Posted by: sharemore1 | October 3, 2014

Whales, Bears and Stormy Seas: Kayaking in Alaska, Part 2

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

Part 2:  Paddling to Point Adolphus

We were eager to reach Point Adolphus, summer home of the humpback whales, after months of planning and preparation.   Two trips in Hoonah’s only taxi brought us back to the ferry terminal, where we’d stashed the boats behind a fence.

Now we had to get the kayaks down a rocky incline to the water.  The only way was to lower them one at a time, being careful not to slip on the loose stones.  Once the boats were down, we formed a gear bag brigade, passing our paraphernalia from one person to the next down the steep slope until everything was on the beach. We stuffed the kayaks to the gunwales and strapped the overflow on the decks.

Loading the Boats_6658

Skies were clear and the water smooth when we finally paddled out of Hoonah Harbor.  At Cannery Point we felt tiny next to an idling cruise ship.  Its passengers were exploring “authentic remote Alaska” at a fish processing plant turned into a museum and cruise ship destination.

Even from the water we could see that the passengers were hardly having an authentic Alaskan experience.   For $92 passengers could take a 90-second ride on the world’s longest zip line.  They could visit a free museum displaying plastic fish with realistic blood and guts and spend more money on flightseeing, whale watching or brown bear tours.

Kayakers, however, were not welcome. This was made clear when we stopped there to adjust our rudders before crossing Port Frederick.   As soon as we crunched ashore on the gravelly point, a Native Alaskan guard came down and ordered us to move on. “You’re on private property,” he informed us. “The Coast Guard doesn’t allow you to be here.”

“We’re not staying,” I explained, “just getting out of our boats to fix our rudders. It’s a safety issue.”  Although I doubted the Coast Guard cared whether we landed there or not, I knew we couldn’t be turned away if we had safety concerns.  Dubious, he hovered over us, walkie-talkie in hand, as we quickly adjusted the foot braces and pushed our kayaks back into the water.

As we glided past the cruise ship, we saw our first whale.  The humpback arched a dorsal fin six feet out of the water and dove in search of small fish and krill. The whale was far enough away that its 30-ton body didn’t intimidate us, yet close enough to appreciate how smoothly it cut through the water.  We had a private show while the cruise ship passengers were occupied in the museum and souvenir shops.

With many miles to go we couldn’t dally.  We got into a paddling rhythm as we struggled against the current flooding toward us. The water stayed calm, the sun shone and we slowly passed the waypoints entered into our GPS.  Except for 19-year-old Sarah, we ranged in age from the late 50s to the early 70s. Our aching muscles and joints complained as we pulled our heavily laden boats forward, one stroke at a time.

At Pinta Cove, we heeded the advice we’d been given and pushed on toward Point Adolphus.  Just then the bulbous kelp began streaming toward the point, a sure sign the current had turned in our favor.   Before we had been straining to make three knots; now we were easily paddling more than four.

Reaching our campsite by late afternoon, we found it had everything the Hoonah teacher on the ferry had promised: a relatively smooth beach, campsites in the forest and a fresh water stream. Ben hadn’t even mentioned the outhouse, or more accurately “outbox,” a hand-hewn throne with a toilet seat tucked away in the woods.

Pt. Adolphus Outhouse

Pt. Adolphus Outhouse

This was a luxury we hadn’t anticipated.

We erected our tents in the forest surrounded by devil’s club. With their giant green leaves and sharp spiny stems, the tall plants formed a protective barrier around us. Sarah set up our tent fly so taut that rain would bounce off it, a skill she learned at a co-ed Boy Scout adventure camp

We created a kitchen area beyond the little creek to put distance between the tents and the food.  Sitting on the beach, I cooked minestrone soup, made with vegetables I had dried at home: red and orange peppers, yellow squash, beans and onions. I added a dollop of pesto to the soup and served a kale and date salad to complete the meal.  Although cruise ship passengers have more comfortable accommodations, we can’t imagine they have better food.

Sharon Cooking Dinner

Sharon Cooking Dinner

After dinner we scurried to wash the dishes and hang food and other “smellables” in the trees as the light dimmed. Already the lantern was coming in handy.  Once the chores were done, we relaxed with a swig of Scotch, proud that we had reached Point Adolphus in one day.  We felt confident we were prepared for the challenges ahead.

Sunset at Pt. Adolphus_6668

Sunset at Pt. Adolphus


  1. You certainly have a gift for writing! Thoroughly enjoying reading of your adventures.

    Sent from my iPhone


  2. What an adventure; can’t wait to hear the next part. Love that you had your own grown veggies for your soup. Very cool.

  3. I’m ready to read about the big storm…

  4. Thrilling. Smug. Eating well and seeing whales not observed by cruise ship passengers.

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