Prince William Sound Sea Kayaking

Thursday, August 11, 2016










Sea kayaking in Prince William Sound, Alaska


This site has information and web links about kayaking in the Sound. Stop back later to see updates.
I'm Jim Scherr and I've been kayaking in Prince William Sound for over a decade. This site is a compilation of information I have found useful over the years and it should answer some of your questions about paddling in the Sound. I can be contacted at jim_scherr@hotmail.com.  I've also posted trip reports for my kayak trips outside of the Sound on Facebook at:   
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sea-Kayaking/270768529788538
I've begun my trips from either Valdez in the eastern Sound or Whittier in the western Sound. Most of my paddling has been in the western Sound because it is closer to my home in Anchorage. I've very much enjoyed the paddling I've done in the eastern Sound. The two areas are quite different. The most striking differences are the many glaciers in the West that are lacking in the East and the many campable beaches in the East that are lacking in the West.
Boat and gear rentals
When I was renting boats I used Prince William Sound Kayak Center in Whittier. They rent boats and much of the gear you'll want. Call them at (877) 472-2452 or check them out at:
http://www.pwskayakcenter.com/
Another company in Whittier is Alaska Sea Kayakers I have never rented from them but they have been renting kayaks for a number of years. Call them at (877) 472-2534 or go to:
http://www.alaskaseakayakers.com/ 
I've talked with the folks at Anadyr Adventures ((907) 835-2814 or (800) 865-2925) in Valdez who rent boats and gear. They were friendly and helpful in answering questions about paddling in their neck of the Sound. They are at:
http://www.alaska.net/~anadyr/pws/rentals.html
Another company in Valdez is Pangaea Adventures ((800) 660-9637. They rent boats and gear but I've never had the chance to use them.
http://www.pangaeaadventures.com/
Water taxies
In Whittier, I've used Epic Charters ((888) 742-3742 or (907) 242-4339 ). They are reliable and have boats designed to haul kayaks. Lazy Otter ((907) 472-6887), Aquetec ((907) 362-1291 or (907) 362-1290), and Prince William Sound Water Taxi ((907) 440-7978) are charters that I've never had a chance to use. Lazy Otter and Prince William Sound Water Taxi has a taxi sharing program where you can share a taxi with another group going to the same place and both groups receive a reduced rate. Contact the charters at:
http://www.epicchartersalaska.com 
http://www.lazyotter.com
http://princewilliamsoundtaxi.com/

In Valdez, Anadyr Adventures (
(907) 835-2814, (800) 865-2925) and Sound Eco Adventures ((907) 835-8687) provide water taxies. Anadyr Advenures are friendly and helpful in answering questions, but I have never used them. Contact them at  or
http://www.alaska.net/~anadyr/pws/watertaxi.html 
          http://soundecoadventures.com
The water taxi operators try to be on time but plan for delays due to weather or other problems. if the weather is bad, you might have to wait at your remote pickup for a day or more so have enough extra food and fuel to get you through.

The Alaska Ferry system can transport your kayak and gear to and from four ports in the Sound, Whittier, Valdez, Cordova, and Chenega Bay. You'll need a flexible schedule since arrivals and departures vary by the day of the month but the Alaska Ferry is an inexpensive way to travel to any of these towns. Most maps show the location of Whittier, Valdez, and Cordova but not always Chenega Bay. Chenega Bay is not on Chenega Island but in Sawmill Bay on Evans Island. The ferry schedule can be found at:
http://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/
Transportation from Anchorage to Whittier
I drive to Whittier through the Aton Anderson tunnel. The tunnel is a single lane road and shared by trains. A schedule for the tunnel openings is at:
http://www.dot.state.ak.us/creg/whittiertunnel/index.shtml
I believe you can take a train from Anchorage to Whittier but last year they only carried passengers and no luggage. That might change in the future. Give they a call at (800) 544-0552.

There are two shuttle services in Anchorage that can take you to Whittier, Magic Bus ((907) 230-6773), Girdwood Shuttle ((907) 783-1900 or girdwoodshuttle.com) and Shuttleman ((907) 677-8537).
Kayak Put-ins
Whittier has two kayak put-ins. The put-in I use the most frequently is a concrete boat ramp with a dock before you reach the harbor master. There is an $10.00 fee to use this ramp and can be paid at the harbor master's office. This ramp lets you launch in the protected harbor. 
The second put-in is at the far end of town called Divers Cove or Smitty’s Cove. Cross the railroad tracks, drive past the city parking lot, and continue to the far end of town. This is a concrete ramp with a cobble beach to one side. It is a good put-in when the wind is blowing from the southwest. It can also save you effort paddling to the harbor entrance. There is no parking here and a fee is required for use. There has been a lot of construction nearby so beware of the heavy equipment.

There are several kayak put-ins in Valdez.  One is about 1000' east of the ferry terminal.  It is located in the southeast corner of the paved parking lot at the end of Hazelett Avenue
.  It has a treaded path and rock steps down to a gravel beach.  There is a sign that says kayak launch.  There is no fee to use this launch.    
Another put-in at Valdez is a small beach east of the boat harbor on South Harbor Drive.  There is free long term parking in the lot at the far eastern end of the boat harbor.  If you stay at the Bear Paw campground tenting area then you can launch off their beach too.  If you need to shuttle your boat and gear to a put-in, you can arrange with Anadyr Adventures (800-865-2925) to meet you at the ferry terminal and transport you to the put-in.
The put-in at Chenega Bay is at the boat launch, a short haul from the ferry terminal. The boat launch is a steel ramp that floats up and down with the tides. If the sea level is too low to launch from the boat ramp, then go to the beach at the southern end of the dock area to launch.
Camping
For most overnight trips I camp on the beaches with a tent. There are a few campsites with facilities such as outhouses, tent platforms, and bear-proof containers but in most areas these are not available. Campsites with facilities are near Whittier at Squirrel Cove, Decision Point, and Surprise Cove. In most areas it is not possible to camp in the woods behind the beach because it is too wet for a tent. I've landed at many beaches backed by beautiful green meadows only to find the lush green areas to be soggy. They may be great places for a hammock tent though. Because of the large tide range in the Sound, you'll want to camp as far up the beach as you can. When picking a camping beach look for seaweed left by the last high tide then consult your tide table to see if the tides are rising or falling. If you cannot find seaweed left by the last high tide then you might want to look for another beach. I know several kayakers who have been awoken in the middle of the night by the sea creeping into their tent.
Another consideration is the surf. Where will those breaking waves be at high tide? Camping on an exposed beach can provide great views but just be careful that the weather is in your favor. Related to surf are the swells produced by caving glaciers. Camping near a tidewater glacier can provide spectacular views but beware of the swells. I've heard of 6' swells rushing upon beaches.
Finally beware of tidal flats if you might be leaving your campsite at low tide. No one wants to carry their boats and gear through muck and slimy rocks then load the boats. The worst tidal flats are marked on topo maps but most beaches have some slimy rocks if you load your boat a low tide.
The Sound can be a rainy place and tarps make a rainy campsite pleasant. I use one tarp to cover a cooking area so I can have a pleasant evening. A second tarp covers the tent. In extended heavy rains the best rain fly eventually leaks and a tarp keeps the fly dry. The tarp lets you remove wet clothing before entering the tent. A well ventilated tent with lots of screen and a good rain fly is preferred for camping in the rains of the Sound. This kind of tent decreases the amount of condensation collecting inside the tent. A tent with lots of screen may be a little drafty but you'll stay drier.
Cabins
here are a number of public cabins for rent. They are a pleasant break from camping especially if the weather is bad. Information on cabin location and
availability can be found and reservations made at
http://www.reserveusa.com .

