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The Inside Passage - Kayak Trip / Canoe Trip

Report Type: Extended Trip Report
Trip Dates: June 30-July 8, 2008
Nearest City: Ketchikan, AK
Difficulty: Difficult
Submitted by: DenisDwyer View Profile

Description:

This is a chronicle of my solo Sea Kayaking journey from San Juan Island in Washington's Puget Sound to Skagway, Alaska via the Inside Passage and the Pacific Coast of Canada's British Columbia and Southeast Alaska.

The first part can be found here: Inside Passage, Washington Report
This is the Second Leg of the journey - Days 35-44 - Ketchikan to Petersburg, AK

The main natural and man made features encountered along this stretch of the route include:
The city of Ketchikan, Behm Canal, Clarence Strait, Meyers Chuck, Ernest Sound, Blake Channel, Eastern Passage, the town of Wrangell, Dry Strait, Frederick Sound, and the town of Petersburg.

Day 35 - Monday - June 30 - Ketchikan to Point Higgins
I took the bus to the post office first thing in the morning to pick up my box of food and send a few things home that I was not using. After loading up my boat back at Southeast Sea Kayaks I thanked the staff there for being so nice to me and was launching at 10:45am.

The wind was blowing around 15mph out of the northwest down Tongass Narrows, and right into my face. On top of that, the current was against me, so the only way I could make any headway was to stay very close to the northeast shoreline and out of the wind and current as much as possible. Up to Ward Cove, Tongass Narrows is lined with mostly industrial type businesses involved in the fishing or marine industries. After a month of paddling along wilderness shorelines, the change to commercial buildings was a curiously interesting diversion. After Ward Cove, the scenery consisted of residential areas with some nice homes along the route.

By the time I had reached Mud Bay the wind had let up, the clouds had cleared, and it was actually getting hot. There were people out swimming with their kids in the 50° water. That is a bit to cold for me to get into voluntarily, but I guess these hardy Alaskans are accustomed to it. It was funny to hear the kids yell, "Hi mister!" to me as I paddled by. That is just not something you hear everyday along the Inside Passage.

My destination for today was Point Higgins at the end of Tongass Narrows. I landed at 3:30pm after paddling 12 miles from Ketchikan. The beach here is very large and is composed of black gravel and sand with easy landing and launching at any tide level. There is plenty of space in the trees above high tide levels for camping and even a stream if you need water. The views across Behm Canal and Clarence Strait are spectacular. Point Higgins also puts you in perfect position to cross the 7-mile wide opening of Behm Canal to Caamano Point first thing in the morning before the winds have a chance to build. Many of the local residents use the beach for recreational purposes, but some concerned citizens told me this afternoon that a developer is trying to buy the land to build a subdivision. This would be a shame, as there is no other beach in the area that is not private property and off limits to kayakers passing through.

Day 36 - Tuesday - July 1 - Point Higgins to Niblack Point
The first thing on today’s schedule was the 7-mile crossing of Behm Canal. I woke up at 4:45am and after getting everything packed up was off at 6:10am headed to Caamano Point on the far side. The crossing went smoothly and just as I reached the point at 8:35am, the wind started to pick up.

After paddling about two miles up the coast, the wind was so strong I decided to try something different and take a break in the middle of the day to see if the wind would calm down. This was the first time I had taken a mid-day break on this trip, usually opting to stay in the boat all day and not even land. I spotted a notch in the rocky coastline that hid a gravel beach protected from wave action. It looked like the perfect place for a mid-day stopover and a good spot to camp if conditions worsened. Obviously, others thought it was a good place too, because someone had built a cabin up in the trees.

The sun was shining brightly so I took the opportunity to lay my wet things out to dry while waiting for the wind to let up. I had my kayak tied to a big rock with the bowline as I always did when I was more than a few feet away from it. This was fortunate because all of a sudden it tried launching itself by sliding down the slick gravel beach into the water. If not tied down, I definitely would have had to dive into the water to get it back.

