Flight to Alaska, Day Three, Columbia Glacier
Today I got dropped off by a tour boat near Columbia glacier on a gravel bar, more than 50 miles from Valdez. I spent about an hour assembling the used folding kayak I bought on the flight up to Alaska and I was really happy to learn it floats. Especially since the tour boat was gone and the captain informed me that even though they list this kayaking trip on their website, I was the only one so far this year to do it. I knew it would be a nice solo wilderness adventure, but I did expect more kayakers around.
In fact, part of the reason I wasn’t too concerned about grizzly bears is that I thought between the salmon and other kayakers there was plenty for them to eat. Now I seem to be the only one on the menu under the human section.
I discovered the kayak is a really nice little (small for a touring kayak) boat, which is good since it will be taking me four days in it to get back to Valdez.
I paddled up to see the famous Columbia glacier icebergs (The Exxon Valdez went off course to miss one when it hit the reef). The wind picks up and I was really hoping for a day or two to get used to the kayak before I’m really tested in it, but luckily it turns out to be quite stable. I’m still careful to not take my hands off the paddle for quite a while so I’m ready to brace, and every now and then a wave crashes over the bow. It finally calms down after an hour or two of blowing.
I should note that I’ve sea-kayaked before, otherwise this may seem a little crazy to think I could get dropped off 50 miles out with a new boat and jump in and paddle away for four days. Remember, my prognosis is that I’m going to live, not die, so I’m trying to stay relatively safe during this journey.
While playing among the icebergs I see in the distance a real, live Alaskan bush pilot land. It takes me about 90 minutes to reach the spot but I climb out and hike up to see if I can see the airstrip. It turns out the plane was right there behind a hill, and there is no airstrip, only a tidal gravel beach with some fairly big rocks visible. I was impressed.
I find the pilot (from Palmer or Wasilla, I forget which) and he is surprised to see me because he’s never met anyone there before. We talk about the landing area and he confesses that it has been groomed by rolling off the large rocks in a certain area, and only he a few others know of it and most importantly, they know which landmarks to use to make sure you land at the right spot.
I’ve seen the YouTube videos of Super Cubs landing on boulder-ridden gravel bars, but I’m still impressed.