Day 28: We hit an Iceberg
4 Weeks on the road! That in itself is a big milestone. And today will be a big day. I’m headed out stand up paddleboarding in a lagoon with icebergs on the Kenai Penninsula. The icebergs calve off bear glacier and drop into a 600 foot deep lagoon of glacial water The lagoon is surrounded by a big mound of glacial rock deposits that keep the lagoon protected from the ocean tides, but also keep the icebergs contained until they are small enough to float down the river.
We met at the Liquid Adventures office in the Seward Marina and met our guide Pyper. He’s a native of Seward and has been guiding trips to the lagoon for 4 years. There are 4 other customers on my trip. A woman from Arizona, now living in Fairbanks, a couple from New York, and a guy from San Francisco. We’re all about the same age and compare travel stories. It is a very common conversation starter to ask “How long are you in Alaska” or “How’d you get here?” or “Where else are you going on your trip?”.
We get fitted with dry suits (like a one piece ski outfit from the 80’s, but waterproof) and some stylish footwear to protect the feet of the drysuits. The water is 43 degrees. You definitely don’t want to fall in unexpectedly. We boarded the specially designed jet boat that would take us through Resolution Bay, up a glacial river, and then into the lagoon. It was a 1-hour boat ride to the lagoon filled with great scenery, seals napping on the shore, lots of Puffins, and a Bald Eagle.
Once at the launch point we pick up paddleboards on the shore and get fitted with life vests. A quick intro to paddleboarding speech and we’re off to paddle. As we get closer to the icebergs Pyper pulls us together for another safety briefing on how dangerous the icebergs can be. Right as he starts to talk a huge chunk of an iceberg breaks off and falls into the lagoon creating a good sized wave. The main iceberg also rolls to find its new center of gravity. It’s cool to watch, but also can be very dangerous since only 10% of an iceberg is above water and as they roll ice can come up under you if you are too close. And obviously, ice falling on you isn’t good either.
We start paddling, following Pyper’s carefully navigated route through the lagoon like he’s trying to avoid landmines. As we move further into the lagoon the icebergs get bigger. And taller. The visible portion alone being massive chunks, some over 30 feet tall. He explains that the bluer the ice, the more recently it’s come out of the water (when the iceberg rolls) and there were a number of HUGE bergs that were a bright blue. There were also some covered in dirt, which he explained was from the ribbon of dirt on Bear Glacier, which was clearly visible from the lagoon, but 3 miles of open water separated us.
Remember how I said the water was 43 degrees? Well it was 75 degrees and sunny today so I was REALLY tempted to “accidentally” fall in because I was ROASTING in my drysuit. It was unseasonably warm. This also lead to the ice being more unstable than normal. Everywhere around us we were hearing the ice crack and calve huge chunks into the lagoon. It sounded like thunder rumbling in the distance. One of the biggest icebergs split in half in what sounded like an explosion. We got around to see it just as the two pieces were rolling in opposite directions and then drifting apart.
We paddled for about 2.5 hours and had a little snack of fresh baked brownies (apparently coconut oil is awesome in brownies) and Capri-Sun juice pouches.
After the snack break we paddled back toward the boat and saw the aftermath of that huge iceberg that broke in half. It left a massive area of smaller ice that we had to paddle trough. It felt similar to what a fly in a glass of ice water must feel.
Back on the beach we pulled our drysuits off the top half of our bodies and the cool air felt amazing. It was definitely too hot out for drysuits. The boatride back was a blast. The boat zipped through the river like a New Zealand Jet Boat (this boat is a jet boat, but a different design) and then we zipped back into the open ocean for the hour long trek back to the harbor. In an effort to see some other wildlife we took the scenic route back, but sadly the whales weren’t around for us to see.
Back at the Liquid Adventures office I turned in our gear, thanked Pyper, and said goodbye to the other guests on the trip. And then it was time to head back to Anchorage to pick up my Aunt Kay.
The drive back was faster than the drive south. There was very little traffic and I wasn’t stopping to take photos. I got to the airport at 5 and she was waiting in the bus loading for me to pull up, open the door and ask if she needed a lift. YAY! The first passenger on the Out West Bus is onboard!
We’d decided to grill more of the Halibut that I’d bought in Seward set out for the grocery store for some salad to go with it. Loaded with food we filled up the diesel and then headed out to the campground. I’d read about Eklutna Lake Campground online. It’s part of the Chugach State Park just outside of Anchorage. I thought a nice lake campground would be perfect for our first night. As we neared the exit on the highway a bit of rain started to fall. No big deal. It will just cool things off. And it did! We rolled into the campground found a spot that wasn’t being used and set up camp. Kay made the salad and I grilled the Halibut. We made an all-star team and the dinner was fantastic.
After dinner we set off to find the lake because it wasn’t visible from the campground. A short hike and we came upon this clearing with a lake and huge mountains all around us. It was so beautiful it looked fake. It was incredible.
After the walk it was time to make up Kay’s bed and she was off to sleep. She’d had a long day since getting up early in Denver, which is 2 hours ahead of Alaska time.
Tomorrow we head to Talkeetna and then on to Denali the next day.