With my arm still preventing me getting out on the water, I can only convince Nicky to paddle me around in a double so many times each week, I thought it was time for another backwards glance into my world of sea kayaking. We have been to Norway, Svalbard and a few other places along the way but today I have been thinking about my Alaskan sea kayak trip. We went for 3 weeks in 1999 and I remember being very excited as it was the first trip that I had been on which was completely arranged on the internet and via e mail. We felt so cutting edge back then!
Alaska has a magnetic attraction for certain sea kayakers, with certain geographic locations being the main focus for this interest. Although the fame and attractions of Prince William Sound and Glacier Bay have spread beyond the borders of continental North America it was another region, which attracted our attention. The Kenai Fiords appeared to offer all the environments and experiences that four British kayakers could wish for.
The attractions of Homer, self proclaimed halibut fishing capital of the world, were forced upon us for an extra night due to my luggage failing to arrive on the same aircraft as ourselves. It was with some relief the following morning that we boarded the boat, which was to transport us to outer coast of the Kenai Fiords.
The motion of the fishing boat as it encountered the waves of the north Pacific proved that being a good sea kayaker does not necessarily equate with being a good sailor. One of party succumbed to the motion of the craft and sought solace in the rolls of toilet paper below decks. Climbing over the side of the fishing boat and into the kayaks was more interesting for some than others. We had spent nearly 5 hours at 30 knots and now had 20 days to paddle back. As the boat left silence gradually returned to the inlet. A gentle paddle took us back towards the open coast and lunch was taken on a small sandy beach.
The beach was covered in prints but none of them were human. It was a humbling experience to realise that we were in an area where we were not top of the food chain. Living on an island, Jersey where the largest land mammal is the rabbit it can be a daunting prospect contemplating the variety Alaskan wildlife.
That first day was designed to be a gentle introduction to the Alaskan wilderness, even though we had been delayed for 24 hours due to the misplaced luggage, our bodies were also struggling to cope with the rapid transition through 9 time zones. As we searched for the first camp site our thoughts were dominated by the advice that had been given regarding bear etiquette. Our state of mind was not improved when we observed a bear casually wandering along the shoreline, exploring a whole range of crevices in search of food.
A small sheltered location was selected for our first night, with the tents pitched on a small spur, which offered comprehensive views of the surrounding area. Our inexperience was shown in the length of time that it took to suspend the food bags from the trees. The night was passed with a degree of uncertainty but we woke the next morning still in one piece, having survived the first of 20 nights.
The next few days were spent paddling the open coastline of the Kenai Fiords. The area had the potential to be subject to some of the worst weather of the Gulf of Alaska, or to receive the swells from some distant storm. We were fortunate to spend the days basking in bright sunshine and paddling on flat calm seas. We didn’t have again rain for the first 10 days, then it rained every day.
On the second day out we spotted a fishing boat offshore and conscious of the fickle Alaskan weather decided to paddle out to see if we could obtain an up to date weather forecast. We were unable to find out what the weather was likely to do but as some form of compensation we were given 4 ice cold beers and a rather large fresh salmon.
13 years on I look back with a certain degree of nostalgia for out time spent in Alaska, the stunning scenery, friendly people, fascinating villages such as Nanwalek and endless variety of wildlife. The 60 mph winds which struck in a 3 day storm, the camp site trashed by a bear and the difficult landings have faded into a blur.
We had a great time whilst in Alaska, it wasn’t just the paddling, it was the whole experience from cooking fresh fish on open fires to karaoke bars in Anchorage, but I am not sure that I will head that way again soon.
No weather forecast but beer and salmon are on the way down to Chris.
We found some great camping locations.
Bald Eagles were seen most days and I found them less worrying than the bears!
Chris on the second day. The weather and scenery were great, it was a pity that we couldn’t say the same about the kayaks. They were not the best design for a three week trip.
The south coast of Elizabeth Island in the Chugach Islands.The closest land to our right is probably Antarctica. We felt privileged to have been allowed to explore this coastline before the weather broke.
Pete playing in Koyuktolik Bay. We were stuck in an old logging camp for 3 days because of strong winds but had a great time playing on a quad bike and using a school bus to visit the nearest village. All part of the adventure of sea kayaking in Alaska.
Apologies for the quality of some of the images, my scans are not that great.