We were one of the first operators running kayak trips in Bear Glacier Lagoon back in the 1990s using float planes and foldable kayaks to explore the area. In the early 2000s, we had a permitted cache in the lagoon where we could store kayaks and gear. At that point, we used a small water taxi to access the entrance to the lagoon and then hike into the cache. While we’ve run many trips to Bear Glacier, and have a long history there, two principles led us to pull out of Bear Glacier:
As times change, you need to change with them.
Listen to your customers.
For us, it came down to managing risks and providing the best possible guest experience.
Over time, Bear Glacier was “put on the map” and more people began visiting the area. One of the most striking and dynamic elements of the Bear Glacier area are the icebergs. They are eye candy that lures people in, but the stunning still-life photos never show these icebergs breaking, cracking, rolling, or totally collapsing. They deserve respect, because in an instant their haunting beauty can transform into a serious hazard. As the Bear Glacier area gained exposure, more travelers started exploring very close to these massive bergs. Additionally, more guided trips began operating in the lagoon, some advertising that you could touch or paddle through/under the ice. The quiet of the lagoon changed and became an environment with many uncontrolled factors at play, and one in which we did not feel comfortable bringing our guests.
Recently, the Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (or “GLOFs”) have added another element of risk and unpredictability. Tour companies who run trips here have had to cancel weeks’ worth of tours because of these floods, occurring with increasing frequency. Additionally, glacial lake outbursts are difficult to predict and could pose an immediate hazard to anyone paddling in the lagoon when they release.
Read the Kenai Fjords National Park report: Risk and Recreation in a Glacial Environment: Understanding Glacial Lake Outburst Floods at Bear Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park.
Guest Experience: Wildlife & Tidewater Glaciers
We listen to feedback from the people we take paddling, and we’ve consistently gotten better feedback from the Aialik Glacier Day Trip. The boat ride to Aialik Bay passes through the Gulf of Alaska, where there is a greater chance of seeing humpbacks, orcas, sea lions, sea otters, eagles, mountain goats, puffins and other sea birds. Our boat captains focus on incorporating a wildlife tour into your journey to Aialik Bay. Very often, the wildlife is a highlight of the day for guests; Bear Glacier lagoon does not offer the same chances or quality of wildlife viewing, because of its location.
Many guests are eager to see a classic large tidewater glacier face and hear the “white thunder” of it calving into the ocean; to experience the raw and powerful force of the ice carving through the mountains and dropping into the sea. Aialik provides this while Bear Glacier does not, as it is not a tidewater glacier – it’s terminus is several miles away from the bay and rapidly retreating. In contrast, Aialik Glacier is over a mile across at its face, and the most actively calving glacier in the national park (we still give it lots of respect and keep our distance from any large chunks of ice).
Before choosing an outfitter for your adventure, be sure to ask about their safety protocols, quality of gear, guide training, and risk management. We’re happy to chat with you about these details, and why our Aialik Glacier Day Trip involves greater wildlife viewing, a tidewater glacier experience, and more reliable paddling conditions.