A drizzling light rain causes ripples in this otherwise calm bay, as droplets cascade from the sky. Icebergs the size of cars float past as we pick our way through a minefield of broken ice. A curious harbor seal emerges just feet away, exhaling a hot, heavy breath we can almost feel. Just ahead, a monstrous blue wall of ice groans: Aialik Glacier. Suddenly, it lets out a thunderous crack that echoes all around us, as a section collapses into the bay. This is life in Kenai Fjords National Park.
Kenai Fjords National Park
Located in southern Alaska, a few hours’ drive from Anchorage, Kenai Fjords National Park is the crown jewel of the rugged and remote Kenai Peninsula. The park protects a unique landscape that is defined by the massive Harding Icefield, the source of some 38 glaciers that flow like fingers from the palm of a hand. As the glaciers retreated, they left behind carved valleys that have since been submerged by the sea. These are the park’s namesake, the fjords.
While the Exit Glacier area does offer a few trails, including one up to a section of the Harding Icefield, most of the park is only accessible by water or air. The best basecamp for any Kenai Fjords adventure is the little port town of Seward. It boasts a Kenai Fjords Visitor Center, stocked with information, gifts, and a wonderful video about this majestic landscape. Daily scenic boat cruises, flight seeing, and adventure tours are also offered via a plethora of companies. We chose to do a fully outfitted overnight kayaking trip in Aialik Bay (pronounced Eye-Al-Ick) with a company called Kayak Adventures Worldwide.
Our trip began on a drizzly Sunday morning in the Seward Marina. Along with our guides and a few fellow kayakers, we boarded a water taxi loaded down with kayaks and gear and set off into into Resurrection Bay. Almost immediately, the wildlife spotting began. First came orca whales, cresting above the water just enough to see their white underbellies. Next were humpback whales, blowing massive air bursts before disappearing back below. Past Bear Glacier, more killer whales. Around Aialik Cape, sea lions rested on the rocky outcroppings, unperturbed by the crashing waves. Puffins and hundreds of other birds flew in and out of the water. The area is designated as a Maritime Wildlife Refuge and it is obvious why.
As we rounded the Cape and entered Aialik Bay, the seas calmed and harbor seals seemed to be everywhere. Pushing far up the bay, the boat landed on a rocky beach across from Slate Island. As the other day-tripping kayakers pushed off for the glacier, we set up camp and ate some lunch. Then it was our turn. Navigating through the icy channel, we made our way closer and closer to the tidewater glacier that helped carve this mighty bay. Icebergs floated by and seals kept appearing and reappearing, curiously examining us. Alone except for our two guides, we watched the wall of ice as it calved into the bay. Rain pattered down, yet we remained, stunned by the awe of this amazing place.
Pederson Glacier & Lagoon
The following morning, we kayaked south from camp around a point and into Pedersen Lagoon. On the lower lagoon, we came across two black bears digging for food along the shore. In their quest for food, they disregarded us, allowing us to get quite close.
After circling this pristine area, we moved on to the upper lagoon. Here another glacier, Pedersen, is actively retreating, leaving behind enormous blocks of ice. Choked with ice, the lagoon was so calm it looked like glass. Ringed with mountains, this was as scenic as it gets.
We ate lunch on the shores, before leaving the lagoon and re-entering the main bay. The changes in tides means the timing has to be just right, otherwise you will be facing some steep waves as you exit.
We leisurely paddled our way back to camp boarded the waiting water taxi. The return ride was filled with more wildlife and more humpback whales. Even as we pulled back into the Seward Marina at the end, sea otters tussled over a fresh catch. What a place!
Kayak Adventures Worldwide
I can not stress enough how highly I would recommend Kayak Adventures Worldwide. They made the whole process seamless, from the reservations to the pre-trip meeting, to the trip itself. They truly took care of everything. Our guides, Josh and Emily, were beyond knowledgeable about the wildlife and ecology of the area and very passionate about what they do. They also served up some of the best camping food I’ve ever eaten! Besides Aialik Bay, they offer trips to other locations in the Kenai Fjords, Resurrection Bay, and even the Prince William Sound. You can visit their website at www.kayakak.com.