Club Expedition to
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Club Expedition to Alaska (Whittier to Perry Island crossing over to Knight Island and return via Port Nellie Juan) “Can bears swim?”
This clubs` expedition to Prince William Sound is now well established with trips in 2008, 2010, 2013 and again in 2016. This time we headed out to the islands in search of whales. This involved some fairly long open crossings including some in fog. We were stormbound for a day with strong gusty winds and waterspouts and on another encountered the heaviest 24 hours of rain any of us could imagine.
Every day we encountered something interesting including; humpback whales, black bears, Stella Sea lions and common harbour seals, sea otters, bald headed eagles and many other sea birds; they seemed to be everywhere. We also paddled up to several enormous tide-water glaciers.
Our friend Levi Hogan (opposite) shuttled us to and from Whittier along with supplying his fleet of high quality UK Sea kayaks.
The flight out and getting to Whittier
Levi Hogan from Turnagain Kayaks
not only did we find a new outfitter, Levi Hogan and Turnagain kayaks but we
also found cheaper and more direct flights via Iceland. Consequently, we had a much larger group than
normal with 13 of us making the journey out to Anchorage. The flights cost around £800 with short stop
over (2hrs) in the new North Atlantic hub of Reykjavik. On the way out we were all kicking ourselves
as we should have booked a couple of days in Iceland instead of flying straight
through. We had to endure numerous
advertising videos and TV programmes teasing us with the best that Iceland had
After our midmorning departure from Manchester we arrived in Alaska 12hours later at 5pm local time and still in daylight. A quick free shuttle to our hotel and we were unpacking in 3 large and spacious rooms. That evening we discovered Gwennie’s Old Alaska Restaurant, just opposite our hotel. Great home cooking. More Photos……….
Day One (Thursday) – Whittier to
In the morning we washed and showered and went down for a full continental breakfast at 6:30am. Levi arrived spot on time and was towing all the kit in a large car transporter trailer. The shop took longer than expected and seemed to cost considerably more than in the past. Despite this we made the 11:30am tunnel and were packing the kayaks soon after midday at the Lazy Otter beach just opposite the Ferry in Whittier.
Levi was keen to try and catch the next tunnel in an hours’ time so we rushed to unpack our flight bags and spare items and threw them into his trailer. We then finished our packing and made our way onto the water. We left the ferry port of Whittier with a warning from the ferocious cries of an officious looking female security guard “sir, you are committing a violation – move away now.” I am not sure if she would have drawn her pistol but her hand was certainly resting on her holster! Brian made haste away from the beach, apparently his stern had drifted a foot or so between one of the piles of the jetty.
We turned left and headed for the north shore of Passage Canal. Here we found the two waterfalls made famous by the Kittiwake rookery above. We just had to test the dryness of our waterproofs.
After numerous photos we moved on along the shore exploring the many bays and coves passing below the Billings Glacier. Several possible sightings of bears proved fruitless and often turned out to be dark rocks on the shore. We also discovered several groups of dead trees near the shoreline, almost certainly killed during the 1964 earthquake when much of the land in the area sank by over a metre. This has allowed saltwater to inundate the shore line and has literally poison them where they stood.
After a few hours we reached the end of Passage Canal. It was soon going to be dark and we were looking for possible campsites just in case we did not make our intended destination of Entry Cove. I paddled into Logging Camp Bay to check out any possibilities. I quickly hopped out of my boat leaving it next to the beach and by the time I had climbed the shingle beach the stream had started to wash it along the beach. I returned to it but had to wade around the top of the channel and this was long enough to push it out far enough to require me to wade into my waist to recover my boat. Mike had been keeping an eye on me from about half a Km away and too far to stop me having to get wet.
The site was not ideal, especially for a large group of 13 people. We headed on to Entry Cove but as we rounded the point we found 3 kayakers already camped there. While they would have moved over and made space it was clear they were not keen. The light was now fading fast and we decided to camp on the shingle spit and small beach just before the small island at Entry Cove. This actually turned out to be ideal if only a little short on space. This did not matter as we soon flattened the top berm into tent sized platforms. It was neap tides so there was little chance of the tide coming up to the tents and we had plenty of room to cook the evening meal on the beach below the tide line. We of course had the added bonus of the view out towards Esther Island the Prince William Sound and beyond.
Keith Steer More Photos……. Voice over……..
Day Two (Friday) – Entry Cove to Perry Island
Ian Bell More Photos……. Voice over……..
