How to Snorkel in Alaska
By Ted Gatlin, Expedition Guide on the Wilderness Discoverer
There are a lot of exciting adventures to have during an UnCruise. Kayaking between icebergs, bushwhacking through a primeval forest or plying the coastal waters on a skiff looking for bears. But there is one activity that may not come to mind when traveling to Alaska: snorkeling.
Being this far north, snorkeling might not be the first thing you think of. It’s an activity that’s usually associated with tropical waters. But snorkeling in Alaska is just as, if not more, rewarding than its warm water equivalent, and it was my pleasure to lead the snorkel group recently.
The first step to snorkeling in Alaska is getting everyone in the right gear. This is actually the hardest part of the process. You want to make sure you have a wetsuit that fits snug, very snug, so that you stay warm. After that comes the neoprene boots, the gloves, and the hood. And to top it off, a mask, snorkel, and fins. Once everyone has the right gear, we load into a skiff and head for the shallow reefs with all the interesting creatures waiting to be discovered.
There is one more obstacle to face before the hard work is over - the cold water. It is a bit of a shock at first, as the ocean water seeps into your wetsuit. But after a few seconds, the cold water is warmed by your body and wetsuit, and then the cold disappears. As we adjust, we gently float with the current, tracing the edge of a submerged island, looking at what nature has in store for us.
We observe enormous sea stars in various colors, some with the standard five legs, others with over a dozen. Anemones in vivid colors slowly sway with the current. Fields of barnacles, usually dormant when seen above water, open rhythmically and filter nutrients out of the water. The intertidal zone is packed with life, and it feels like you have discovered a different world living just beneath the surface of the ocean.
After a while, we reluctantly remove our fins and climb back into the skiff. We all have big smiles on our faces, proud we have summoned the courage to dive into the chilly waters, and excited by all we have seen. Alaska might not be the first place you think of when you think of snorkeling, but after a trip like that, you won’t be able to forget it.