A good guide to these is a book by Andromeda Romano-Lax, How to Rent a Public Cabin in Southcentral Alaska : Access and Adventures for Hikers, Kayakers, Anglers, and More
The South Culross cabin has been removed and the Goose Bay cabin was built to replace it. The Goose Bay cabin is at the north end of Culross Passage near the entrance to Goose Bay.
Tides and Currents
The tides can have a range of 20 feet from high to low tide. A beautiful beach that looks ideal for camping can be covered with water in a few hours. It is necessary to have a tide book to know the times of high and low tides. Complementary tide books are found at the local Fred Myers in Anchorage and many sporting goods stores. Tide predictions can be found at the NOAA web site:

http://www.co-ops.nos.noaa.gov/tide_predictions.shtml
The tide charts provide the times and elevations of high and low tides but we also need to estimate the tide heights at other times in the tide cycle. The easiest way to do this is to use the rule of 12’s. Tides do not rise or fall in a linear manner. Instead they move a little in the first hour of the cycle then move fastest at mid-tide and slow down at the end of the tide cycle. The rule of 12’s estimates the level of this varying rate of change.

To use the rule of 12’s, first compute the difference between the high and low tide. The tide will move 1/12 of this difference the first hour, 2/12 the second hour, 3/12 the third and fourth hours, 2/12 the fifth hour, and 1/12 the last hour. For example low tide is 1.3’ at 6:55 a.m. and high tide is 10.4’ at 1:20 p.m. What is the estimated tide height at 11:00 a.m? The total change from low to high tide is 9.1’. It is about 4 hours past low tide so the tide has risen 9/12 (1/12 + 2/12+3/12+3/12). The estimated change is 9/12 times 9.1’ or 6.8’. The tide height is 1.3’ plus 6.8’ or 8.1’.

The tidal currents are usually not an issue for paddling in the Sound. There are two exceptions though. The lagoons at the ends of bays can have channels with significant currents. An example of this is the lagoon at Derickson Bay. The channels are hundreds of yards long and you can use your tide chart to estimate when the flow will be the least.
The other exception is the passages between the islands in the southern Sound that border the Gulf of Alaska such as Brainbridge, Prince of Wales, or Elrington passages. These passages are many miles long and the currents can be greater than 3 knots. It is important to know when the the currents are slack and when they reach their maximums and their directions. Tables of this information is available at
http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/noaacurrents/Regions
Weather
The weather is often wet. The annual rainfall in the Sound is measured in feet. Whittier averages 15' and Valdez averages 5' annually. A great site to see average monthly weather information for Alaska sites is
http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/summary/climsmak.html

A webcam overlooking Whittier can give you a picture of the current conditions. It is at

http://whittierak.yukontel.com/
After saying all these gloomy things about the weather, I have had week long trips with no rain so remember to bring sun screen for those sunny days. the summer temperatures range from the low 40's to the mid 60's.
Weather conditions can change rapidly. The best way to keep informed is the daily weather updates provided by the National Weather Service. I have a VHF radio that can receive NOAA weather channels. Depending on your location there is usually a weather channel available although they may be on any of the 10 NOAA weather channels. Before your trip you can monitor the NOAA weather forecasts by calling (800) 472-0391. Work through the touch pad menu to hear forecasts for anywhere in Alaska.
Organizations
The local kayaking club is a good way to meet other paddlers and share information. They also have a listserver where you can send messages to the membership to ask questions. Contact them at:
www.kck.org
Maps and Guide Books
I use the USGS topo maps for navigation and choosing campsites. The inch to a mile scale maps give the coastal detail needed for kayakers. There are Coast Guard navigation charts for the Sound but they don't provide the necessary detail for kayakers. Recently Trails Illustrated have published two maps covering the Sound, Prince William Sound - East and Prince William Sound - West. They give adequate detail plus show campsites and cabins. They are made of plastic making them superior for use in a wet kayak cockpit. These maps can be ordered from:
http://maps.nationalgeographic.com
A newly published book, Kayaking and Camping in Prince William Sound, by Paul Twardock is a good introduction to kayaking in the Sound. It has practical "how to" information with suggested trips and campsites. It is locally published by Prince William Sound Books in Valdez.
A useful guidebook is Cruising Guide to Prince William Sound, Volumes I and II by Jim and Nancy Lethcoe. These are geared to sail boaters but have a fountain of information for kayakers. They discusses campsites, natural history, weather, tides, wildlife and much more.
Fishing
Fishing can add to the fun of your trip and provide some great tasting meals. I've been successful trolling and casing from my boat for pink salmon. And I have caught a few rockfish and char. Salmon fishing is best when you can see some fish jumping. Trolling works well because you can paddle along while fishing but you must stop occasionally and clean seaweed off the lure. If you see fish jumping then it is more productive to cast.
I use 20-pound line on a spinning reel with a 1/2 ounce Pixie spoon. I attached a detachable rod holder to the boat to easily hold the rod when trolling or for storing the rod.  For trolling in a boat without a rod holder, I use a handline attached to a cleat on the boat. Handlines are available from Captain Harry's at 800 327-4088 as catalog number c66-70101.
A comprehensive book about fishing in Alaska is How to Catch Alaska's Trophy Sportfish by Christopher Batin. This covers fishing techniques and lures used for various fish in Alaska.
Expect to see commercial fishing activity throughout the Sound. Commercial fishing is highly regulated with fishing restricted to short periods of time called openers. An opener can bring out a hundred boats to intensely fish an area. They may anchor nets near shore and string them perpendicular to shore so paddle carefully to avoid tangling in the nets or interfering with their operations. If you're lucky someone might give you a fresh caught salmon!
Drinking water
Fresh water is abundant in the Sound but it is often not where you'll be camping. I carry a 2-gallon water bag and fill it up near the end of the day before looking for a campsite. Most of the streams are clear but a few are choked with grey glacial mud. Glacial stream water can be used for cooking if necessary but I try to get water from the clear streams. Although the Sound appears pristine, I purify all my drinking water with iodine while some paddlers use a water filter. At a rainy campsite you can collect rainwater in your cooking pot as it runs off your tarp.
Mosquitoes and biting flies
Camping in Alaska would not be complete without mosquitoes and the Sound is no exception. I have never encountered the clouds of bugs seen in northern Alaska but I always come prepared for them. My first line of defense is repellent. I prefer DEET that always works but others use less toxic repellents with varying results. Burning mosquito coils is also effective in reducing the number of mosquitoes around you when relaxing at your camp.
There are also biting flies in the Sound. The repellents including DEET and mosquito coils have limited effect on them. The best defense is a barrier of clothes and a headnet.
Bears
I've often seen bears but have never had any problems. They can be found throughout the Sound and should be treated with respect. I carry bear spray for repellent but I have never had to use it. Before camping on a beach look for recent bear activity such as fresh droppings before deciding to setting up camp. Beaches near Whittier such as Decision Point, Surprise Cove, and Squirrel Cove have bear proof containers to store your food. On other beaches choose a tree to hang my food for the night. If you have a light food bag then just throw a rope over a high limb and haul it up. For heavy food bags attach a pulley to the rope over the limb and attach a second rope to the pulley. The pulley is hauled up to the limb and the heavy food bag is attached to the second rope and hauled up over the pulley. This is easier on the tree limbs and you.
An alternative to hanging food are bear proof containers. There are sold by several companies and are required in areas such as Denali Park and Glacier Bay. In Anchorage they can be purchased at REI or rented from REI or AMH. The Chugach National Forest Glacier Ranger District has bear proof containers they loan out. Call them at 907-754-2330.
A related article is Kayak Camping and Bears by Martha and David Tomeo in the June 1999 Sea Kayaker.
Some people use portable electric fences to protect their camps and gear. Electric fences are useful when you plan to camp at the same place for an extended length of time or if there are lots of bears in the area. The following website has good information about electric fences.
http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm?adfg=livingwithbears.bearfences