Day Three (Saturday) – Day 3 Perry Island to Ingot Island (approximately 17 miles)
Just before dawn I crawled quietly out of our tent to answer a call of nature. It was foggy and very damp and the tent was soaking wet from the 100%humidity. I got back into the tent and waited for it to get light, hoping that the sun would rise, burn off the fog and dry everything out. At 0700 it was time to get out and get going as we had a long day ahead of us but the fog still persisted even by the time we were all fully packed and on the water at about 0845.
Keeping close to the coastline, we made our way out of the sheltered bay where we had camped for the night on a shingle beach. Enjoying the task, a number of us navigate continually on these trips, while the majority appeared happy to just follow. One or two carried a map and a deck compass but just pretended to navigate, content at just looking the part I guess.
In the thick fog, even the navigators were slightly perplexed about our exact position. It was taking a while to get our eye in with the scale of the map and the almost 20 degrees of local variation. We were concentrating so hard that the sudden appearance of a Hump Back Whale, braking surface to breath close-by, took us all by surprise and completely stopped us in our tracks. It was quite close to us and we all got a good view as it surfaced once or twice before disappearing altogether out of our lives. Our almost daily encounters four years ago with these fabulous mammals, gave us hope that we would see more on this 2016 trip and here, early on Day 3, we got our first and all-too-brief sighting. They really are special and I always feel very privileged whenever I get close to them.
With the excitement over we decided we knew roughly where we were so headed for a nearby beach for an extended break while willing the visibility to improve. Stoves were lit, brews were made and a small fire dealt with some of our burnable rubbish that was beginning to accumulate. Maybe 90 minutes went by on this beach when, I think it was David Rider, piped up that he could see land in the distance. We all got back into our boats and paddled off cautiously into the mist. Sure enough, rounding Billings Point, a small headland on Perry Island, we could clearly see Lone Island some 3 miles in the distance. This wasn’t our final destination for the day but it gave us somewhere to aim for. It was Catriona’s turn to lead the group today so she got herself out front and pointed her boat towards a small beach, just about visible, on the north western end of Lone Island. We all tucked in behind her while Keith made it his business to reel in anyone who fanned out too far away from Catriona’s course.
It wasn’t long before we reached this beach and we all got out to have yet more food and drink in preparation for the next, very long, leg of our passage. Rounding Lone Island North-about and with the fog almost completely dissipated, we eventually caught sight of Ingot Island, some 12 miles to the South East. This was going to be a major open passage and certainly one much longer than most of us had ever completed. Catriona got into the lead again and off we went into what turned out to be a calm and easy passage. We had plenty of time to chat and gaze into the distance and, although some of the land was off our map, we reckoned we could see way out of the Prince William Sound area and probably out into the Alaskan Gulf and the Pacific Ocean itself. This was incredible stuff. Being close to shipping lanes, a watch was kept on channel 16 just in case anything big was about to head our way. In the event, nothing but the occasional small fishing boat crossed our path. Hopefully they saw us but none of them appeared surprised to see us in the middle of nowhere and, unconcerned, they passed us by at speed.
After what seemed like ages, Ingot Island began to grow larger and we could see trees and other features. There was plenty of daylight left when we finally arrived at our destination camping beach and the sun had heated up a rocky outcrop where most of us hung tents and other gear to dry off from the previous night. We settled down to sort out our camp and everyone started to cook their evening meal. Caz and I chose a comfortable spot but there was an odd smell about the place. It turned out to be the smell of bear and sure enough, it appeared that a bear had made its bed close-by the night before. There was bear poop here and there and obvious signs of crushed vegetation. We quickly moved much further down the beach and carried on cooking.
By the time we had finished our meals, most of us congregated on top of the outcrop as the view was captivating. As we all gazed around in awe, multiple gun shots rang out from miles away. Perhaps these were Americans firing at empty beer cans but it was more likely that they were hunting bear!
We slept that night hoping that the gun shots hadn’t driven angry bears in our direction.
Pete Thomas More Photos……. Voice over……..
Day Four (Sunday) – Ingot Island to Knight Island
Waking up to a magnificent view of snow covered mountains; we followed the now routine 2-hour sequence to get on the water for 9.00am.
Wake, retrieve bags and food from bear cash, toilet, wet wipe wash, sun cream on, contact lenses in, kettle on, pack sleeping bag, pack Thermarest and anything else in the tent, cup of tea and breakfast, clean teeth, collapse and pack tent (sometimes soaking wet), carry boats near to water, pack everything into kayak, put on paddling gear, and finally, ready to go!! Just as the water reaches the boats.
