We got our first taste of sea kayaking–and checked another national park off our list–on a spectacular guided excursion with Seward tour company Liquid Adventures to Bear Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park on June 23, 2017.
After meeting our guide, Libby, and getting outfitted with drysuits for protection against the near-freezing water, we boarded Liquid Adventures’ custom-built jetboat Marmot Dreamer for a 45 minute journey from Seward to the glacier.
On our way out of the Seward harbor, we passed where our RV was camped on the waterfront along Resurrection Bay.
After a few minutes of bumpy sailing through the Gulf of Alaska at the mouth of Resurrection Bay, we made a high-speed run over the shallow gravel bars in the narrow river opening that separates the lagoon below the glacier from the waters of the Gulf. This was where the Marmot Dreamer‘s design shined: its flat bottom, shallow draft and water-jet propulsion let us practically fly through water that was only a few inches deep at a speed of 50 mph, making tight turns along the way. That was a blast, but it was far too wild a ride to take pictures!
Once we were into the calm water of Bear Glacier Lagoon, the Marmot Dreamer dropped us off on the lagoon side of the glacier’s terminal moraine, where our sit-on-top kayaks were waiting for us in scenic Kenai Fjords National Park.
Libby gave us and the two other couples on the tour (both of whom were on their honeymoons–yes, we felt old) a quick kayak paddling lesson, made sure our drysuits and PFDs were in order, and we were ready to hit the water.
It took us only a few minutes to get our coordination down enough to be able to paddle in a straight line. Almost right away, we were close to massive icebergs that had calved off of Bear Glacier at the other end of the lagoon.
As everyone knows, nine-tenths of an iceberg is below the waterline. What you probably don’t know is that icebergs sometimes roll completely over as they melt and their center of gravity changes. You don’t want to be too close to a berg when it rolls, so we always stayed at least as far from an iceberg as the berg’s height for safety.
Along the way, Libby told us that not all floating ice is an iceberg. Technically, a piece of floating ice has to tower at least 16 feet above the waterline to be granted this impressive title. If it’s at least 3 feet but less than 16 feet tall, it’s a “bergy bit”–really!–and if it’s less than 3 foot tall, it’s a “growler”. I looked at several of the growlers, but none of them contained beer. 😉
Because we were with a small group, we could paddle at our own pace, which gave us plenty of time for gawking and taking photos.
This iceberg had become the temporary home for hundreds of loudly squawking sea birds.
After about an hour of paddling, we hauled the kayaks out on shore for a snack of hot chocolate and brownies that Libby had packed with her. We’d burned enough calories that we didn’t feel (too) guilty about enjoying the treats.
While we were on dry land, Libby waded into the frigid water to retrieve a piece of floating glacial ice. With almost all of the air and impurities squeezed out of it by the enormous weight of the glacier above, this ice is some of the clearest and purest fresh water on earth. We each broke off a chunk and tasted some ancient, pure water. (On another excursion we took, the crew made “glacier-ritas” with glacial ice, but alas, we had no tequila with us on this trip.)
We had a spectacular view of Bear Glacier from our rest stop. This was the closest we got to it during our trip.
Eventually, though, it was time to get back on the water.
We passed by a few more icebergs, but we were now paddling into the wind, so we had to keep going so as not to be pushed backward.
When we got back to the moraine, the Marmot Dreamer was there waiting for us.
While the Liquid Adventures crew cleaned and put away our gear, we took a short walk to the top of the terminal moraine–an enormous pile of rocks, deposited and then left by Bear Glacier as it retreated, that functions as a dam to create Bear Glacier Lagoon.
Each of the millions of rocks that make up the moraine was smoothed and rounded by the glacier as it dragged them underneath it over hundreds of years.
Back on the Marmot Dreamer, it was time for some jetboat fun. The outgoing tide had dropped the water level even lower than it was when we arrived, so captain Brandon had us hold on tight as he planed the boat through water just three inches deep in some spots to get us back out into the Gulf of Alaska.
Once we were back in Resurrection Bay, though, Brandon let us ride the rest of the way on the rear deck of the boat. As we re-entered the harbor, we got a peek at Godwin Glacier, along with a cruise ship in port and a playful pair of sea otters:
We returned home pretty worn out, but amazed and a bit overwhelmed by the spectacular sights we’d experienced during our tour. It was great to visit such a remote area with a small group and a knowledgeable guide. And we were already looking forward to our next kayak trip!