On our eighth day, we went kayaking around the glaciers at Blackstone Bay near Whittier with Alaska Sea Kayakers. This is my second trip with the company and I could not recommend them more highly. The owner, Pete, is a fixture (and Vice Mayor) in Whittier and has been doing this work for decades. They are incredibly professional and excellent environmental stewards. We had two highly experienced guides, Todd and Kevin (who turned out to be a UConn law student), who were a wealth of knowledge about the animal life and glaciers.
We arrived at the office at 8:45 to load dry bags for an extra set of clothing and meet our fellow kayakers. We were nine in all. We paddled a total of around 10-11 miles. There was a sharp reduction of the glaciers from just three years ago. The locals are quite alarmed at the impact of climate change. However, it remains one of the most powerful experiences of my life.
We used two person kayaks with Kevin paddling with my wife Leslie. Todd used a single to hover around us to help with any issues. We saw many seals (who are naturally curious and pop up around you) as well as an eagle and hundreds of Gadwalls, Pintails, and American Widgeons. Even after a lifetime of hiking and backpacking around the world, kayaking among the float ice and blue glaciers is an unparalleled and life-changing experience.
After a few hours of kayaking, we pulled over to a rocky beach to explore. When we returned, the guys set up a tent and laid out a fantastic lunch of salmon, salmon spread, salads, fruits, cheeses, and other items. It was a real spread and all of us marveled at the feast out in the middle of nowhere.
We then left for a few more hours of kayaking. We often just floated in front of glaciers watching huge hunks of ice fall into the water with thunderous claps. Harbor seals bobbed in the water around us as hundreds of birds, including Gadwalls, Pintails, and American Widgeons. We ended up on another beach awaiting to be picked up and we hiked to a glacier and a roaring waterfall. We filled our bottles with glacier water and headed back. It was a perfect way to end a perfect day.
We were picked up by the small charter boat, which had drinks including some very good Alaskan beer. We returned as one of the fishing charters was unloading their catch and preparing the fish on the dock for their guests.
This is not cheap (around $375 a person), but it is an experience worth saving for and doing if you can. The combination of Whittier and the Blackstone glacier area was the highlight of the trip for us thus far.
After saying goodbye to all of our friends from the trip, we went to Wildcatch, a restaurant nearby for a great fresh Salmon burger. We then head for the line to make it through the long train tunnel. Unfortunately this happens only once an hour and then the tunnel closes for the night. While in line, my tire light on the SUV came on and we discovered we had a flat. We could not risk going into the long tunnel (which is barely wider than the car) with a flat so I had to do the world’s fastest tire change. I got the temporary tire on just in time to make the tunnel. It was quite exciting but we had to drive all the way to Girdwood at a max speed of 50 miles an hour — leading a couple miles of frustrated drivers on the one lane highway.
We arrived at the Aleyska Hotel ready for a stiff drink and a good night’s sleep!