With a forecast of deteriorating weather, we set off in a south westerly direction across Lower Passage to Passage Point, heading down Knights Passage leaving Knights Island to our left. We had originally hoped to travel down the outside (eastern side) of Knights Island but the weather was not settled enough to do this.
We passed Herring Point covering some ground that we had paddled 4 years previously, passing the beach on which we celebrated Debbie’s birthday, her birthday was again to be celebrated on this trip in a few days’ time.
Just before stopping for lunch a humpback whale appeared alongside us for about 30 seconds before it disappeared with a flick of its tail as it dived away. Lunch was had on a reasonably sized beach as it was mid tide, these beaches change dramatically at high water leaving very narrow areas of shingle to pitch the tents, unbeknown to us at the time, we would see this beach again.
After a 30 min lunch stop we set off passing Lower Herring Bay heading for our proposed next campsite in Johnson Bay. This campsite was especially chosen as, on the map, it looked well tucked in and sheltered. The weather was starting to deteriorate and a head wind was beginning to be felt. After a fairly long day, we eventually reached Johnson Bay and we were all looking forward to stopping for the night. By now the weather was getting decidedly miserable dull and damp with the wind picking up all the time.
Oh! but where was the campsite? The place marked on the map was a rocky stream bed with no option for 6 tents. All of the navigators in our group double and triple checked everything but still agreed we were in the right place according to the map, it was just that the campsite was unviable. A bit despondent we mooched about the area hoping to find an alternative in the close vicinity but no luck. What now? It was getting late in the afternoon so other options were not really viable The only realistic option was to turn around and head back to our lunch time stop. So off we set not looking forward to a long paddle back, which in fact with the wind now behind us and all paddling with heads down in the light misty rain took just 90 minutes.
With only just enough room for all the tents along the narrow strip above the high water mark, we gratefully set up camp, this was nearly not enough as high water the following day nearly breached a tent or two, as you will read in the Day5 instalment.
Carole Thomas More Photos……. Voice over……..
Day Five (Monday) – Knight Island (Storm Bound)
After yesterday’s planned campsite to the south of Knight Island did not come up to expectations, non-existent in fact, here we were, camping on a beach not marked as a camp site and…. storm bound. That’d be easy for my write up day then – stormbound…but no, it was an action packed day to say the least.
I find it hard to believe that there are so few places to camp in such a huge area but room for any tents, let alone as many as we had are hard to find. It was obvious we were going nowhere for the foreseeable future as the winds were already strong, forecast to get even stronger and it was raining. The tents were crammed at the very top of the beach on the usual shingle, worryingly close to the last high tide strand mark. Despite major earth works the evening before to flatten out enough level space to pitch, several tents were at crazy gradients with few reliable anchor points
The cooking tarp was pitched at one end of the beach and after breakfast Kathy and Nicky, with the help of Don and Mark, set to with major earth works to re pitch their tent. The resulting tent platform was a remarkable feat of civil engineering, with substantial log ramparts, but would it be sound enough to survive the next high tide?
With little else to be done I retired to the tent, (my side of the tent had a crazy slope banked up with full dry bags but was remarkably comfortable considering) to read. The wind increased with forceful gusts which necessitated me bracing my feet against the tent poles to stop them inverting. At one stage I stuck my head out to see sheets of water being lifted off the surface of the sea and hurled in our direction. I was just considering going out into the tempest to get a coffee when the biggest gust ever hit the tent almost flattening it and Ian was shouting outside that the porch was flattened. I scrambled out while he held the flapping awning and emergency repairs had to be done. The tide was also causing concern by this time – we spent the next hour under the cook tarp watching as the water got nearer and nearer. One of our guy ropes was tied to a log which started to float. Boats were pushed further up into the trees. At the opposite end of the beach to the cook tarp, what was a tiny trickle of water from the cliff above yesterday had turned into a raging torrent, and the tipi tent, pitched right in the middle of the beach, now had a large stream running towards it from the forest, which then disappeared under the shingle (and tent) to reappear on the beach and drain into the sea. No shortage of water on this beach, which was slightly ironic as Brian had kindly paddled round to the next bay the night before to fill several water containers because we were getting low on supplies.
By high tide, the sea was inches from most of the tents but occasional waves were actually splashing up the side of Don and Mark’s tent. Getting from the tents to the cook tarp required wading. It was a close run thing and we heaved a sigh of relief as the water receded - the next tide would not be as close. Eventually the wind dropped, the rain stopped and we were able to continue the next day, back across to Point Newell on the mainland and to a camp site with a little more distance between tents and high tide. Phew!
