Alaska 2016

Posted by Andy Waddington on 2016-07-21

Saturday 2nd July saw five of us (Pete, John, Ann, Mary and myself) checking in bags right on the weight limit for the short flight to Frankfurt. The amount of batteries and electronics in my hand baggage also caused a bit of a delay at security. At Frankfurt we had no need to collect our heavy goods (checked right through to Anchorage) and were soon in the bar at our overnight hotel. A quick shuttle back to the airport and a fairly easy check-in saw us with a bit of time to wait for boarding the nine-hour flight to Alaska. This took us not quite over the north pole - 87° north in fact, just the northernmost tip of Greenland. Landing in Anchorage, the time zone change meant that it was essentially the same time and day as when we had taken off at midday on Sunday. Levi from Turnagain Kayak met us, and shuttled us round to REI and Walmart, then the long drive to Hope. Going all the way round Cook Inlet was interesting - we saw a number of stand-up paddle boarders just getting on to surf the tidal bore. Cook Inlet is mostly very shallow and is notorious for fast tides - up to ten knots in places.

We got sorted out with boats, paddles, buoyancies, bear vaults and gas, packed things into dry bags and headed for Portage to find (it being July 4th) large queues for the tunnel to Whittier. Fortunately, the quarter hour slot that the tunnel was open in our direction proved enough to clear the queue, but we were a little dismayed to find the weather at the far end (only two and half miles away) rather inclement ("It's always shittier in Whittier") but as we were changing into drysuits anyway, this was not a real issue. We seemed to have vastly more kit than usual to pack away (this would be for ten days paddling away from resupply and anticipating cold/wet conditions). However, soon enough, everything was in the boats and we were ready to set off.


Putting on at Whittier in the rain. Photo: Andy Waddington

As visibility was now pretty poor, and Passage Canal has a lot of traffic (especially on Independence Day), we crossed right over to the north shore to avoid being run down. This brought us neatly to some big, and really rather active, waterfalls down cliffs crowded with Kittiwakes. Every now and then a loud noise from across the water would set the whole lot screeching and wheeling about over our heads.


Kittiwakes nesting between waterfalls, Passage Canal. Photo: Andy Waddington

We made steady progress past Billings Creek (fed by a glacier only a mile or so inland which, somewhat bizarrely, is within Anchorage city limits). Another river entered at Poe Bay, from where we could just about make out the curve of the shore at Logging Camp Bay. The rain came and went, never particularly heavy, but fairly persistent. A navigation marker indicated that we were passing Point Pigot, and the shore now led us out into Port Wells. We had a short crossing of the end of Pigot Bay to reach our planned campsite at Ziegler Cove. This proved to be a small neat circular bay with a number of possible camping spots. The one I chose to inspect (which looked like a nice flat area not fully infested with tall wet grass, as seen from the water) proved to hold a midge-infested pond. In the middle of the cove was an area which seemed to have been used before but wasn't very flat. On the right, a tent was already set up, but with no-one about. Just next to this was enough space for three tents where we were able to get well above the high tide line and camp in the grass. Another kayak group arrived shortly after us, and picked the middle area, whilst the owners of the tent arrived later in a power boat and proved to be a fishing party one of whom had come all the way from Albuquerque just for the holiday weekend.


After a long day in incessant rain, it was good to be able to get hot food quickly - everyone eating Expedition Foods at Ziegler Cover. Photo: Andy Waddington

We were off before the other kayakers on Tuesday, just after the power boat group had departed. The weather didn't really improve, and visibility came and went - a group of trees on a prominent little headland some distance away appeared and vanished again repeatedly as we made our way north. There had been no fresh water at Ziegler Cove, and as our intended campsite for the second night was very unlikely to have water, we looked very hard for streams to fill up, but landings were scarce and the forest looked impenetrable. Eventually we found a beach just about big enough to land on at lowish tide, with peaty dribbles coming off the low cliff behind. With a pan to catch water, we managed to pump enough through our filters for tonight's camp.