Glaciers

Viewing a tide water glacier is one of the most interesting activities in the Sound. I’ve spent hours floating in front of these walls of ice (see the picture at the top of the page) and watching the ice calve from the face. Seals and otters are sometimes seen on the icebergs or bobbing in the water checking you out. As the newly broken pieces of ice melt in the water they give off a fizzing sound. This is the release of air that was trapped and compressed in the ice for thousands of years.

The calving activity is very unpredictable. Sometimes I’ve floated for an hour and seen no activity then suddenly a quarter mile of ice face will crash into the sea, taking my breath away. Because of the unpredictability of calving, you must stay a safe distance from the glacier at all times. Kayakers have been killed by falling ice or capsized when they ventured too close to the ice face.

Ice can also suddenly torpedo from below you. The nose of the glacier can extend below the water and out into the bay some distance. Large pieces of ice can break off from this submerged tongue of ice and surface without warning. This kind of surprise is another good reason to keep a safe distance from the face of the glacier.

As a rule of thumb, I stay one-half mile from the face. The distance to the ice face is difficult to judge with the eye because there is nothing such as trees to help you estimate distance. The falling ice does offer a simple distance gauge if you count the number of seconds from when you see a piece of ice fall to when you hear the sound. Sound travels a mile in 5 seconds. If you count 2 to 3 seconds from the time you see the ice fall to when you hear it then you are about one-half mile from the ice face.

At this distance there is obviously no problem with falling ice hitting you but the falling ice can cause huge waves. Initially the waves are breaking but by one-half mile they should be just large swells if you are in deep water. The swells can upset the stability of icebergs causing them to suddenly roll so you want to be well away from any floating ice. A double kayak reportedly capsized when a swell caused an iceberg to unexpectedly roll onto their boat. Fortunately a tour boat was nearby to pull the freezing paddlers from the icy water.

As the large swells reach the shore, they can turn into breaking waves that run well up the beach. If you stop for a lunch break on a beach, keep an eye on the activity of the ice face. This is most important on beaches such as the Black Sand beach at the north end of the Barry Arm near Harriman Fiord. This beach is very near three active glaciers and huge waves can run to the top of the beach, washing away boats, gear, and you! The surge from a calving glacier can affect beaches miles from the ice face. I’ve been miles away from a glacier and seen surges run several feet up the beach.

The waves caused by falling ice are the same type of wave formed by tsunamis. The Good Friday earthquake of 1964 was centered in the Sound and caused spectacular waves. The largest waves caused destruction 100’ above sea level. These waves were probably triggered by landslides below the ocean surface that occurred within minutes of the earthquake. A summary of tsunami activity for the 1964 earthquake centered in the Sound can be found at
http://pubs.er.usgs.gov/usgspubs/cir/cir491

When the next major earthquake occurs in this area, we can expect similar excitement in the Sound. I just hope I’ll be viewing it from a very high vantage point.
Articles about the Sound
There are a number of articles about paddling in the Sound. A recent book, History of Prince William Sound by Jim and Nancy Lethcoe, discusses the history of the area. Also see Going with the Floes by Michele Morris in the February 1999 Backpacker. This article discusses a paddling trip in the Sound.
Day paddles from Whittier
On a sunny day in Whittier it is pleasant to paddle and enjoy the beautiful shoreline. Whittier has two day paddle destinations. For someone with only a few hours, the kitty-wake rockery is a good choice. Paddle north to the northwest side of Passage Canal. The rockery is on the seep brush covered cliffs. Look for a rocky outcrop down to the ocean with water falls on either side. The rocks are populated with hundreds of white kitty-wakes.
This noisy colony raises their young on the tiny rock knobs of the cliffs. Don't venture too close or you'll disturb then. I enjoy floating nearby watching these birds.
A longer day paddle is Shotgun cove with it's shipwreck on the beach. This takes at least four hours of paddle time. Paddle along the southeast coast of Passage Canal and you'll come the wide bay after two hours of paddling.
Overnight trips from Whittier
Shotgun cove is also an easy overnight destination. The entrance to the cove is two hours from Whittier. Probably the first thing you'll notice is the wrecked vessel on the eastern shore. Or you may see the two huge mooring buoys in the middle of the bay. I've camped on the beach by the wreck. It is a tight spot for one tent. Better campsites are toward the back of the Shotgun cove where you can view the boat traffic of Passage Canal without the noise. Continuing past the wreck a quarter mile, you'll find a bigger beach with good camping
At the back of the cove on the west side is a salmon stream that has a mid-June run of chums. This is a good place to see Bald Eagles or bears feeding on the spawned-out salmon at low tide. To the east is a small campable gravel beach that provides a good viewing area of the salmon stream. Shotgun Cove has no glaciers or glacial streams draining into it so the water is often clean. Here can be seen the softball sized orange colored jelly fish.
There is also a campable beach at the back of the two bays on the west side of the entrance to Shotgun cove. There are good views of the boat activity in Passage Canal but they are noisy compared to the campsites within Shotgun cove.
The following posts of trip reports may give you additional paddling ideas.

Valdez to Whittier paddle - July 2016

July 11 - Jean and I left Anchorage and caught the 10:30 tunnel to Whittier.  She had made ferry reservations to Valdez of few days before. It cost about $120 per person including the kayaks and gear. We had to tag each bag and fuel bottles then carry the boats and gear to the loading area. I parked the car in the long term lot for $115 for two weeks.  The ferry arrived at 11:30 and we started loading around noon.  There was no baggage cart so we hauled all the boats to the car deck then piled all our gear around them.  The staff was very helpful and gave us wheel chalks to support the boats.  The ferry left about 12:45.   It was calm sailing to Valdez. We spent most of the trip in the solarium relaxing in chairs under the heater.  In Valdez we hauled all the gear and boats to the ferry office about 0.1 of a mile away.  By this time it was 7:00. Previously we have used Anadyar Kayaks to haul everything to a kayak landing beach but they were unavailable this evening. The wind was steady 10 to 15 kn with seas from the west.  We did not want to beat into the wind and seas so we opted to stay at the Bear Paw campground which has a kayak landing beach.

