Tenakee to Hoonah via kayak ride

Posted: Sunday, August 02, 2009

We were off to a good start with the helpful crew of the LeConte ferry and several groups of Dall's porpoises busily foraging and riding the bow waves.

Friendly Tenakee folks treated us to a dinner of crab and shrimp cocktail, halibut chowder, homemade muffins and cheesecake, and to breakfast the next day as well. As we paddled up Tenakee Inlet, we were met with a further gift of very fresh shrimp, transferred from skiff to my kayak deck. Wahoooo!

A morning stroll along the trail in Tenakee revealed many bumblebees sleeping in the flowers of fireweed and various other species. Though bumblebees can generate their own body heat when needed (unlike most insects), apparently it was more economical for them to rest until air temperatures rose.

We saw little wildlife in our explorations of Tenakee Inlet, although the no-see-ums had no trouble finding us.

The pinks were leaping acrobatically everywhere we looked. Early one morning, a novice angler landed a nice pink, which quickly found its way into the frying pan.

We later saw a young seal lying belly-up in the surf, floating gently on the waves. We worried, thinking it perhaps was unwell. But eventually it rolled over and swam to deeper water. Just having a nap, rocked by the surf?

One afternoon, the water got pretty lumpy, and so, decks awash, we pulled ashore for a prolonged afternoon tea. Someone's birthday was the occasion for some celebratory and delectable Nanaimo bars.

As we were searching for a good campsite one evening, my rudder cable snapped. Luckily, I had a spare. So my boat was hauled out on the beach, the new cable was threaded through the channel to the rudder pedal, the connector to the rudder was replaced, and we were on our way again.

Thanks to duct-tape splices, an Allen wrench in the toolkit, a leatherman multitool - a good problem-solver - and lots of kibitzing.

The portage from upper Tenakee Inlet into Port Frederick was managed pretty easily at near-high tide. If we had not been a tad impatient, it would have been even easier.

We sat in the meadow on the far side for a bit, then inched our way into the tidal slough, wriggling happily through the tall vegetation until we finally debouched into the broader waters of Port Frederick.

After seeing numerous bear trails, bear beds, bear scats and places where bears had rototilled for ground cones, at last we saw a couple of bears grazing in a beach meadow.

All was well until a vagrant breeze took our scent downwind to them. They galloped for cover in the forest, occasionally standing up to peer in our direction.

On the way into Neka Bay, we took advantage of the low tide to observe the numerous critters that lurk in the shallows. Some of our group successfully hunted legal-sized Dungeness crabs from kayaks, so we savored fresh crab for lunch.

Berry-picking was primo. Lots and lots of blueberries and salmonberries made it easy to fill our caps for later additions to morning cereal. Red huckleberries were ripe and tasty, thimbleberries were just beginning.

In sharp contrast to Tenakee Inlet, there were almost no marbled murrelets in Port Frederick. I had to wonder if the massive clearcutting there hasn't destroyed most of the nesting habitat for these birds, which commonly nest on moss wads high in the conifer trees.

We saw no mink or otter during the entire week, which seemed strange. However, the humpback whale show on the west side of Port Frederick was truly spectacular.

A tight group of about eight beasts patrolled up and down the shore for hours, showing off pectoral slaps, tail lobs and lunges, punctuated by loud fog-horn trumpeting. We wondered if they were just clearing their throats, so to speak, or if the hoots and honks have some other function.

Mary F. Willson is a retired professor of ecology.

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