At 12:15pm, after waiting 2 hours, the wind had quieted down enough to give paddling another try. Back towards Caamano Point, a group of Humpback Whales was feeding along the route I had taken earlier. There are many gravel beaches to camp on along this shoreline most of which look to be made of green pebbles. On one of them, I saw a Black Bear feeding among the drift logs. This was the first of many Black Bears I would see along this stretch of the trip.

I had hoped to put in over 20 miles today but the wind and current were both against me and at 2:15pm, after paddling only 14 miles, it was time to stop for the day. A beach near Niblack Point composed of small rounded pebbles and with beautiful views up and down Clarence Strait would be home for the night. Far to the south down the strait, I could see a wall of fog slowly heading my way. It was odd looking because the sky was still clear and blue while the fog was a thick layer hugging the ground up to about 500 feet. Luckily, it did not reach my location and I had a clear, dry afternoon. Big cruise ships passed all evening heading north out of Ketchikan to their next port of call, probably Juneau. My cell phone curiously worked today but not yesterday, when I was even closer to Ketchikan.

Day 37 - Wednesday - July 2 - Niblack Point to Meyers Chuck
Today got off to an exciting start. As I was packing up, I spotted two Black Bears looking for food among the drift logs. They were just down the beach about 50 yards away. I called out to let them know a human was around and continued talking to them as they looked at me curiously. The way they acted, I do not believe they had even seen me until I started making noise. They kept their distance and did not bother me at all. By the time I was in my boat and launching, they had made their way to the spot where my campsite had been, and were busy nosing around for abandoned morsels. I spotted another Black Bear from the kayak a little while later while paddling further up the coast.

After launching at 6:45am, I continued up Clarence Strait along the shore of the Cleveland Peninsula toward today’s destination, Meyers Chuck. Conditions started out in my favor with the wind, waves, and current all going my way. At times, I was going incredibly fast, perhaps 5mph. It did not seem possible, but I felt like swells were coming up Clarence Strait from Dixon Entrance and adding to the mix. A more likely reason was that the swells formed in Clarence Strait by wind blowing across the surface over a long distance.

I passed Ship Island at 8:15am and was making good time until around 10:10am when the conditions started getting rough. A nice gravel beach out of the wind and waves provided a welcome place to take a break and hope for the wind to let up. Within minutes of stopping, a pod of Orcas, which must have been right behind me, passed the beach heading north. I was glad to be out of the water, as a pod of Orcas swimming around me in rough water would have been nerve racking.

After an hour, I decided to try again and see if I could make it to Myers Chuck, which was only 3 miles away. I noted later in my logbook, that these three miles were the roughest waters that I had paddled in yet. The waves were on par with or surpassed those I encountered at Cape Fox in Dixon Entrance. If the seas would have been just a little rougher, I may not have been able to handle it. The chart indicates a shallow bottom in this area, which was probably the reason for the rough conditions. I believe the waves increased in steepness as they moved over these shallows.

By 12 noon I had finished my 17 mile paddle to Myers Chuck and was happily pulling up to the dock. The dock here is very nice and it was easy to get out of the boat and unload everything. There are no streets in Myers Chuck so as soon as you step off the dock you are walking on a foot trail. A bulletin board at the dock showed a place for rent called "The Schoolhouse" and included a phone number. I walked over to check it out and it turned out to be a very nice house that could accommodate quite a few people. It would have been too much for a lone kayaker but the big grassy lawn next to it looked perfect for pitching a tent. I used a phone by the dock to call the number and got permission from the owner to camp on the lawn. Before leaving the next day, I left $20 on the porch of "The Schoolhouse" as a token of my appreciation for his hospitality.

I spent this afternoon walking around on the trails of the town and talking with a couple of the locals and yacht owners on the dock. The weather during my stay was mild and dry and could not have been any nicer. The cell phone worked here and I was able to call home and check in.