Debbie Hughes More Photos……. Voice over……..
Day Six (Tuesday) – Knight Island to Crafton Island - Time to get going again…..
We awoke to more rain but looking across the knight island passage it was starting to look less angry. The winds were abating a paddling day was looking to be in the offing, but not straight away. Morale was low this two-day storm was sapping at everyone.
As breakfast was conjured and consumed the weather forecast were checked and time to change plans…… strong winds where still blowing in north with a small boat advisory for passage canal and not looking better for a few days but dying down locally. Not enough time to get to icy bay and leave a few day’s spare to get back in case of more storm bound days.
A new plan was hatched to head north and explore a new area for everyone the Nellie Juan fjord area and a cabin and the promise of somewhere dry! So after packing away sodden tents and reacquainting ourselves with our boats we bid farewell to our home for the past 2 days.
Crossing the knight island passage and the marine highway shrouded in a clinging mist, we were treated with atmospheric views of Chenga island and the elegantly named dangerous passage. Moral was starting to improve and smiles where even seen as we all became warm again. Happy to be paddling. Chenga island is one of several areas which are private lands owned by the first peoples of the area. And you could see why. It had a mystical aura heightened by the mist clinging to it.
Landfall was made at Point Nowell where we had lunch and a much needed break. Thankful to be getting back into the rhythm of paddling. The weather was still not idyllic with light rain but the lure of a camp site with a cabin was keeping morale high and the knowledge we were once again on the move. The beach was a pebbly beach offering views of our home on knight island.
Once refuelled on fine fare, we headed north hugging the shore in the hope of seeing wildlife which was being quite illusive. (I don’t blame them the weather wasn’t the greatest) but we saw the ever present eagles keeping an eye on us though. Magnificent beasts looking proud and elegant in their perches in the pines of the temperate rainforest. We crossed Eshmay bay and then on to Crafton island with the weather starting to improve and the first glimmer of sky which we hadn’t seen for days.
The beach is regarded as one of the best campsites in the Sound. It is situated on a gravel spit that sticks out almost linking the main Crafton island with its smaller isle. It was truly beautiful and sheltered from a swell that was squeezing through the gap and pounding the coast near falls bay. With this beauty and sheltered spot no wonder someone in Alaska’s past had built a prospector’s hut. Now in trust with the state and protected under law.
As we adjusted to the settling conditions and begun the now automated function of setting up camp. A lone humpback swam right past in the passage between the main land and Crafton island no more than 500m away without a care in the world. A truly special Alaskan experience.
As the night drew in the clouds kept lifting and we were treated to a lovely evening to dry gear out and have a nice relaxing evening to recoup and rest with the chance to take a swim and just enjoy being in the wilderness. Wondering what tomorrow will bring.
Dave Rider More Photos……. Voice over……..
Day Seven (Wednesday) – Crafton Island to Falls Bay
Wet and windy (storm bound), dry and windy (storm bound, lunch), dry, we can go :-) !!!, wet, very wet, exceedingly wet, the most wet I have been when not under water.
We woke up to rain, wind and a reasonable amount of swell and choppy water off shore, so after breakfast most of us went back to our tents. I managed to get out the tent for elevenses to find that it had mainly stopped raining, and there were a number of hardy souls looking at the view from under the tarp, and beginning to get a bit restless with the lack of activity. Time to try walking around the island, which didn't work as the tide just did not go out far enough.
After lunch the conditions had calmed down and we packed up we set off to find our next camp. By now it had started raining again but we had a bit of fun in the swell on the way around to Falls Bay. Where we stopped to fill our water supplies and have mid afternoon snack before heading off again. We spent some time getting wetter playing in the impressive water fall the bay is named after, well some people did. By now the rain was torrential and I think it would be fair to say that we were all a bit miserable by now, and wondering if we could cope with any more rain. Keith suggested that we returned to the wooded area where we had picked up our water supplies to camp. None of us needed to much persuading to give up for the day.
We put up the main cooking tarp and the tents. We hung spare tarps over the tents, in the hope that it would keep things a little bit drier. After a very wet tea, several cups of team and collective attempts to remain cheerful I gave up on the day and went to bed, so if anything exciting happened after 8:00 I missed it. The best thing about this campsite was pitching the tent on soft mossy ground (after Dom had helpfully suggested we moved our camp from a potential puddle collecting hollow) and actually being so tired that I managed to sleep for nearly 12 hours.
Catrionia Hare More Photos……. Voice over……..
