One of the most amazing places in the world--just 60 miles from Anchorage--is Prince William Sound. I've been to Glacier Bay and glacial regions of South America and Europe, and I've never seen such a concentration of tidewater glaciers, wildlife, waterfalls, and green hillsides.
In years past, the 26 Glacier Cruise has dropped me off deep in the Sound to film and photograph. The idea of waking in my bed in Anchorage, camping that night deep in the Sound, and being back in town for dinner the next day is something I cherish.
So when they kindly agreed to drop me off at Black Sand Beach in Barry Arm, I vowed to be on my best behavior.
Unfortunately, a large rock caught my eye. It had been under the glacial ice until just a couple years ago. From a distance, I realized it would be the perfect camera platform for getting spectacular glacier calving footage.
The rock was about a mile from our campsite. I kayaked through a slush of saltwater and small refrigerator-sized icebergs over to it. Then I figured out how to dismount my kayak and get onto the rock without tipping and dropping thousands of dollars of camera gear into the drink.
The rock rose a hundred feet above the water. I’ve seen calving glaciers send towering waves surging across bays for miles. So I dragged my kayak at least 10-15 feet up the rock. Then I headed to the summit and waited for the big one.
And how the big one did come! It was a spectacular calving event that sent monstrous waves cresting through Barry Arm, from one shoreline to the other. My poor friend Miles Stemp, his first time sea kayaking, was in his kayak, embroiled in ice when the waves came surging in his direction. We had handheld radios. I called out to him as reassuringly as I could, “Try to get away from any big ice blocks and point your kayak straight into the wave.”
Miles was scared out of his mind. But he did fine. Unfortunately, my kayak didn’t fare so well. It got swept away, and I was stranded on a huge rock in the middle of Prince William Sound when….the 26 Glacier Cruise came around the corner to pick us up!
It was not a pretty picture. To the people on the boat, it looked like a bad scene. But the truth was, since Miles and I were in radio contact, he could have retrieved my kayak, and we could have spent another night in the Sound and been ready for our pickup the next day.
Unfortunately, I caused a few people (several hundred on the boat) some concern. It was very embarrassing when they sent a motorboat out to “rescue” me. I told the captain I didn’t want to be picked up, but he said, “Get on the boat now!” Well that was it, I did as told. Now, I’ve got my tail between my legs, so I guess I’ll have to wait until next year to request an opportunity to redeem myself. I feel really bad about causing anyone concern.
From the boat, it appeared I was positioned precariously in the calving zone of the nearby glacier. The truth was, I was a safe distance away. (See the photo above.) Given that the rock I was standing on has not emerged since the last Ice Age, I may be the first person ever to stand on it. What one person considers an idiotic rock to climb up is another person’s perfect camera platform!
One of the things I learned in the years when I pursued climbing is that things always look scarier from a distance than they are when you are up close and able to make a more detailed assessment of any objective dangers. That’s why pilots often given terrible route-finding advice. You don’t get ground truth from a distance. That’s why those on the boat were so concerned for me, and I wish I hadn’t put them in that situation.