Days 14 to 21: Wrangell to Ketchikan

Trip Start Apr 07, 2010
Trip End Jan 19, 2012

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Flag of United States  , Alaska
Thursday, April 29, 2010

Day 14 (continued): After a quick supermarket pork rib dinner, it is time to find a place to camp for the night. We settle for Deadman Island. The locals tell us some spooky stories about the ghosts and people that were buried there. Apparently, they used to leave men in pickle barrels along the beach during low tide to await their fate. Another story is about a bunch of chinese men that were "temporarily" buried here after a cannery fire to await being shipped back home. Then people added their strange personal accounts they have had while visiting Deadman Island. The more stories we hear, the Yannick gets excited (typical boy!). When we get to the island ourselves, we find a gravestone and a stone-carved bear statue near the highest point of the island – indication that at least some of the stories are true.

Day 15: It rained nonstop all night, so we are not in a rush to get out of the tent. The ground is so saturated that we sponge out about a gallon of water from the tent floor throughout the night. Good thing our sleeping bags are synthetic rather than down! At 9am, the rain stops. At 10am, the sun makes a brief appearance and we seize the opportunity to dry all of our gear by draping things over rocks and logs. Shirley decides to strip down to her base layers to let her skin breathe – the warm sun feels so good! Yannick sees this and goes bare-chested. She looks at him and notices he has already gotten more muscular and even leaner. Is that even possible; Yannick getting leaner? Shirley looks at herself, jiggles her arm and thinks, “Not fair; I want more muscles that quickly too. Boys are sucky…” Her thoughts are interrupted when Yannick exclaims that it's a good time to take advantage of the good light to take pictures of the bear statue and gravesite. We run around the tiny island for a little while to pass the time. We have to time the tides correctly for this next stretch and it seems as though we are doing things right. We are on the water at 12:30pm and ride the rising tide. The ocean is calm and rain intermittent. We encounter strong currents in the narrow of the Black Channel, but a mile later, it feels like we are gliding on a lake. We see several rainbows, beautifully vibrant with color. It is amazing here in SE Alaska, how conditions can change from sunny, warm, and mellow to rainy, cold, windy, and miserable in a matter of minutes. We find a forest service cabin at 8:30pm, just in time before dark. Dinner was festive: fresh ground pork with garlic and spices accompanied by fresh tomato couscous with olive oil. Just as good as a home-cooked dinner!

Day 16: First foggy morning today. It’s really cold out there (probably in the low 30’s), but for a change, after 6 consecutive days of rain, the weather looks good! We’ll see how long it lasts though. We pass a group of 6 canoes around lunch time; there are 12 people in the group, including 3 guides. We paddle fast to catch up to them, passing some beautiful waterfalls along the way. It turns out to be a group from Alaska Crossings, similar to NOHLS and Outward Bound. The kids’ ages range from 12 to 17 years and are on a 49 day adventure that includes canoeing and an introduction to mountaineering.

By 2:30pm, we stop by the Anan Creek Bear Observatory. Despite hiking a mile to reach it and being out in the woods for 1.5 hrs, we don’t see any bears. It is still too early in the season and the salmon haven’t started running yet – no food to attract bears to the rivers. Nonetheless, the hike is beautiful! We walk along a board walk (literally, it’s a walkway made of wooden boards) among a dense forest and all the trees drip are dripping with moss. The river is running low, but with immense energy. It is amazing to think that salmon can swim upstream against a current and hop up huge boulders like that! We pause on some rocks to admire the view of a long sandy beach that stretches into the bay. For some reason, it’s a different feeling to admire the water while on land than while we are padding. We make our way back to have an early dinner at 6pm and decide to spend the night in the cabin. We’ll wake up early tomorrow and put in some miles, weather permitting. Despite the overcast sky, it did not rain today.  We even have time for some reading. What a good and relaxing day!

