Surprise Glacier, Harriman Fjord, Alaska

Jeremy Saum

Executive editor Jeremy Saum recently returned from the Adventure Travel World Summit, a gathering of the Adventure Travel Trade Association, in Anchorage, Alaska. Prior to the conference, Visit Anchorage invited attendees to participate in adventures across the state. Jeremy joined a four-day sea kayaking trip in Harriman Fjord, hosted by Lazy Otter Charters, Salmon Berry Tours, and Wilderness Alaska. Here’s one thing he learned.

You should have a bucket list for sounds. There should be a book called 1000 Sounds to Hear Before You Die, and there should be a chapter devoted to Alaska. From this trip, I would add three.

Surprise Glacier

Kirsi Hyvaerinen

1. The thunder of a calving glacier. We camped on Toboggan Beach, along Harriman Fjord, with glaciers all around us. From across the water, Surprise Glacier would send regular timpani rolls to our ears and, on occasion, to our very cores. Yes, seeing a giant slab of ice splash into the water is impressive, but when you think about the power it takes to create a rumble loud enough to travel several miles and still be loud enough to wake you up at night, you realize that nature—especially in Alaska—does not mess around.

Navigating Surprise Glacier’s ice

Jeremy Saum

2. The melting of glacial ice. When we paddled across the fjord to get closer to Surprise Glacier, the chunks of ice that we’d heard tumbling down now floated past us. As we dodged them, it sounded like we were navigating a bowl of Rice Krispies. Our guide, Macgill Adams, told us that the snaps, crackles, and pops were pockets of oxygen trapped in the ice that were being released as the ice melted. There was no wind, the water was calm, so all we heard was the ice. Macgill told us that back in the days when Japan’s economy was booming, people would harvest Alaskan glacial ice and ship it to Japan so that drinkers there could enjoy the same sound effects with their whiskey.

Orcas in front of Barry Glacier

Jeremy Saum

3. The breath of an orca. Alaska offers up so much nature, sometimes it can be hard to take it all in. But even Alaska can be a tease sometimes. We knew orcas swam in the waters we were paddling, but we didn’t spot any from our kayaks. It wasn’t until we were in the water taxi back to Whittier that we saw two, swimming together with Barry Glacier as a backdrop. They weren’t right next to the boat, but they were close enough that we could hear them breathe. Again, there was no other sound to compete with. Just the sound of a powerful creature filling its lungs. Oceans, mountains—these things can make you feel small. So can comparing your lung capacity to a whale’s.

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Jeremy Saum

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