When Michelle Eshpeter first told friends she was planning on paddleboarding in Glacier Bay, they were skeptical. Most people she knew who’d done trips there were kayakers. A paddleboard, they wondered? How would that work?
But she was sure she could do it.
When she first started thinking about it, Eshpeter, a yoga and fitness teacher in Whitehorse, Yukon, was taking a class in paddleboard instruction. The idea of paddleboarding somewhere in Alaska was originally the instructor’s.
She asked friends who’d kayaked here about their most memorable paddle. Almost everyone she spoke with told her Glacier Bay. But her original trip partner couldn’t go when she planned, and then there were the negative reactions.
“I still felt pretty confident I could do it, but it made me feel less confident about doing it on my own,” she said.
She didn’t end up going with the instructor, but with good friend Lee Paskar, a beginning paddleboarder.
They packed up inflatable paddleboards 10 feet and six inches long and around 33 inches wide.
Though the user stands up on them, paddleboards are a lot more stable than they seem, she said.
“It’s great for going backcountry, which lots of people haven’t experienced yet, or haven’t witnessed,” she said. “It just feels really versatile to me.”
If people ever get in over their heads, they can always come down to their knees and lower their center of gravity, she said.
“You can paddle almost anything on your knees,” she said.
They started out at Bartlett Cove and spent two days getting to the northernmost Beardslee Island. The fourth day, they planned to get picked up at South Sandy Cove, which meant the third day they had to cross Beartrack Cove.
“People had told me if you’re going to get rough water, that’s kind of it,” she said.
When they got to Beartrack Cove, the radio told them the swell was four feet, with 20-knot winds. Since her friend didn’t have much experience, they decided to change their route.
They still had to get drinking water, though — and that meant either paddling eight hours round trip back where they’d come from, or crossing the cove. So Eshpeter crossed the water herself as her friend watched, concentrating on paddling so much she didn’t notice the humpback whales around her.
“He ended up having quite the show of me going through the rodeo,” she said.
The fourth day, they got picked up and went to McBride Glacier for some photos. Eshpeter plans to start offering boat-supported paddleboarding tours in Glacier Bay, Sitka and Juneau next year, as well as hosting women’s retreats that involve paddleboarding, so she wanted some pictures to help with that.
“The water’s so deep you’ve got that huge water heave (when the glacier calves,)” Eshpeter said. “It ended up being such a cool water condition to have this giant wave that’s not at all threatening go by. And all the icebergs in the water, bobbing up and down, twisting… it was just so lively.”
When they were traveling, she and Paskar put their things in dry bags they cabled to the front of the board. All together, she estimates they paddled between 35 and 50 kilometers, or 22 to 31 miles.
“We were being pretty conservative with our total distance that we were trying to go, because my friend was an inexperienced paddler,” she said “And it worked out really nicely… it was a nice amount of distance to cover.”
Eshpeter’s website is http://missmewellness.com/.
• Contact Juneau Empire outdoors writer Mary Catharine Martin at firstname.lastname@example.org.