Day 38 - Thursday - July 3 - Myers Chuck to Change Island
I had a nice quiet night at my campsite on the lawn in Meyers Chuck and was pushing off from the dock at 6:20am. The clouds were low, being almost at tree top level, which gave the little town an almost storybook look about it. I paddled through a group of small islands before reaching Lemesurier Point and saw my first sea urchin of the trip. The cloudy skies hid far off mountains from view and made everything look various shades of gray. The winds were light, and it was not raining, so I considered myself lucky after having to deal with the winds of the last few days.

After crossing the 4½-mile mouth of Union Bay, I made it to Union Point at 8:30am. For the crossing of Vixen Inlet, I stayed close to shore until I came in line with Sunshine Island and then I headed across passing Vixen Point at 10:25am. I pulled into Emerald Bay at 11:45am and spotted a possible campsite at the head of the bay, but since it was so early, I decided to keep going. After reading that this area has a large population of Black and Brown Bears, I thought it might be a good idea to find a small island far from shore on which to camp.

As I entered Seward Passage between Deer Island and the Cleveland Peninsula, I spotted a small island in the distance that looked promising. It turned out to be Change Island in Sunny Bay and would be my home for the evening. Landing was easy and it looked like a clear, flat spot in a grassy area would make a perfect campsite. There were wildflowers mixed all throughout the grass, and although grass can tolerate short periods of exposure to salt water, I did not think wildflowers could. It looked like a safe place to camp above, what tonight would be one of the highest tides of the month. The only thing that concerned me was the small pieces of fresh seaweed that I found scattered about in the grass. The only way they could have gotten there was to have floated in on last night’s high tide.

Since I was not sure, my campsite was above high tide, some special precautions were called for. I did not set up the tent opting instead for just the pyramid tarp for shelter. All the gear that would not be needed overnight went back in the kayak. I also tied up the kayak with two different lines so it could not go floating off if the tide did come up higher than expected. High tide would be at 1:50am so I set my alarm watch to go off at 1:00am. As it turned out, there was no need to set the watch since I could not get to sleep anyway, as the water began to rise eerily around me.

As the water started getting closer to the pyramid tent, I could hear a noise like rain but it was coming from under the ground cloth beneath me. When I turned on the flashlight, the source revealed itself, hundreds if not thousands of amphipods (aka beach hoppers) were moving through the grass as the tide rose and flooded their lairs. When these little critters move about they pop up in the air and go in every direction thereby causing the rain like sound under my ground cloth. They are creepy looking but harmless and really were no problem.

By 1:00am, the water was right up to the edge of the pyramid so I got up and started moving things a little higher. The air was dead calm and I knew there would not be any big boats passing this area of the coast so boat wakes would not be a problem. By 2:00am, the water was receding quickly and by 2:30am, I was climbing back into the sleeping bag eager to get some rest.

Day 39 - Friday - July 4 - Change Island to Blake Island
Six hours makes a big difference with tides in Alaska. Last night I could have launched the kayak from right next to the tent. At launch time this morning, the tide was out so far that it was at least 200 feet to the waters edge and 22 feet below me. I had to carry my kayak and all the gear down a 20 foot jagged rock face and then across the seaweed covered cobble beach. By 7:15am, the boat was in the water and I was heading to today’s destination, Anan Bay.

I followed the east coast of Deer Island to the narrowest spot in Seward Passage then crossed over to the mainland side. Throughout the day, there was almost no wind and no detectable current. The overcast sky was full of low gray clouds that brought rain off and on all day. I kept an eye out for possible campsites, but for the entire 24 miles paddle there were none at all. The whole day passed with no wildlife sightings and only a couple of boats visible off in the distance.

