Glacier Bay Traverse

Spend 12 days kayaking among humpback whale territory, trekking over blue glacial ice, and rafting on pure glacial ice melt on this multi-sport adventure!

Trip Photos

  • Paddling into the upper reaches of Glacier Bay's east Arm Paddling into the upper reaches of Glacier Bay's east Arm
  • East Arm of Glacier Bay East Arm of Glacier Bay
  • Up on top of the ice cap between Glacier Bay and the Chilkat Valley of Haines Up on top of the ice cap between Glacier Bay and the Chilkat Valley of Haines
  • Traversing the icecap Traversing the icecap
  • Rafting down the Tsirku and Chilkat Rivers brings us to Haines on the last day Rafting down the Tsirku and Chilkat Rivers brings us to Haines on the last day
     

Trip Notes

Location: Alaska/Yukon
Meeting Point: Gustavus, AK
Destination: Glacier Bay National Park
Duration: 12 days
Price: $5250 (+ tax, in USD)
Activity Type: Multi-Sport
Season: July, August
Guide to Guest Ratio: 1 to 4
Difficulty Level: 4 out of 5
Paperwork Required: Registration, Health Form, Risk Acknowledgment

Related Trips:

Trip Description

On the wall of our office is an 8 by 8 foot map covering over 27 million acres of protected wilderness in Alaska and Canada. The well used and marked upon map encompasses massive ice caps, inland waterways, lakes, rivers, the Pacific coast, the St. Elias Range and some of the wildest land on our planet. For almost 20 years we have stood in front of this same map to plan mountaineering expeditions, river trips, ski descents, kayak journeys, and outrageous routes to get from one place to another.

This routes travels through one of the most remote areas in North America and has only been visited by a handful of adventurers. The Glacier Bay Wilderness Traverse is perhaps the most classic of these routes – the 12 day expedition combines world class sea kayaking, spectacular glacier trekking, and exciting rafting with the chance to view brown and black bears, whales, bald eagles, ice bergs, and glaciers along the way.

Glacier Bay’s fascinating geology, plentiful wildlife, and breathtaking scenery of soaring mountains and gorgeous tidewater glaciers are the setting for an unforgettable wilderness sea kayaking experience. The expedition begins in Glacier Bay National Park with 5 days of Sea kayaking in the wild and pristine “East Arm”, an area closed to motorized traffic for most of the year. You’ll start with a charter boat trip across the lower bay, then after a drop-off on a remote glacial beach, spend the next few days kayaking and camping amidst awesome mountain scenery and stunning tidewater glaciers, and taking short hikes to observe some of the interesting geological and biological processes so evident in Glacier Bay. You’ll watch for wildlife on both land and sea, learn about the fascinating natural and cultural history of the bay, and see land recently unveiled by retreating ice thousands of years old.

The next 5 days will be spent traveling over massive glaciers and through jagged mountains to the headwaters of the Tsirku River, including a final day will be spent rafting down the Tsirku River. The Tsirku is an exhilarating, swift moving, glacially fed river , flowing through the heart of Chilkat Valley Bald Eagle Preserve, home to moose, wolves, bears, salmon, wolverines, and the Tlingit Native village of Klukwan. The trip will finish up in the picturesque fishing village of Haines, Alaska with a celebration dinner and well deserved beverage from the local brewery!

Instruction in sea kayaking, mountaineering and rafting will be provided along the way and all equipment is provided. No past experience is required beyond a sense of adventure and being in good physical condition.

Glacier Bay National Park and the Chilkat Valley Bald Eagle Preserve are part of the world’s largest protected wilderness area, covering more than 27 million acres. Participants will sea kayak about 30 miles, trek over 15 miles of glacier and raft down 25 miles of the Tsirku River.

GUSTAVUS: Gustavus, Alaska is the starting/finishing place for this trip. Gustavus is a small community located along Icy Strait in Southeast Alaska. This is the headquarters for the park service. Gustavus is easily accessed with several flights departing Juneau, Alaska daily. Ferry service is also available. We will spend the evening before our trip here.

KAYAKING: Paddling among ice bergs, in front of glaciers, and under the majesty of the towering peaks of Glacier Bay is a unique and serene experience. Our guides are also experienced paddlers and can help teach paddling technique and skills to make your adventure the most enjoyable.

GLACIER BAY NATIONAL PARK: Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve is located in southeast Alaska and includes some of the wildest and most spectacular fjords and glaciated terrain in the world. As a unique marine wilderness, Glacier Bay provides countless adventures and stunning views of glaciers, wildlife, and majestic maritime and mountain scenery.

