Sea Kayaking in the Alaskan Wilderness for 3 days

I am the kind of person to whom a sea kayaking trip in the Alaskan wilderness sounds like a great way to celebrate a wedding anniversary. And I am glad to have a husband who feels, more or less, the same way. So, that is what we ended up doing for our 9th anniversary: 3-day sea kayaking adventure trip to Aialik Bay in Alaska with Miller's Landing. And what a trip it was!

I have been trying to blog about this trip for a while now but found it difficult to put it in words. May be it was because this trip wasn't just about sea kayaking. It wasn't just about setting up tents on the beach facing massive glaciers. It wasn't just about icebergs, bears, seals and sea otters. Yes, there was all of that but this trip was about a lot more. To me, it was more about living in the moment. One moment you are trying to figure out where to set up your tent and where to pee, the next moment you are trying to figure out where to get water from and where to cook food. And then you are trying to figure out if you should land your kayak on the same small strip of land where you saw a big black bear just 10 minutes ago. Or if you should continue to kayak on the rough seas as waves begin to swell. Both your mind and body feel fully alive and present. All your senses come to life like at no other time as you make each of these decisions. And you feel like you are living your life, perhaps, like it is meant to be. That is what 3 days of living in the wilderness allowed us to experience, something we don't often do in the daily grind of our lives. Alas, it was only for a brief 3 day period; nevertheless it was an exhilarating experience. 

Kayaking through the icebergs and watching the glacier calve right in front of us while emanating a thunderous sound was super exciting. Watching the seals fall off the floating icebergs into the sea right next to us was quite amusing. Navigating the rough seas on our kayak was totally thrilling and landing at a picturesque sandy beach after several hours of kayaking was delightful. But what brought all of this together and made our trip really special was our guide Josh Thomas. 
I, my husband and Josh (From Right to Left)
It is hard to narrate our trip without talking about our inspiring, talented and adventurous guide, Josh Thomas. You will see his stories weaved into ours throughout the post. We met Josh the day before our trip for introductions and he provided us with dry bags to pack our stuff for the trip. He was really nice and offered to pick us up from our cabin the next morning. We arrived early and after checking in, we got on a motorboat with our dry bags around 7 am and left our remaining luggage at their office. Josh joined us after loading the kayaks and the rest of the camping gear. About a couple of hours later, the boat dropped us at a rocky beach in Aialik Bay facing a massive glacier, called the Aialik glacier.

The Aialik Bay was filled with smoke from nearby fires, so the visibility was poor when we landed. By the time we set up our tents and enjoyed a good breakfast that Josh put together, it cleared up a bit. We were quite eager to begin our adventure, but it turned out, there is quite a bit of preparation needed. There were several layers of clothing to be worn to protect ourselves from the wetness and the cold. Josh brought a lot of additional waterproof layers for us without which we would have been quite miserable in the water. He packed our lunch and required gear in the kayaks and we set off for our adventure around 11 am.

The sea was calm when we started kayaking, so we kept a good pace. As we got nearer to the glacier, there were several icebergs floating on the sea. Some of them were big enough to topple our kayak if we hit them hard. So, we had to navigate our kayak carefully through those icebergs and since I was sitting in the front, it was my job to give directions to my husband so he can change the direction of the kayak so as to avoid hitting them. I was super excited and felt like a captain of a ship with a crucial responsibility, but acted more like a kid in a candy store. Let's just say that we managed fine, thanks to my husband.

After kayaking for about 3 hours, we stopped at a place close to the glacier for lunch. Josh brought us corn tortillas, hummus and other interesting spreads, veggies and some meat with which we made tacos and ate a lot of them. It was nice and sunny but also cold due to the proximity of the glacier. While we sat and ate, we could hear the thunderous sound from the glacier calving. To watch a glacier calve is awe inspiring. Since sound travels slower than light, by the time you hear the sound, the calving would have already begun/happened. So, we had our eyes peeled for the next couple of hours, so as to not miss any of it. After stretching our legs, which was important after 3 hours of kayaking sitting in a specific posture, we got back on the sea to get even closer to the glacier.

The Aialik glacier is the largest and most actively calving tidewater glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park. So, we saw the glacier calving several times in the next couple of hours. But it also meant we had to keep a safe distance as the ripples created from the ice falling into the sea can be dangerous to the kayaks. The glacier was 1.5 mile wide and we kayaked along the width of the glacier to the other side. It was a memorable experience and we reluctantly turned back to head to our camping spot after a while. After taking another bio break on our way back, we reached our camping spot around 6:30 pm. We kayaked about 12 miles on day 1 and felt pretty good about it.