Jean got a taxi to take our gear to the campground 0.2 miles away.  The taxis in Valdez do not have kayak racks so I brought along a simple kayak hauler. It is a piece of plywood with an axle and two wheels. I strapped it around the back hatch and hauled the kayak to the campground. I hiked back to the ferry terminal and repeated.  Jean paid the taxi $7 and the campground $25. We had a pleasant evening sitting in the sun watching the rabbits hop around. Valdez has many free range domestic rabbits in town.  After the sun went behind the mountains we walked over to the kayak landing beach the city had recently put in. It has a gravel beach with a treaded path and steps down to it. To get there from the ferry terminal go to the first cross street, across the street to a paved parking lot, and the putting is in the southeast corner of the lot. There is a sign which says kayak launch.

July 12 - The morning was calm and the day sunny. There is a 14 hour fishing opener today so we ran a gauntlet of fishing boats and nets.  It was calm until 1 PM when a south wind started through the Narrows. We paddled hard into the seas and wind for an hour to a small protected beach with a small tent site which works in these low tide ranges.  We relaxed in the sun then set up camp. The wind stopped by 6 PM. We saw lots of eagles and one otter. There are lots of ripe salmon berries on this beach. We met a kayaker who started at the Columbia glacier and was paddling back to Valdez. About 9 PM our private cove was invaded via fishing boat that anchored and ran a generator all night.

July 13 - It was another calm sunny morning. The boats began fishing at 6 AM. The noise got us up and we had an early start. The paddle through the Narrows was calm but we paddled around lots of fishing boats. We paddle through an oily slick that smell of diesel.  We got to the last beach before Cape Fairweather. It is a huge gravel beach with two streams. That was about 10 miles in 4 hours. We've seen no fish jumping. I tried fishing with no luck. The winds and seas picked up about noon but were not as strong as yesterday. There were houseflies on the beach during the day and blackflies in the evening. We picked ripe salmon berries. We saw two tankers going into Valdez. We saw a sea otter and sea lion plus eagles.

7/14 - A fishing boat anchored off our beach about 10:30 PM. They were quiet with no motors running. Another sunny calm morning. We heard a hummingbird early this morning.  After two hours of paddling we took a break on a nice gravel beach.  There are a handful of nice beaches to Cape Fairweather but all the rest are cobble.  We had 1 foot swells and a light breeze. Saw several sea lions.  We paddled to Elf Point in 3 1/2 hours over 10 miles. This is a great storm campsite but we wanted to enjoy the sun so we camp on a beach with marginal camping that only works in these low tide ranges (less than 11 feet) at the southern end of Heather Island. We dropped our gear and paddled to the north end on the east side of Heather Island. We saw a guided group of nine kayaks. There was no ice on the east side but lots of ice on the western side of the island. We saw many sea otters. Back at camp we had a sunny evening. An otter pup watched us for a while before crying for mom. After a number of longer and louder cries, mom answered then took the kid elsewhere. We saw lots of eagles during the day. Many icebergs marched out of Columbia Bay on the falling tide. A dragonfly patrolled the beach. It must be doing a good job because there are no flies here. There are ripe salmon berries and blueberries at this beach.

7/15 - It was a partly cloudy day. We paddled along the east side of Heather Island. Got water and a little cove north of Emerald Cove. We picked a few blueberries here.  Saw a guided group near the top of Heather Island again. There were many otters as we went along. We then crossed to the east side of Columbia Bay. Google Earth shows the face of the glacier is 11 miles north of Heather Island. We had a light headwind and seas all day long. There were lots of beaches and campsites along the way. We saw a loon and two blue herons which were a surprise.  We passed a group of 7 goats.  We paddled seven hours to the best campsite ever (61 6.498"N by 147 2.726"W) next to the Great Nunatak. I had heard of 30 foot surges from calving from the glacier face. We are on a 50 foot high gravel covered rock with a great beach.  The boats are 20 foot high and tied off incase there is a huge surge.  There is a view to the west of the First Branch Columbia Glacier.  The glacier face is ice choked as is the west side of Columbia Bay.   After we landed a goat walked past the boats. Two porpoise surfaced near camp. We also saw a few seals. This beach also has a stream. A perfect place to camp.

My 1960 topo map shows that at this location the ice is over 1300 feet thick. It is hard to believe that a quarter-mile of ice has disappeared in 70 years. All the beaches on this trip have had lots of bird feathers and bones. Probably from this winters die off of Murres.

7/16 - It was a cloudy calm morning. Goats came through our camp twice in the morning while we were in the tent. Maybe they were curious. The day became partly cloudy and the warm sun felt good in the cold wind. We paddled to the Columbia Glacier. The glacier front is ice choked and we maybe got a mile or more from the face. It is huge but I had nothing to compare it with for scale.  We heard some calving but couldn't see where it was coming from. As we were leaving it rumbled for several minutes then we began to see huge amounts of ice falling and falling. We paddle down the western side of the bay with a following sea and breeze and tide. There was lots of ice to dodge. Many sea otters and pups.  Some of them on the ice.  After 5 1/2 hours we got to the nights camp on an island in Granite Cove.  It was a sunny evening and we saw a heron near camp. Two eagles played in the sky, one flying upside down then they hooked talons and then flew up right.  We picked blueberries for tomorrows breakfast.

7/17 - A clear calm day. We watched two loons in front of our campsite this morning.  A windstorm is forecast so we headed for a protected beach with water to sit out the storm for a day. There were several mature and immature bald eagles at the stream in the back of Useless Bay. They were feeding on salmon.  We also saw a few sea otters as we paddled.  We passed a deer on the beach. It just lay there watching us as we paddled past. I guess it was a fawn waiting for its mother.  We paddle into Long Bay. There are nice beaches along the eastern entrance. We then paddled to the chain of islands south of Schrader Island. We found a suitable beach on the mainland across from Schrader Island.  We had to level the beach to make a flat tent site. There is a salmon stream nearby. Didn't have any luck with the salmon but caught a small rockfish which I released. Finally the fish are jumping. We saw a blue heron later in the day.  We watched two seals successfully fishing in front of our camp tonight. There are lots of gnats here. We found blueberries and salmon berries up the hill from this beach.

7/18 - Another clear calm morning. I was unsuccessful fishing. The guy from the sailboat from across the bay came by. He lives out here year around. He's retired and an interesting character. He invited us over this evening for homemade wine. The wind was still calm by 1 PM so we decided to paddle today. The forecast windstorm just is not materializing. We paddle to a great beach west of Granite Point. It was a very warm sunny day. On the way we met Paul Twardock and a friend paddling to Valdez. They started from Olsen Island and are doing a survey for the forest service. We saw a sea otter and watched a sea lion catch and eat a fish. At Granite Point there will puffins flying to and from the cliffs. I love to see those birds. Tonights beach is beautiful white gravel with no kelp. A great high campsite. And there are some blueberries here.

7/19 - Another clear calm day and it is very warm. This is the second day that I have worn shorts while paddling. Very unusual. After we went to bed last night we heard something walking on the gravel beach. We made some noise in a huge porcupine ran from the beach into the woods. It was the size of a small bear cub. We paddled into Fairmont Bay to get water and saw another porcupine that was climbing down a tree. There was also an eagle's nest on the island.  From there we paddled out to Fairmont Island and saw a large group of curious otters. We paddled to a reef on the outside of the island and saw a bunch of seals with pups. We then went to Little Fairmont Island and saw another large group of curious otters. There were beaches for breaks on both islands. We then went to Olsen Island and camped on the big beach on the southeast corner of the island. We found blueberries and salmon berries again. There was a small spring up a hill behind the beach. We left the fly off the tent last night and tonight because it was so warm and clear.