Day Eight (Thursday) – Falls Bay to Moraine ridge in Derikson Bay (Nellie Juan Glacier)
Brian Green More Photos……. Voice over……..
Day Nine (Friday) – Moraine ridge in Derikson Bay (Nellie Juan Glacier) to Taylor Glacier
Day Nine, Moraine ridge in Derikson Bay (Nellie Juan Glacier) to Taylor Glacier
After a dry night camping on the spit in Derikson Bay we woke up on day nine to a beautiful sunrise lighting up the mountains above the top of the glacier.
Unfortunately, we were still plagued by the blackflies which seem to love to make their home on glacial moraines, the fact that this was such a still morning really didn't help.
We needed to make the usual early start to catch the last of the flood tide which was flowing through a shallow river-like entry to the glacier. This shallow section had been formed over many thousands of years by the glacier dumping moraine material before gradually retreating to its present position.
It was in this shallow section that Dave decided to run a test to see if his go-pro floated, sadly it didn't, the start of an expensive day for Dave!
We paddled with a little current and we encountered small icebergs which had been calved recently whilst there were also bigger bergs the size of cars and even bigger. These larger bergs had grounded in the shallows and probably had been there a while gradually melting. One of the larger free floating bergs had become top heavy as the water melts away the ice below water very much faster than the air above water, it reminded me of my old P&H Quest as it was definitely happier to turn over and stay that way.
We paddled on in bright sunshine although the air temperature was quite cold until the water deepened and we entered a steep sided valley leading to the glacier where we took spent some time photographing. The glacier was far from quiet there were thunder like rumblings and rifle like shots, we tried to guess where the next big calving would take place.
We gave the glacier lots of respect and didn’t approach the snout and after a while we paddled out and we came across some beautiful common seals basking on the ice floes, after a few photographs we left them to their peace.
We then paddled out turned left at the point past deep water bay where there was a rock feature to rival half dome in Yosemite.
Paddled across greystone bay and at cockstone point crossed kings bay to finish the day at Taylor Glacier.
Camping sites here was a little illusive and estimations using the rule of twelfths suggested that Keith, Dave and Brian’s tent would be underwater. They resisted the urge to move it until they had no choice. I had a couple of inches to spare and Kathy and Nicky’s tent was lifted at the edge to let the last couple of inches go under the tent before receding shortly after.
The warm air held back the cold air high on Taylor Glacier until the evening cooled and a katabatic wind formed suddenly creating a stream of mist on the water out of the valley.
Black flies once again were a nuscence and they tended to be attracted to warm black clothing, or was it the smell?
The day ended with another beautiful sunset.
Mark Pawley More Photos……. Voice over……..
Day Ten (Saturday) – Taylor Glacier to Small Island near Applegate Island
Nicola Corbett More Photos…… Voice over……mp3..
Day Eleven (Sunday) – Small Island near Applegate Island – Surprise Cove
The day started with the sunlight shining on the tent even though we were in the forest, fantastic a dry day but remembering not to crawl straight out the tent as there was an 8 foot drop to the beach most people were up by this time and busily packing for a 9 o'clock start So after having a brew I also started with some parking, then Dave casually walked around the corner from the other side of the beach and nonchalant manor announced.
There is a whale around the corner about two cables off, that's 370 metres to you and me. The man has been at sea too long is that why he has a beard !!, But to my surprise it did not create a lot of excitement have we seen that much wildlife that we are now desensitised to all of this but Mark soon scurried off with his 300 mm lens to capture that once-in-a-lifetime photograph. Keith jumped in his boat and off he went to track it down.
So we all got on the water by the time we got around to the other side of the island Keith was in the distance. Finally, when he returns he said I've seen it three times but we will have to take that with a pinch of salt So now we are all regrouped we start to leave the small island that situated between Mink Island and Applegate Island.
We are soon turning north up Culross Passage suitable for small craft We soon reached our first destination Picturesque Cove where Ian spotted two brown objects on the beach thinking this is our second sighting bears on the beach, foot after going around the corner he found out they were dogs belonging to somebody camping.
There were several weekend pleasure craft anchored in this bay.
We spotted a waterfall on the map so decided this would be a good place to fill up with fresh running water but unfortunately there were lots of black flies and Seagulls feeding on the remains of dead salmon that had spawned So we simply did not hang around soon paddling north again Seastate getting larger so we decided to cross over to the Lee shore. By this time its lunch so we found a nice grassy beach that was kind to the boats sitting under a Mountain about 1500m.
After a pleasant lunch now heading to the narrow part of the passage.
