Awesome trip! Awesome friends! Awesome everything!
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Alaska (Post #2): Sea otters, puffins, and porpoises in Kenai Fjords

After two and a half days in beautiful Denali, it was time to move on. I was sad to say goodbye to the animals, the polychromatic and snow-capped mountains, and the aloneness of the vast wilderness, but I was not sad to say goodbye to the unpredictable wind and the mosquitos of alarming sizes (who would’ve thought in Alaska!). Next stop? Seward and Kenai Fjords National Park! On our way south, we stayed at an awesome cabin in Houston that we found on airbnb. It was built by the owner himself. We could tell he took pride in that (in not a boastful way), as he should! We really didn’t want to leave the comfort of the cabin, but alas, we had to keep moving.

The ride south was absolutely gorgeous. We drove along Turnagain Arm and saw more and more glaciers as we went. We stopped near Beluga Point and saw a huge pod of…something. At first, we (but mostly Luisa) were hoping they were Beluga whales, but they were not at all white. After reviewing video footage, I decided they were porpoises. Still very cool!

The next day, we hiked the Harding Icefield trail, the only established trail in Kenai Fjords National Park. The rest of the park can only be seen by boat, so it was mostly established for preservation purposes. The trail is not a terribly long hike nor a terribly strenuous one (4 miles one way, about 1000 feet elevation gain per mile), but the rewards were phenomenal. Along the way, you would see sign posts with a year on it, marking where the glacier used to end. It was pretty alarming to see the green and forested fields that once was covered in glacier not too long ago at all. Two miles into the hike, we already reached the point where we could see the tip of Exit glacier. If this was the end, I would’ve been very satisfied already, but as we kept being told, we were “in for a treat” if we went to the end.

The landscape kept changing as we climbed. The land became more and more barren, covered by rock debris that was left behind only recently as the glacier retreated. It looked like scenes coming straight out of Mordor, but less grim.

The end was quite a sight to behold. Along the second half, we were able to see more and more of the Exit glacier, but you have to reach the very end and go over the top of this hill to see what was feeding the glacier, a massive icefield that spans farther than our eyes can see. It was so incredibly beautiful and peaceful up there; I could’ve stayed there all day. To think that the view would change dramatically over the next 10 years makes me sad and want to take it all in while I can. It was a perfect day!

The next day, we went out on  Resurrection Bay for a 12-mile kayaking trip and a 4 mile hike in Caines Head State Park with Adventure Sixty North. Once again, we were informed how incredibly lucky we are to be going out on such a gorgeous day; they had constant rain for two weeks before we arrived. Rain or not, it was a beautiful day by any standard. We saw salmon flying out of the water and adorable sea otters feeding on something, sea urchins maybe!

Once we got to Seward, we were told that Aialik Bay Glacier in Kenai Fjords is un-missable because there aren’t many accessible places in the world you can see glaciers feeding into the ocean. We also really wanted to see all the animals Kenai is famous for (Joyce especially wanted to see puffins!). So while three out of five of us have serious sea-sickness issues, we decided to take a boat trip out to Aialik Bay anyway. We pulled out all the stops to fight the sickness: dramamine, bonine, ginger chews, ginger ale, accupressure bands, anything we could get, and it was worth every mini-moment of nausea and loopiness.

These are the animals we saw: puffins (so many!), sea otters (so c-uuuutee!), porpoises, whales (well, the top and tail at least), harbor seals, sea lions, a bald eagle, and a whole lot of other sea birds. I just can’t get enough of the sea otters and their adorable curious faces.

It was not at all a boring cruise, like most cruises I’ve been on. It was so beautiful the whole way and there was so much to see. The highlight was, of course, Aialik Glacier, a magnificent sight. You could hear faint crackling noises coming from the pieces of ice floating on the water, and once in a while, you could see and hear pieces of the glacier breaking off (“calving” they call it).  It was just as people described it, un-missable. And we’re glad we didn’t miss out on seeing it.

Along the way, we kept hearing stories from people of how they went to Alaska intending for a short trip and ended up staying for years. Everywhere you turn, there’s mesmerizing beauty staring you in the face. We were there for ten days, but we could’ve been there for longer. Much longer.

 

Photo credit: Luisa Tsang

Half Dome: Check!

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