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Holgate Glacier

Staff Training Expedition in Aialik Fjord - Day 1

Over the course of a 4-day sea kayaking expedition in Aialik Fjord the Sunny Cove staff and owner practiced, trained, refined and enjoyed subjects such as birding, mammalogy, glaciology, geology, plant identification, group management, paddling technique, leadership styles, and seamanship.


After departing from the Seward Harbor via the Alaska Wildland Adventures (AWA) water taxi fittingly named the Weather or Knot, the Sunny Cove guides breathed a collective sigh of relief as we knew then, we were departing civilization with only the belongings we had with us on the boat, there was no longer the need to triple check the presence of each piece of gear. We were now headed out to the wilderness of Kenai Fjords National Park with only the modern sea kayaking equipment necessary for a 4-day paddling adventure and the communal atmosphere of the recently reunited Sunny Cove staff. Motoring across the calm waters of Resurrection Bay we viewed sea otters, seals, and sea lions. Once we reached the Harding Gateway at the mouth of Resurrection Bay we spotted our first whale spouts including an elusive gray whale migrating past the fjord on its way from Baja California Sur to feed on the rich marine abundance of the Bering Sea, the longest known migration of any mammal. The majority of guides had seen gray whales before in the lower 48, where they spend a significant portion of time near-shore, but seeing a gray whale above 60 degrees North in Alaska was a special treat.

We were dropped off at McMullen Cove and we packed our kayaks with a quickly rising tide. We pushed off just as the tide was beginning to touch the bows of our kayaks and paddled through the peaceful, serene, and drizzly McMullen Cove, passed a handful of lively waterfalls on the way to our lunch destination- Quicksand Cove.

Tidal Lagoon and ghost forest behind Quicksand beach.

The group gathering for a mid-day lunch in a thick mist on Quicksand Beach.

After a feasting on a delicious sandwich spread we launched and paddled north with our hearts set on reaching the 6-mile Holgate Arm of Aialik Fjord to view the magnificent tidewater face of Holgate Glacier. Paddling out of Quicksand Cove we spied mountain goats lazily munching new spring growth whilst precariously perched on unimaginably steep hillsides, and the sound of humpback whale spouts to our aft reminded us of our love for the ocean and all its' inhabitants. Before we reached the Holgate Arm we were pleasantly interrupted by one of the most unique wildlife gatherings many of us had ever seen.

Double eagle, single black bear.

As we rounded a small rocky point, we spotted from a distance the familiar white head of a bald eagle, except very unusually there were two sitting right next to each other well within their 6 foot wingspan. Having an enormous human-sized wingspan creates both a difficult landing and take-off in dense spruce foliage, especially within 6 inches of another already perched eagle. The 14 guides on the trip were already marveling at the two eagles perched so delicately next to each other when a plump black bear poked its' head out from behind the same spruce tree and paying us little attention as we paddled by. This unique wildlife combo was likely the most American thing that any of us had ever seen! 

After nearly fulfilling (never quite possible ;)) our fix of paddling, and wildlife viewing we made camp above the tideline on the north side of the Holgate Arm where we filled our bellies with local salmon and quinoa, then laid our heads to rest to the sound of a steady drizzle pitter pattering the outside of our tents and the Holgate Glacier rumbling with calving ice just a short paddle away, with the thought of tomorrows adventure gently seducing us to sleep.


Steller's, Dall's and a Really Big Whale. A Grand, Grand Day.

Our first Grand Day lived up to it's name. Here Eric and Brie are joined by a curious seal. This was just one of our wildlife interactions.

As our boat chartered out to Aialik Bay we had a treat. Sunny Cove guide Matt (the whale whisperer) Barnes spotted an unusual whale spout. Tall and powerful the estimated 20 foot spout was from a Fin whale. Fin whales are the planets 2nd largest animal. They can grow up to 80 feet in length and over 70 tons in weight. Long and slender they are also one of the fastest whales able to sustain speeds of 20 to 25 mph.

We stopped by a Steller Sea Lion haul out. The western Alaska Steller population experienced a 70 to 80% decline in population since the 1970s. Our Steller population seems to have stabilized in recent years. We encounter Steller Sea Lions frequently in our paddles. They are curious critters who often  check us out.

Dall purpoise joined us to surf the bow wake.  Extremely fast, Dall purpoise can swim up to 55 km/h almost as fast as Orca whales who share a similar coloration. They are fun to watch as they zigzag just under the water surface often creating a rooster tail spray when breaking the surface.

Can't forget the birds...  here we search for red faced cormorants. It's a day for smiles as SC guide Tess Tulley keeps an eye out for our feathered friends. We didn't see the red faced cormorants but did encounter horned and tufted puffins, pigeon guillemot, and double crested cormorants.

 With all the wildlife we still had plenty of time to paddle to Holgate glacier. This was the first Grand Day for new SC guides Connor O'Quinn and Alicia Lacutone. We couldn't have asked for a better day.


Trip Spotlight – Kenai Fjords National Park Grand Day Tour: Whale Watching, Tidewater Glacier Viewing, and Sea Kayaking

Searching for that up-close and personal Alaska whale watching, tidewater glacier viewing and sea kayaking experience, but don't have the time for our kayak camping adventures? This is the trip for you!
In front of Holgate Glacier

We are the only kayak company providing a tour to Holgate Glacier; a remote tidewater glacier in Aialik Bay. Our morning starts with a wildlife tour aboard our local charter boat. Your captain will transport you to Aialik Bay with stops along the way to view wildlife. You may see whales, harbor seals, Steller sea lions, tufted and horned puffins, bald eagle, Dall porpoise, orca and more.

Upon reaching Aialik Bay we will launch our kayaks and paddle amidst some of the most spectacular scenery coastal Alaska has to offer. As we kayak through 'bergy bits and growlers' and blue-green sea water, we'll bring you as close as 1/2 mile from a towering glacier. Crackling ice, tidewater glaciers and wildlife encounters will bedazzle your senses as we spend the afternoon paddling. This excursion includes lunch, beverages and snacks. Children 8 and up are welcome to paddle with an adult in our two person kayaks.

Paddling through bergy bits
Love, love, love guiding our Grand Day trips! When you get up near the glacier and see the ice calve off into the ocean, it sounds like a thunderstorm when the ice hits the water and reminds me of my former summer days in Florida. And the dense glacier ice appears majestic deep blue to the eye. You will be paddling through smaller ice bergs and bergy bits that have never seen human interaction. These glaciers have been retreating heavily over the past century so there’s no time like the present to get a glimpse of nature at its finest. ~Danny