For dinner on Day 1, Josh made us a popular Indian dish "Chole" with rice and it was very good. We were pleasantly surprised and upon further probing we found out that Josh is intimately familiar with certain parts of India (probably more than we did) and is familiar with a lot of Indian cooking. In 2011, he and his friend JJ went on an epic adventure to India and traveled 1500 miles along the length of the river Ganges from the source to the sea. They documented their trip in the movie 'Go Ganges!', which is on Amazon Prime. In 2018, they traveled from Delhi to Jaipur (165 miles) on a bicycle for JJ's wedding from which Josh had many stories to share. Lucky for us, as we thoroughly enjoyed Josh's wonderfully cooked Indian meals for the next 3 days. After dinner, we watched this beautiful sunset and went to bed early around 9 pm. There were so many bugs in the evenings that sitting outside for long wasn't really an option :)

On Day 2, we got up early and helped Josh in packing up our tents. After breakfast, he packed everything neatly into the kayaks and we set off to our next destination around 10 am. We kayaked for a couple of hours and reached the Aialik Bay cabin area. We had a good view of several glaciers from this location. After munching on a couple of gluten-free bars and stretching our legs, we set off to cross the Bay to the other side. On our way, we saw a seal leisurely floating on an iceberg. Just when we were discussing how cool that looked, the iceberg started tilting slowly and the seal fell off into the sea. Phew, we were so much better off in our kayaks even with tired arms and legs. 

When we were about 10 minutes away from a small strip of land with access to a narrow waterfall where we could refill our water supply, we saw a big black bear standing right in the center. We continued kayaking and just hoped the bear would move away and it did by the time we landed. But we didn't know where it went and we debated who and how many should go to the waterfall behind the bushes and who should stay with the kayaks. Eventually, Josh went and got the water safely while I and my husband stayed with the kayaks with a bear spray in hand. We then ate a cautious lunch and then headed out to the much awaited Quickcove sandy beach. We passed through some caves on the way which was fun.

Most of the beaches on Aialik Bay are rocky beaches. But this particular beach was a sandy beach which Josh said was his favorite spot in the Aialik Bay. We could easily see why as soon as we landed. 

Josh showed us blueberry bushes in the jungle behind and we spent a lot of time picking and eating the wild blueberries that evening.

Then we spent a considerable amount of time deciding where we should set up a tent. Should it be in a pretty spot in the jungle or on the beach facing the sea? Of course, we set it up on the beach. 

While Josh was making dinner for us, we explored the area a bit. The sandy beach was surrounded by glaciers and green hills with the sea on one side and jungle on the other. It was quite picturesque and there weren't as many bugs on this day compared to the previous day. Or may be, I don't remember the bugs as I don't see them in the pictures ;)

Josh found a couple of huge logs which he used as a makeshift kitchen and dining area and served us excellent "daal" (lentils) and veggies. It was a hearty meal served in an excellent location. It was a blessing indeed!

Next morning, Josh made coffee for my husband and offered me his special tea served with honey. I loved it and found out that it was called 'Bengal Spice' by celestial seasonings, which I ordered soon after I got back home. We spent a lot of time chatting and didn't want to leave the place. We learned that Josh was nominated 4 times for Emmy awards for outstanding cinematography for the "Deadliest Catch" show on Discovery channel. I was just thinking the previous evening that this whole experience felt like I was part of some discovery channel program and we got to know that Josh actually worked for them for several seasons on contract. What can I say!

Around 1 pm on Day 3, we finally decided to get going. The plan was to visit the Holgate glacier and then take the motor boat back to Seward from there in the evening. We had to take the kayaks to a slightly different location and wait for the right time to launch them into the sea. The sea was rough and there were waves of 1-2 feet. We were bouncing around in our kayak and it was getting difficult to control it. Compared to the last 2 days when the sea was much calmer, this day felt like an adventure. It was exciting, as long as we managed to stay in the kayak! Our guide has a great spirit of adventure and extensive kayaking experience. In fact, he and his friend JJ kayaked 1,300 miles from Alaska to Seattle for 97 days in 2009 and documented it in a film called "Paddle to Seattle," which is on Amazon Prime as well. Needless to say, we felt super safe knowing we were kayaking with an expert. 

After about 30-40 minutes or so in the rough waters, Josh seemed concerned. As we were about to turn the corner of the Holgate Arm, he said he didn't feel safe anymore and we should turn back and go to another landing area. We happily obliged. He managed to find a spot with some signal and communicated it to the team to pick us up from a different landing spot. We arrived at the new landing location around 3:30 pm and waited for our motor boat. Josh brought out some snacks, set them neatly on a stone which we ate off of, while enjoying the view. 

Our boat picked us up around 7 pm and brought us safely back to Seward that evening.

We thanked Josh for the wonderful experience, exchanged emails and said goodbyes. We will never forget him. Or this trip.

When you look back at your life, there are always some moments, places, and people that stand out. Those that leave a deep impact on you that you vividly remember years later. This trip was undoubtedly one such experience for us. Well, how can you ever forget the experience of taking a dump on a rocky beach, surrounded by snow covered mountains in 40 degree Fahrenheit weather, with a massive 1.5 mile wide glacier staring at you, while you are attempting to squash flies biting your butt at the same time :) Try that!


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