Day 17: Today was the longest paddling distance to date: 33 miles in 11.5 hours of padding. Based on our goal of having a 12 mile/day average, it was almost a triple day! The day starts off pretty much ideal with clear blue skies and no wind, despite a couple miles of choppy waters just before entering Ernest Sound. The morning allowed for good progress. We have lunch at 1pm on Deer Island under sunny skies, then the wind starts to pick up. Ten minutes later, while we are committing to a 1-mile crossing near the south end of Seward Passage, the weather changes for the worse; 2-3 foot seas, hail, rain, and strong headwinds. We are considering going for shelter on a nearby beach, but the weather calms down just as quickly as it moved in. We are treated with ideal conditions, but watch the skies with wary eyes. After a couple of hours, Yannick gets cocky and verbally challenges Mother Nature. He exclaims things like, “Is that all you got?” “I showed her who’s boss,” and other niceties. Well, it seemed as though Mother Nature looked down and replied, “Say what, fool? Boy, you better watch your mouth!” As if to teach him a lesson, first the waves come, then the wind, followed by a cloud that masks the sun. It hangs there as if waiting for Yannick to say something more. Luckily, he keeps his mouth shut. Good thing because if Mother Nature didn’t give it to him, Shirley probably would have smacked him upside the head with her paddle. The headwind persisted through the afternoon and we finally reach a protected bay at 7pm. That is where we meet Randal. He came to our little island on his dingy to warn us about the upcoming weather system – 60 mph winds, which should last 3 days and is just getting started. Randal has good bear stories for us and tells us how to read a bear by his actions. For example, Randal stands on one leg, puts out his front paw, and extends his hind leg, as if getting into a Yoga position. He explains, “This is what a bear does to show you how big he is. This is great! If he does this, you can just sit there for hours and watch him and he won’t do anything to you.” He goes on to tell us about how many times he’s been visited at camp by bears and many of the instances he’s been charged at over the many years he’s kayaked in SE Alaska; he’s covered over 4,000 miles in the area! Despite the bear stories, we decide to cook up an excellently fragrant dinner consisting of 1lb of bacon, where we use all the bacon grease to sauté corn into mashed potatoes. (Of course we do all this away from our tent and in the intertidal zone!) Such a rewarding meal after a long day!

Day 18: The wind comes in gusts and it rains off and on through the night. We wake up to gray skies and stretch lazily in our sleeping bags. Nothing like the deep sleep you get after a hard day’s work! As we emerge from the tent, we see Randal approaching in his dingy. He came to give us a can of bear spray, chit chat for a few minutes, then goes on his way. We have breakfast and debate over staying put in our tent through the storm or battling 3-4 miles of choppy waters to get to a cabin. At 10:30am and procrastinating making a decision, we decide to explore the bay we are in. There is an interesting shipwreck that belonged to a platinum prospector that lies within a quarter mile from our camp. We also explore the muskeg and pond above a beaver’s dam. As we paddle back to our tent, we decide we’re going to break camp and head over to the cabin. Along the way, we get some headwind and chop, but the conditions aren’t that bad. We round some points and find the protected bay where the cabin lies. Going inside, we find that it’s very old and drafty, but will provide good protection if we have to wait out a storm. We start the wood stove, tidy things up a little, and try to get comfortable.

Day 19: Up at 6am and there is no wind, so we decide to give it a go despite the weather warning and launch promptly at 8am. The sea starts getting choppy as we enter Clarence Straight and soon, we are facing 3-foot seas and battling a strong current. Fortunately, we can see the small community of Meyers Chuck only a mile away, so we push hard to reach it. As soon as we enter the protected waters of Meyers Chuck, we see a few men standing on a dock, so we paddle in that direction. As we head over, two of the men motor away, but one waits for us as we slowly approach. Steven introduces himself to us; he is one of about 6 people that live here year-round. He tells us a little about the community and gives us an introduction about the other transients tied up at the dock, who are also waiting out the weather. Of particular interest is a couple that has been sailing around the world for 20 years together, but in his & hers sailboats. We then head over to the dock to secure our kayak, before taking a walk around the community along its one-and-only foot trail that snakes between forest and houses. Meyers Chuck is absolutely breathtaking. There are cabins/houses built atop rock outcroppings that are connected to the main island during low tide, but turn into miniature islands during the high tide – very cool! We meet George and his daughter, on their way back to Ketchikan, then the sailing couple (Tony and Susanne), and a local who offers to let us stay the night in a spare cabin. Steve also offers to let us stay in his fishing boat and even turns up the gas stove inside for us to warm up while we chat. The people here are so hospitable! Although we would love to stay and even linger around the dock for over 4 hours just chatting with people, we decide the weather has calmed enough to continue on. We pry ourselves away, bid Meyers Chuck farewell, and head back into Clarence Straight. Weather reports make this area sound like rough waters, but it is mostly calm with a few intermittent gusts of wind – lucky again! We paddle for about 10 miles until 7pm. We see a beach that is facing the same direction towards the ocean as the beach we were planning to spend the night; the waves crashing on the beach make it look unfavorable. The beach we wanted to get to was still 3-4 miles away and it would be near dark by the time we got there. Too risky! We play it safe and head half a mile back to a protected beach we noticed earlier. It was hard to turn around, but better safe than sorry. We are in bed at 10pm

