9-Day Epic Camping Trip from Meares to Columbia Glaciers!

I’ll start out by saying that this was one of the most epic trips that I have ever been on, let alone was fortunate enough to guide! Thanks to two amazing paddlers, kindred spirits and expedition companions, Brandt and Antony! Epic, by definition, is heroic, majestic, impressively great, spectacular, awesome, of unusually great extent. I’d say that these are all accurate descriptors of this 9-day kayak expedition. Let me share some of the highlights with you. . .

Day 1: We started our journey about 40 miles west of Valdez, in beautiful sunshine, at Miners Bay, in Unakwik Inlet. We paddled a whopping 2 miles, hiked up a river to check out Miners Lake, and stopped for some kayak fishing.

Fishing in the sunshine

Fishing in the sunshine

A walk upriver to check out a beautiful lake

A walk upriver to check out a beautiful lake


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Catching dinner!

Catching dinner!

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Day 2: We paddled 12 miles total, which took us to-and-from Meares Glacier, one of the only advancing glaciers in Prince William Sound. Navigating through ice, gliding past Harbor Seals and Sea Otters, we sat mesmerized, watching pieces of ice fall off the face of this glacier.

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The mighty Meares Glacier!

The mighty Meares Glacier!

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Sitting perched in the lush forest, eating fresh salad and sandwiches for lunch, Brandt and Antony would learn what would become a very symbolic phrase of mine. . “I’m tempted to. . .” Each day would present itself with new and exciting ways to end this phrase. This day, it was “. . . go on an epic bushwhack along the side of the glacier and check out this rushing river!” The three of us sharing adventurous spirits, our temptations to explore and discover became realities. So, we hiked along the side of the glacier, scrambling up rocks and ice, guided by our temptation to see what was around the next corner (there are endless corners in Alaska!)

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Bushwhack on the side of Meares Glacier

Bushwhack on the side of Meares Glacier

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Meares Glacier

Meares Glacier

Our beautiful campsite for the first two nights. Unakwik Inlet

Our beautiful campsite for the first two nights. Unakwik Inlet

Day 3: 17 miles paddled today! We paddled South, out of Unakwik Inlet, out into the open! On our days’ journey, we encountered an active salmon stream, dropped fishing lines and watched as hundreds of salmon darted underneath us and leaped out of the water all around us! Dinner was not caught here, but was yet to come! As we rounded Unakwik Point, we encountered some “squirrelly” conditions. If you’re not familiar with that term, picture salty spray and wind in your face, waves coming up over the bow of your kayak, you’re rockin’ a bit side to side, you can’t stop paddling, and you’re loving it! After the excitment of the “squirrelly” conditions, Brandt and Antony dropped their lines in the calm bay that was to be our home for the night. Fresh fish for supper!

Day 4: Another 17-mile day! We paddled into Wells Bay, and into an area called Hidey Hole, a serene cove, that we all agreed was one of the most beautiful and magical places we had ever been in. Guided by our temptation to follow the meditative sounds of trickling water, we hiked uphill, encountering cascades of water, pouring over rock and moss, into countless pools of varying sizes. We joked that we had entered our own private Zen garden and meditation retreat. It was so peaceful. We also ate blueberries as we hiked. Pretty soon, our temptation switched to that of majestic views and standing on top of something. So, upwards we continued, until we had reached the top, and lo and behold, majestic views were spread out in front of us. We could see the snow-capped peaks beyond Meares Glacier, as well as into the beautiful Cedar and Granite Bays, neither of which I had ever seen before. We stood there in awe, pointing out future hiking and skiing routes we’d like to partake in. Looking back towards where we had come from, we laughed at how a giant rock in the middle of Wells Bay looked incredibly like a sitting Buddha. Of course, we renamed the bay “Sitting Buddha Bay”. Of course, if you venture there, you will only see the Buddha if you take the time to hike up the hill!

Brandt, up the hill from Hidey Hole

Brandt, up the hill from Hidey Hole

Hand-picked blueberries!

Hand-picked blueberries!

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Backtracking down the hillside, following the flow of water, Brandt went for a refreshing swim in Hidey Hole, while Antony harvested Mussels, and I cooked up a hot lunch. We continued on, paddling past a group of large rocks that were covered in Harbor Seals (mothers and pups!). They entered the water and surrounded us, splashing and breathing, popping their heads up so close as to surprise us. It was surreal being surrounded by that many seals at once! We entered Granite Bay, which is like nowhere else I’ve ever seen! Towering granite walls, coming straight out of the water. There were also an incredible amount of jellyfish in the bay. Camp that night was lovely Granite Point, a beach of large white rocks and water so turquoise that had it not been for the colder temperatures, we could have been on a Caribbean Island! Brandt and Antony did it again. . fresh fish caught right in front of our campsite! We also enjoyed a mouth-watering appetizer of fresh Mussels!

The towering walls of Granite Bay

The towering walls of Granite Bay

Moon Jellyfish

Moon Jellyfish

Day 5: 9 miles paddled. We made the much-anticipated and choppy crossing from Granite Point to Iceberg Point, the westernmost tip of Glacier Island. Glacier Island!! Just the name makes my heart beat faster! What a magical and unpredictable place! The surprise for us today was that we had glassy wind-free conditions for our south side paddle. And the sun shone down upon us! Nothing like sunshine on the southside of Glacier Island!

Exploring the caves on Glacier Island

Exploring the caves on Glacier Island

Escorted by a gang of Stellar Sea Lions, we explored the epic sea caves that are home to many species of sea life, including Barnacles, Sea Stars, Chitons, Seaweeds, Anemones, and Mussels. These caves are also home to the Horned and Tufted Puffin and Cormorants. What a treat to hang out in these amazing caves, watching these beautiful birds dart in and out above our heads.

