Friday, October 21, 2016

Aialik Bay - May 2016

What to do for Memorial Day weekend? Zack suggested Marcus Baker - after playing that game of Russian Roulette a few weeks ago, I was not ready to risk getting stuck in a snowcave for a week. We considered skate skiing across the Harding Icefield. Wasting good weather on flat snow seemed a bit of a sin.

We settled on a kayak around Aialik Bay. First, Andalyn and I needed to reserve rental kayaks for the weekend. This would involve convincing the staff at Miller's Landing that we actually had a chance of doing a wet exit and rentry. Fortunately, the person I talked to was a new hire and knew even less about kayaking than me. They seemed to think that field hydrology in small arctic streams would carry over to flailing around in freezing water next to a calving glacier. Maybe it does?

By 6 AM on Saturday, the new employee had done a thorough enough job bungling our reservation, that the last thing the water taxi was worried about was whether or not we could safely operate a kayak. So, there we were, on a deserted beach on a beautiful morning in Aialik Bay.

We paddled across the bay towards a white sand beach. The glassy morning water bent and stretched with big rollers from the Gulf of Alaska. The only disturbance to the surface came from whales spouting in the distance.

Reaching the white sands we hopped out, took a nap, then Andalyn and I went for a walk. Meanwhile, a black bear strolled past Zack and Khalial as they slept in the warm sun. What a great start to an adventure!


Refreshed we jumped back in the boats and continued up the bay. At Holgate Arm we turned left and paddled towards the glaciers.


Holgate Glacier was interesting. It has recently retreated enough that its terminus no longer sits in the water, and is instead grounded on land. So, we were able to get close to it with relatively low calving hazard.


After another beach nap we headed back for the main bay. The warm, sunny day had kicked up a stout headwind. Cruising along in our double, I felt bad for Zack and Khalial who were in singles - bonus exercise I guess. The exist from Holgate thru the swells was exciting. I watched Andalyn repeatedly going airborne in front of me as we wheelied over the swells.

Out of the arm, the wind was at our backs and we cruised towards Pederson Glacier were we planned to camp. At Pederson Lagoon, after some confusion and bonus paddling associated with locating, mislocating, and relocating our campsite, Andalyn and I started to set up camp while Z & K went to check out the glacier.

Before long everyone was back and we were ready to eat dinner around the fire. Just as we started to eat a guest arrived! The guest was large, black, furry, limping, and not scared. This posed a dilemma: it was 11 PM, getting dark, and we had an injured black bear planning to spend the night in our camp. The only option was to pack up camp and keep paddling. An hour later it was dark, we were four miles away, and we'd found a new campsite complete with piles of bear sign.

Sunday morning we paddled up the bay to Aialik Glacier.


The glacier was awesome: 400 foot tall walls of blue ice peeling off and plummeting into the water below. Each bomb would generate a breaking gray wave. Concerned that a large wave would wash our kayaks away, we returned and paddled towards our next camp.


The crossing to Abra Cove was a maze of icebergs covered in lounging seals. As we approached, the curious beings watched us thru their huge eyes before awkwardly shuffling into the water.


Arriving at Abra Cove, we'd won the lottery.


Waterfalls cascaded down cliffs saturated in color.


From camp we could look all the way back to Aialik Glacier.


After dinner we had wine and skinnydipping for dessert.


The next day we headed back to our water taxi. Away from the glaciated side of the bay, the landscape was characterized by the green giants of the Gulf Coast.


The paddle back was generally unremarkable save for a strange decision to paddle thru a natural arch. Entering the arch, large swells shot us through like a slingshot.


Returning early to our pick up, we had time for a beach fire, and one last nap before heading back to work.