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A Solstice Paddle: Le Conte Glacier

To celebrate June 21st solstice, Nathan, Jordan, and I, wanted to do something special. We were in the neighborhood of Le Conte Glacier, the southmost tidewater glacier in the northern hemisphere. In other words, the closest glacier that meets the ocean to our start point in Victoria. So we hatched a plan.


Mallard Slough cabin, just south of Le Conte, sits deep in an intertidal mudflat in the Stikine River Delta. This means you can only access it at high tide, which happened at 3am and 4pm on June 21st. This gave us 13 hours to paddle about 20 nautical miles and enjoy the glacier. Plenty of time. As we would learn, too much time infact. Sunrise was at 4am, and sunset at 9:32pm. 17 hours of sunlight, but here at 55 degrees latitude on solstice, it never really gets dark.



So, the plan: We'd stay at Mallard Slough Cabin (point A on the chart above) overnight. We'd be up at 3 am and on the water by 430 am. We only needed to move 1.3 NM to cross the intertidal zone, which we figured we could do in under an hour, so we didn't feel pressed for time. We'd then spend our the next hours paddling the 18 NM round trip to Le Conte Glacier (C) and return to Camp Island (B) for lunch and wait for the tide to rise so we could return to Mallard Slough Cabin



Mallard Slough Cabin was beautiful, but buggy in June. We didn't sleep much, because we were being eaten alive by mosquitos. Part way through the night Jordan setup his tent and Nathan moved into his tent outside. It was hot and humid, but I wrapped myself tight in my sleeping bag to protect myself from bugs.


We were on the water by 430 am. However, the water was shallower than expected. This is me towing Jordan and I's boats through the river Delta, towards icebergs, at 530am. Camp island is just to my left, far off in the distance. With the tide dropping and an unknown amount of mud to traverse, the pressure was on. We'd misjudged.


We did make it to open water by 630am. An hour behind. And this meant icebergs. We were absolutely mesmerized. We spent lots of time photographing the icebergs. It was absolutely beautiful.


I enjoyed a coffee in the company of icebergs.


The existence of intertidal icebergs is obvious when you think about it. But prior to seeing these, I never had. I was awestruck.


As we paddled into the zigzagging fjord, the mystery of Le Conte remained hidden by mountains coming into the ocean.


But eventually, we made it. And it was stunning.


We spent about an hour playing around near the glacier. Taking photos, getting stuck in ice, and Nathan even went for a roll.



There are several things you don't think about when paddling around glaciers. The feeling of bumping into an iceberg flexing your kayak, I was so scared of breaking my boat. How your heels and bum get incredibly cold. The ice getting so thick you end up pushing your paddles against it rather than paddling in water. It's an incredibley special experience.


All smiles in this incredible experience.


Eventually it was time to head home. Thanks to our short and mosquito filled night, we were exhausted. This was probably amplified by the endorphin high and subsequent crash of the incredible experience of paddling with a tidewater glacier. I was paddling with my eyes closed at moments. Dangerously tired to be in the water.


Thanks to the glacial outflow, we rocketed out of the Le Conte fjord and arrived early at Camp Island. We decided to take a nap, tethering ourselves to our boats so we'd wake up when the tide rose. And saving us a long carry.



We timed our return much better with the tide, and didn't need to drag our boats across the mud flat. We landed at around 6pm.




Our paddle up Le Conte fjord to the glacier was incredible. Watching it calve and hearing it crackle and pop as it moves. The surprisingly strong glacial outflow current. The adrenaline rush of paddling with icebergs. The pressure of dragging boats across the mudflats. There was so many new experiences that we couldn't have predicted we'd have. This day in itself, was the adventure of a lifetime.


Little did Nathan and I know, the things we experienced at Le Conte were just the beginning. We'd recall these sensations and build this knowledge for the half dozen or so tidewater glaciers we'd end up paddling with. Each getting subsequently more extreme.



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