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.


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