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Part II: Kayaking the west side of Lynn Canal from Haines to Juneau

Posted: May 2, 2014 - 12:02am
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The west side of Lynn Canal features terrain that is markedly more gentle than the east coast with plenty of enticing beaches for an intrepid kayaker.   Courtesy of Bjorn Dihle
Courtesy of Bjorn Dihle
The west side of Lynn Canal features terrain that is markedly more gentle than the east coast with plenty of enticing beaches for an intrepid kayaker.

Paddling away from Haines, I felt like the world was turning into a Disney movie. The water shone like diamonds and the rugged white mountains that rose above both sides of Lynn Canal seemed better suited for a dream than the real world. I half expected a pigeon guillemot to alight on my shoulder and burst into song.

Near Battery Point, I took a break to stretch and fill water jugs. Moose poop littered the high-tide line and guard-timber. A small flock of female golden-eyes landed and swam within feet of me. There was something morbidly enticing about nature turning into a friendly musical.

This frightened me.

I was half tempted to start shooting my shotgun — brought in case of an aggressive bear — in the air to combat the strange pleasantness.

I passed Mud Bay, where a number of mansions look out to the Coastal Mountains. Thousands of sea urchins clung to cliffs along the waterline as I rounded the peninsula and headed toward Davidson Glacier. Exhausted after more than 12 hours of paddling, I was mesmerized by the play of light on the rippling ocean, glacier and mountains.

I pitched my tent at Seduction Point, famous for the number of babies said to have been conceived by folks who’ve camped here.

In the morning, the wind frothed white-capped waves in Chilkat Inlet, making the crossing a bit of a wet roller coaster ride. Lynn Canal, especially the northern section, is notorious for being rough and unpredictable.

I wondered if my decision to paddle back to Juneau instead of taking the ferry might lead to days of waiting for better weather and talking to seals and birds. An hour or so later, I made the shore near Glacier River and began paddling south. Small, quaint cabins faced the east side of Lynn Canal, where jagged mountains rose almost to 7,000 feet in just a few miles. Beyond the wall of mountains was the 1,500 square-mile expanse of the Juneau Icefield.

The ocean calmed and a loon surfaced nearby in its ghost-like winter plumage.

The terrain along the west side of Lynn Canal is much more moderate than the east. Beaches offering a suitable landing for a kayak are never far away, making paddling a lot less stressful in case of nasty weather.

I’m happy with our ferries, but if a road was built, it seems it would make a lot more sense to do it on the west side of the fjord.

Sullivan Island, named after the master of the schooner Louisa Downs, which most likely wrecked on the island in 1867 (there’s also an account of the Louisa Downs wrecking near Peril Straits), grew closer.

The world became breathless and the ocean turned into a glossy mirror. Curious sea lions kept pace while the occasional harbor seal trailed behind.

Any mariner knows that whistling will call the winds to fury — a commercial fishing captain once threatened to throw me overboard for breaking this cardinal rule.

I wasn’t sure if singing would elicit the winds, so to fend off the miles of tedium, I began singing my favorite Shania Twain song: “That Don’t Impress Me Much.” Sure enough, the wind answered and I shut up.

In the afternoon, I passed the Endicott River estuary. This drainage acts as a corridor for animals traveling to and from Adams Inlet in Glacier Bay. Multitudes of harlequin ducks chirped in the water and perched on rocks.

Flocks of surf and white-wing scoters winged along the ocean’s surface. A pod of Dall porpoises swam outside the entrance of William Henry Bay. Rain began to fall when I found a beach free of snow to make camp. After I pitched my tent, I noticed the remains of a deer nearby. It wasn’t the best place to camp since bears were beginning to wake up, but it was already dark and I was exhausted.

In the morning, I rode waves past 15 sea lions perched high on a cliff. Though I was 300 yards away, one large bull roared continuously and acted like it was thinking about taking the plunge and coming over to show me who was boss.

Safely past the rookery, I looked back at the massive animal and snickered. Moments later, 20 roaring sea lions rose out of the water 30 yards away. They dove and I paddled for all I was worth toward Boat Harbor.

Near Point Whidbey, named after Joseph Whidbey of the 1791-95 Vancouver Expedition and most famous for charting Admiralty Island, I decided to try crossing to Lincoln Island. The ocean had been steadily laying down all morning, but as with every crossing, I was a bit nervous. I looked back at the inviting beaches of St. James Bay and began paddling.

An hour and a half later, I lay on a pebble beach of Lincoln Island watching a dozen black oyster-catcher chatter and go about their business. Sea lions on Benjamin Island roared continuously. A whale spouted in the otherwise empty North Pass.

It was weird to think that in a month these waterways would be filled with boats and the sound of engines.

In four days of paddling, I’d seen four boats (including ferries) and a tug. From the eastern tip of Lincoln, I pointed the kayak at Gull Island. Herbert Glacier and Mount Ernest Gruening slowly grew closer.

Near Amalga Harbor, an eagle swooped up a salmon fry only to have it stolen by another eagle in a high-speed maneuver.

I pulled up to the kayak launch and thanked Lynn Canal for being awesome and not killing me.

 

 

• Bjorn Dihle is a writer based out of Juneau. He can be reached at bjorndihle@yahoo.com.

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Elva Bontrager
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Elva Bontrager 05/02/14 - 11:11 pm
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What fun!

Loved the article.

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