Posted by: sharemore1 | September 30, 2014

Whales, Bears and Stormy Seas: Kayaking in Alaska, Part 1

[This is the first installment of a four part blog on how I spent my summer vacation.]

Part 1:  To Hoonah by Ferry

Cruising the Inside Passage

Cruising the Inside Passage

In August we took off on another Alaskan adventure. No cruise ships for us, with the prospect of lounging by the pool, dining in elegance and sleeping in a stateroom between crisp sheets. Instead, we traveled in the solarium of the ferry Columbia, dined out of our cooler and spent the night in sleeping bags on plastic lawn chairs.

After nearly 30 years of paddling and camping in remote Alaska, from the Chukchi Sea to the Aleutian Islands, I couldn’t help wondering if this trip would be my last.  At 72, I knew that eventually the rigors of such adventures would be too much.  While I still could, I wanted to return to Point Adolphus in S.E. Alaska, summer home of humpback whales.

Five years ago, my friend Barbara, granddaughter Sarah and I had watched those whales leap into the air and flop down with a crack like a gunshot. In the night we heard them growl and roar, like bears in the woods. Their deep bass tones reverberated across Icy Strait. Now we wanted to share the experience with friends.

Peggy was eager to go, but Craig had his doubts. The area is densely populated with brown bears and Craig was not keen to encounter them in the wilderness. “We’ll be fine,” I assured him. “We’re bringing bear-proof containers, air horns, pepper spray and a flare gun.” Craig finally decided to come along, with an extra can of pepper spray just in case.

Sarah, Sharon, Peggy & Craig on the Ferry

Sarah, Sharon, Peggy & Craig on the Ferry

Four of us boarded the ferry in Bellingham, while Barbara would fly into Juneau.  As we cruised the Inside Passage we slept on the deck, napped without guilt and read for pleasure. We marked waypoints on our charts and reviewed our route to Pt. Adolphus.

Lounging on the Deck

Lounging on the Deck

We couldn’t get an updated weather report, but the last forecast had called for rain every day of the trip.  We weren’t worried. Experienced campers, we had come well prepared with rain jackets, waterproof pants, boots and tarps.

Then we landed in Ketchikan, our first stop. Lulled by weeks of sunny, dry weather at home, we left our boots and rain pants on the ferry. It rained over three inches that day, more than we’d seen in Seattle all summer, and we all got wet. When the wind began to blow, we hurried back just in time to help secure other passengers’ tents that were skittering across the deck. Southeast Alaska had put us on notice.

Tents on the Ferry

Tents on the Ferry

Disembarking in Juneau, we met Barbara and retrieved our rental kayaks in nearby Auk Bay.  We loaded the boats and a dozen bags on the ferry LaConte that was headed for Hoonah, Alaska’s largest Tlingit village.   There we would begin kayaking northwest along Chichagof Island.

Loading a Kayak on the Ferry

Loading a Kayak on the Ferry

As we settled in for the three-hour ride, Ben, a Hoonah science teacher, approached us. “Looks like you’re going kayaking,” he commented.   We soon discovered that he and his wife had paddled much of that area. Always eager to benefit from local knowledge, we pulled out our charts and questioned him about currents, winds, potential hazards and the best camping spots.

Ben told us that Pinta Cove, where we’d considered camping, had two problems. It was located near a mosquito pond and was a frequent stopping place for kayak tour groups. If we pushed on beyond Pt. Adolphus, we’d find a private beach, with woodland campsites and a fresh water stream. It would mean an 18-mile paddle, but we thought we could do it.

Ben reassured Craig about the bears. “They’re after salmon this time of year,” he said. “Pt. Adolphus has plenty of whales but no salmon streams.”

Barbara and Craig with Our Gear

Barbara and Craig with Our Gear

Hoonah’s only taxi had to make two trips to get us and our bags to the Icy Strait Lodge.  There we spread out in the narrow entryway to stuff everything into drybags. “It looks like R.E.I. barfed in the lobby,” commented one of the guests as she made her way among our mounds of gear.

Soon we realized that not everything would fit in the boats. Slowly the “leave behind” pile grew: the box of red wine, our camp chairs, my favorite little teakettle, the shovel and large water containers. Will we really use the lantern? How much extra rope do we need?   Do I take my heavy Nikon or my new small GoPro? These were hard choices.

It was midnight before all five of us squeezed into one room, like college students on a field trip. Our second room had been given to someone else by mistake.   We hoped to catch a few hours sleep before our 5:00 a.m. wake up call. To reach Pt. Adolphus would require at least seven hours of kayaking, more than any of us had paddled in years.

[to be continued]


  1. You are one helluva storyteller/writer, Sharon. A great adventuress! Look forward to next installment .

  2. Were we on the same trip? Just kidding!

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