Welcome to Part III of our VI part series on life in Alaska with ColIin & Kendall Strachan. In Part I, we met Collin & Kendall. In Part II learned what it takes to move into a 33 foot Airstream, and start traveling with no specific destination in mind, but always making time for the necessities that come with a their rugged way of life. This is part 3, a nod to "Other-Wordly Beauty" that can only be found in Alaska.
If you’re wondering what life in Alaska is like, it’s pretty normal. We drive 60mph on solid ice, have bears standing at the windows of taco trucks trying to grab food, and go fishing at 1am under the “Midnight Sun” just... like... everyone else (in Alaska that is). Every once in a while, however, we get to have some pretty special adventures. One of the coolest things we’ve had the opportunity to do is paddle our pack-rafts in an iceberg lake.
This particular lake is the result of a receding coastal iceberg that has retreated into the mountains and left a gorgeous valley filled with water and icebergs through which you can paddle back for several miles. The adventure begins at a little beach hidden at the end of a traditionally Alaskan road (that is to say, it has about 1,500 pot holes per mile and requires military grade reinforced tires if you’d like to go faster than 20 miles per hour) where we park the truck and pack our rafts down to the water. Our favorite days on the lake are when the sky is clear and the wind is as still as can be. The perfectly glassy water reflects not only the surrounding mountains, but also the vibrant blues and greens of the icebergs that are making their way to become a part of the Prince William Sound.
After inflating our boats, giving them a little time to adjust to the ice cold water (it’s so much colder than the ambient temperature that the boats will deflate), then topping them off, we head off into a maze of floating blue and white towers. While its important to be aware that icebergs can break and roll in the water, they’re often pretty stable and truly majestic to observe up close. As they melt away, incredible ice caves and arches will form. As light refracts through the ice and the wavelengths slow down, the structures in the ice glow with a deep glacier blue light that is indescribable. The icebergs are mesmerizing, and to paddle our way through the maze to the source of the lake takes hours.
And the hours are worth it.
One thing we never considered growing up, going to school in the suburbs, and learning about how icebergs are bigger under water (or that they sink fancy ships) is that they all have to come from somewhere. Every iceberg has a source, and while the bergs, are cool, the glaciers that they “calve” off of are some of the most beautiful sights on earth. This glacier does not disappoint, and this is where this becomes a campfire story. Before we continue, it’s kind of important that we say to NEVER try this without some pretty solid training and experience in glacier travel.
The moraine (the term for the rocky edges of a glacier) at the toe of our glacier has a fairly stable and shallow embankment to one side, so we beach our boats, climb up, and enter a world that quite literally feels like we were transported to another galaxy. While its common for us to hike to or even fly in a helicopter to some of the more commonly explored glaciers in Alaska, it’s a wildly different experience to paddle in little boats for hours to a glacier that very few people see, climb up its toe (again, literally do not do this without proper training), and start trekking back on pure ice surrounded by sheer cliffs for miles. On one of our trips, we found a stream a perfectly clear water with a blue ice floor that seemed to go on forever. When we finally found its end, we came to one the largest moulins we’d ever seen. Basically, it’s a 100-foot hole in the ice where water drains into the blue abyss. As you approach, it sounds like a jet plane roaring under the ice, and as you look over the edge, you’re met with the dizzying spectacle of a waterfall flowing into a cavern and disappearing into a networks of tunnels and hidden rivers, all slowly leading to the lake we paddled up to get here.
After a couple more miles of trekking on the ice, exploring crevasses, moulins, streams, and even finding a couple of odd snowmobile and airplane parts, we reach an icefall - an unstable section of ice that is toppling over the rocks below it, filled with cerats and crevasses that are likely to be the last thing we’d climb if we tried, so we turn around and head home. The trek feels a bit longer on the way back, and it seems as though the maze of icebergs has completely re-arranged itself in a storybook-like attempt to keep us from getting home, but the mountains towering above act as our guideposts, and we finally make it back to the truck.
Some of our adventures are this other-worldly, while others sound more like a standard hike, but all of them are majestic. Perhaps our favorite part of Alaska is its diversity. No two places look even remotely the same as seasons change, leaves turn, and snow comes and goes, and the complex ecology is always revealing itself in new and beautiful forms.
While it’s certainly easy to find epic adventures in Alaska, visiting is also one of the best ways to form a deeper connection with your understanding of how our planet functions. Reading about ice caps, glaciers, ocean levels, and changing weather systems is one thing. Experiencing them is ENTIRELY different. We personally don’t believe its time yet to freak out and say that there’s no hope or that all is lost, but our time in Alaska has helped us to see that each and every one of our lives has an impact on the world around us.
Our advice? Glacier climbing skills, big budget tours, and month-long vacations aren’t necessary, but seeing something just a bit further than most people go can truly open your mind and spark a deeper understanding go the beauty of this planet. If you can make it to Alaska, awesome! If you can’t, just try crossing a state line or getting a bit lost out in the country. Take in something new around you and let it wake you up to how awesome this world is. That’s certainly what happened to us.
Follow @kendal.strachan on Instagram to keep up with their journey as the take on the true wilderness of North America.
READ PART 1: Airstreaming Across Alaska | Meet Collin & Kendal Strachan
READ PART 2: Airstreaming Across Alaska | Off-Grid Alaska