TSIRKU RIVER: As we descend further down the Tsirku, the valley opens up as it joins the Chilkat and Klehini rivers right in the heart of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve. This area has abundant Bald Eagles, and as the river opens up, they can be spotting feeding on the plentiful salmon.

HAINES: The historic town of Haines, Alaska at the northern end of Alaska’s inside passage is surrounded by an extremely jagged, heavily glaciated, mountain landscape. The area is home to the world’s largest non-polar ice cap. The peaks have 7,000 feet of vertical relief and rise directly from the ocean. Regular flights are available from Juneau daily, ferry service is also available to get you here.

OUR GUIDES: Alaska Mountain Guides & Climbing School Inc. instructors and guides are professionals. They have a wealth of experience from guiding throughout Alaska and the world and they genuinely enjoy sharing their knowledge. Their skill and positive attitudes help our guests to have the best possible experience during their trip. Your safety and enjoyment are their primary goals.

Trip Itinerary (in a printable PDF format)

Day 1: Juneau – Gustavus
You will need to travel to Juneau, Alaska, and then take a small plane to Gustavus, the gateway to Glacier Bay National Park. We will gather in the evening for a pre-trip orientation to introduce your guides, meet the other participants, go over equipment and answer any last minute questions. Lodging and meals on your own.

Day 2: To Glacier Bay
After an early breakfast we will board a boat for a spectacular ride into the East Arm of Glacier Bay National Park. The scenery changes dramatically as we leave the lush forests of Bartlett Cove behind and enter a land still under the influence of the Little Ice Age.

We’ll be dropped off near the entrance of the East Arm, where we’ll unload gear and have a kayak lesson. By afternoon, everyone will feel comfortable enough with sea kayaking to fully observe the splendid beauty of this area.

Days 3-6: East Arm, Glacier Bay
We’ll explore the pristine upper fjords of Glacier Bay by kayak and on foot. Keep your camera ready for dramatic scenery of awe-inspiring 9,000-foot mountain peaks and calving glaciers (you’ll listen to them thunder, crackle, and pop as huge icebergs topple into the sea!), and wildlife that may include brown bears, mountain goats, humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, and a variety of sea birds. A flexible itinerary allows for fabulous hikes and serene paddles. You may explore the McBride, Riggs and Muir Glaciers, each with its own stunning beauty and personality.

Nights will be spent camping on the scenic wilderness shores. Our two-person kayaks are stable and easy to use. A foot-controlled rudder system allows the stern paddler to steer the boat in any direction. Each boat will carry personal gear, as well as a share of the group food and camp gear.

Day 7: On to the Ice
We’ll trade our paddles and kayaks for ice axes and crampons and have a lesson on safe Glacier Travel before heading to the glacier and the overland crossing to the headwaters of the Tsirku River.

Day 8-11 Glacier Bay Ice Cap
The days will be spent hiking across snowfields with outrageous views of the jagged peaks and brilliant ice falls. Glacier travel, crevasse rescue and snow camping skills will be taught as we travel.

Day 12: Tsirku River and Haines
After breakfast we will head to the river to meet with our rafts for a relaxing paddle through the Chilkat Eagle Preserve and back to civilization. Keep an eye out for bear, moose, wolverines, wolves, and of course the ever present American Bald Eagle.

In the evening we will gather for a celebration dinner at our favorite restaurant. Lodging in Haines is on your own.

KAYAKING

What wildlife will we see in Glacier Bay?
The wildlife encountered in Glacier Bay’s East and West Arms can be vastly different, but some species will be found both places. The East Arm offers a wider variety of land mammals such as moose, both Brown and Black bear, Mountain Goat, Wolves, Sea and Freshwater Otter, and numerous rare birds such as Black Oyster Catchers, Arctic Terns, and varieties of sea ducks such as Scooters, Harlequins, etc. It would be common to sea Humpback Whales in the more southern areas of the East Arm, especially in Sitakaday Narrows and around the Beardslee Islands. It would be possible to see Orcas in the East or West Arms, although on a much lower frequency than that of Humpbacks. The West Arm is known for its’ often high concentrations of Brown Bear, but for the most part is free from the Black Bears that inhabit the southern and eastern shores of the bay. You would be lucky to see a moose in the West Arm, although they may be found. Mountain Goats may be seen in high numbers here, as well as in the East Arm. The West Arm is largely free from marine mammals such as Humpbacks, Orcas, and Sea Lions. Humpbacks do frequent Queen Inlet and the Russell Island area in the West Arm, and the high numbers of Harbor Seals do give the Orca something to come in for. Spotting an Orca in the West Arm would be rare. Similar birds inhabit the West Arm, but the areas near tidewater glaciers such as the Margerie and John Hopkins Glaciers are excellent spots to see Tufted Puffins, Black Leg Kittiwakes, and endangered Kitzlitz and Marbled Murrellets.

