Paddling Glacier Bay's East Arm

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
Week of March 6-12, 1997
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Paddling Glacier Bay's East Arm
Question: I am planning a trip up to Glacier Bay National Park this summer. I am giving myself one week to paddle it. I would like to know what you think is the better arm, east or west?

Dave Graulich
San Diego, CA
[email protected]

Paddlers can explore the park's
glaciers close up

Adventure Adviser: I'd recommend the East Arm. To its advantage, it has far less cruise ship traffic than the West Arm and plenty of glacier activity. Moon-like McBride Glacier at the head is still calving like crazy, which means you'll be paddling among giant slabs of shimmery, white ice that have just fallen off the glacier and into the icy water--pretty neat, as long as no chunks the size of 10-story buildings slide off, creating tsunami-like waves that are guaranteed to crest over your boat. Bottom line: Don't paddle too close to the snout of the glacier.

That said, Muir Glacier, on the west side of the East Arm, has pretty much grounded itself, so you can get almost as close as you want. From Bartlett Cove, the paddle all the way up to the tip of the East Arm and back is a whopping 110 miles. Catch a ride on the Spirit of Adventure tour boat, which'll drop you and your kayak off at Seebre Island, and the round-trip paddle to the snout of Muir Glacier and back to Seebre is reduced to a more manageable 60 miles. Either way, you'll need to pick up a free backcountry permit at the Glacier Bay park headquarters in Bartlett Cove and sit in on their mandatory paddler orientation. The round-trip boat ride will cost you about $175 per person; call 800-451-5952 for details and reservations. For boat rentals, check in with Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks ($40-$50 per day; including spray skirts, PFDs, and paddles; 907-697-2257). For additional Glacier Bay info, call the park at 907-697-2230.

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