We have a long bay on our left and Goose bay on the other side This is where the group had to puddle close to each other as there were high speed boats now passing us at close proximity as we were cutting across the shipping lanes.
Now we had reached the top of Culross passage turning west to cross a large bay so we actually headed south to shorten the crossing west as it was very open to the weather We had reached our campsite in good time Surprise Cove state marine park.
Where we had the luxury of camping platforms for the
tents picnic tables steel boxes for the food (bears -safe) and a wooden hut
with the loo Just a perfect day in this amazing state
Day Twelve (Monday) – Surprise Cove – Willard Island
Leaving the brilliant campsite at Surprise Cove, the team headed off towards Blackstone Bay. Entering the bay we were granted a superb view of the Tebenkoff Glacier, it stretched on for several miles, but there was no time to investigate as the team’s goal lay further into Blackstone.
The weather was perfect, flat seas, bright sun and no clouds or wind as we headed down the bay. Stopping for 11’s, the midge which had not appeared to be a problem, forced some of the team to eat quickly and then get back on the water. Suitably fed and lathered in sun cream, we continued our endeavour. Rounding the next point we were treated to the most amazing vista of the Blackstone glaciers. Wow!
Even from over 16km out, the ice was awe inspiring. We paddled on, eating up the kilometres until lunch was held on an old terminal moraine that is 7km from the current glacier head wall and was the site of several kayaker deaths – the sea can become confused as it speeds up over the shallows.
Fully fuelled the team was eager to crack on, counting off the glaciers (there are 8) as we paddled deeper into the bay. Nearing the entrance to the Beloit tide water glacier, half of the team held back whilst several members entered the gorge so as to get a better view – approaching glaciers can be very dangerous. There was no floating ice in the bay, the glacier was eerily quiet except for the waterfall of melt water cascading down to the sea.
Despite the bright, ill positioned, sun, the team posed for several photos before continuing to the next glacier. Approaching the second tide water glacier (Blackstone), a very strong katabatic wind caused the group to split, with most staying back whilst some foolhardy adventurers battled up to the glaciers head wall. Again there was no ice in the bay and many photos were taken.
Leaving the glacier the adventurous paddlers headed towards a hanging glacier that had previously caused the death of several kayakers when ice had fallen on to them. Alas global warming has caused the ice to retreat and in the summer the glacier is no longer as dangerous – although the members that had held back did tell those of us that had approached the glacier that a rather large (ie house sized) piece of ice had detached and slid down the cliff above us, something that we had not been aware of at all.
Photos taken the group re-joined and headed to the campsite on Willard Island, the site of a previous LCC trip campsite where the strange nature of the tides in Prince William Sound had first became apparent!
40km done, a great day!
Mike Alter More Photos……. Voice over…….mp3.
Day Thirteen (Tuesday) – Willard Island to Squirrel Cove Swimming bear, grumpy otters and other swimmers….
After a heavy paddle against a massive wind up to Blackstone the previous night, some opted for a leisurely start, whilst the hardcore lot set off just after 8 to revisit the glaciers. They had an entirely different experience to the previous day’s paddle, as the glaciers had calved huge bergy bits, some growlers and plenty of great brash ice. Oh, and there was no wind! And probably considerably less noise as Nicky and I were back at camp.
Plan A was very civilised. The lier-inners were to be packed up and ready with a brew for elevenses for the returning paddlers. Keith, realising this was no time to get soft, revised the plan for us land lubbers. We were to be ready to paddle AT 11! Not “around 11” which Ian stresses in his voiceover. There was to be no messing, no brew for the paddlers, no snacking….on the water ready to paddle at 11!!
Unable to really lie-in, at 7:30, a few of us had stumbled, around the shore in search of a working stove (2 of the team’s stoves had packed in by this point - seems the MSR is the recommended petrol stove of choice, but more on this later). Ian, after some gentle persuasion, kindly left us his stove to assist in our plan for a leisurely breakfast on the beach as we watched the intrepid paddling team set off for their 19km round trip. Safe in the knowledge we had 3 and ½ hours before we “HAD TO BE READY ON THE WATER”, we took great pleasure in not rushing to breakfast, break camp and pack our boats within an hour of getting up.
