“It seems there may be a sort of trail up this way. I can see the moraine after a patch of alders,” my friend Dave suggested. Just 15 minutes earlier, two friends and I had left our kayaks on the shoreline (along with our wives, who were relaxing on the beach) for a wild-card, bush-whacking uphill hike to get a better view of the glacier bay and valley we were in.
The day before, six of us—my wife, Joan, and I, plus two of our close friend couples—had landed in Shoup Bay State Marine Park, a stunning, 4,500-acre preserve with magnificent Shoup Glacier tumbling down to the shimmering water. It’s located practically due east from Anchorage, but the drive to Valdez (the closest nearby town) requires making a 300-mile loop. From there, it’s a nine-mile water taxi ride to the park.
Our boat’s captain had timed our arrival for high tide, which allowed the boat to drift within 100 feet of what would be our home for the next 3 nights: a public-use cabin named Kittiwake. We offloaded three kayaks, two coolers, and our personal gear fort he short stay; enough of everything that we could have lasted a month.
I love trips like this. The boat transportation and cabin let us bring plenty of good food, comfortable bedding, and dry gear; the kayaks allow us to transport ourselves effortlessly to different hiking locations each day. It’s a winning combination I’ve used many times in many locations throughout Prince William Sound.
On our first full day, Shoup Glacier was our destination. Each couple set off in a tandem kayak, and it took little effort to part the glassy water. There was more action above: As we began to explore the coast of one island, a number of Arctic terns dive-bombed us, alerting us that they had nests with eggs or chicks and that we were too close. We paddled away, toward the glacier and the relaxing beach nearby.
Hiking to the Top
The hike wasn’t easy. We ducked our heads down and hiked through tilted and dense stalks of alders, requiring us to contort our bodies up, down, and sideways. After escaping the jungle, the area opened up and we could walk on the gravel and loaf-size rocks of the moraine. It was all uphill, with no established trail. We only knew what lay ahead from our recollection of how we saw it from the comfort of our kayaks, so we gambled on which way would result in a better view.
We ended up retreating and finding a new route, hoping that we would actually find that better view. Once we found a good ridge line, we were able to maintain its course, make some time, and search for the view we knew was up here somewhere. It never appeared, though, so we called off the search.
The way down seemed easier, though we still had no trail to follow and had to figure it out as we went. Our wives were asleep when we arrived, but soon we were paddling back to our abode, where we would all pitch in for a delicious homemade pasta dinner and make smores over the campfire as the conversation continued into the midnight light.
Two more glorious days followed of paddling in the calm water, exploring the shorelines, and making short, easy, land-based jaunts. We enjoyed simple, relaxing trips to cascading waterfalls and landing on small islands to investigate the geologic patterns.
Trips like these are never long enough; soon it was time to clean the cabin and wait for the boat back to Valdez—another spectacular adventure through this endlessly fascinating state.