Typical second day paddling conditions, Port Wells. Photo: Andy Waddington

Our original plan was to continue up the coast of Port Wells and cross over the entrance to Barry Arm to camp on the shingle spit of Pakenham Point. In fact, in the miserable conditions, progress seemed slow and we also realised that we would save two hours paddling today by camping at Hobo Bay, for less than an hour's extra paddling tomorrow. This gave us a considerably easier day than our first.


Camp at Hobo Bay. Spring tide would come right up to the grass tonight. Photo: Andy Waddington

Tonight would be the highest spring tide - the overnight tide came more than half a metre higher than the daytime one, so were careful to set up tents as high as possible, well into the grassy area. The ground was wet almost everywhere, but one spot a couple of metres across under a big tree still had dry stones, so we picked this as our cooking area (some way away from the tents). I found a big fallen tree, the underside of which was crumbly rotten wood, protected from the rain and providing enough dry material to start a fire. In fact we found a surprising amount of wood dry enough to maintain a fire as a defence against biting insects.


We found a dry spot under some dense foliage for our fire. Photo: Andy Waddington

As the tide fell, a little tombolo linked us to one of two islands I had paddled between on our way in. Sunset was very late and the rain had stopped by the time people were going to bed. I had a wander around, as more of the coast was accessible at low tide, and heard a loon calling on the far side. Round the point, I got a fairly clear view of the group of trees that we had been seeing on and off (as the visibility came and went) all day. After I'd walked along the beach for some distance, it occurred to me that it would perhaps be a bad idea to meet a bear coming the other way at this point, so I turned round and retreated to the tent. We'd managed to hang all our food in two enormously heavy bags earlier in the evening.


Cloud lifted a little at sunset - view up Hobo Bay from camp. Photo: Andy Waddington

Wednesday morning dawned very similar, but now our dry patch under the trees had also succumbed to the rain. However, visibility improved as we were on the water and it was not too long before we found ourselves past Harrison Lagoon and heading for a long spit which was not obvious on the map - or at least, at low tide it extended considerably farther than shown on the map. We paddled along parallel to this until gaps started to appear, when we were able to cross it and enter Barry Arm. Ahead I could see a white object which at first I thought was a boat. But it seemed a strange shape. Maybe some sort of wreck ? But as we got closer it suddenly clicked into place - this was, in fact, our first iceberg, despite still being a considerable distance from the calving glaciers in Harriman Fiord.


Our first iceberg, near the mouth of Barry Arm. Photo: Andy Waddington

Forty minutes on, and we stopped at a sizeable river flowing from Mount Doran, a much easier place to fill up with fresh water, in what was now quite heavy rain. However, things looked up soon after we put back on, as we picked up a considerable tidal stream, which neatly conveyor-belted us for four kilometres up the fiord to Point Doran. Staying close to shore would have been a bad idea here, as there was a considerable eddy line, and no tidal assistance closer inshore.


John heading up Barry Arm where we caught a tidal stream. Photo: Andy Waddington

At the corner by Point Doran, the water became shallower (there's a big old moraine underwater) and we lost the tidal assistance in the deeper water just beyond.


Pete passing below Point Doran as we entered the main reach of Harriman Fiord. Photo: John Bates

At this point, we could see three tidewater glaciers - Cascade Glacier, Barry Glacier and Coxe glacier and perhaps some of the cloud was starting to lift a little. No peaks to be seen, though.


Pete and Ann dwarfed by three glacier snouts c 5 km away in the murk. Photo: Andy Waddington

We now started to meet small ice chunks in quantity, but not close enough or big enough to be a hazard. We stayed fairly close to the south shore of Doran Strait, as we headed up the fiord until we reached a tidal flat where another stream discharged from the slopes of Mount Doran. Landing here at what looked the most likely camping spot, Pete found the somewhat limited space already occupied, so we retreated a little way to a beach we'd glanced at earlier. This proved to be a suitable location for our third night, despite the almost continuous creaking and crashing of Surprise Glacier at the head of Surprise Inlet on the opposite side of the fiord, over five kilometres away. As the tide would be out throughout the evening, we put up a couple of tarps but failed to get a fire started - everything was thoroughly soaked. Once again, it rained heavily during the night.


