Alaska: On the Water Part 1

 

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I went on a multi sport high adventure trip to southeast Alaska with my son in July 2018. We really experienced Alaska. No cruise ships or easy tourist excursions for us. We did it native style…with all the cold the wet the physical and the bruises that entailed.

We were part of a group of 14, and began by flying into Juneau. The capital of Alaska, it cannot be reached by road. So the next day we took a ferry up the Lynn Canal to Haines. The ride was a couple hours. The wind was brisk and the sky overcast. We passed thick forests dotted with bald eagles, a lighthouse on a tiny island, fishermen casting their nets, seals piled onto rocks, and small uninhabited islands along the way. Large snow capped mountain ranges and glaciers peaked over the bluffs. We warmed up in the ferry cabin, with coffee and fresh salmon chowder for lunch. Finally we arrived in the small town of Haines, which during the salmon run has twice the number of bald eagles as it does people.

 

Our guides from Chilkoot High Adventure base met us as the ferry. We were able to walk around Haines (pop. ~3000) for a bit, hot coffees in hand. It’s a nice little town, authentic and non touristy. Then we drove to our base camp where we debriefed, ate dinner and set up our tents for the night.

The next 5 days we would spend sea kayaking and ice climbing on a glacier. Weather in SE Alaska is a presence…with rain being a frequent participant. This first day dawned with drizzle (no problem) and enough wind to warrant a small craft advisory (a problem). So getting out on the sea was out. Instead, we headed to Chilkoot Lake to practice kayaking. The lake was beautiful, circled by thick pine forests and rugged mountains. River otters peaked their heads out of the river. It was cold and drizzly. We had on our layers and hats, as well as PFD’s (personal flotation device) and rubber skirts for kayaking. After some instruction, we launched.

 

It was work, but fun. We warmed with rowing, and learned our new sport. Our guides Josh, John Eddie and Doug were excellent. We headed out and around a bend, and after a while landed on a rocky beach to take a break. We dragged our kayaks out of the water and explored a waterfall. Soon we launched again. The wind was against us now and it was hard paddling. But after a lovely (albeit physical) morning we were back at the park. We packed up, ate a picnic lunch and headed back to base.

Since we’d been unable to sea kayak to our campsite that day, we backpacked there instead. At base we packed our packs with personal gear, group gear and food and drove to Chilkat State Park. We hiked thru beautiful spruce forests along the coast of the canal. We arrived at our campsite Moose Meadows and set up. The sea was just 50 yards down a rocky ridge and I could hear the sea crashing into the rocks. Across the narrow canal was the Davidson Glacier and the Rainbow Glacier. It was a marvelous site.

The next morning was still windy, the warnings now including gale force winds. Not only could we not sea kayak, but the decision was made to cancel the ice climbing entirely…since we couldn’t reach the glacier across the canal. Quite disappointed, we spent the afternoon hiking instead. We hiked along the coast to Twin Coves. The forest was thick and and beautiful, our guides pointing out plants and flowers and moose tracks. Eventually we arrived at Twin Coves, two small coves with black beaches. I was mesmerized by the crashing waves, the wind biting and cold, mountains in the distance. Eventually we hiked back, catching a glimpse of two moose off in woods.

 

The third day dawned still. We packed up and hiked out. At base we repacked and headed to our kayaks, which we loaded with gear and food and launched out into the Lynn Canal. It was extraordinary. Thick forests and glaciered mountains lined the shores. An inquisitive seal popped his head out of the water. After a few wonderful hours on the sea, we reached Glacier Point, a rocky beach below the Davidson Glacier where we would be camping that night. Unfortunately we landed at low tide, so we had to unload and lug the very heavy kayaks above the tide line for the night. Then we lugged our gear ~ 1000 feet across the mossy rocks to the treeline.

 

As we set up our tents in the grass…we realized with great delight that our campsite was essentially a giant strawberry field. Just 50 feet away the strawberries were ripe and plentiful, and we descended upon them. For the better part of an hour, my son and I lay down in the field stuffing our faces with the sweet berries. There were so many! The clouds from the past days were breaking up, we had spent the afternoon sea kayaking, our bellies were full of fresh strawberries, and were smack in the middle of Alaskan beauty. It had been a tremendous day.

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