It was raining fairly hard when I reached the Anan Bay US Forest Service ranger station at 2pm. Anan Bay is popular with tourists who come to see the large population of Brown and Black Bears that feed on salmon during their annual summer migration up Anan Creek. Most come for a short visit by tour boat or seaplane from Wrangell, Alaska, which is about 40 miles away. The ranger station here is on a large floating platform that has no connection to the shoreline, presumably to keep bears from having access to the building. It dock was well made, and most likely cost a few hundred thousand dollars to construct. I was hoping to rent the one cabin there but predictably, it was already in use for the night. Reservations for the cabin are available in advance but a kayaker has no way of telling exactly what night they will arrive. I asked the ranger if I could set up my tent on the big floating dock connected to the ranger station and he told me I could not. Apparently, it is OK to tie up to the dock and spend the night if you arrive in a yacht but kayakers are forbidden access. I actually could not believe what he was telling me so I asked him again to make sure I understood correctly. I had.

I then asked him if there was any place in the area that I could camp. He replied, "Anywhere I want as long as it’s not on USFS property." Here is the best part. During our conversation, he actually asked me twice if I would like to take a hike to go see the bears. See the bears! The last thing I wanted to see was "the bears." What I did want, was to find a safe place to spend the night, which was rapidly approaching, get out of the rain and my wet clothes, and get something to eat. He did not have a clue as to the situation I was in and that my life was actually at stake. After he asked me the second time if I wanted to go see the bears I just paddled off in complete amazement at this ranger’s lack of understanding.

I had marked on my charts that there was a campsite on Blake Island four miles away so I headed off in the rain for what I hoped to be a bear free place to spend the night. When I arrived at 3pm at the spot marked on my chart, no place to camp was immediately obvious, but after landing the boat and walking around a bit, a small level spot just above high tide could be made out. This was by far the worst campsite of the entire trip but it was all that was available and would have to do.

As I was setting up the pyramid shelter thinking that things could not possibly get any worse, I spotted a big fresh bear pile right where I was putting in a tent stake. Someone else had recently spent time here as I could see where a fish had been cleaned and some of its parts left on a log. I was beginning to feel like bear chum.

There was no choice but to spend the night here so I decided to sleep in my clothes and just throw the sleeping bag on top of me in case Mr. Bear came back. To lessen the chance of a bear encounter, I decided to launch at 3am just as it would be getting light.

Day 40 - Saturday - July 5 - Blake Island to Wrangell
I did not get much sleep last night waiting to see if Yogi showed up. Luckily he was off somewhere with Boo Boo, maybe at the rangers station.

At 3am, the tide was at its highest and only a few feet from the tent. It was light enough to see so I decided to pack up and go. At 3:45am I was on the water and heading north up Blake Channel. This was the earliest I had been on the water yet and it was actually very nice. What light there was came in at a low angle and made the mountains in the distance take on a completely different appearance.

There was an island just past "The Narrows" that I was heading for that was supposed to have a campsite on it. It was only 16 miles from Blake Island, and although I would arrive early in the morning, I could spend the day resting after the long paddles of the last two days. When I approached the island at 9:20am, there was only one spot to land so I pulled up and went to check out the top of the beach. I could hardly believe my eyes. The whole area showed signs that bears had been feeding on Skunk Cabbage within the last few hours. The leaves that had been broken off had not even wilted yet, and the dirt was turned over as if it had been plowed. I was not about to spend another night worried about a bear encounter so I immediately got back in the boat and took off.

There were 19 more miles to Wrangell but it was still early and I felt good so I decided to go for it. If conditions did not prevent it, I would be in Wrangell by 4pm. I headed up Eastern Passage hugging the western shoreline, which had plenty of beaches suitable for camping. With my sights now set on Wrangell, I passed dozens of potential campsites without a thought of stopping. The weather cooperated with only light winds coming from the southeast and the current was of no consequence. My shoulders and arms were now beginning to hurt a little more each day and it was necessary to take ibuprofen to keep the pain manageable.

Just as I rounded the north tip of Wrangell Island and was within a mile of the town, a strong squall hit with 30 mph winds and heavy rain coming out of the southwest. All I could do was keep my head down and try to make headway against it by staying close to the coast and out of the strongest gusts further offshore. Luckily, it only lasted about 15 minutes, and by the time I reached town, it had stopped completely. When I landed, I looked at my hands and saw that my fingers were soft, white, and smashed flat from holding the paddle for so long.