A tarp helps when the rain won't desist - camp in Harriman Fiord. Photo: Andy Waddington

On Thursday morning, we lay in the tent listening to the rain coming and going. It eased off, then stopped, and I took the opportunity to get up, drop the food bags, and wander along the beach. Suddenly, a glint of sun through a gap in the clouds cast a shadow in front of me and this presaged a transition to glorious weather for the rest of the day.


Our first sunshine glinting over the camp in Harriman Fiord. Photo: Pete Bridgstock

We put on and headed south west up the Fiord, pausing to chat to the occupants of the tent we'd spotted last night (they were drying gear out, having not only suffered in the rain, but also misjudged the height of the spring tide). Surprise Glacier continued to creak and crash, but as sound was taking 10-15 seconds to reach us, we never saw any ice fall. As we paddled on through almost flat calm, the curve of the fiord revealed the mile-wide snout of the Harriman glacier.


Heading SW up Harriman Fiord - the glacier face is a mile or so wide. Photo: Andy Waddington

However, we saw no ice floating ahead of us, and it was apparent that the bigger glacier was not actively calving. We paused for a snack and to take stock. We knew that if we waited until tomorrow morning to head down Barry Arm, we would have a strong tide against us (though we could probably eddy hop against this), but if we paddled all the way to Harriman Glacier snout, we would undoubtedly have to camp again within Harriman Fiord. As Surprise Glacier seemed more active, we decided to turn back and paddle up Surprise Inlet, then see how far out of the fiord we could get in a long day today.


Andy and Pete looking at Surprise Glacier (which was calving noisily) from a safe distance of almost a kilometre. Photo: John Bates

Turning the point into Surprise Inlet, we were still 3 km from the glacier face. Now there were icebergs to paddle among, and the reason for Cataract Glacier's name became very apparent as a huge meltwater stream cascaded down beside and below it. Although we'd still not seen any large icefall from the glacier, the booms and crashes continued, and we kept a safe distance back from potentially large waves, paddling across the inlet to the north side before heading back between scattered lumps of ice.


Paddling away from Surprise Inlet dodging icebergs. Photo: Andy Waddington

Many long and steep streams were falling from the glaciers high above on the SE side of Mount Muir making this a spectacular stretch of paddling, all the more impressive owing to the vastly improved weather which enabled us to see the scenery !

We headed along, passing a couple of bays, one dotted with icebergs, and the second opening on to the extremely dirty snout of Serpentine glacier. We paused for lunch at the east tip of this bay for a late lunch stop. There were a couple of areas of the sea where bubbles constantly rose to the surface from the sea bed. I'm not sure what gas was being emitted here, or how it came to be here, but wading out and testing the bubbles with a lighter showed that the gas was not inflammable.


Andy threading between icebergs, Harriman Fiord. Photo: Mary Waddington

From this point, we crossed to Point Doran (a little over 5km), picking up some tidal assistance, and seeing many groups of otters with kits in the water (at one point I could see six groups, one of which contained eight individuals). We were just congratulating ourselves on our timing and expecting to pick up an even faster tide down Barry Arm as we reached the shallows at Point Doran. However, it became apparent that the tide here didn't quite conform to our expected timings - the assistance we had been getting was from the eddy on the end of the incoming tide and in Barry Arm the flow was still against us in two or three narrow streams, though mostly it seemed slack. We headed across to the east shore and paddled along this, intending to camp at least past the narrower part of the channel, to avoid an adverse tide tomorrow. We found a good beach another 5km on, Not all that far short of Pakenham Point, which was to have been our camp not tonight, but tomorrow night, so we were now well ahead of schedule, though it had been a long day.


Andy taking in the view whilst drinking whiskey over freshly calved glacier ice, Barry Arm. Photo: Andy Waddington

During the latter part of the day, I had harvested a lump of ice into a ziplock bag, and now enjoyed the view back up Barry Arm whilst drinking whiskey on the rocks of freshly calved glacier ice. A noticeable feature of this campsite (and quite a lot of the coast west of Port Wells and College Fiord) was the line of dead trees right next to the beach. All of these look a similar age, and it became apparent with a bit of thought they are all 52 years old. On March 29th 1964, the area was hit by a magnitude 9.2 earthquake (the second biggest on record anywhere) which produced changes in level of up to eight metres. All along this coast, the level seems to have dropped by a metre or so, flooding the roots of those trees nearest the shore with salt water and killing them.


