Kayak adventure in Alaska

Follow a Sunset editor as she paddles among icebergs, humpback whales, and 350-pound sea lions

Katie Tamony

JUNE 7 & 8

We're like family now. We paddle Galena Bay and Jack Bay ― some peaceful paddling at last ― and I begin to feel sad about the idea of our trip coming to a close. As we head to Galena Bay, the seas are rough again with 6-foot swells. It feels like riding in a washing machine. When the seas are calmer, we follow a pod of orcas. Though not as large as the humpbacks, they're fast, powerful, and graceful, at times running under the boat.

Back in Valdez, it's time to say good-bye. Though they were strangers just days before, I feel so bonded with these people that I choke up hugging them. Their camaraderie and enthusiasm for our adventure have been like another life jacket for me.

Miles paddled: 9


Ready for anything. Now it's on to Juneau for my glacier trip. Another group of strangers, another challenge ahead of me. My group of five takes a helicopter up to Mendenhall Glacier. After the whale experience, a helicopter doesn't faze me at all. It's like we're floating on gusts of air. On the glacier, our guides teach us the proper walking technique. I feel like Spider-Man scaling the ice wall. After 30 minutes of exploring the glacier, lead guide Bill Forrest asks us if we want to try the ropes ― rappelling down a three- to four-story drop. I surprise myself by volunteering. As I back over the edge of the glacier and let myself drop, I feel the weight of the world falling away from me. I have a fleeting vision of the whales, a memory of being pulled to the brink, just far enough to glimpse the other side. I feel strong, and free, and ready for whatever comes next.


Many outfitters offer kayaking, camping, and boat tours around the sound. Pangaea Adventures offers four-, six-, and eight-day mother-ship cruises as well as day trips and kayak/camping trips, all out of Valdez, Alaska. Prices vary widely, but plan to spend a lot for a trip like the one described here ($2,300 per day for four people; 800/660-9637). Flights to Valdez are available daily from Anchorage.


NorthStar Trekking (from $339; 866/590-4530) offers glacier and helicopter tours of various levels of difficulty.

More: Alaska travel guide


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