Kayaking all the way to Haines

Posted: Sunday, September 14, 2003

T hursday night, July 24, just past 8 p.m. three kayakers - Bill Scheding, Sharon Buis and me - started paddling our ladened kayaks in the quiet waters of Echo Cove, destination Haines.

Before launching, we discussed the possibility of reaching Haines the following Saturday evening and catching the very early morning ferry back to Juneau instead of waiting another day and taking the Sunday night ferry. The weather was suppose to deteriorate by Sunday afternoon and we decided it would be nice to get home a day early and rest before going to work on Monday.

The first mile was aided by the outgoing tide and it wasn't long before we were in the middle of Berners Bay being blown to Point St. Mary six miles away. The wind was blowing 15 knots and the seas were still choppy from the afternoon storm that was now slowly subsiding.

By 10:30 we reached the rocky shoreline at low tide and after carrying our kayaks and gear up the slippery rocks we were ready for bed. Not much for campsites, but we made do. I set my tent up over a patch of tall grass and Indian paintbrush. I was weary with sleep but the sounds of the short Alaska summer night kept me awake. I heard the soft scurrying of a vole along the side of my tent, a hummingbird noisily buzzed around providing me with occasional glimpses of this small bird feeding on the flowers, light footsteps broke branches in the thick forest - most likely a deer - the puffs of a whale and porpoises interrupted the cacophony, and just as I started to doze, a squirrel let me know it wasn't happy with my campsite and chattered like an alarm clock.

I don't know how my fellow campers fared that night but we woke to a gray sky and calm seas, and were on the water by 8:30 a.m. The eight-mile crossing of Lynn Canal was easy at the start. We rounded Point St. Mary and picked a series of rocky outcroppings just south of the Endicott River as something to aim for. My GPS was showing we were making 4 miles per hour so we would reach the west side in two hours. That thought was short-lived, because about two miles shy of the crossing, a breeze picked up out of the west and we must have been in a strong southerly current that slowed us down to 2 mph.

We finally reached the Endicott River in three hours and took a much-welcomed break on a large gravel beach. Luck was with us and as the skies cleared, the wind subsided and the temperature rose.

We made our way north along the spectacular rocky coastline, the chart showing a drop-off of 120 fathoms directly below us. A pod of orcas gave us a brief show jumping clear out of the water most likely in the pursuit of salmon. Their antics reminded me of a Sea World show I took my son Aren to when he was 3 years old, the trainer yelling "up and over the top," as the orcas cleared hoops set up in their tank.

We planned to camp on the west side of Sullivan Island and wanted to replenish our water supply before landing. Unfortunately the river abeam the south end of the island proved to be too silty for our filters so we pressed on with the water we had left.

It was past 5 p.m. just as the wind picked up to 20 knots out of the south - perfect for flying my kite. I pulled up on the beach and launched my parasail. I could see Bill and Sharon in the middle of the bay surrounded by whitecaps. Bill brought a special-made umbrella just for the occasion. I angled over to them, my GPS showing 4 mph. If we weren't so tired and hungry we could have gotten a free ride to the south end of Chilkat Peninsula.

We found a nice beach and sailed in for the night. The beach offered easy access and we weren't too concerned about bears so long walks and kayak carries were unnecessary. The sun was quickly disappearing as we finished dinner and admired the steep peaks to the west, joking about how their shapes reminded us of something from a Dr. Seuss story.

I awoke early the next morning soon followed by Bill and Sharon. We didn't hurry our breakfast but still managed to get on the water by 8 a.m. The wind was blowing out of the north now and we could see whitecaps in the middle of the bay. It was sure to be worse on the north end of the island. The sun was shinning bright and it was warm so other than slowing down our progress we pushed on to the north end of Sullivan Island. The wind was blowing down Chilkat Inlet and we had a four-mile crossing ahead of us.

Luck was with us again - the wind died down as we started the crossing. We made it to the southern tip of the peninsula and had lunch on a protected beach. A high cloud layer could be seen to the south and we continued up Chilkoot Inlet.

We found a small stream and filled our water containers. The cloud layer never moved north and it was warm so we needed to rehydrate. We made good time and reached Kelgaya Point in time for a swim on a beautiful beach complete with several kids frolicking in the water. Our final crossing of Portage Bay lay ahead and on to the ferry terminal just past the sleeping humpback whale we saw on Nukdik point. We planned to bypass the town and paddle to the ferry terminal, store our gear and take a cab to town for dinner.

By 7 p.m. we made it to the ferry terminal, 47 hours and 52 miles after leaving Echo Cove. We were tired and hungry again, but this time bolstered by our accomplishment.

• Larry Musarra is an avid outdoorsman and a member of the Juneau Alpine Club.

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