Day 20: Since we merged into Clarence Straight, the boat/seaplane traffic has clearly increased. We have some 20-foot tides during night, so we wake up around midnight to make sure we calculated our camping location correctly – the water is within 6 feet of the tent. Not bad. The best thing: no rain during the night! All is dry, so we get ready quickly. We are less than 30 miles from Ketchikan and after nearly 3 weeks into the trip, we have good spirits; motivation stays high. As we start paddling, conditions are great and we make good time despite a little headwind. We stop for lunch, but are rushed to re-launch because the tide is rising quickly. As we pull away from our small, steep pebble beach, we see a sailboat in the distance. Sure enough, a second sailboat comes into view as we emerge from behind our rock-protected cove – it’s Susanne and Tony, also on their way to Ketchikan.

Two little sailboats, sailing in the sea. K-I-S-S-I-N-G. First comes love, then comes marriage, then come exploring the world in a floating carriage.

Yannick makes out the figure of Susanne at the bow of her vessel, adding the spinnaker. Shortly after, the winds start picking up and the waves start kicking up a notch. Before we know it, the water turns into a steel gray color and we are fighting against sloppy 5-foot waves. (Have we mentioned that we love our Feathercraft!?) We desperately search for any pocket in the coast that could provide us respite, but there is nothing but rocky cliffs. We are committed to rounding Caamano Point. We put all of our power into moving forward, but we only manage to inch along. It takes us over 2 hours to travel just 3.5 miles! We occasionally look over at the sailboats, who aren’t moving much faster than us. The advantage we have in being in a kayak is that just after (finally) passing Caamano Point, we are able to take emergency shelter in a small bay just before Behm Canal. The waves decrease in intensity and we are allowed to catch our breath. Safety at last! We pull up on the first beach we see and get out of the kayak. Everything is soaked and Shirley can feel the burn in her arms and abs from the effort. That was gnarly, dude! We call it a day at 1:45pm, set up camp, eat a second lunch, and start a campfire. We sit there, warming up and staring into the fire for over 5 hours.

A word with Mister Clarence Straight: Clarence. What was that stunt you pulled out there today? No. Un-ac-cept-a-ble. I don’t know what we did to offend you, and we are sorry. Still, there’s no need to fight dirty like that. Sneaking up on people, pushing them around, and spitting in their faces? Come on now, we can talk thing over in a civil manner next time. Please? We beg you? On our hands and knees? With a cherry on top?

Lesson learned: At the first sign rough seas are approaching…bail!

Day 21: We make it to Ketchikan exactly 3 weeks from starting. The crossing of Behm Canal goes smoothly and soon we are paddling by some beautiful mansions bordering Tongass Narrows. We stop for lunch around 11:15am, then paddle some more to visit the totem poles at the park. We use that break to remove our drysuits and wear more city-suitable clothes. We should have known better, though – 15 minutes later, we are facing strong headwinds. It is amazing how on some days, we can love Alaska, then start thinking it sucks only 5 minutes later when weather conditions deteriorate.

Finally, we arrive at the dock. We are only allowed 2 hrs at the dock without paying, so we quickly grab some food, do a little grocery shopping, and pay a short visit with Tony and Susanne who are staying at the docks for a couple of days. We don’t feel like paying $12.50 to leave the kayak in a slip overnight, so we head across the channel to set up camp for the night.

Day 22 (April 29th): In Ketchikan, running the usual errands today! So far we took our second shower (an outrageous $5.00 for 10 minutes) of the trip, and did laundry so we smell a little better…next is Chinese food, then back to the library to update the blog. We plan to enjoy the rest of the day in town, chillin’, buying fresh fruits and veggies, and then paddle out in the evening and make camp somewhere. Next town will be in a different country: Prince Rupert, CANADA-eh!

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Selene Pineda on

You guys are awesome! Love the pics!

johnston on

wow! you guys are haulins a$$! 30miles in 11 hours freaking awesome. Geez man take your time, i still need to train for Rainier.

Great pics, i hope you are having the time of your life! See you soon!

Frank on

Shirley, yah had me laughing great writing !!!
And those pics.. tooooooo funny !!!

Mon Capitain !!
¿Qu'avez-vous mangé que la loutre de mer ?

Val Hovland on

Sounds like the trip is going great--thanks for keeping all of us landlocked folk updated, including all of the pictures! Safe travels. Val

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