What is the weather like in Glacier Bay? What are the best months to go?
Weather in Glacier Bay is similar to the rest of Southeast Alaska, often experiencing cooler temperatures and frequent rain fall. May and June offer the least average rain fall of any months, with July and August precipitation steadily increasing up to the rather wet September and October. Some areas of the Bay, such as the West Arm, are traditionally drier than other areas due to the rain shadow effect produced by the high mountain range (Fairweathers) to the west. Day time temps are in the 50’s more often than not. Paddling/camping near glaciers can be colder, possibly dipping into the low 40’s at night.

Will I be paddling in a tandem or solo kayak?
Tandem (double) kayaks are more stable and the preferred method of paddling for all of our guests. If you have extensive experience, and skilled with self-rescue techniques and comfort with paddling a solo kayak, we are happy to consider making this option available to you.

What are the paddling conditions like in Glacier Bay?
Generally Glacier Bay offers protected paddling in most areas. Lower sections of the bay can experience stronger tides and more wind than upper reaches of the East and West Arms. Although winds may be encountered in all areas of the bay, we emphasize conservative judgment in regards to paddling in such conditions. Glacier Bay is generally an inland sea, and rarely encounters swell or surf conditions from wind found on more exposed coastlines.

What is the Camping like in Glacier Bay? Are there any facilities?
Glacier Bay National Park is a 3.3 million acre designated wilderness area, and offers no facilities or improvements outside of Bartlett Cove, the start and end of our trips. Campsites are often in the intertidal zone on sand or small rocks and gravel. Glacial outwash plains offer flat tenting and good views up and down beaches. You will rarely camp in the forest or among trees in Glacier Bay. No improvements of any kind have been made, and disposing of waste happens in the intertidal zone (beaches) according to LNT practices and Park Service policy. Glacier Bay has a high number of amazing camps with breathtaking vistas, or you may get crammed on a rocky beach if the wind picks up and we have to compromise on a spot. Most sites offer plenty of room to wander on beaches, have a flat well drained site for your tent, and plenty of things and vistas to keep you interested.

What is a typical day like on a trip?
On an expedition, each night will end with a discussion of the next day plans. The route for the day will dictate your wake up time. The guides will greet you for drinks and breakfast, and you can begin to pack up your personal belongings. After breakfast we will break camp, pack the kayaks, and depart for the days paddle. We may stop to check out certain places on shore, or float around and view wildlife or glaciers in one spot for a while. We will stop for lunch, and continue on to our next camp. Sometimes we may scout for camps, and keep paddling due to bear activity or site occupants. We may base camp and take advantage of lighter boats on day paddles to cover larger distances, or to have a more relaxing down day. We will likely only move camp 1 time, and take advantage of paddling lighter boats and returning to a camp set up already.

How close do we get to glaciers?
Sometimes we may paddle to within a quarter mile of glaciers, exercising much caution at all times. More often than not we will stay 1/3 to ½ mile away from tidewater glaciers, but we may elect to paddle closer to non-tidewater glaciers. You may explore the McBride, Riggs and Muir Glaciers, which offer good opportunity for getting closer to ice in kayaks and on foot. Good hikes exist near these glaciers, and the risk of calving ice producing waves is much less. Getting trapped in floating ice is also a risk to be avoided by not approaching too close.

How do we access the east arm of Glacier Bay?
We will utilize the Glacier Bay Lodge Catamaran, a large high speed site-seeing vessel that also provides drop off for kayakers in Glacier Bay. It is not a private charter, and kayakers will be vastly outnumbered by sightseers. It provides lunch and hot drinks if you are on the boat when being served. Wildlife and glacier viewing from the boat is the #1 activity in Glacier Bay for park visitors, and rounds out a kayak trip very nicely.

How much paddling will we do each day?
The desires of the group largely control how much paddling is done. On these trips you can expect to paddle up to 5 hours a day, but daily mileage could be as low as 5-6 miles a day. On shorter trips, we take advantage of base camping so we can paddle lighter boats on day paddles.

Are there hiking opportunities on trips in Glacier Bay?
The only established trails in the park are in Bartlett Cove near the lodge and park headquarters. Glacier Bay provides some limited great hiking on glacial outwash plains, beaches, and rock formations up Bay. Generally, foot travel does not come easily in the Bay, and most hikes will be short hikes to take advantage of a view or stretch the legs. Beach walks provide a great way to pass the time in camp. Bushwhacking is sometimes an option for the hardier folks with patience and tenacity. Most hikes can be done in the rubber boots we provide, but having light weight easily packable day hiking shoes can be a good idea.

