DAY 6 — Keep an eye out for the flat ice bergs. They are the ones that might get our kayaks in trouble because most are below the water.
We are in the middle of Glacier Bay, paddling through the ice — big icebergs, little icebergs. One looks like an alligator. “I thought they were cool — they were so little on top and, oh wow — they were huge underneath,” said 14-year-old Xander Majercik.
We’re in six yellow kayaks paddling about a mile up from where we’ve dropped the anchor on our 12-passenger boat, the Sea Wolf (www.seawolfadventures.net), on our way to Reid Glacier — the second day of our Thomson Family Adventure (www.familyadventures.com) tour on a small boat named the Sea Wolf cruising through Glacier Bay National Park — 3.3 million acres of glaciers, wildlife and an amazing marine ecosystem.
The water is probably just 40 degrees; we are bundled up like mummies under our life vests and “skirts” that keep water from getting in our kayaks — long underwear, quick dry pants, rubber pants, fleeces and waterproof jackets. At least we’re toasty warm as we paddle the water, navigating our kayaks through the ice.
Like a river, the guide to Glacier National Park says, the glacier flows down the mountains, choosing the path of least resistance, incorporating rocks into its lower layers. When it gets to warmer elevations, it begins to melt. Reid Glacier — about three quarters of a mile wide and 9.5 miles long — moves up to three feet a day. It looks like a giant pile of blue cotton candy.
Blue? Glacier ice is made up of large, tightly packed ice crystals. When sunlight hits it, the ice acts like a prism and separates the light. Low energy colors — like red and yellow — are absorbed while blue is reflected.
”It reminded me of mint chip ice cream,” said 17-year –old Drew Redmond.
“Blue raspberry popsicles with crumbled Oreos, said 11 year-old Charlotte, adding that it sounds gross!
We’re right in front of the famous Marjorie Glacier, 21 miles long and famous for the “money shot” of cruise ships parked in front.
“Seeing the chunks fall off was my favorite part,” said Drew.
That’s what it sounds like when the glacier “calves,” or breaks off into the ocean.
A big Holland America cruise ship comes up behind us in Glacier Bay, passengers lining the deck. We’re glad we’re in our kayaks instead but 12-year-old Max Weinberg isn’t so sure. The arcade and internet on board seem pretty appealing.
Certainly this is a different way to experience Alaska — and considerably more expensive, we adults note. But the experience is so memorable — as we slide through the ice, 13 year old Miles Singer picks up a chunk of iceberg to make ice cubes. The Black-legged Kittiwakes — a kind of gull — are screaming in the cliffs to the Bald Eagles to leave their chicks and eggs alone.
We see Horned and Tufted Puffins, frantically waving their wings. They can dive faster than they can fly. There are millions of these birds in North America, most of them breeding here in Alaska.
We return to the boat in our kayaks for lunch — homemade soup, sandwiches and banana bread — and then begin to head West through the park toward Johns Hopkins Glacier — more than 12 miles long.
“My favorite place in the world.” Carole tells the kids. We’re huddled on the bow of the boat watching Johns Hopkins Glacier calve, big and small pieces falling into the water. Snap…crackle…BOOM! The kids are enthralled. “I could stay here all night and watch this,” declares Miles Singer. “You could see the pieces fall.”
This is the most active glacier in the park, we’re told, and it is rare for a boat to get this close — within half a mile. We stand on the bow and watch it for nearly an hour, leaving only when Kimber Owen explains we must leave because otherwise we’ll be stuck, surrounded by ice as the tides change. Unlike a cruise ship, we have no set schedule so we can stop to view as much or as little as we please. Hundreds of Harbor Seals are on pieces of floating ice — this area is one of the largest “pupping” areas for Harbor Seals in Alaska, we learn.
As we leave, the glacier calves twice more right in front of us — giant chunks of ice falling in the glacial water, accompanied by a “BOOM” as if to say “thanks for taking the time to see me!”
Back on the boat, a couple of the kids are playing Connect Four and another group is playing Hearts. They don’t seem to miss the internet or computer. We’re cozy and more. Kayaking through icebergs…watching the most active Glacier in Glacier Bay.
Suddenly we’re called to attention. We’re approaching “Jaw Point” – so-called because you can see three glaciers from the point and your jaw may literally drop. “You can spot six or seven glaciers,” our on-board mentor Carole Gibson. The kids give up their card game, grab the cameras and binoculars and head for the bow of the boat.
Next: Life without internet or TV