7/20 - It was a warm night. Today is partly cloudy calm and also warm. Several hummingbirds came to camp in the morning. We went to Kiniklik Bay to get water and saw a black bear on the beach. Usually they run away when they see us but this one walk to the shore, pulled out a dead fish and then lay on the beach to eat  it.  We sat in our boats and watched. We move to the next cove and got water from a low waterfall. As we left we saw a deer on the beach and watched it for a while. We paddled the rocky coast over to East Flank Island. Didn't see any otters or seals. Nor did we see any fish jumping. I was again unsuccessful fishing. We saw a seal and a sea lion though. At bedtime a dear walked across the beach. It was very persistent and was going to cross the beach regardless if we were there or not. When we camped here before there were two fawns on the beach. They stayed very still until their mom swam over to the island and took them into the woods. I'm guessing this deer may have her own fawns on the island. We've seen almost no starfish or jellyfish on this trip which is very unusual.

7/21 - The night was cloudy and warm and the day was calm with showers. There was drizzle often on all morning but when we loaded the boats it rained hard. We paddled through Esther Passage to a nice high beach on the south side of the northern end of Esther Passage.  The high tides are greater than 13 feet and this is a great high campsite.  It also has a stream with no dead salmon for water so we can stay here several days if necessary during the forecast storm.  Saw very few animals today, two otters, one sea lion, two seals, and eagles.  Commercial fishing has wound down so I guess the pinks are no longer running.

7/22 - Today was rainy and calm. We stayed under the tarp or in the tent all day. Got a few blueberries for breakfast. Saw one otter.

7/23 - The rain finally stopped at 6 AM. It is a calm partly cloudy day. We packed up and crossed Wells Passage to the northern entrance of Hobo Bay in one and half hours. There was a light breeze and less than 1 foot seas. Perfect for that long 5 mile crossing. We had breakfast on the beach at Hobo Bay, a nice campsite. A large group of paddlers passed us going north up Wells Passage, at least eight boats mostly doubles. They were at least a mile from shore, which was a mystery to us. It is so boring paddling that far from shore.  We usually are within 100 feet of the shoreline so we can see animals and paddle through reefs.  We then paddled to Entry Cove over the next four hours. It was sunny on the beach with a strong breeze and we got our gear dried. We collected blueberries for breakfast.


7/24 - We got an early start this morning to get ahead of the forecasted bad weather. Small craft advisories in Prince William Sound with 20 knot winds for Passage Canal are forecast with rain. We got packed, ate, and loaded before the rain arrived. We crossed to Decision Point with 2 foot following seas and light wind in an hour. Then a wet but easy paddle to Whittier in 3 1/2 hours, arriving by noon. We unloaded in the rain. Stormy wet weather is forecast for at least the next few days. We were glad to finish our trip with so many sunny days. We covered 150 miles and saw every large mammal in the Sound except whales.  Plus we finally got to see the Columbia Glacier after two previous unsuccessful attempts.  I was surprised at how few kayakers we saw on this trip. We used 60 ounces a white gas in the whisper light stove. We packed enough food for 16 days. Jean never got cell phone reception. We got weather on the VHF radio at all the campsites using a long antenna.

Saturday, September 12, 2015


Knight Island to Whittier via Icy Bay in 2015

8/22 - It has been a few years since Jean and I have paddled in the Sound.  We got a water taxi share with Lazy Otter to Knight Island for $230 each. This is late in the season for us to paddle in the Sound but various schedule conflicts for Jean and I prevented our usual July trip.  We ran into Nelly at Lazy Otter, which was a surprise.  I hadn't seen her since we paddled on the Kenai River in June.  She and her friend are chartering to the top of Colross Passage for a 3 day trip.  It was very windy in Whittier and blowing in Passage Canal but it was dry.  We requested a drop at the kayak site in Johnson Bay on Knight Island that is shown on the Trails Illustrated map. Unfortunately there was no beach so we went to a great beach we saw at the north entrance of the bay. This is a good campsite for the current 11' tide not for the 14' tides we'll see in a week.  We set up camp and paddled around Johnson Bay.  We saw sea lions, land otters, sea otters, eagles, and whales spouting in Knight Island Passage.  

8/23 - It was a calm night with temperatures in the high 40's.  We heard sea otters munching and pups crying.  I saw the Northern lights last night.  There was a heavy dew in the morning.  We paddled to the beach at the end of Squire Island that is on the Trails Illustrated map.  The day started calm for several hours then became breezy with a north wind. We saw a whale north of Dire Bay that swam near us.  Quite exciting.  We saw 3 land otters going into the sea from a beach and also seals, sea otters, and eagles.  The outside of Squire Island has lots of small beaches for breaks at low tides. The campsite is set in the trees and a good storm site but there is no fresh water.  The day was partly cloudy to cloudy and in the low 60s.  We saw very few motorboats.

8/24 - It was another clear night with dew on the tent in the morning. We heard lots of salmon jumping in front of the beach last night and in the morning.  A deer was near our tent in the morning.  A sea lion in front of the campsite probably was going after fish.  We paddled to the Pleiades Islands in an hour and saw porpoises nearby.  There were lots of seals and sea otters, some with pups too.  We then paddled to Countess Point in 3/4 hour.  The beach to the south is campable at low tide ranges.  We continued to the Dual Head camp marked on the Trails Illustrated map.  This is a bomber site with a great landing beach and sites even in the trees.  It is great for storms or large groups but there is no fresh water here. There are lots of icebergs coming out of Icy Bay.  There are also some biting gnats here.  Six land otters swam past us in a group first one way and then the other.  We saw three motorboats today. We had a mostly clear day with light breeze and small seas.  

8/25 - The night was warm and the day sunny and calm.  Heard a whale spouting in the morning in Whale Bay.  Paddled to Nassau Bay.  Lots of ice was coming out of the bay.  The Nassau glacier is noisy but we didn’t see much ice coming off the face.  Had lunch at the campsite marked on the Trails Illustrated map.  This site is susceptible to surges from calving.  I’d not camp here.  We headed for an island in Icy Bay, 3 miles from the Tiger Glacier.  The campsite is high above surges with a great view of the glacier.  It has a poor landing beach and is an uphill haul for the gear and boats though.  Saw eagles, sea otters, and seals.  Gnats are at this campsite too.  The Tiger Glacier is noisy but not much calving.

8/26 - The glacier was very noisy last night and there are lots of ice bergs in the bay this morning.  Cloudy night and day.  Started paddling before the showers began.  They continued off and on through mid-afternoon.  Camped at the northern entrance to Jackpot Bay.  A little alder trimming made it a nice sheltered spot.  Saw sea otters, seals, and eagles.  Also only one motor boat and one sailboat.  It is much more quiet than in July when there is commercial fishing.  Calm winds and seas.  Heard the Nassau glacier groaning as we paddled past.  Lots of ice was coming out of the bay.    Saw a  humpback leaving Jackpot Bay.  It blew several times then went straight up out of the the water 20’ with its mouth open then sank back down.  First time I’ve seen that.