After the long walk to the bear cache (we were finally on a beach big enough to put it more than 200 yards away), the hardcore lier-inners (Nicky, Pete and Caz almost made it to 8am) appeared and we all enjoyed a leisurely breakfast in the sun. Down to our last days of supplies, Debs pulled it quite literally out of the bag by appearing with pancake mix! Alas, whilst I tried to whisk lumps out of our mix, I took my eye of the aforementioned MSR which should have been simmering a soup mix for lunch. MSR doesn't do simmering. I’d burnt the soup!! Faced with the wrath of Nicky, I was saved by the distraction when Brian spotted a chick’s head appearing from the nest above where Ian and Mike’s tent had been with the large bird of prey we’d spotted the night before. We were delighted, especially Debbie, who had been anxious the eagle/ falcon was a juvenile and our presence may have prevented its parents returning. Sure enough, I later watched 4 fledglings follow mum out of the nest on 3 or 4 trial flights. Looking at Mark’s photos, I think it was a golden eagle!
The boats were packed, stoves and coffee were away (there would be no time for elevenses when they returned), Brian had finished his book. We were in our boats and ready to go by 10:45. 11 o’clock came and went, but even with Brian's binoculars, Team Glacier could not be seen. We'd heard a few huge cracks, and seen one huge chunk of ice calving into the water. Slightly nervous, given the strict timeline we were led to believe would be followed, Pete radioed through to Keith who confirmed all were still alive and afloat. We returned to land to wait.
At 11:34, Ian arrived back, keen to be reunited with his stove. The rest of them sauntered along behind. On the 2nd attempt to get in the boats, Pete lost his balance (probably due to the shock of not being on the water at 11!). His back remained dry but his boat needed a good pump out..... Was this swimming??
At 11:55, we made our way through the tiny channel that had filled over the morning separating Willard island from the land and set off towards the waterfalls.
It was to be our last full day of paddling, and, as we were getting ever closer to civilisation, we all thought the wildlife was pretty much over.
As we paddled away from the glacier, a few of us spotted a big, dark log floating in the water, thought nothing of it and carried on chatting about the morning’s highlights for each team. As we got closer, it appeared that the log was moving differently to most logs and had a nose and eyes. It was in fact a large bear swimming across in front of us. Not clear where it had come from, it had certainly had more than a couple of km to swim. Having had an almost bear-less trip, we couldn’t have wished for more. After drifting a little bit close to it, we managed to position ourselves in a less intrusive way and watch it swim to shore and climb out on to the rocks. What an incredible sight!
Completely awe struck, we paddled on, Mike leading us past some incredible waterfalls. Some eejit tried paddling through to fill her water bottle from them, only to get soaked and get no water in her bottle. We saw 3 huge jetskis, and were delighted when they went straight past our planned lunch stop, and the roar of their engines faded. We found another magical beach in the sun to enjoy lunch, and I was able to dry off after my foolish waterfall adventure.
We couldn’t believe our luck. What a way to start a day! Glaciers, golden eagles, swimming bears….. Nicky and I were distracted enough not to mind the burnt, slightly cold soup. And our luck improved yet further, when Mike and Ian stumped up another packet of crackers so we didn’t have to eat cheese served on salami! Life doesn’t get better. Or does it……
A beautiful dragonfly sat on the boats for a good 10 minutes whilst we all photographed it, and then, about 10 feet in front of Mark, a river otter popped it’s head up. Delighted for Mark, but wishing we hadn’t missed it, it kindly popped up again, and again, with another otter. The pair of them kept popping up, swimming in towards shore and then diving to pop up further along the beach and repeat the moves. They were chattering all the way across, as though one was saying “I told you to keep an eye on the beach. How are we supposed to get through to the woods now? Maybe we can get between that red and yellow boat, come on”, and we watched them for 2- 3minutes before they realised we had the beach covered and they’d have to go round to another bay. Days like this are what sea kayaking and, indeed, life is all about. If Team Glacier had made it back for 11, maybe we wouldn’t have seen all this incredible wildlife!
After another leisurely meal, we set off for the final leg of the day, round to the campsite. Keith had been in a mischievous mood all day. After Ian leant us his stove in the morning, somehow, Keith managed to steal a part of it before Ian set it up for lunch. Briefly making Ian feel like he shouldn’t have learnt it after all. Given his mischief, Nicky assumed that Keith was making whale noises and she turned to chastise him only to see a humpback’s tail disappearing into the water behind us. We all caught a brief glimpse. It was the kind of day you just couldn’t write!
It was a gentle paddle around to our last campsite in Squirrel Cove. Another ‘luxury’ one with tent platforms and a toilet !! Brian went for a quick swim to freshen up and try to work up an appetite before dinner. It was the end of the trip. All food must be eaten, and Catriona’s boat seemed to still be full of food. I don’t think Brian could have swum far enough. The time had come for Nicky and I to crack open the red cabbage, and we finished our day with the worst meal of the trip – purple rice and 2 curries resembling….., well, let’s just say it wasn’t appetising, but even that couldn’t dampen our spirits.
