My Alaskan adventure was always about one thing – paddling amongst icebergs. It had taken a six hour flight from Chicago, a 4 hour train ride from Anchorage, and a one hour water-taxi in at high tide, and finally I was at the right destination – Bear Glacier.
Now this particular glacier is one of the biggest coming down from the Harding Icefield. It is an enormous body of ice meandering down through the mountains shrouded in low-lying cloud. It is difficult to access, with only one water-taxi operator having the right boat and skills to get into the lake at high tide.
Besides the magnificent glacier, it is a dangerous place. It is both ridiculously cold, with the lake water a fraction of a degree above freezing point, and in the middle of no-where, meaning populated by all manner of carniverous wildlife. I found both bear and wolverine tracks close to my campsite, to give you an indication.
It is also hidden away from general tour operators and has very few, if any, visitors to it. The only people I saw there were photographers for National Geographic. This is a place of harshness, but incredible beauty. And as a low-lying tidal glacier, its face calves off mountainous icebergs into its lake. Giant blue-tinged icebergs bigger than houses. This is what I’d come for.
So after settling into our camp, I went through the ordeal of putting on a dry-suit, something I have never seen in my Australian travels. Imagine a rubber S&M gimp suit and you’re not far off. This thing completely encloses your body in a rubberised cocoon that keeps all external water out – and all your sweat in. It was so uncomfortable I wondered if it was really necessary. Until I touched the water of course!
Once into the kayak I realised its benefit. The lake water was cold. Really cold! So cold that my legs were freezing from just being in the kayak that close to the lake water. With a dry-suit you can wear clothes underneath to keep you warm. Not that I had anywhere near enough on at the time!
Once on the lake we made for the glacier itself. It is hard to describe the staggering size of it, the incredibly rugged beauty of it, or the terrifying artillery sounds it makes as ice fissures crack open within it. But in the face of it we paddled to the terminal morraine (ie the mountain of debris deposited at its base), ready to climb it for a full view of this enormous glacier.
It’s hard to describe how I felt standing on this incredible natural structure. Perhaps small, helpless, but in awe of the beauty. It’s a humbling experience. But a good start to my Alaskan backcountry adventure. To be continued…