Another advantage of seeing the sun was the scenic addition of a sunset ! Photo: Pete Bridgstock

Friday morning after our long previous day, we were not off too early, but were soon passing over the tidal flat below a sizeable river. This provided one or two very shallow spots (John had to back out and try another route) but mostly we found a route through and any incoming tide was slowed enough not to impede our progress. A series of small headlands culminated in a spit with many birds, where we could round the corner into Port Wells.


Coming out of Barry Arm into Port Wells. Photo: Andy Waddington

With the sun shining brightly from the direction of the more open Sound, this was a pleasant place to linger, watch the birds and take photos.


Andy just after the exit from Barry Arm. Photo: Mary Waddington

We decided that perhaps an even better view would be had from Pakenham Point (our original planned destination and camp for tonight) and paddled across the short stretch of water to reach this.


From Pakenham Point we had a distant view of the huge Harvard Glacier. Photo: Andy Waddington

Our route next was to reach Esther Passage, whose entrance lies on the SE side of Port Wells. We were also on the lookout for a source of fresh water. A stream is shown on the map just south of Golden, so we started our crossing aiming roughly for this. The big glacial valley we could see ahead was occupied by Davis Lake, but the river from this was behind an island, and we were hoping not to have to paddle the extra distance up behind this to find water.


Crossing College Fiord toward the glacial valley of Davis Lake. Photo: Andy Waddington

Before we'd started our crossing we'd seen the first of several huge prison ships heading up College Fiord and reflected that for cruise passengers, even with wildlife head-butting their boat, they got a more distant view than we often had from our kayaks. As we reached the far side of College Fiord, the outflow of the valley was far from obvious, but eventually we found a little waterfall crashing out of the trees. Landing was little problematical, as there was not much in the way of beach (and the tide was rising). Most got out and tied boats up, still afloat. I found a little beach a little further up the coast, hauled out, and scrambled along to join the others. We spent some time here pumping water through filters before heading down the coast looking for the entrance to Esther Passage.


Pete paddling down the east side of College Fiord past interesting low slaty cliffs. Photo: Andy Waddington

A bit of rock-hopping was to be had on the way, and we picked a beach just at the entrance on Esther Island itself, facing north, with a fine view back over our route here. The Trails illustrated map suggests a spot right on the point at the north side of the Passage entrance, but this had not looked particularly attractive as we'd passed. We've later learnt that this is a fairly high usage area for Black Bear, so we undoubtedly made the better choice.


Looking back to Barry Arm from camp on Esther Island. Photo: Andy Waddington

Our earlier stop for water was now proved a little superfluous, as the site we'd picked had a sizeable stream. Indeed, I'd paddled into this (under and over some interesting sweepers) to get behind the beach for an easier haul out. Mary, always obsessively wanting to be rid of sweat and grime, found this entertainingly cold for a (very swift) bath. We easily got a fire going here, so toasted treats were on the menu.

We dithered considerably over a site to hang food, until I found that I could climb up and traverse to the back of a dead tree, where (when my foot didn't break through into space between the roots) I could throw the line over a branch of a live tree overhanging the beach. This gave us one of our more convincingly bear-resistant hangs.

One of our better bear-avoiding food hangs, Esther Island. Photo: Andy Waddington

Saturday morning dawned bright, but with a bit of cloud, and some breeze. We put on and headed east, then south east, noticing quite a bit of traffic through the passage (another weekend) including a couple of jet skiers as well as numerous of the fast boats used by sport fishermen.


