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Glacial Thunder: Sea Kayaking
in Prince William Sound 2001

Trip down Icy Bay

Wednesday, August 15   We awoke this morning, and it was obvious that the weather had socked in some more. Group dynamics are always interesting: I had raised the issue last night of perhaps not moving camp down to a mile or so from the Tiger Glacier. There is a nice place down there where we had planned to camp, but it seemed to me that it made more sense not to spend the time moving camp, but instead, take a day trip down to the Glacier (about 10 miles round trip), and make sure that Tim had lots of time to fish (hint, hint). It would then be a direct shot (and relatively short) into the head of Nassau Fjord for our final camp. (Note that this was a change in plans too. Originally, we had planned to camp one night in Nassau Fjord, and then pull out and get close to our pick up spot. But Tim felt like we would enjoy the campsite much more in Nassau Fjord, and that he would have more time to fish. A pattern is starting to show up, right.) We decided to pull out one of our marine radios (the first time we had turned it on all week) and listen to the marine forecast. It sounded like more of the same: overcast, occasional rain, and no blue skies anytime soon. So it was three sorta for staying and three sorta wanted to move, and Dave was off photographing, and we knew he did not really care. (I don't think anyone felt strongly.) The scales were tipped when Tim remembered the long carry of all our gear we would have to make at the Tiger Glacier camp, so he decided to stay, and so, the day's activities were set.

As we were packing our kayaks for our day jaunt, we had a brief misty shower, but we could see that the weather near the glacier seemed to be more like broken clouds. We left about 10 am, enjoying the luxury of found time (not having to move camp), and paddled on down toward Tiger Glacier. We took our time, watching eagles, and keeping an eye out for sea otters, as they were keeping an eye for us. Mutual curiosity, I guess. We went through some more ice, which required some paying attention, but nothing particularly threatening. There is definitely a reason why they call it Icy Bay. We arrived at our destination a little before noon time, and it seemed like the weather was improving. But I looked around, and it seemed pretty obvious that it was just over the glacier and surrounding ice field. Back up the bay where we were camped, it was cloudy and pretty yucky looking. Not being a meteorologist, I am basically clueless as to why the weather was better down here. Maybe it had to do with less solar heating of the snowfield, which threw up less moisture, which meant less clouds. Who knows, but it was nice. A five mile paddle always deserves some kind of treat, so it seemed like lunch to me. After pulling up the boats (although in this case we did not have to do much: the tide was going out, and leaving them high and dry). The creek flowing into the ocean at this point was very major: no rivulet this: It was cloudy, full of glacial silt (you could even see the difference in the ocean color here) and running very strong. The breezed was blowing nicely, so the bugs were a bit more scarce. Tim started fishing as soon as we landed, but he was not having much luck, attributing such to the low water visibility. There were plenty of salmon in the creek. We all kinda wandered around for a few hours, enjoying the breeze, the reduced bugs, and the nice weather. I finally figured out how to cross the creek, but I could only do it because I was wearing knee high, sealed kayaking boots. The water was swift and cold. I walked on over, hoping that I could follow the coast line to get closer to the face of the glacier, but as soon as I went a hundred yards or so, it was pretty evident that I would be cliffed out in no time. So a lot of effort (figuring out how to cross the creek) with little reward.

Even though the map said we were a mile from its face, the constant roar of the glacier calving, or just falling apart, made you feel much closer. Like being in a non-stop thunderstorm. The effect is mesmerizing: you KNOW that these are like 20-story buildings just getting dumped into the ocean. Some of the splashes were nearly as high as the glacier's face. It seemed like we could watch it for hours. We stood there a long time, just enjoying the spectacle and secretly praying to the fishing gods that Tim would be successful, but to no avail. We also spent a lot of time photographing, because the display of the dwarf fireweed was outstanding. Then, I saw Dave hurriedly exiting from the spot where he had his tripod set up. Turns out that a very large black bear had ambled down along his side of the creek, and had managed to get to within 30 yards or so of him, and was surprised. Like most of the rest of us, Dave hates surprising bears, so he pulled his tripod up and let the bear have the creek to itself. I think by that time, we had enjoyed as much of the scenery as we could, so all of us hopped in our kayaks (metaphorically speaking, that is; one does not do anything as unplanned as to "hop" into a two-person kayak, especially when it first needs to be hauled down to the water), some of us choosing to get a bit closer to the glacier face. Unfortunately, there was lots and lots of ice a short distance south toward the glacier, and a strong path through it was not evident. Eventually, Susie and I decided that we would turn up the bay, and paddle slowly. It was not long before the others caught up. I think Dave had to be hauled away physically: it was such a photogenic spot.

With the tide running our direction, and no wind, it was only an 80 minute paddle back to camp. The weather had deteriorated from that in the near vicinity of the glacier, and it was not long after we arrived in camp that it started misting. I warmed some water for Susie to clean up with and I went back in the woods (the small creek) to clean up. It was frustrating, since when the mist would stop, the bugs would come out. It was a cloudy, misty evening, and the tarp was a godsend. We had spaghetti with red sauce (dried in the home food drier), and watched a pair of sea otters cruise back and forth, about a hundred yards from camp. It was impossible to tell if they were curious, or upset that we had invaded their territory, or what. No whales showed up tonight. With the mist, no one felt the compulsion to stay up very late, so we hit the sack in the waning Alaskan daylight.

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Roger A. Jenkins & Suzanne A. McDonald, 2001