Beautiful view from Glacier Island

Beautiful view from Glacier Island

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Puffins on Glacier Island

Puffins on Glacier Island

Anemone, Glacier Island

Anemone, Glacier Island

Sunflower Sea Star, Glacier Island

Sunflower Sea Star, Glacier Island

Mussels!! Yummy Mussels!!

Mussels!! Yummy Mussels!!

We camped that night at Bull’s Head Beach, after paddling around the corner to check out Bull’s Head haul-out, which is where dozens upon dozens of male Stellar Sea Lions occupy the rocks and the water, lounging around lazily, climbing over one another and growling at each other. That night, we enjoyed the gift of serenity that Glacier Island had bestowed upon us, and sat around a warm fire, contemplating life.

Stellar Sea Lions lounging on the rocks at Bull's head, Glacier Island

Stellar Sea Lions lounging on the rocks at Bull’s head, Glacier Island

Bull's Head Beach, Glacier Island

Bull’s Head Beach, Glacier Island

Day 6: 10 miles paddled, 8 miles “bump” (water taxi ride). Glacier Island decided that one day of glassy conditions was all that we were gonna get, so our paddling skills and characters were put to the test (both of which are quite strong, as it turns out!), back in “squirrelly” conditions! No photos exist of this stretch of our paddle, as stopping to take a photo would have compromised my guiding strategy of remaining in my kayak. As we rounded Finski Point, the northeastern tip of the island, and the crux of the stretch of “squirrelly” waters, we retreated into the calm bays of the north side of Glacier Island.

This day had been a pre-determined food resupply day. Our temptation to paddle across an even “squirrellier” (now I’m just making up words) channel was quelled when our resupply boat offered us a “bump”. I was hesitant at first, fearing that Brandt and Antony would think it was cheating. However, they were quite enthused with the idea, and went with the flow. As the boat bounced up and down and side to side, we all agreed the “bump” was a wise decision. We also got a couple pounds of fresh Prawns out of the deal, as our Captain had just pulled up his shrimp pots and was kind enough to give them to us. The “bump” landed us in the peaceful and flat-calm waters of Jade Harbor in Heather Bay. We set up home on a lovely beach between Heather and Columbia Bays, at the mouth of River Number One, where we remained for the next three days.

"To bump or not to bump?" That is the question!

“To bump or not to bump?” That is the question!

Fresh Prawns!

Fresh Prawns!

Day 7: 23 miles paddled! Antony’s birthday!! What an epic day we had! It started out as a relaxed day, sleeping in a little bit. As I lay in my sleeping bag, I overheard the conversation that Brandt and Antony were having in the screen tent. Antony had just asked Brandt if he would be the man to marry him and his fiancee at their wedding in October. Brandt said “yes”!! One of the reasons that this day was so epic was the weather conditions. . strong winds coming off of Columbia Glacier, making it quite the bumpy and windy paddle for 4 hours straight to get to the face. There had been a small-craft advisory warning in the Sound for this day, and our Columbia Glacier day trips were actually cancelled due to this. This only makes us that much more hardcore! Because it was Antony’s birthday, we tied celebratory balloons to the bow of his kayak, which he quickly discovered created a bit too much mayhem in front of him to enjoy his paddle. They didn’t last very long. .

Happy birthday Antony!

Happy birthday Antony!

We arrived at a beach near the face of the glacier, where it was actually nice and calm (the winds were blowing hard over our heads). We stood and watched, mesmerized, by the activities and sounds of the glacier. Pieces calved off the face, creating swell that crashed at our feet on the beach. Just as we were ready to start our journey home, this tiny little bird approached us. We stood and stared, then all of a sudden, this bird takes flight straight towards Antony and lands on his head! Brandt and I were doubled over with laughter at this unbelievable sight! If I didn’t have the photo, you might not believe me! After the trip, we identified the bird as a Gray-Crowned Rosy Finch, a most hardcore little bird!

Can you even believe it? NOT photo-shopped!

Can you even believe it? NOT photo-shopped!

The paddle back home was exciting as ever, with a strong wind at our backs. Antony described the rush as “adrenaline ice paddling”!

Columbia Bay

Columbia Bay

Columbia Bay

Columbia Bay

Then it was party time in the screen tent!! Celebrate!!

Party time!!

Party time!!

Day 8: 8 miles paddled, 4 miles hiked. Today we worked our lower bodies! We paddled as far as we were able to up River Number One (something else I’ve always been tempted to do!), chasing after various ducks and Great Blue Herons. We pulled the kayaks ashore and dove into the forest, ready for an epic bushwhack! Attempt number one lead us into thick woods, which we retreated from, and found that attempt number two was the way to go! Bushwhacking offers such a thrill, not knowing what is around the next corner. It might be a meadow filled with blueberries and salmonberries, or it might be a beautiful waterfall, plunging into a clear pool, or it might even be a whole sea otter skeleton.

River Number One

River Number One

Sea Otter skeleton

Sea Otter skeleton

Back from River Number One and ready for a hot meal!

Antony

Antony

Brandt

Brandt

Day 9: 12 miles paddled. The final day of this epic journey. We paddled across to the west side of Columbia Bay, weaving our way between icebergs and Sea Otters. We rounded Flent Point, then Long Point, and entered the very appropriately-named Useless Cove. I only say that the name is so appropriate because I did not want the trip to end. . it felt useless to me to have to head back into town. I wanted to remain in Useless Cove, with the Sea Otters, Seals and Bald Eagles. It was such an incredible journey, which I will remember forever! Thank you again, Brandt and Antony! You guys are incredible. . and I will see you next year for the next epic journey!

Total miles paddled: 110                Total miles hiked: 6                 Total miles “bumped”: 8

My two paddling companions

My two paddling companions

 

 

 

 

 

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