John, Mary and Pete paddling down Esther Passage. Photo: Andy Waddington

We paused for lunch on the SW shore about halfway along the Passage. Whilst there, the "Klondike Express" (a big tourist boat) went past at speed, kicking up such a huge wake that our boats (fortunately tied on) were tossed about with water sloshed into the cockpits. Given the amount of traffic, I suppose it was fortunate that this was the only boat we saw driven in such a cavalier and inconsiderate fashion - in general we were pleasantly surprised at how many boats gave us a wide berth or slowed down whilst passing. As we reached the wider part of the passage, we knew we wanted to be on the east side, so set off to cross towards a small headland. I was keen to avoid mid-channel where the traffic passed, so took a slightly divergent route closer towards the shore. I noticed some splashing just off a beach to my left and steered a little more offshore. I was surprised by a big gasp of breath just behind me and wondered if I'd encountered a whale, but as I looked around, a head surfaced and took another breath. This was a lot bigger than the seals we are familiar with at home, but clearly not a cetacean. As the group came back together, this turned out to be a sea lion hunting along the shore, and popped up several more times, usually just a short way ahead of us. This last section of coast proved to be quite rocky with no landings or streams, and after we made the short crossing to East Flank Island, Mary was worried that we were a bit short of water, as she'd not been very successful in filtering water at the previous camp.


King Salmon fighting upstream to certain doom. Photo: Andy Waddington

After camp was set up, we got back into our boats and crossed back to the mainland to find a small stream shown on the map, maybe a kilometre away. This proved elusive at first, and we got almost to the corner into Squaw Bay before being certain that we had missed it. On returning, we found it coming down a waterfall hidden in a corner at the back of a bay. Below it was a pool absolutely seething with big King Salmon. This felt like a place where we were quite likely to encounter a bear as it was nearing dusk, so we were very nervous. When the filter proved not to be working well again (we realised it needed cleaning rather more often than we'd expected), we beat a retreat back to the camp. This proved to be an excellent spot, with no shortage of firewood, and a super sunset looking back to Mount Gilbert.


Sunset from East Flank Island on our first night there. Photo: Andy Waddington

We all landed at the Salmon stream across from East Flank Island on Sunday morning. With the tide out, many of the Salmon had been stranded or picked out and eaten, so the beach was pretty smelly, but still inhabited only by birds. Although the fish in the pool at the top were expiring through crowding and oxygen starvation, many more were fighting their way up the tiny stream, doomed to the same fate. After getting enough water to survive a day or so visiting only islands, we headed out into the Sound, aiming for Bald Head Chris Island, a crossing of about 2.5 km. We'd been noticing fishing boats as soon as we were in open water, and here we found one close up (the crew were not aboard, apparently on the island). The commerical salmon fishery opens for only a few hours, and all the purse-seine boats have to choose what they hope will be a good spot in advance, which is why so many seemed to be cruising around, but doing nothing.


Pete looking at the Purse Seine fishing boat wondering where the crew are. Photo: Mary Waddington

We quickly passed on and continued SE, with a slightly longer crossing to Dutch Group. Here we landed for lunch and explored, looking for the "Abandoned Oil Tank" marked on our maps. It looks as though recent construction work has been in hand to remove all traces of such wartime installations, so there was little left to see except a rather scruffy road made of rafts of planks penetrating the rainforest. We soon headed on round the south side of these islands and noticed a lot of noise from a big skerry over to our right which had many sea lions hauled out. These guys can be a bit aggressive, so we chose not to make a closer visit, and headed for Axel Lind Island, passing another set of skerries on our left towards the end of this crossing, which was just shy of 4 km. There was now a little doubt over island identities (it's difficult even to tell islands from mainland from sea level - they are all tree-covered and merge into the background). We paddled a little way along the north coast to be quite sure that our destination was not hiding out of sight just round the corner, but as soon as it became clear that we had correctly identified Eaglek Island, a break was made to cross to this, heading downwind. We aimed for what seemed like the biggest beach, and on landing, found that we could just about fit the three tents in gaps in the forest above the high tide mark.