What type of food will we eat on kayak trips? Can you handle special dietary needs?
All food for Glacier Bay trips must be packed in bear cans, so this somewhat limits the menu for a trip. Although we use NO Freeze Dried or pre-prepared meals, you can expect to each eat meals with bases such as rice, pasta, and other grains on a nightly basis. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be had most days, and canned and smoked meats and fish add a great source of protein. Meals will be very similar to what you would cook at home, and we definitely aim to please with interested and varied menus and good presentation.

Do I need previous kayaking experience for this trip?
No previous kayaking experience is required, but different trips may require varying levels of fitness. We can suggest a trip to best fit your experience and fitness level, and make every accommodation for you to have a successful and rewarding trip.

How difficult will this trip be? What physical fitness level do I need for this trip?
Sea kayaking is not reliant on great upper body strength, but expeditions will require a person to be physically active for up to 5-8 hours each day. In addition to kayaking, you can expect to assist with carrying kayaks over uneven terrain, shuttling gear and bear cans up beaches, and setting up and taking down camp. Shorter trips such as the Escape, offer a more relaxed kayaking pace and less work in the way of making and breaking camp every day. We can recommend a fitness plan to help you prepare for the trip.

GLACIER TREKKING

Will we need previous mountaineering or glacier travel experience?
No previous experience is necessary for this portion of the trip. Your guides will provide instruction and explanations of the gear provided (ice axes, crampons, etc.), cover basics of glacier travel, basic rescue techniques, rope teams, snow camping skills and more.

Where will we be camping during the glacier trek portion?
We will establish a basecamp near the Le Blondeau Glacier, where we will come back to each night and begin from each day.

RAFTING

Who are my guides for the rafting portion?
You guides are experts in the industry. They are fun, well-trained and passionate about guiding and sharing their expert knowledge about the history and natural wonder of Haines and Skagway, Alaska with you! Our staff all go through extensive training and hold current first-aid (mostly WFR and WEMT) certification. Many of our guides also lead courses and guided expedition trips for us both in Alaska and throughout the world.

Is there a bathroom?
Yes – non-flushing restrooms at the start/finish of your paddle or float.

Do you cancel due to weather?
Our tours embrace Southeast Alaska’s unpredictable weather. Our tours run rain or shine. If in a rare instance weather does cause us to cancel the tour you will be refunded in full and provided with assistance with finding an alternative activity for the day.

What wildlife will I see?
Though wildlife can never be guaranteed, Bald Eagles, moose, all five types of Pacific salmon, brown and black bears frequent the area. Wildlife sightings depend on the time of the year and area within Haines where the excursion takes place. Your guides will choose the best locations to help you maximize your wildlife viewing opportunity.

Will there be any whitewater on the float?
No – there will be no whitewater or rapids on the float.

How much will I paddle?
None, you will enjoy your float aboard an 18’ oar rig raft. Your guides do all of the rowing which enables you to sit back and enjoy the float. The raft makes a very stable platform for photography and enjoying the views with your family.

Trip Documents:

Price: $5250 (+ tax, in USD)

2019 Dates: August 4
2020 Dates: August 2

What is included in the trip price:
  • Kayaking, glacier travel, rafting & camping gear – group camping equipment, tents, kayaks, paddles, ice axes, crampons, PFDs, etc…
  • Expedition food – all food while out in the field.
  • Transportation during trip – travel to our launch area, boat transfers to Haines, to/from ferry terminal or airport.
  • Professional guides – Our guides have extensive knowledge of the area and a passion for kayaking, trekking and rafting in wild places.
Guests are responsible for the following:
  • Personal clothing & equipment – review the equipment list included under “Documents”.
  • Food & Lodging in town – most lodges in Gustavus provide quality food options, and we would be happy to recommend lodging in Haines.
  • Trip insurance – we highly recommend trip insurance for all of our programs
  • Airfare – review the “Travel Information” under “Documents” for more details
  • Reviewing trip policies – please reference our policies page for policies regarding payment, cancellations, refunds and guest responsibilities.
  • Gratuities
To Book your adventure, follow the steps below:
  1. Please call to confirm availability at 1-800-766-3396 or fill out an online form to request more information via this link:
  2. Place a $250 deposit to reserve your spot: this can be place over the phone by credit card, check in the mail, or through our payment gateway.
  3. Once you’ve reserved your spot, you’ll receive a welcome packet with all the necessary registration forms and trip information.
  4. We kindly ask that you submit all of the necessary trip registration information at least 45 days prior to your trip.

Feel free to call or email anytime if you have questions about your upcoming trip. Our team is excited to help you prepare for your adventure!

Guest Comments:

Nature at it’s best… like a National Geographic live seminar!
-Dean & Kathy Johnston