Kayaking the Prince William Sound, Alaska
What to bring: Water gear, layers of clothes
Best Season: Summer (June – August) is the least freezing time to visit
Top Sights: Sea lions, feeding bears and breathtaking icy scenery
Watch out for: Those wily icebergs
– Hearing icebergs ‘calving’ in the distance as you paddle up through icebergs.
– Watching sea lions playing in the icy cold water.
– Camping out near Shoup Glacier.
– Hiking into see the browns feeding at the Bear’s Kitchen.
Prince William Sound is located in the heart of South Central Alaska. It’s the northern extent of the Gulf of Alaska and has some of the most spectacular coastlines and glaciers. Dotted by small islands, the sound is bordered by mountains, glaciers, fjords, rivers, lakes and rain forests.
Columbia Glacier is the second largest tidewater glacier in North America, and spills forty miles out of the Chugach Mountains and ends with a three-mile wide face. Paddling here is known as ‘Bluewater’ kayaking,referring to the coastal areas characterised by extreme tidal fluctuations, cold water temperatures and high wind and rain. Sea kayaking in Prince William Sound, and in all coastal areas of Alaska isn’t like ocean touring – this is a trek that requires careful attention to the tidal fluctuations and paddlers schedule days around the changing tides, travelling with the tidal current or during slack tide for easy paddling.
Bradley Cooper starts his kayak trip in Valdez Harbour, paddling ten miles to the Shoup tidewater glacier. Moving out of the Valdez arm into “the narrows”, the winds can be fierce and really slow down your paddling time. From the narrows, Bradley makes it through the Narrows and on to Sawmill Bay State Park. He paddles up a small channel inlet of fresh water to a lush area of old growth rainforest. From there it’s a fifteen minute hike inland “Bear’s Kitchen” in the old growth rain forest. This is where Alaska’s bears feast on the plentiful salmon run and other wild animals. Bradley then heads west paddling to Seventeen-Mile Beach, one of the few white sand beaches in Alaska. From there it’s on to Heather Bay along a remote coastline. At its entrance, Bradley sees the hilarious sea lion colony at Bull’s Head. The end to this fabulous sea kayaking trek is at the ice fields at the enormous and magnificent Columbia Glacier.
The climate varies here from moderate to warm temperatures in the summer ranging from 35ºF (2ºC) to 86ºF (29ºC). In the winter the wind chill factor and snow drop temperatures to 60 degrees below zero which sends the bears into hibernation. Make sure you have plenty of layers, especially all-weather coats, trousers and rubber boots. Summer time is the best time of year to paddle in Prince William Sound, but it still gets pretty chilly and there’s always a risk of hypothermia if you fall in the icy water.
When paddling near the glaciers in Prince William Sound, you need to take extra care. Because of the danger of falling ice, you must stay half a mile away from the main flow to view it safely.
Did you know?
Columbia Glacier is a slow moving river of ice, its face is four miles wide and over 270 feet high. It moves at about four feet per day carving and reshaping the land in its path.
A tidewater glacier is one that empties directly into the sea and the Columbia Glacier is the largest in Prince William Sound. The glacier was named after New York’s Columbia University and spills forty miles out of the Chugach Mountains. The Columbia Glacier has been rapidly retreating for almost ten years. Icebergs up to a million tons regularly break off, clogging the sea in the Sound with ice. Scientists predict that in fifty years, the Columbia Glacier will be half the size it is today.
Alaska is known as the ‘land of the midnight sun’. It is the 49th state admitted to the Union by Dwight Eisenhower on January 3, 1959. Purchased in 1867 from the Russians, William H. Seward, America’s secretary of State, paid a cool $7.2 million.
Prince William Sound is an ideal place to see wildlife and paddling its waters offers a great chance to really get close up. On this trip, you’ll see bald eagles soaring overhead, kittiwakes nesting on the shores, brown bears feeding on the thousands of salmon that travel upstream to their summer spawning grounds. And in the water, there’s even more wildlife – the sea lion colony at Bull’s Head is great for watching the sea lions cavorting in the water and lazing about on the rocks. In fact, all of the sea lions in this colony are male. Since they’re not fighting over the females, they’re not aggressive.
There are 5 different kinds of salmon in the streams here. Sockeye, or red salmon, king or chinook, pink or humpie, coho or silver and chum. You have to buy a $30.00 fishing license before you can fish in these waters.
On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on a reef in Prince William Sound. It leaked 42 million litres of crude oil. It’s estimated that a quarter of a million birds, almost 3000 otters, 300 seals and possibly 13 killer whales lost their lives as a result of the spill. Many archaeological sites in the region were vandalised during the cleanup programme. Some species are on their way to recovering their pre-spill numbers. Others such as the killer whale population, are still on the decline.
The Pilot Productions team worked with Pangaea Adventures.
They stayed at stayed at the Village Inn,Valdez
P.O. Box 775, Valdez, Alaska 99686 USA
Telephone: 1-800 660 9637
Tel/Fax: (907) 835 9067
In Valdez: (907) 835 8442
P.O. Box 365, Valdez, Alaska 99686
Tel: 1-800-478 4445 or (907) 835 4445
Visitor Information Center
200 Chenega Street, Valdez
Tel: 1-907-835-INFO or 1-800-770 5954.
Open 8am till 8pm, seven days a week from May 15 through Sept. 15.
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“Kayaking and Camping in Prince William Sound.” by Paul Twardock ($18.95)
Prince William Sound Books
PO Box 1313
Valdez, AK 99686 order online