Monday saw us off from the south-facing beach, rounding the east end of the island and heading west. The weather was threatening to deteriorate as we hit the next island and headed north towards Eaglek Bay. We followed the coast round, but avoided being fooled into paddling through the cut towards Ragged Point which would have taken us the wrong way. Instead we turned right again and headed north, taking another little cut between islands to visit an oyster farm (not much to see, as it happened, just buoys) by which time it had started to rain. However, by the time we were crossing Derickson Bay, it had cleared up somewhat, with visibility good enough to allow a choice between straight-lining to the next headland, or following the coast more closely and still remaining within sight of each other. We found a small beach with a little stream, and took the opportunity to fill up on water again. Another brief landing was made to scope out a possible camping spot where a small tidal lagoon drained out. I didn't much like the look of this, as there were some very obvious trampled trails, and we would be very much open to being surprised by a bear emerging from the forest. Ahead, we could see the small wooded Cascade Island, which was on the far side of Cascade Bay, which was our immediate destination. Rounding a small headland, we could see white beyond some trees, and as we paddled into the bay, we soon got a better view of the biggest waterfall in Prince William Sound. We were able to paddle right up to this, where a sizeable river falls directly into the sea. The final drop, seen in the photo, is less than half the total fall, which is around 60m.


Pete paddling through the spray below the biggest waterfall in Prince William Sound, Cascade Bay. Photo: John Bates

Back down the bay, we checked out an alluvial fan with a fine view of the waterfall, as a possible campsite. However, bits of seaweed strewn among the tall grasses suggested that there was nowhere for tents which was reliably above the high water mark, so we paddled back out into Squaw Bay and had a bit of debate. I favoured crossing the bay to where a number of beaches and grassy patches could be seen. However, a check with binoculars made these look less attractive and we decided instead to head south. This was perhaps just as well, as a map I found on the internet later suggested that this was a high usage area for Black Bears. A kilometre or two down Eaglek Bay, Derickson Bay opened and looked to have less steep slopes. We checked out a couple of small beaches at the entrance, but a short way into the bay a larger beach offered a definite camping opportunity, so we hauled the boats out. Examination of the ridges and seaweed lines here convinced us that as we were now at neaps, we could set tents on the highest level of the shingle and expect to stay dry.


Camping in Derickson Bay - at neaps we can afford to be on the shingle. Photo: Andy Waddington

As Tuesday's route would, again, take us out to islands, we were keen to stock up with water as soon as any could be found. We could see a couple of small but steep valleys on the opposite side, and as we paddled out into the bay, could definitely hear a stream. But even as we got close to the far shore, no water was visible until we had almost landed, when a stream could finally be seen pouring over rocks under the trees and sinking promptly into the back of the beach. A bit of shingle moving dammed up enough of a small pool to allow us to work our filter pumps, with the added benefit of being able to work under the shade of the Alders.


Andy and Mary heading back down Eaglek Bay, finding skerries. Photo: Pete Bridgstock

We now reversed our course of yesterday until we reached the narrow channel leading south west towards Ragged Point, which this time, we duly took, heading south down the west-facing coast of the island which it isolated. From the tip, we crossed back to Axel Lind Island at the point we'd briefly touched two days ago. Now we headed round the south west side, being stalked by a couple of sea lions on the way. This was an attractive coast with various small wildlife, and several beaches where camping would have been possible. However, still no large wildlife. We skipped past Jenny Islands and on to Little Axel Lind Island, paddling along its south east side. A tombolo beach might have provided a route across the island at a high spring tide, but there was no way without a carry today. Another narrow cut near the eastern end looked as though it would go, and did indeed continue beyond the large rock apparently obstructing it. However a couple of smaller rocks just beyond meant we'd need another 30 cm of tide to get through. We duly backed out and went right round the eastern tip of the island.


Rounding the NE tip of Little Axel Lind Island. Photo: Andy Waddington

The plan now was to head back to Jenny Islands, before crossing back to our camping spot of two nights earlier on Eaglek Island. A couple of skerries provided a channel to hop through, but Eaglek Island looked a little different from this angle and we couldn't immediately identify the beach we wanted. As we got closer, however, a distinctive fallen tree at the west end of our beach became visible, so we changed course a little and landed at just the right place.


Half a moon - neaps on Eaglek Island. Photo: Andy Waddington

Heading west on Wednesday, we left Eaglek Island, passing the bigger island almost joined to Ragged Point, and hit the "mainland" again. Once again, we were in search of fresh water, and hoping to avoid the Salmon stream where we felt there was a real risk of meeting bears. A narrow bay contained another oyster farm, but didn't seem to have a stream at the head, so we passed on, heading for Squaw Bay, where a river was marked on the map coming in on the west side at Papoose Cove. Reaching this was no problem, though we could guess from the number of Bald Eagles and Glaucous-winged gulls wheeling around that this one, too, had a salmon run. Unfortunately, arriving not far off the bottom of the tide, we found the sizeable stream cascading directly into the sea (into a pool full of salmon) and no freshwater pool. A rope offered a tantalising chance to climb up - but as it ended more than a metre above the current water level this was not going to help us today. A scrambling route did look possible, but there was nowhere close enough to land and reach this, so we reluctantly concluded that this stream was not going to supply our needs.