8/27 - Misty and calm morning.  High winds are predicted for tonight so we want to get to the bomber campsite at Point Nowell.  High winds are predicted through Friday night so we’re planning for a storm day tomorrow. The first three quarters of the paddle was with gentle following seas.  That switched to a headwind and waves.  Point Nowell has no water source and we can carry only one days worth of water.  We found two nearby water sources.  One is a stream feeding a brackish back-beach pond behind a north-facing beach south of Point Nowell.  There is also a pond near Point Nowell on the topo map.  It is easy to reach in a north wind.  We poured our full water bag into Ziploc bags and place them in a paddle float for safekeeping.  I paddled over to the beach south of the pond.  There is a brackish pond behind the beach.  From there I hiked several hundred yards to the freshwater pond and filled the water bag.  After getting adequate water we lazed around on the sunny south facing beach watching sea otters, seals, sea lions, and whales.

8/28 - It was a very windy night with gales in the sound.  Quite exciting.  A clear night and day.  Strong winds continued during the day with high seas.  We watched a sea otter, sea lions, and lots of whales. The best thing of this whole trip was when a pod of 6 to 8 Orcas came into our bay and hunted fish for 15 minutes.  They came within 20 feet of shore.  We could see them swimming sideways hunting under the clear water.  They are much larger than I expected.  One had a huge dorsal fin.  Glad we took a weather day here and saw them.  The beach at the south end of Point Nowell was warm and we spent most of the day there.  The east facing beach was shaded, windy, and cool.  No small boats today with the small craft advisory.  In the evening the pod of orcas came past our camp from the south. We saw them from a mile away and they rapidly went past our point and went out of sight to the north.  Their dorsal fins repeatedly cut through the waves.  While we watch the orcas coming towards us another type of whale was spouting in the distance.  What a great place.

8/29 - Windy last night.  Calm morning and day. Seas gradually subsided during the day. We paddled to Applegate Island another bomber campsite for the forecasted two days of high winds.  Having such strong wind and no rain is odd.  Normally there is rain during our storm days so we can collect water off the tarp.  The Applegate campsite is near two streams so we can get water during the upcoming wind storm.  The streams are protected from the north winds.  Saw a sailboat and several sport fishing boats today. Still no kayaks.  A whale surfaced several times near us as we paddled.  A sea lion swam beside us for 15 minutes.  It would turn and look at us as we paddled.  Also saw seals and lots of sea otters.  We had a pleasant evening watching the sunlit clouds.

8/30 - Today is a storm day but a weird storm day with sunny skies and high winds.  Normally we would expect rain with such a storm.  Colross Passage is solid whitecaps and water is being whipped off the sea surface between Colross Island and Perry Island.  Jean paddled in Colross Passage and could make no headway in the wind.  We saw only a sea otter and one boat all day.  When we went to the stream to get water there were two great blue herons feeding.  They flew off when they saw us.  It was hard to find a place out of the wind because the strong winds eddy around everywhere.  There is a kingfisher singing at the top of trees.  These must be his islands.

8/31 - Another storm day.  The high wind and waves are similar to yesterday.  It was cold and cloudy in the morning but sunny by noon to warm us up.  We saw a sea otter, eagle, kingfisher, and heron today.  This campsite Is so beautiful especially to the southwest.  There are nine islands in a backdrop of mountains with flowing glaciers. What a great spot for a storm day.  There are small craft advisories and gale warnings around the Sound today.  Whittier has been especially windy.  There have been very few days when we could've paddled back into Whittier because of the high winds there.  The forecast is for 3 good days of calm weather so we hope it holds for us to get in.  The air is remarkably dry and the absence of rain is unusual.

9/1 - Winds decreased to 10 to 15 mph overnight.  The night was clear and today was sunny. We started paddling at noon and went over to the old Forest Service cabin location across from our campsite. There is a lagoon there where we've seen bears taking salmon on previous trips. This time though there were no bears and the cabin has been removed. There were 1 to 2 foot seas in Colross passage and a few whitecaps.  We paddle into the north wind as the seas decreased during the day. We paddle to the new Forest Service cabin in Goosebay to see it.  The cabin is at the very back of the bay.  It was occupied so we did not land and get out.  There were many sport fishing boats out, which we had not seen in days. We camped at 20 mile beach at the top of Colross Island, the same beach Nelly was dropped on over a week ago.  We had sun there until 8:30 and the wind was calm.  I should note that most streams had salmon trying to get up them.  And there were lots of dead and dying salmon on the beaches.  There have been stellar jays at every campsite and dragonflies on most beaches.  We only saw an eagle today.

9/2 - Rain is predicted for tomorrow so we’re going to have a big 21 mile day and paddle all the way into Whittier.  Last night was cool and clear.  The day was clear with a few high clouds.  It was calm, making for a safe passage across the endless crossings.  The longest is Cochrane Bay, which can be scary when there is a north wind because the seas have miles of fetch to build as they come down Port Wells.  Today it was calm and just as this long crossing was getting boring a military cargo jet started circling the area.  The President is visiting Alaska so we speculated that it might be related to that.  Suddenly 5 parachutists appeared in the sky from the jet and seemed to drop into Blackstone Bay.  Then a military helicopter started patrolling in the area.  By the time we started the crossing of Blackstone Bay we could see the helicopter performing maneuvers in Passage Canal.  People were hoisted from the water.  Quite entertaining for part of this next boring crossing.  We also had a sea lion following us near Pt. Cochrane, the only marine mammal of the day.  We  saw a group of 8 jet skiers, which is unusual.  Haven’t seen them in the Sound for many years.  After 11 1/2 days of paddling we saw our first kayakers.  They were paddling out of Blackstone Bay.  We also saw two other paddlers when we were almost to Whittier.  After the entertainment provided by the military, we finished paddling to Whittier on calm seas and sunny skies in 6 1/2 hours.  We got the car keys from Lazy Otter, loaded up, and went home.  One great trip with NO rain, lots of sun, and more whales than I’ve ever seen.  We covered 125 miles and stayed at some great campsites.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

East Flank Island to Whittier - July 2014


July 4, 2014 -  Jean and I planned a 3 day trip over the Fourth of July holiday weekend.  It has been a few years since I paddled in the Sound.  Last year we paddled in Kachemak Bay and the years before that I paddled the Kongakut, Hula Hula, and East Fork of the Canning rivers.  I contacted the water taxi operators in Whittier a few weeks before and asked if they had any extra space on a charter going out over the 4th.  We hoped to get dropped off within 3 days paddle and were not too picky about where we went since there are great things to see all over the Sound.

Epic Charters had space on a day-long sight seeing trip that went eastward to East Flank Island then northward into Harriman Fiord.  We jumped at the chance to get dropped at East Flank Island since it is one of our favorite campsites in the Sound.  The island is at the southern end of Esther Passage and has a protected beach that has views on either side of the island.  It is also well placed to visit the Dutch Group or Bald Head Chris or for jumping off to trips farther to the east.

We met Brooke, the owner of Epic Charters, after driving through the Whittier tunnel.  He and his crew loaded our kayaks and gear on the boat.  I parked the car, payed for the water taxi, and we were on our way in 20 minutes.  We met the two other couples who were vacationing in Alaska and had a full boat.  The weather was sunny and warm and seas calm.  

