Ice Caves Anyone?

Valdez, AK has a lot to offer for the outdoors enthusiast and we ventured there this year with a particular item on our “To Do” list.  While we’ve gone sea kayaking in Alaska on a few of our trips, and also ventured out on glaciers for hiking and ice climbing, there was still something related to both of those activities that we had yet to do…. ice cave exploration on kayaks.  So while we were in Valdez, we did just that.


We set out for the Valdez Glacier, aptly named as it is located near the town of Valdez.  Just a quick drive to our launch site, where before long, we were on our way on the icy waters filled with icebergs.


For this trip, I was well equipped with my gear … 2 cameras, landscape lens, telephoto lens, and trusty iPhone.  I quickly informed Tom that though we were sharing a 2-man kayak, that he should be prepared to do the lion’s share of the paddling, as I would be shooting stills and video.  🙂


We would let the others get ahead of us, so that we could stop as we needed, always being sure to keep them in sight.


As we meandered through the beautiful iceberg formations, I could help but feel myself at total peace with this place and I couldn’t wait to get to the ice caves, not really being sure of how it would be.  We passed an area where the icebergs had trapped a pool of water within it and I desperately wanted to portage into its center, though I knew that it wasn’t possible.


See, the glacial and iceberg formations are constantly changing from year to year, season to season, month to month, week to week, and even day to day.  Not to even mention what they say about the “tip of the iceberg” … and what lurks below.  It was so beautiful to even hear the ice crystal in the glacial features popping, the water dripping, the wind blowing.


When we reached our first preliminary ice cave, I was taken back by the beautiful blue ice at its center.


We were to paddle up to the formation, turn around, pose for a snapshot, and paddle out, but Tom had specific orders to pause for as long as we could so that I could take it all in.


As we approached the terminus of the glacier, I could feel my excitement mounting and I was thinking about how fortunate we were to have such beautiful weather.


Ice caves of different stages of development were seemingly everywhere.  Take a look at the amazing blue ice shining so brightly.  It was stunning to be in the midst of it all.


Below is an image of the Valdez Glacier terminus and all of those “rocks and dirt” in the foreground are actually part of the moraine of the glacier and under it all is the actual glacial ice … on top is the earth which had been deposited on it as it made it way in its advancement stage.  Of course, very few glaciers are advancing today.  It always amazes me how this type of glacier almost appears to be a big driveway into parts unknown.


We grounded our kayaks, secured them, and began our exploration of the actual glacier and some of its features found in this limited portion (think a speck on an elephant) of the Valdez Glacier.  Glacial pools were numerous, as were crevasses and moulins.  It was all so amazing.


In an attempt to provide some perspective, I chose to take an image with some of the others in it.  This is one place you don’t want to lose concentration on, as it could turn dangerous, if not deadly, real quick.


Not sure why I opted to keep my life vest on … possibly too cold … probably too lazy.  Haha!


Of course, this guy decided to forego the glacier hike part of this tour and chose to catch some zzz’s instead.  I guess he didn’t want to take chances either, as he kept his life vest on as well … possibly for comfort … probably too lazy as well.  Guess the paddling was too strenuous for him.  I wouldn’t know, as Tom became “paddler Tom” for me.  :-).  OK, I admit, I’m a bit spoiled.


After lunch and hiking, we returned to kayaking and were really treated to an amazing ice cave.  As we lined up to enter individually, I readied the gear.  After hearing the feedback from the kayaks ahead of us, I decided to take video on the way in and still images on the way out.  For the purpose of this blog, I changed the order of the images.


As we entered the cave, we first had an obstacle of melting ice water falling all around us to go through.  All I can say was C-O-L-D!  Immediately I forgot the cold and my sense took a visual turn and all that I could say was …”OMG!” … I’m talking repeatedly!  Each turn inside the cave was followed by that OMG statement and since I was sitting in the front of the kayak, I always had that momentary sneak preview before Tom could catch his glimpse.


Turn after turn, it just kept getting better.


Do I look forward, to the left, to the right, behind, or overhead?  I had sensory overload and a touch of attention deficit going on at the same time.


Natural water fountains flowed and others used it to fill up their water bottles but my hands and my mouth were way too busy to think of that while in there.


The glacial blues were all around us, along with your standard icy looking surfaces.  I didn’t want to leave.  “Keep going” I kept telling Tom.

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At one point, Tom drove my head into the ice and I started to duck and I became aware that I didn’t want to tip this kayak too much … water was way too cold, of course ice was our only surrounding, and my gear couldn’t be jeopardized, as we still had another 11 days to our trip.


Though I didn’t want to leave, I knew that we had to, so we carefully back out the way we came.  I wished I knew how far that cave went, but suffice it to say, it was a good distance.  Never once did I fear for my safety inside it, though clearly this was a precarious place to be should anything disastrous happen.


All in all, it was a wonderful day doing that “something new” on what was actually our 6th wedding anniversary.  Very appropriate for the day.  🙂


Can’t help but wonder where we’ll be on our 7th … I’m a lucky girl!

In the meanwhile, stay tuned for the next post:  The Denali Highway Adventure.

© TNWA Photography