Glacier Bay, Alaska 2008

A long long time ago, I promised my sister I would take her kayaking in Alaska so we could have some time together and see the whales. It was so long ago that I found the expedition company in a book. No one had websites yet. We had an amazing trip, saw whales off in the distance, got eaten alive by no-see-ems, camped, paddled, and met a woman who became a lifelong friend.

Fast forward more than a few years and I went back with my husband and two small children. Iain had just turned six and Hamish was a month away from being four. It's amazing to look back at the picture on the Spirit Walker website and realise how small they were. More amazing - the boys still talk about that first trip and the repeat the following year. It was that incredible of a trip that it stuck in those little memories. So pack the camping bags and head north...

Somehow the children had no socks but I managed to pack all three of us into my pack using the awesome new codura dry compression bags. Five days of kit into three cushion size bags and all of them in my pack. Only the camera and lenses in a separate bag. Seattle to Juneau flight and then transfer to a charter to Gustavus. The weather made for a bumpy flight over but we were in good hands with air excursions. Iain loved his opportunity to sit with the pilot.

We are now comfortably ensconced at the inn after a warm welcome from innkeepers Dave and Joann Lesh. Truly a home from home, the Gustavus Inn is of our favourite places to return time and time again. The welcome is always warm. The food is always delicious. There are games and books in the common areas and always someone to play with or talk to if you choose. Rooms are comfortable and cozy. Dinner smells great. Actually, it is probably dessert as it smells rather like cinnamon. Megan and Sayre are staying next door at Sally's Bed and Breakfast. They went out and gathered their own eggs for breakfast. Jai should be here shortly for our kayaking briefing.

The rain is sporadic today. Let's hope that's as bad as it gets!!!

The big news from Point Adolphus is that I learned to skim stones. Iain mastered it first and then taught me. Two felt like a triumph after a life a failure and five felt like winning the lottery.

We saw five groups of otters on the fifteen minute trip over from Gustavus. Then while we were setting up camp, a whale came by about fifty yards off the beach. Thinking the day couldn't get much better than this, we were delighted when the sea lions came in even closer to check us out. Once camp was set up, but slower than the boys could stand, we set off on our first paddle around to Chicken Ranch. No sooner had we rounded the point then we saw a young humpback playing in the kelp. Thanks to loads of yoga spine twists I think I even managed a few pictures of him once he had moved off UNDER the boats and behind us. Talk about close encounters.

The rest of the paddle there and back was uneventful but very beautiful. We saw four bald eagles which was a bit of a surprise as I thought they were more territorial than that when nesting. Returning to the beach was like paddling along the whale highway. There were a good dozen visible at any given time. With Hamish asleep in the front of my boat, I took the chance to get some more pictures. The afternoon has been taken up with advanced sitting on the beach including the aforementioned stone skipping and watching a lone humpback breech over and over again. I am ecstatic since I always seem to be the one in the past to miss the single breech. This guy has been obliging by playing for the past four hours. He only stopped when a whale watching boat stopped to take a look. He's back now and entertaining us all. We've also been visited by half a dozen sea lions, one of whom is waving now, and dozens of whales just passing by.

The tide pools have some great anemone that the boys have enjoyed prodding as young boys must. Paradise...with bugs... We were woken several times in the night by whales close in to the beach. The tents are pitched about a hundred yards from the beach in a clearing in the woods. So warm and dry at night but we still get whale lullabies.

Soft light this morning with low clouds made for nice pictures. We had a walk in the woods this morning and saw spruce and hemlock. Whales still going by but slow and languid today. Watching a fabulous pink sunset over the mountains with a few whales swimming quietly by. We had one a mere 25 meters from the beach. Hoping that I have one good breaching picture after some great acrobatics after dinner. The kids went to bed happy after the s'mores.

This is the best trip we do with the boys. Hamish has already asked if we are going back next summer. It works because they have enormous freedom to be little boys. The only two rules are tell someone where you are and don't wipe your hands on your clothes. Beyond that, they can explore the rock pools, climb rocks, make tools, skip rocks, try to master their pocket knives. They are busy all day and ready to sleep at night.

My second best memory from the first trip we took was Hamish finding some deer bones and fashioning them into tools. He was so proud of his accomplishment and that he had made something. On this second trip, Iain managed to slice his hand badly with his pocket knife. As he was bleeding and being bandaged every one of the adults said something to the effect of "Been there, done that, never did it again." It dried his tears right up as though he had been initiated into some super secret society. The important thing was that he had that experience in a time when children tend to be overly protected.

We use the guides here because it saves us hauling kit half way across the world and gives us more eyes on the boys but it would be perfectly doable on your own if you were a confident paddler. The only downside is the weather which isn't warm even in high summer and it can be buggy.

The trip up Glacier Bay on the park boat to see the glaciers is great on the way up. You can see a lot of wild life (we saw 17 bears in 2007) and the glaciers are magnificent. Coming back gets to be a long day with the kids as they've been cooped up for eight hours, seen everything, and finished their junior ranger books. Still worth doing once.

Oh...and the number one memory from our 2007 trip was being awoken in the night to the most haunting song ever heard. Walking up to the point. The whales were going by and the air was filled with their song for a magical amount of time.