Porpoises swam back and forth across our bow as we cruising down Passage Canal.  Our driver sighted a whale off Pigot Point.  He stopped the boat and we watched as it spouted 3 times before it sounded.  The whale sounded two more times before we moved on to East Flank Island.

There were two fawns on the beach of East Flank Island and they move back into the brush when the boat approached.  Jean and I saw two fawns on the same beach 9 years ago when we camped on this beach.  It must be a safe place for deer to raise their young. 

The boat is a landing craft and the driver gently landed on the beach and open the front ramp.  We unloaded our boats and gear with out getting wet boots.  

Jean and I packed the boats and were on the water by noon.  We paddled along the southern side of Esther Island dodging the commercial fishing nets that were strung out from the shore and tended by bow-pickers.  Salmon were seen in the nets as we paddled over the nets through the clear water.  There is no glacial silt in this part of the sound to obscure the water.

We took the afternoon to paddle over to a long beach about 1 1/2 miles north of Esther Point.  The beach has a stream at the southern end and lots of great flat tent sites.  A sea otter cruised off the beach before the commercial fishing boats started to come into the bay to anchor for the night.  There were 8 boats anchored in the bay by dusk.  They were there to rest and it was a surprisingly quiet night.

July 5, 2014 - Clouds moved in overnight and there was a light breeze.  We had a leisurely breakfast and packed up for the 2 hour paddle across Port Wells.  The weather forecast was benign and the tide range relatively low so we felt it was safe to make such a long open water crossing.  The seas and winds can be quite challenging because the tides and winds from 4 different directions can converge in this location.

We headed to the nearest landfall, the north side of Pigot Bay, about 6 miles away.  About a mile or two offshore we began to feel the 1 to 2 foot waves coming from several directions.  The seas were probably a combination of the long northerly fetch of Port Wells and the tidal current that was running near its peak.  We kept up a steady pace and landed on the far shore in 1 hour and 55 minutes.  The only incident was an errant wave that slapped the side of my boat and splashed a lot of water over the top of my spray skirt.  It throughly soaked me and I was glad to dry out on the warm rocks of the beach.  As we approached the beach we saw the first group of kayakers on the trip.  

After a long break we paddled over to Pigot Point light to stay on the little beach nearby.  This is a great site in fair weather and small tide ranges.  It is very exposed and gives great views of the sea in all directions.  It also had a constant breeze that kept the biting flies at bay.  The point was patrolled by a seal that eyed us carefully.   A whale spouted and we were buzzed by a hummingbird during the evening.  We put up a tarp in preparation for the rain forecasted the next morning.

July 6, 2014 - It rained off and on overnight.  In the morning we packed up and ate breakfast between light showers.  The weather was threatening during the rest of the days paddle back to Whittier but it didn't rain until we had loaded our gear in the car.  The wind was light and at our backs for a pleasant paddle.  We saw paddlers again near Shotgun Cove, the second group of the trip.  I was surprised how few paddlers we saw on the trip.

We arrived at Whittier harbor at low tide and landed at the steep rocky beach near the boat launch.  It is not a bad place to unload on a higher tide range but at this low tide it mostly riprap except for a small section near the north end with a little gravel.  We lugged the gear and boats up the steep face and got everything loaded just as it started to shower.  All in all a great get-a-way over a long weekend on short notice.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Paddling from Valdez to the Columbia Glacier - July 2010

July 1, 2010 - Jean and I made the 6 hour drive from Anchorage to Valdez over 300 miles of road. Valdez was cloudy and cool but dry. We stayed at the Bear Paw campground tenting area for $25.


July 2, 2010 - Got up early to launch at mid-tide from the beach at the Bear Paw campground. We paddled 4 hours to a single tent site across from Middle Rock on the west side of the Valdez Narrows. Saw a tanker pass through the Narrows that evening. A number of commercial seiners were out but they were not catching much. I caught a pink salmon from shore. Jean fried it up and it tasted great. We saw bald eagles, seals, sea otters, and sea lions. The day was cool and cloudy with a light breeze. There were lots of biting flies but the Bug Armor did a great job of protecting us. Drizzle started about bed time.


July 3, 2010 - The light drizzle lasted all night and into the morning. We went to Saw Mill Bay since we had never been there. We started in a light rain and headed south. We saw eagles sitting in trees in pairs, which was unusual. Usually they are alone. A sea lion came up behind us several times and snorted. We saw other sea lions too. There was a following tide, following sea, and following breeze so we really cruised along. We checked out the campsite at Potato Point and it is great. There is a nice beach at the west entrance to the Saw Mill Bay where 3 tent sites were scrapped out of the gravel. We paddled into the bay and found the Trails Illustrated campsite. It is impressive with a fire ring, bear box, tent platform, outhouse, and 2 ground tent sites. A hummingbird visited during the evening. A guided group came into the bay in the evening and camped west of us on a grassy peninsula between the mainland the the island. Saw a pacific loon in the bay during the evening.


July 4, 2010 - The night was dry and even saw patches of blue sky in the morning. We paddled to Columbia Bay with a light north wind that changed to south at noon. Most of the shore is cliffy but after 2 hours of paddling we came to the first beach that has great camping spots and a stream. The locals call this 17 mile beach. An hour later we passed another beach that is another good rest spot and it may work as a campsite. The rest of the way to Columbia bay is cliffy with a few rocky beaches that could be used in a emergency. The hole trip to Columbia was 8 paddle miles.


Numerous sea lions came up behind us and snorted repeatedly. We'd see them fishing then they'd come up behind us. Maybe they were escorting us out of their fishing areas. It was a great paddle around Point Freemantle. This point always makes me nervous because it can have swells, waves and currents from many directions at the same time. An armada of icebergs were flowing out of Columbia Bay. They were completely across the horizon.


Tonights campsite near Elf Point is great, back in the trees, well protected from a storm with views to the north or south. The best landing beach is on the north side. There are several camping sites on either side of the point. We saw a group of paddlers crossing from Columbia Bay to Glacier Island. A pair of oyster catchers are on the beach probably protecting a nest. We stayed away from that section of beach but the birds raised a racket when an eagle passed over. Drizzle began after supper but we were ready with tarps.


July 5, 2010 - Today was cool wet, breezy, and rainy. We stayed in camp because the north wind and rain made paddling unappealing. It rained steadily last night and the ground could not soak up the water as fast as it collected. We moved the tent to a slightly higher location to avoid the pooling water. A guided group camped at the sites on the north side last night.


July 6, 2010 - Today is a good day to get around Pt. Freemantle. It is still rainy, wet, and cold so we don't have much enthusiasm to paddle into the ice of Columbia Bay. The guided group said they couldn't get very far into the bay so we headed back toward Valdez. There were a lot of icebergs along the coast for the first few miles of the paddle. As we rounded Pt. Freemantle, we saw a fishing boat catch a halibut after a long fight. We wanted to camp at 17 mile beach but the guided group was unloading there so we moved on to Saw Mill Bay. We camped on the beach we saw on the paddle out that had three scooped out tent sites.


