Saturday, September 7, 2013

Blue ice and a Leaky Pool Toy... Exploring Bear Glacier

Bear Glacier is the largest of the Harding Icefield glaciers. The glacier spills from the Harding into a lagoon lake filled with massive icebergs. Bear Glacier Lagoon is difficult to access, especially if the sea conditions are rough.
The challenge of getting into Bear Glacier lagoon greatly limits the number of visitors. Over the years I’ve often had the place to myself. This year John Fowler, Kat and I were lucky to have calm seas and high tide enabling us to paddle into the river that exits the lagoon and line our kayaks upstream. Once we got close to the lagoon lake the current diminished and we were able to begin paddling again. 

As we paddled into the lake we were amazed to see a shivering man, clad in shorts and t -shirt, sitting on an inflatable pool toy and a black box perched on a rock. Not what you normally expect to encounter in a remote location when the afternoon sun was losing its heat and a cool breeze was beginning to blow off the glacier. We paddled over to see if he was ok. He wasn’t.

As we approached he told us he was bit cold and that, yes, he was shivering. He was waiting for a crewmate to return so  they could paddle back across the lake entrance and river to the outer beach where they could radio their luxury yacht from Florida for a pick up. They had used a paddleboard to cross over to the location with the paddleboard towing the pool toy, which apparently had a leak. He had attempted to keep the pool toy afloat semi successfully plugging the hole with his finger but had got wet. The black boxes contained a remote control helicopter equipped with a Go Pro video camera. He and his buddy were shooting video for the yacht owners. He was hoping his crewmate would return shortly and was a bit worried about his return trip on the pool toy to the beach. His buddy had the radio and neither man had a PFD or extra clothing layers. We pulled out some clothes for him and made preparations to paddle him, the pool toy and the boxes across in our double kayak. Just as we were getting ready the other man appeared clad in shorts and a hoodie. He seemed clueless to the fact that his friend was hypothermic and that we were in the midst of a “preventative” rescue. 

I suspect that our paddling by at that moment made a difference in their lives. I don’t think the pool toy rider would have survived a swim in the frigid waters. I do know that neither of them had a clue about the environment they were in and the probable consequences of their actions. Alaskan wilderness is not a kind place for unprepared people. In this instance a little bit of help from us prevented what could have been a life-threatening situation. In retrospect I wish I had taken a photo or two of this event. 

We spent the next three days experiencing Bear Glacier in all its moods. We watched the “Alaska channel“ at our camp as icebergs turned and a baby gull took its first swim away from mom. Each moment brought a new sense of wonder. Sun slipped into foggy overcast and dark rain clouds making the ice even more blue and radiant. 

This place is a photographer's dream. As the clouds appear the ice turns even more blue. 

When we made our exit from the lagoon into the river into the gulf we were greeted by a humpback whale cruising along the beach line welcoming our transition back into Resurrection Bay. 

Next year, weather and tide permitting, we will be offering a three day kayak/camping paddle in Bear Glacier lagoon.  More information will soon be available on our website

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