My first impression of Valdez was that it felt like a well-hidden secret of Alaska. I loved everything about it: the dramatic mountain and ocean scenery, the charming small-town vibe, the people, and so on. I didn’t know much about Valdez at first, except that it was well-known for sea kayaking. Naturally, when I started going to Valdez for my project, kayaking was on the top of my mind. During my recent visit, I kayaked on Shoup Bay, with its stunning backdrop, Shoup Glacier. I’ll tell you everything you need to know about kayaking on Shoup Bay.
It was a beautiful summer day in Valdez: warm and partly cloudy. We couldn’t ask for better weather for a day of kayaking. We met our group at the office in downtown Valdez. The office is just in front of the harbor and it’s worth mentioning that everything in Valdez is within walking distance.
We went with Pangaea Adventures which was highly recommended. Shoup Glacier kayaking trip is about 8 hours long and perfect for beginners. Since most of the kayaking is through calm waters, kayakers don’t have to worry about different techniques.
After everyone geared up, we walked down to the harbor to get on a small boat that took us to Shoup Bay, which is about 45 minutes from Valdez Harbor. We sailed by napping sea lions, soaring eagles, and playful sea otters before docking on a beach in Shoup Bay. There were no other boats or kayaks, just us. No other noise than gently breaking water and the sound of birds. Surrounded by beautiful peaks and boundless water, it reminded me once again why I love living in Alaska.
We unloaded the kayaks and our bags onto the beach and took a little lunch break before embarking on our journey. We had a group of eight and it was the first time on kayaks for some people. Soon we geared up with a life jacket, spray skirt, and paddles and off we went!
From the beginning, the scenery didn’t disappoint. It looked like one of those kayak catalog photos. With our colorful kayaks against blue sky and greenery, I was very excited to photograph in between paddling.
We kayaked toward the fjord. It was a very gentle route and lots of opportunities to stop and enjoy the view. The sun was hot. Everyone started to shed their layers. The water was calm. It was easy paddling, although I was behind everyone because I couldn’t take photos and paddle at the same time. I was also sharing a double kayak with my friend who’s a photographer as well, so we already knew we were going to be behind!
Shoup Glacier is a retreating glacier, which is revealing a raw glacier-formed landscape. The bright blue color of Shoup Glacier was apparent against the beach. We continued paddling toward the face of the glacier until we reached the shore where we were welcomed by a group of oystercatchers. It seemed like there was a huge ice cave on the base of the glacier, probably due to caving. We walked toward the glacier as close as we could and took a tea break. Our guide brought hot water and tea for everyone.
There was a lot of bird activity: oystercatchers, bald eagles, gulls, and even swans! It’s rare to see a swan in seawater. Shoup Bay has the largest kittiwake rookery in Prince William Sound. We took a different direction and passed the rookery on the way back. It was very apparent that it was nesting season. Protective gull parents weren’t happy that we were there but soon they realized that we weren’t there to harm the nests. There were lots of small waterfalls to enjoy and we even filled up our water bottles from the falls. I harvested seaweed along the way to add to my dinner table.
It was lovely to be on the water in the wilderness. It’s not too far away from civilization but it surely felt like we were in the middle of nowhere. Kayaking provides such a unique perspective.
We paddled for about 4 hours (2 hours each way) exploring the bay. We ended up on a different beach and the boat picked us up from there. It was another 45-minute boat ride back to Valdez, and we relaxed, feeling accomplished.
The origin story of kayak isn’t highlighted enough in the adventure travel industry. Did you know when and where kayaks originated? Thank the Native people of the Bering Strait and the Arctic Ocean. Inuit people from Greenland and Canada, and Aleut, Suqpiaq, and Yup’ik people of Alaska have been using kayak (often spelled qayaq or qajaq in Native languages) for more than 4,000 years. The word qayaq means hunter’s boat, it’s usually custom-made to a personal specification. The frame was made with wood or whalebone and sea mammal skins such as sea lions were used to cover the frame, making it waterproof. They even had a waterproof coat (well known as ‘gut parka’) and spray skirt made with marine mammal’s intestines. Without their ingenuity, there’d be no leisure kayaking that we now know and love.
It’s amazing to think that we’re on the same waters that the ancient hunters navigated to hunt and harvest. You are part of history. Think about that when you’re on a kayak next time, and share this with your fellow adventurer.