On the cliffs we saw guillemots, black and white sea birds with red legs, feeding their kids who were in the cracks of the cliffs. Pairs of eagles perched in the trees along mountain streams, maybe waiting for salmon. A land otter cruised along the shore. A sea otter floated offshore nursing a pup. One sea lion accompanied us for several miles. It was not like the previous lions who appeared to want us out of their territory. This one swam parallel to us, about 25 feet away. It would look at us then dive and a little while later it would come up besides us again. It did not make a sound. It was neat having the curious animal stay with us for so long. At our camp, a land otter swam along the shore and approached our beach. When it saw our gear it veered off and continued swimming around the point.


It was much warmer paddling away from Columbia Bay. We had a few showers with light winds and seas.


July 7, 2010 - Today was a rainy day. We thought of packing up and moving to Potato Point but the winds there were consistently 15 with gusts to 20. That would not have been fun spending the day in that. The rain stopped about 4 p.m. and it was pleasant all evening. We saw the land otter again. It wanted to come on this beach but it moved on like last night. We saw two small groups of kayakers today.


July 8, 2010 - There was light rain last night. We paddled back to Valdez in 6 hours counting breaks. There are lots of fishing boats about but they are waiting for a fishing opener and are not fishing. We had tidal currents, sea, and wind in our favor in the morning. The seas were 2' following or rear quartering and it was quite tiring concentrating for so many hours in those conditions. It was not hard work but we were constantly balancing with the different following waves and boat wakes. By afternoon the tide had changed direction so the seas had a shorter period and more peaked. We were glad to get to shore and get out of that. The day started sunny and became partly cloudy with 10 knot winds. We saw a big group of kayakers this morning. We stayed at the Bear Paw again, got cleaned up, and had a meal in town.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Paddling from Valdez through the Valdez Narrows – August 2009

August 2. Jean and I tented at the Bear Paw campground in Valdez the previous night for $25. They have a wooded camping area for tents on the water near the west end of the marina and away from their main RV Park. There are clean bathrooms and showers.

We planned to launch from the beach across from the east side of the marina. There is free parking along the street from the beach. We spoke to a local police officer who told us that technically parking is only allowed for 24 hours but that is only enforced in the winter for snow removal. We were launching near low tide and the water’s edge was a long walk over slippery seaweed-covered rocks so we changed our plans.

The Bear Paw has beach access for registered guests. The beach is gravel and easy to load on. Since we were still guests until 11:00, we loaded our boats from their beach but still parked the car along the street on the east side of the marina.

Within 15 minutes of launching we saw a sea otter and 2 bald eagles. By 11:00 the wind started to blow from the west. This is a common pattern for Port Valdez and the Narrows. We paddled into a headwind with occasional white caps and 2’ swells. We got to Shoup Bay and had following seas from the south into the bay. On the way we saw 5 land otters as they jumped into the water.

We arrived at the channel to the lake in front of Shoup Glacier one-half hour before the high tide of 9’. We paddled steadily up the channel for 20 minutes against the current until we got into the calm lake water. Just beyond the entrance is an island with hundreds and hundreds of screaming birds. They would rise up off the water in a giant swirl, fly to the island, and the birds on the island would fly off to the water. They did this repeatedly while we were on the lake.

We paddled along the southern shore and found 2 nice campsites that were above the next high tide of 11’. There were some black flies on the beach. We then headed to the glacier a mile away. As we got closer we saw 6 doubles and a single kayak headed away from the glacier. A little farther we saw a similar number of boats near the glacier. The water was surprisingly calm on this sunny day and we didn’t feel the wind we had on our paddle from Valdez. We paddled back and forth in front the face of the glacier but did not see any calving.

August 3. It was a cool night and a sunny day. A group of kayakers camped near us but we did not know they were there until the next morning. The low tide of 0’ was at 7:00 a.m. and the high tide of 9.5’ was at 1:35 p.m.. I noticed that the lake level did not rise or fall nearly as much as the ocean. There only appeared to be a change of a few feet during the night. We reached the outlet of the lake at 10:45 near mid-tide on a rising tide. To our surprise the flow was out with enough speed to form rapids! We waited until around noon and the current was still flowing out but at a manageable speed.

Later I was told that the lake level stays at about 9’ so any tide height below this causes flow out of the lake and heights above this cause flow into the lake. I used the rule of 12’s to estimate a tide height of about 7’ when we first tried to leave and it was about 8.5‘ when we left at noon.

We paddled down the west side of the Narrows and saw a sea otter, a sea lion, and a seal. We camped on a beach where we had previously camped across from Middle Rock in the Narrows. The southerly winds blew at 15 to 20 knot with 2’ seas which are typical in the Narrows on sunny days. We worked hard to get there and were happy to stop. Just north of us was a spectacular water fall that turns into spray and mist as it falls. We camped in the grass and the wind died after 7:00 p.m.

We met a kayaker who had paddled from Whittier to Valdez and was now returning to Whittier. As we ate supper, a land otter scurried down our beach into the water. We also saw a seal and a sea otter in front of our beach. There were some black flies on the beach. Jean got a couple of bites that caused a lot of swelling. This happened last time we camped on this beach too. Fog also moved in and out during the afternoon and evening.

August 4. There was a light northeast breeze with swells in the morning. We saw a seal and sea otter during breakfast. And a land otter returned from the sea with part of a fish in its mouth. It marched up the beach 20’ away from us and went into the woods. I assume it was feeding its kids.

Our good weather is ending tomorrow so we are heading back to Valdez over the next two days. The paddle was much easier than the previous day and I had time to admire the numerous water falls along the western cliffs of the Narrows. As we paddled back to Shoup Bay we saw a tanker going through the Narrows into Valdez with an escort tug. One-half hour later a full tanker started into the Narrows with two escort tugs. What was odd was that a line extended from the stern of the tanker to the stern of one tug. The tanker was slowly pulling the tug backwards through the Narrows. I guess this is a safety measure.

As we paddled back to Shoup Bay, we noted two possible campsites along the Narrows. We also checked for campsites on the moraine between the cabin outside of the lake and the outlet for the lake but found none. That area is a mudflat at low tide and it would be miserable to launch except at high tide. We entered the channel 1 hour before the 10’ high tide. The previous low tide was -0.5‘. We needed to paddle against a gentle current to get into the lake. The rule of 12’s estimate of the tide level was about 9’.

We checked out the campsite between the cabin on the lake and the outlet. It has a bear can, toilet, and protected campsite in the alders but there is no view. There appears to be a similar site on the other side of the cabin also noted with a marker. We got water at a nearby stream which had possible camping. There are a lot of possible camping sites around the lake. We paddled over to the site we stayed at two days ago and camped on a beach facing the glacier. Clouds and haze moved in during the afternoon before the predicted rain. The glacier is more active than two days ago and there were a few minor swells from calving.

August 5. The glacier continued to be active all night. Sprinkles started about dusk and later turned to rain. In the morning, there was a breeze off the glacier with rain. We packed up and got to the outlet 2 hours before the high tide of 10.5’. There was a small current carrying us out. The paddle back to Valdez was in the fog, drizzle, and rain. We saw bald eagles, a seal, a sea otter, a sea lion, and two tankers on our way in. We landed on the beach east of the boat harbor 2 hours after high tide and it was an easy unload on a gravel beach. The Valdez weather forecast for the rest of the week was for showers and rain so we headed north to Paxson in search of drier paddling.