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Kayaking and whitewater adventures

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BY CHRISTOPHER BATIN
For most of us, boating is a means of transportation to fulfill the requirements of the job, whether it is scuba diving, fishing, hunting, or canoeing remote streams or rivers.
In Alaska, boating at its basic level means kayaking and that’s the best way to enjoy the secret hideaways Alaska has to offer this coming September. But don’t expect to paddle aimlessly around a lake or saltwater bay.
Kayaking among the icebergs is one of those experiences. The terminus of a tidewater glacier is where tons of ice breaks off and drifts with the current before getting temporarily stranded on an outgoing tide. This is as challenging as it gets, kayaking on an incoming tide through a maze of ice that can stretch for several miles. Attentiveness and safety are the first two prerequisites here, as chunks can melt off the iceberg and the subsequent waves capsize a kayak, while others drift with the current, posing a danger should they unexpectedly roll. There is the hiss of escaping air, like the air hose at a service station, as the melting ice releases air bubbles. Just multiply the sound by 20 to imagine the decibel level. In essence, you are breathing air that can be hundreds if not thousands of years old. In my opinion, there is no finer boating adventure in Alaska than kayaking among icebergs.
There are many areas to do this, from Glacier Bay out of Gustavus, to Whittier, Seward, and Valdez in south-central Alaska. Numerous services provide all the kayaks, foul-weather gear, guides and transportation to and from these areas. Weather plays a big part in how much ice is available. Nevertheless, the kayaking trips, usually enjoyed in either single or tandem kayaks, allow for wildlife viewing and close-up examinations of marine tide pools.
The tandem kayak is the best choice for a member and spouse, as one can paddle while the other rests. It’s important that one of the occupants be strong enough to paddle for both people, even though many of the adventures don’t take much physical strength. There are no heavy currents to fight in most waters, and the rudders help you easily steer around ice obstacles. If a husband and wife are looking for a memorable day trip that symbolizes the uniqueness of Alaska, this is one of my top recommendations. I have taken my family and friends kayaking numerous times and it has always been a highlight of their Alaska trip.
If you’re looking for the best whitewater rafting trip in Alaska, Six Mile Creek, just south of Anchorage, offers Class IV and V adventure in narrow canyons, while the Lion’s Head run on the Matanuska River north of Anchorage offers a more panoramic and scenic adventure that isn’t to be missed in late August and early September. These are two of my favorite guided whitewater adventures. For something tamer, the rafting trips out of Denali are a good choice. If there has been a period of rain and high water, the rapids become formidable, but you always can choose how much whitewater fun you can handle before you go. Again, look to the pre- and post-conference trip selections at www.owaa.org/2012conference/pre-and-post-conference-trips.
Either way, your Alaska adventure will be complete with at least one of these kayaking or rafting adventures under your belt. You won’t be disappointed. ♦
—Chris Batin is the 2012 OWAA conference local chair. He is available to answer member questions about scheduled fishing and hunting trips, tours or to help members with custom trips. Contact him at chrisbatin@alaskaangler.com.
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