulled up onto land and looked out over a mass of ice. Pictures courtesy of my paddle friends, I didn't take any myself because my hands were freezing and I didn't want to get them out of my gloves :)

Pederson Glacier

We rode the tide back out to the boat, had lunch ,and headed to Aialik glacier. It's incredibly impressive, and quite eerie. We had the entire glacier to ourselves since we didn't start paddling until about 4pm, after all the day-trip boats need to head back to seward (huge advantage of the mothership trip).

We paddled through lots of floating ice bergs and listened to the thunder of the ice calving. We saw some decent-sized calvings, although nothing super-huge. We saw a house-sized iceberg roll over in the bay and create some waves. Also waiting on more photos from others here too, it was way too cold for getting my hands out of my gloves often. I was wearing thick neoprene paddling gloves, which were warm, but my hands were wet inside, so bringing them out wasn't fun. Also getting gloves off and camera in and out of the dry bag was quite a business. The other couple on the trip had a waterproof Go-Pro, which was a much better setup.

Aialik glacier

After Aialik we loaded the kayaks up and drove to Paradise Cove to sleep for the night. It was quite some distance, I don't think we actually cooked an finished dinner until about 10pm.

Sunset in paradise cove, sharing it with another boat

Day 3: Three Hole Bay to Seward

Just enough time for one last paddle before the long trip back to Seward. The water was incredibly still and glassy. Paradise cove was a beautiful paddle. We paddled out to Three Hole Bay (one of the bridges making a hole has fallen down, so it's only two hole now).

Shortly after I took this photo a humpback whale arrived and hung out with our kayaks for about 20 minutes. It probably got as close as 50m to us, which actually made us nervous since our guide had told us a story about her being tipped out of her kayak by a humpback once (although that's the only time it's ever happened to anyone in the area as far as she and the other guides know).

We loaded the kayaks back onboard and began the trip back to Seward. I was glad I had taken my travel sickness tablets, since the sea swell was decent as we came around the cape. As we were coming around we started hearing from other boats about a group of Orcas in the area.

Pod of Orcas!

Orca coming alongside then diving under the boat
We were lucky enough to see them and we hung out with a adult male, a mother and a calf for the better part of an hour. Twice one of them came directly alongside the boat, within a couple of meters, and then ducked under the boat. It was amazing stuff. Photos to come.

Notes on gear

I wore sealskinz waterproof socks with chaco sandals in the kayak and they were perfect. I needed 3 pairs of thin socks under the sealskinz for warmth. Beautifully dry the whole time.

Waterproof pants and jacket were essential for being on the boat and in the kayak. I wore a shirt, thermal top, light fleece and rain jacket on the top. Long underwear and waterproof pants on the bottom. Beanie and regular cap (to keep the rain off my face) on my head. When on-deck and the boat was underway I added a down jacket.

I used my own NRS paddling gloves (the warmest type) to keep my hands warm, but your hands get wet inside the gloves. The company provides pogies which are big mitts you attach to the paddle over your hands, which stayed drier. I liked the gloves better because they protected me from friction with the paddle. I couldn't fit the gloves under the pogies, that would have been ideal.

Waterproof Go Pro is the ideal camera setup. Getting a regular phone or camera in and out of the dry bag is a PITA, especially with wet gloves to take on and off.

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