Posted by: sharemore1 | October 6, 2014

Whales, Bears and Stormy Seas, Part 3

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

Part 3:  Kayak Kelly

Tent in the Devil's Club

Tent in the Devil’s Club

Listening to raindrops ping off our tents, we took our time getting up the next morning.   Nestled under the shelter of hemlock and spruce boughs, we mourned for the sunny weather.  Finally we pulled on rain jackets and rain pants over long underwear, which soon became our daily uniform.   We added another tarp to the kitchen area and adjusted its slope.

Under the tarps, we had front row seats for a daily parade. Humpback whales cruised for small fish beyond the kelp beds. Voracious sea lions twisted their bodies and dove with a splash, surfacing with salmon in their mouths. Harbor seals popped up to check us out, and otters did the backstroke with babies on their bellies. Porpoises swam by like little whales, and ravens provided the sound track as they klonked in the woods.

When the rain let up, we explored our neighborhood. The forest had a spongy floor and was decorated in shades of green, with yellowish moss on fallen logs, light green lichen clinging to trees and hunter green needles overhead. On the beach the rocks were as hard underfoot as the forest was soft and offered a different palette: black, charcoal, light gray and white, with splashes of red and yellow.

Shades of Green

Shades of Green

After dinner, as dusk enveloped us, we watched a lone kayaker paddle toward Point Adolphus. “Don’t stop here,” we quietly urged. Already we considered the campsite ours and didn’t want to share it.   Little did we know how much we would learn from this stranger.

The next morning we met our new neighbor, who had stopped before the point and set up his tent next to a big rock. Kayak Kelly, as he called himself, had been paddling in S.E. Alaska for the last 10 years. Eager to learn more, we invited him to lunch.

The fifty-something Kelly had a brown ponytail, mustache and a beard flecked with gray.   Originally from Santa Cruz, he now makes his home in S.E. Alaska, where he paddles solo half the year.  Living frugally, he fishes, hunts and forages for food. During the winter he works, doing odd jobs, house sitting and making jewelry from shells, antlers and fossilized ivory.

Kelly the Firestarter_6697

Kayak Kelly

We told him we yearned for a fire but feared the wood was too wet to burn.  Kelly quietly headed into the woods. Soon he returned with branches filled with sap that would burn quickly. We found some dry kindling, and with a little blowing and fanning made an excellent fire. Sarah and Peggy became experts in identifying the best branches for burning.

Later Craig and Kelly climbed into a double kayak and trolled for fish.   Apparently the sea lion had gotten to the salmon first, but the paddlers came back with two small rockfish to supplement the vegetarian pizza Barbara was planning for dinner.   Kelly wandered into the woods and gathered mushrooms to add to the meal.

Suddenly we saw a young brown bear heading our way. We consider ourselves guests in bear territory and get out of their way whenever possible, which has worked well with the dozens of wild bears we have encountered.   Since Kelly travels solo, and often has fish or deer meat in camp, he believes in staking out his territory and forcing the bear to move on.

Backed up against a rocky point with the intruder heading toward our food, we had no choice but to adopt Kelly’s approach.   We armed ourselves with pepper spray, grabbed the flare gun and blew on our air horns. With Kelly and Craig in the lead, we marched forward.  But the bear didn’t stop.

Although bears rarely approach such large groups, this one didn’t seem to know better. Finally after much shouting and horn blowing, we drove it into the woods. Kelly ran back to his camp for a rifle and followed the animal. He soon returned, saying the bear had moved on.

Bear Tracks

Bear Tracks

We learned much from that brief encounter. Craig, whose fear had almost kept him from going on the trip, helped lead the charge against the bear. Our air horns made little impression on the interloper. I, who had carried the flare gun on countless trips, didn’t know how to load it quickly.   And not all of us had our bear spray handy. We hoped, at least, that the bear had learned to be more wary of humans.

With the bear gone, we returned to our dinner. After finishing every bite of grilled fish and Barbara’s red pepper and mushroom pizza, we ended the day with a campfire on the beach. I read aloud “To Build a Fire,” by Jack London, about an Alaskan who nearly died because his hands were too frozen to strike a match.  We thought about the determination and skills required to survive in the wilderness–skills, it turned out, we were still learning.

Reading by the Fire_6726

Reading by the Fire


  1. As usual, I hear the important details weeks after the trip….now, on to the storm

  2. Lovely description, Sharon. (I thought
    Kelly said that he was 50ish but never mind.)

  3. What? No bear pictures?

    • We were too busy chasing off the bear to get out the camera.

    • Okay, I added a picture of the bear tracks just for you.

  4. Thanks again sharon. I really like your forest pictures. craig f.

  5. Very nice blog. Be sure to continue with going with the swells-they were so cool. I am sure you have much more to put on your blog. Looking forward to sharing memories

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