We sat on the beach, (some people in chairs! – it really was a luxury campsite) and reminisced about the trip. So many wonderful sights, experiences, laughs, animals, friendships……and what a magical day to end on. After a quick reccy of the tent tensions (see video for Nicky’s TV commentator career launch), Nicky and I went back to our platform. Pete was snoozing and Caz was chatting with a squirrel in the tree…… Perfect.
Day Fourteen (Wednesday) – Squirrel Cove to Whittier
Waking on the last day we were on the water extra early (7am ish). Some said this was to ensure we made it back to Whittier in time to be collected by the driver, but i think it was more the thought that if we got back early then there was a chance for a meal at the restaurant.
Cathy was leading, the team had a leader each day, and we were under orders to follow her route so as to avoid entering the busy shipping lanes. I'm not sure if it was last day eagerness / inquisitiveness, but the team spread out (a common problem of LCC sea paddling) and so we added wing men to ensure the group stayed within sensible distances - this is probably something to think about on normal club trips.
As we began to enter deeper into Passage Canal the wind picked up noticeably and the team began to hug the shoreline. With the increased wind there was increased waves, but despite coming to the end of the trip the team cope admirably and were rewarded by sight of a Humpback Whale - something that surprised us all given how far up Passage Canal we were.
Battling on, the wind changed direction on into a full on head wind. No choice but to swing back into proper paddling mode and paddle hard. A final effort saw us reach the slip way where we had launched 14 days earlier. A few congratulations and then the team swung into action, unpacking boats and getting kit out of the way as this is a working port.
We had all unpacked and had a brief explore by the time the transport arrived. We loaded the van quickly, but after a brief discussion decided rather than ruch for the tunnel we would head for a celebrity meal in Whittier. A great end to a great trip!
More Photos……. Voice over……mp3.
Advice for future trips:
1/ Food available from Fred Mayers from 6:30am / Seyers Mall 24hrs or Sainsbury`s on route.
2/ Getting to Whittier is relatively easy (train, hire car or shuttle bus). We used Levi Hogan this time. ($500 for the whole group plus Gas, tolls and tips)
3/ UK style sea kayaks available for hire from Levi Hogan (http://www.turnagainkayak.com/) (including delivery, top of the range paddles, BA, Flares and Pepper Spray etc)
4/ Need bug head nets in worst areas. (Although late August is the best time to go rather than July.
5/ Large lightweight tarp is very useful to cook under and for shelter from the rain.
6/ All stoves should be of the same fuel in case one has a mechanical problem. Such a long expedition means that you take only enough fuel for yourselves.
7/ Tents should be capable of pitching on rounded pebbles on the beach immediately above the tide line. Do not expect to use pegs in the conventional way but they can be buried sideways with the guy clove-hitched onto the middle. (similar to a dead-man or snow stake) They should be 3+ season tents and be pretty waterproof. In very heavy rain a spare tarp can be hung over them to shield them from torrential rain.
8/ Paul Twardock`s book “Kayaking and Camping in Prince William Sound” A Kayaker's Paradise is an excellent reference. National Geographic publish a topographical, waterproof map of the west of the sound (Sheet 761)
9/ Keep bear safe! All food needs to be sealed x 3 (2 zip-locked bags + 1 dry bag) and stored overnight away from the sleeping area (50m). Processed foods are far easier to keep bear safe (soup and pasta etc) and are easier to prepare. Tooth paste and wash kits kept with foods – not in tents. Hand flares are probably better than pepper spray as defence against marauding bears. It is impossible to hang all your food for a two week expedition so a bear cache is used covered with a tarp and pots etc hung on the outside to try and alert you if it is raided.
10/ Neoprene boots with over trousers are ideal for keeping your feet dry and launching boats on the gravel beaches. (Wellington Boots would do a similar job but may not be as comfortable)
11/ $12 toll on tunnel to Whittier / Lazy Otter for charter boat drop-off or to pay for parking by the small beach under passenger ferry ramp. Tunnel into Whittier is at half-past the hour and out of Whittier on the hour. (Except when a train is going through it)
Thomas, Debbie Hughes, Dave Rider, Keith Steer, Ian Bell, Catrionia Hare, Pete
Thomas, Mark Pawley, Don Brooks, Nicki Corbett, Brian Green, Mike Alter and