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Day 8

Glacial Thunder: Sea Kayaking
in Prince William Sound 2001

Headin' out

Saturday, August 18 We awoke to a pretty crappy morning: you could hardly see the glacier due to fog and mist. While we had a short paddle to the pick up spot (less than 5 miles) and pick up was scheduled for 4 pm, we had agreed to leave by 10:30, since we could see ice building up in the mouth of the Fjord, and we wanted time to explore the Kittiwake rookery in Gaanaak Cove. Packing up was a mess: everything was really wet, it having rained most of the night, and the graywacke stuck to everything. Susie and I shook off all our gear, but it only helped a little. I felt like we would be carrying several pounds of the stuff back to Tennessee. With all the available hands, it did not take too long to deconstruct our tarp shelter, although I do admit to not being particularly careful about wrapping up all the cords and putting the stakes back in their correct containers. I could sort that out when we got home. We noticed a sea otter swimming back and forth in front of our camp as we packed up the boats. This was the first one we had seen in here. I suspect that the marine wildlife in this bay was more limited, since the water was so cloudy from the glacier-fed river and calving.

Getting through the ice took us quite a bit of time. By this time, we were experienced, but there was a lot of it. Interesting how one day, there is hardly any, and a couple of days later, the bay was choked with it. We did note, however, that the icebergs seemed much thicker on the west side of the fjord than on the east side, the one we were coming down. We rounded the headland marking the east entrance to Nassau Fjord, and as we paddled up the bay, notice a couple of black bears in a small inlet. It felt different to be out in the open Icy Bay again. Not sure why. It was a bit breezier, for sure. The mist had stopped and some of the fog had lifted. We noticed a boat coming down the bay, and figured it was Pete making his first pickup of the day: the North Star guided group. We had discussed coming out with them, but there really was not room to put both parties and all their gear on Pete's boat. Judging from the time that he pulled out of the landing spot ( a few minutes after Noon), it was clear that Pete was an on-time kinda guy. We all vowed we would be at the take out/pickup spot 90 minutes ahead, even though we knew that there was no way Pete could make the round trip to Whittier and back in less than 4 hours.

Tim announced that it was time again to increase the nitrogen content of the local soil, so we pulled into a small inlet near the left side of the mouth of Gaanaak Cove. The tide was coming in very quickly, and one person had to keep an eye on the kayaks, lest they float away. Following our pit stop, we headed for the northwest corner of the Cove, and there certainly was no secret regarding the location of the Kittiwake rookery. My lord, what a racket they made. There were thousands of these gulls, all nesting on any small available flat spot on this large rock face. We watched for a while, and noticed that the birds were watching us: as we paddled away, the birds would fly so that they were just overhead, and then adjust their speed so that they would hover over us. I guess we were as interesting to them as they were to us. We all paddled over to the spot where we were "supposed to" have camped last night, just around the corner from the pick up spot. It was not all that inviting. Too much grass, and not very much distance between the woods and the water. Like a few feet in places. Tim wanted to fish, so the rest of the crew beached, but Susie and I decided we would head for the pick up spot, since it was just a few hundred meters around the corner. Sure we would have to wait three hours or so, but since it had stopped misting, and the weather was lifting a bit, it did not seem too bad. Susie and I munched on some shoe leather jerky (never, never use sirloin tip roast to make jerky - way too tough) and enjoyed watching the clouds go by. It was not long before the rest of the group appeared: a bear had shown up not too long after Tim started fishing and it seemed senseless at this point to compete with the poor bruin over a meal or two.

We all kind of puttered around, pretty much contained on this tiny beach that was maybe 70 meters wide. While poking around in the woods, I found the best blueberries of the trip, and ate my fill. We amused ourselves, taking a series of group photos with everyone's camera on Andy's tripod. We decided that two types of photos had to be taken: one with our bug nets on and one without. We were afraid if we did not take bug net photos, we could not properly identify each other. A few minutes before 4 pm, we heard a boat coming. It was different than Pete's, but still good sized. The boat pulled up on the beach, and we said, hey, you don't look like Pete! The young man explained that he was an independent contractor exclusively licensed to Honey Charters, and that Pete had blown one of his two 250 HP outboards on the trip back to Whittier with the first group. Not wanting to make us wait, Pete had gotten on the marine radio, and wahla..... Here was our pick up! Since the tide was going out, we had to move quickly to load the kayaks. The young captain, who later told us he lived on his boat during the summer, but taught elementary school in the winter (welcome to Alaska), would grab the 100 pound kayaks like they were a bag of groceries, and gently lift them into their storage racks atop the boat. It was not 15 minutes between the time he showed up, and the time we were backing off the beach. (I thought to myself, hmm ... I had not expected mechanical problems with a water taxi, but it was a lot better blowing a boat engine than blowing an engine on an air taxi.)

As we headed across the water toward Chenega Island, the captain noted some whale spouts on the horizon, so he slowed the boat. We were all excited, because with the exception of the killer whale and the baby whale, we had seen none the whole week. Spouts, yes, but no tales. The captain pulled the boat around for the best viewing and then killed the engines, so we could hear the whales when they spouted again. It was not but a few more minutes until they surfaced. They took a few snorts of air, and then each of the pod flipped its tail and took a dive. Just fantastic. Moving at 30 knots, we were back in Whittier by 6:15 pm. We retrieved the vehicles (did not have to pay for parking for either of the vehicles, although I think that was luck. There is certainly plenty of paid parking in the town. We were loaded up and rolling a bit after 7 pm. We were able to get through the tunnel with just a 10 - 15 minute wait. It was then on to Girdwood for some dinner. We could not find this place recommended by a friend of Andy and Sue's, so we found the Chair 5 Restaurant and Bar. Even though it was a place targeted toward the Alyeska Ski area, it seemed like THE happening spot in town. It reminded me of The Brick saloon in the show Northern Exposure. The restaurant had a large selection of local brews, and many of us partook liberally, having fallen behind on our liquid hop quota for the week. The most popular food item among our crew seemed to be huge salads, typically with the blackened salmon. Dave ordered one too, but he fortified it by ordering a hamburger as an appetizer. Alaska weather generates an Alaskan appetite.

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Roger A. Jenkins & Suzanne A. McDonald, 2001