What it’s like to kayak around a glacier in Alaska

Feb 14, 2017

Kayaking around a 183m-tall glacier in Alaska, dodging chunks of ice as big as trucks, is a humbling experience – as our writer discovers.

“I’ll never get used to gawping at that lump of ice, no matter how many times I come here,” says wilderness guide Ryan Middleditch, as our kayak drifts to within 400m of the base of Aialik Glacier. “Your jaw just hangs loose like a husky’s.”

Cheek to cheek with the 183m-tall mountain of ice, with menacing chunks that suddenly drop off with alarming frequency, I quickly learn two things. First, it’s best not to get too close. When the ice falls about 30m into the bay like bombs, it creates mini tidal waves strong enough to sink a ship.

Second, it pays to paddle clear of the remnant bobbing icebergs that smack against my kayak as I push through the ocean. Deceptively dangerous and unpredictable underwater, some are the size of trucks. These, too, can sink me in an instant by unexpectedly tilting. Both are constant reminders that being at the foot of one of the world’s largest tidewater glaciers isn’t something you can ever get used to. In my pint-size sea kayak, I feel microscopic.

But this is a regular feeling in Kenai Fjords National Park, outside Seward in south-central Alaska. “There’s just so much ice,” says Middleditch, as we embark on our 13km kayak round trip to the ice wall’s base from Kenai Fjords Glacier Lodge, the only place to stay within the boundaries of the national park.