Getting fresh water proved impossible in Papoose Cove at low tide. Photo: Andy Waddington

Back out into the bay, nowhere else looked a likely prospect, so we headed round the headland and visited the salmon stream for the third time. By now, the smell of dead salmon was oppressive, and fish skeletons were everywhere as the Eagles and gulls rose into the air from our disturbance. We hastened to the little waterfall to fill up. Most of the fish in the pool were now dead, so Mary and I climbed up the little waterfall to get to clean water. There were obvious game trails both sides of the stream, and with the noise of falling water and lots of vegetation we felt there was a real risk that an approaching bear would have little warning that we were there, so tried to make plenty of noise as well as being as quick as possible in filling up. John and Pete filled up in a little pool at the bottom of the waterfall and we escaped without incident, back down the beach and into the boats where it was less than a kilometre to paddle across to East Flank Island and the same beach we had used four days ago. This was the end of our paddling.


The team at the final landing on East Flank Island. Photo: Pete Bridgstock

There was still plenty of firewood, so a last evening was spent relaxing and watching yet another sunset from the beach.


Yet another perfect sunset on our last night - East Flank Island. Photo: Andy Waddington

Thursday was pick-up day, but not until 2 p.m., so we had plenty of time to tidy and pack up gear before Epic Charters arrived to take us back to Whittier. The boat, "Ellen J" is well equipped for carrying sea kayaks and kit, and even had a cooler with beer for us !


Pick up at East Flank Island for return to Whittier. Photo: Mary Waddington

With the boat cruising at 29 knots, it was just about an hour through Wells Passage south of Esther Island, across Port Wells, and up the length of Passage Canal to Whittier, to meet Levi. Boats and kit loaded into the trailer, we still had half an hour before the tunnel would open in our direction, so had a wander round the general store (some buying clean tee-shirts) before piling into the truck and waiting for the tunnel to open. Back at Hope, we all had to shower in double-quick time to make it to the restaurant in time to eat, but Halibut and chips, and absolutely no shortage of beer marked a definite return to civilisation. We had a day to get sorted and packed up, and a leisurely walk into Hope for lunch. Another fine meal of Sockeye Salmon on curried lentils followed, with rather less emphasis on the beer tonight. Up and off by 08:30 on Saturday, for the drive to Anchorage Airport. Here we put all our baggage into storage and took a cab to downtown, where we visited the museum. Lots of interesting stuff about early explorers, native populations and of course, the 1964 earthquake and the Alaska pipeline.

All trips must end, so we cabbed back to the airport, checked our bags in, and flew back, getting some splendid views over Greenland as we flew a slightly less polar route than on our outward flight. It was strange to look down on the snowy landscape below and realise that the shadows were on the south sides of the hills, as the midnight sun shone from the north. We also got a glimpse of the east coast of Iceland, but cloud covered the Orkneys, and we flew over the North Sea on our way to Frankfurt. A much shorter layover here soon saw us on the short hop to Manchester, and the drive home.

Article copyright © Andy Waddington 2016; photographs copyright © Andy Waddington, John Bates, Pete Bridgstock, Mary Waddington 2016, as individually credited.


There is a page of additional notes for this trip (choose "Alaska 2016" from the "Trips Further Afield" drop-down), covering outfitting, watertaxi, maps, charts, tides, etc.

It's not really feasible to include more photos than this on one web page, but most of the still photos from the December slideshow (including a few extra to replace the video clips which won't go in a gallery) are now on the web. You will be best with a reasonable sized monitor (ie. 2000 pixels wide or more) - the photos are all HD (1920x1080) as projected on the night, so probably best not to try on your phone...

Read 847 times