Flying out of Icy Bay

7 minute read

As we reached the end of the peninsula surrounding the enormous Malaspina glacier, we entered Icy Bay, named for its frequent icebergs floating in the bay. Although we had been told many times how gorgeous it was, the rainy weather only let us see a hint of the mountains on the other side. Unlike Yakutat Bay, it felt considerably smaller – meaning that a crossing would be shorter. Given the weather, we camped by the first stream we saw, as we hoped to paddle the next day towards the crossing a bit further into the bay. Salomé went to collect water farther up the stream, while Ricardo looked for a campsite on a small patch of forest. Neither was easy, and Salomé could only find decent yet still brackish water by walking far up, and Ricardo didn’t find much of a spot except for a site very close to the stream and a moose trail. The site looked even worse when Ricardo saw an incoming grizzly on the beach, not very far from the site. Quickly he raised the poles over his head and gently tried to convince the bear to go away by talking to it. The bear, excited about the creature who was talking to him, stood up to check Ricardo out. Normally at this point the bear would run away, but this time the bear continued to walk towards the stream. Darn, Ricardo had to grab his bear spray from his pack tucked under a tree several feet away, losing eye contact with the bear. When he restarted the “hey bear” yelling, the bear stopped, stood up again and finally ran towards the forest. Phew. Salomé was still out of sight so Ricardo followed the river upstream to make sure he wasn’t sending the bear towards her! After the encounter, we tried to find a better campsite but they were all close to animal trails or unprotected, so we settled with the first one.

That night during dinner we started planning our crossing of Icy Bay, while standing out in the rain. The weather forecast that we got on our satellite communicator didn’t look great, with increasing winds that could pack the ice against the shore. Moreover, a bigger storm made the crossing impossible for the following two days. Perhaps we could cross early in the morning, before the wind picked up? But then, if the ice were to be packed against the shore or the surf too big to land, we would not be able to turn around and get back to where we started, as there would be a strong headwind against us.

We couldn’t decide what to do and went to sleep early, setting up an alarm for 4am to try to make an early crossing. Just as we were falling asleep the camp location proved to be sketchy, as a moose walked within yards of the tent to cross the stream. That didn’t make for a good rest, as we were nervous about more wildlife walking by our camp.

The extent of the situation hit us the next morning. When we woke up at 4am, and sheet having collected all information about the crossing by getting an improved marine forecast and extra tips from Hig, we didn’t see a clear crossing that day. The landing and the fallback plan of paddling back against the headwind made us anxious.

We had been on edge for weeks, every day dreading the challenges of the next one. The terrain had become dull at times and it was becoming harder to enjoy it. After the amazing evening we had in front of the Hubbard glacier, seeing the icebergs on the beach and enjoying the amazing mountain views all around us, we started asking ourselves whether such a memorable moment was paying off the many days of hardship in between. Our perception on the trip changed the day we got scared climbing the cliffs around Boussole Bay. It was as if our risk-aversion had increased suddenly and we hadn’t noticed it until then. We started doubting whether this trip was too much for us. And the section to Yakutat didn’t help alleviate those self doubts. Did we overshoot? Why did we come to Alaska? We really enjoyed the two week trip two years ago in Wrangell St Elias. But back then we had good weather, and the difficulty seemed more appropriate. Perhaps it is the continuous exposure to danger that wore us down? We wonder if Alaska in two weeks chunks would be more enjoyable. Our idea of continuing the trip for four more months seemed like an uphill battle, that became harder and harder as it went. We had already thought of ways to simplify the trip, like going from the haul road to Kaktovik and ending there. We also had decided to not bushwhack the Copper River up and instead float it down, while maintaining continuous footsteps. But none of these relieved our anxieties regarding even the following sections of the trip, even past the tricky Icy Bay crossing. We were having a harder time rebidding our journey and decided to get an airlift to Cordova to reevaluate or options.

We called Steve, a pilot from Cordova, who agreed to pick us up whenever the weather improved. It took 3 days. Luckily, he was able to arrange for us to stay at the unoccupied lodge at Icy Bay, which provided shelter from the rain. It rained continuously for the next week. We are super grateful to Steve for organizing our accommodation. He landed on the small beach front of the lodge to pick us up. The flight to Cordova, with a pit stop at the Tsiu River was spectacular, we were able to see the Bering glacier and the Copper River Delta from above. At the Tsiu we also met Jason and Leslie, who own one of the lodges there and had helped us get a resupply delivered there by Steve. Bringing the 20 pound resupply box into the plane was disheartening, we were hoping to eat that food while hiking towards Cordova!

Another factor that influenced our decision was Ricardo’s foot. Although the bruise was getting smaller, it still hurt quite a bit. Would he have been able to walk the remaining 160 miles of that section? In Cordova, he got it checked out, and they found no bone fractures – just a sprain. We just need to wait for one or two more weeks for it to heal.

We spent a wonderful week in Cordova where we started to blend with the town’s life and met dozens of amazing people of all walks of life. We were invited to use a sauna, invited for tea, and were offered to borrow a car for the whole week we stayed there. The hospitality we experienced was heartwarming and the setting of Cordova with it’s snowy peaks, glaciers and calm bays all around was so beautiful. We decided to stay for Salomé’s birthday, had a picnic at the copper river, paddled next to Sheridan Glacier and had drinks with some of our new friends in Cordova - a perfect day.

Although stopping the trip is a huge disappointment, we have really enjoyed many parts of the trip and are proud of what we achieved. And perhaps some perspective is already helping us forget the miserable and scary parts. We are still relieved to not have to push ourselves so hard for the next few months. But at the same time we are sad to see our plans fall apart. We need a big reset, and we have several months still to continue adventuring. We won’t stay still for long and we will keep you posted on our new plans. And more than ever, Alaska’s wilderness is in our hearts and dreams.

Our pilot Steve from Cordova couldn't come for 2 days due too bad weather. On the third day, the weather was bad until later in the day, forcing him to land on a very narrow step of beach (the soft sand above is not good for landing).
Flying back, we could see from the the terrain we were planning to travel from Icy Bay, including the Bering Glacier outlet, that had house-size icebergs in it.
It rained for a week straight, until we finally could enjoy some sun! Here we hike to the city's reservoir that also features a frisbee-golf course.
We loved meeting many people in Cordova, including many of its fishermen and fisherwomen that catch the world's famous Copper River salmon.



Eric Stollnitz

Don’t be disappointed! Bea and I are amazed at your courage and determination, and in awe of the adventures you’ve experienced so far. Pausing to re-evaluate sounds like the right move. Whatever you decide, enjoy yourselves!

Franky Bain

Looking forward to reading about the next adventures and future Alaska times. Absolutely loved your blog, stories & pictures - so spectacular. Glad it finished with beauty and enjoyment and some sunshine. Xx

Jason Lawrence

What an incredible adventure Ricardo and Salome. Thanks for sharing it with us all. Be proud of all that you accomplished and your ability to make the very hard decision to call an audible when you did. Enjoy the rest of your adventure!