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Staff Training Expedition in Aialik Fjord - Day 2

The Sunny Cove staff basking in the beauty of Aialik Glacier

With an ambitious plan of visiting all three tidewater glaciers in Aialik (eye-al-ick) fjord during the daylight hours of the second day of our training expedition, the crew was up early to start coffee and a scrumptious breakfast of hashers, zucchini, onions, scrambled eggs, and reindeer sausage in order to expedite an early departure from the Holgate arm. Due to a conflict with another sea kayaking group over campsite selection for the evening we decided to maintain a base camp in the Holgate arm, rather than moving camp to the Pedersen Lagoon as previously outlined in our float plan. Not only did this decision lighten our boats, and give our tents a chance to dry out from the overnight rain, but provided both paddling parties with the more remote wilderness vibe we all travel to Aialik fjord for, whilst only adding an additional 6 miles to our day trip from basecamp.

Guides Andrew and Kelly (K2) paddling through the sea arch at Holgate Head at the end of the day.

Paddling around Holgate Head into the slightly more exposed waters of the body of Aialik bay we scouted a sea arch that was impassable at the current low tide and spied two mountain goats lazily perched precariously on a cliff side just 50 feet above us. Two hours of paddling later after numerous marbled murrelet, pelagic cormorant, pigeon guillemot, and even a solitary white fronted goose sighting we landed just west of Slate Island on the mainland for a smoked salmon spread flatbread lunch with pickled onions, bell peppers, and capers.

Smoked Salmon pizza spread yum!!

After lunch we pushed off and were immediately cutting a path through reasonably thick brash ice with interspersed growlers and small icebergs on our way to view the enormous face of Aialik glacier, with our eyes out for hauled out harbor seals using the ice to warm up their bodies from the cold-sapping water. Strangely we saw no harbor seals in the vicinity although the bergs of Aialik glacier is a commonly known pupping area this time of year. The mile long terminal face of Aialik glacier had noticeably retreated since I'd last visited in late August of last year, and was beginning to show even more rock underneath the massive tongue, which perpetuated the hypothesis that it wouldn't be long before Aialik glacier will likely become a land-locked valley glacier, relinquished from its tidewater status. After marveling at the dynamic terminal face of ice for as long as we could without inhibiting our late afternoon plans, we reversed directions and cut ice back to the entrance of the tidally dependent and spectacular Pedersen Lagoon to view Pedersen Glacier.

Guide Arthur breaking ice leaving Aialik Glacier on our way to Pedersen Glacier

The dynamic Pedersen Lake, Lagoon, and Glacier system uniquely exemplifies a dynamic mix of geology/hydrology in action, biologic richness/diversity, and the boundary of where modern society (i.e. Kenai Fjords National Park) meets native ancestral lands of the Alutiiq Unegkurmiut (modern day Port Graham Authority), all overlain with a natural tone of epic grandeur. Entering the lagoon via sea kayak encourages a stark feeling of contrast between the ocean environment of Aialik bay and the sheltered lake-like feel of Pedersen Lagoon, which is a natural haven for harbor seals, and sea otters due to its protection from open ocean elements such as wind, wave action and predators. After floating the tidal current up into Pedersen Lake past a number of intimidating grounded icebergs we were astonished to be looking directly at the terminal face of Pedersen Glacier. Not a single one of the guides had ever seen the glacial lake so free of ice, something drastic had happened over the winter. Taking advantage of the open water we paddled as a group closer to the face of Pedersen Glacier than any of us had ever been. Pedersen Glacier has been retreating quicker than any other tidewater glacier in Aialik fjord, it's an incredibly active place, avalanches and rocks fell as we paddled, icebergs cracked and rolled, all as we were paddling in an enormous recently revealed glacial landscape. We even spied a black bear foraging high up on the mountain side. 

Guides JD and Katie hanging loose in front of Pedersen Glacier

Given the short window of safety in Pedersen Lake, we turned around within two hours as to ensure we made it out of Pedersen Glacier Lagoon before the drastic tide change which creates currents greater than 6 knots. Exiting the Pedersen Lagoon mouth went smoothly and we quickly paddled the 6 miles back to basecamp at Holgate Glacier with dinner, sleep, and theories of why Pedersen Lake was so free of the icebergs we were so accustomed to seeing on our minds. Back at camp we quickly ate a couple of tasty Halibut tacos each, and hurried off to bed to rest after an truly epic 20+ mile day of sea kayaking in Kenai Fjords National Park.

-Andrew