My plan was to land on a beach near the Fennimore B&B and see if I could get a room there for two nights. I tied up the kayak and walked about 100 yards over to the B&B. No one was there and calling the phone number gave me a recorded message. It was 3:00pm and I had just finished paddling 35 miles in 11 hours and 15 minutes. It was raining and cold and all I could do was to carry all my gear up and hope they had a room for me.

This was possibly the most dangerous place on the trip over which I had to carry my gear. The head of the beach is composed of broken slabs of cement interspersed with re-bar, broken glass, and other trash along with tall weeds throughout. Carrying everything up, and then two days later down, this twenty-foot high obstacle course was a feat that I luckily accomplished with no damage to equipment or myself. It could have ended much differently with just one missed step.

I called the phone number repeatedly for the next two hours until at 5pm, I finally reached the owner who told me there was room and she would be over in a little while. By 7pm, I was in the room, taking a shower, and getting into some dry clothes. Later, I walked into downtown Wrangell and got some dinner then called home to report my adventures of the last few days.

Day 41 - Sunday - July 6 - Wrangell layover
Today was a layover day in Wrangell so I had the opportunity to look around town a bit. Since I was not very happy with my landing spot yesterday, I went over to "Reliance Harbor" to see what landing there would be like. Right in front of the harbormasters office is a small seaplane dock with a rack of kayaks on it. The harbormaster informed me that a kayaker passing through could leave their boat on the dock in a designated spot for a couple of nights. Within a few blocks of the harbor are lodging options that may be better for a kayaker than where I stayed.

It being Sunday and raining there was not much activity around town. I washed my clothes at a laundromat then checked out the local outdoor shop. Two well-stocked local grocery stores provided me with a few fresh items to add to my food cache. Since it was Sunday, I could not pick up my box of food from the post office so that would have to wait for tomorrow morning. A couple of small local restaurants did a good job of putting some weight back on me since my last layover day in Ketchikan, a week ago.

Day 42 - Monday - July 7 - Wrangell to Frederick Sound
I could not launch early today for two reasons. I had to pick up my food box from the post office, which meant waiting for it to open. The other reason was that early on today’s route I would have to traverse the shallow sand flats of the Stikine River Delta. Since many areas along this route are only a few inches deep, it is only possible to transit them on a rising or high tide. Even a kayak can run aground in these shallows and become stuck. This meant planning my departure so as not to be stuck on a sand flat during a falling tide. This might not sound like a big deal until you realize you could be stuck for six or more hours surrounded by soggy sand with no way to move until the next high tide arrives. Low tide today was -1.3 feet at 10:30am and high tide was 15.6 feet at 5:15pm. This was a 17-foot difference in less than seven hours.

After getting all my gear down to the waters edge, I packed up the boat and was launching at 10:30am and heading across the mouth of the Stikine River toward Kadin Island. I reached the southern tip of Kadin at 12:10pm and headed northwest toward the northern tip of Rynda Island. The chart showed shallow water in this area and I thought since it was two hours into a rising tide I could make it across. The Stikine River makes the water a muddy brown and you cannot see the bottom like most other places along the route. Because of this, you cannot tell how deep the water is until your paddle touches bottom.

About a half mile from Kadin Island, I ran aground but managed to back out and find a deeper passage. I ended up heading south and going all the way to Greys Island where the chart showed greater water depths. I was then able to follow the Coast of Rynda Island and make my way through Dry Strait with no more problems as the water continued to rise.

Halfway through Dry Strait I could see a large flock of what looked like birds swirling and undulating in the air over an exposed sand flat in the distance. As I approached, it became apparent that this was not a far off flock of birds, but a dense swarm of insects, possibly gnats, that were close by. I changed course to avoid them but a few found their way to me and alighted on the deck of my kayak covering it with hundreds of their creepy little bodies. Luckily, they were not in a biting mood and I made it through the area with no problem. This did prompt me however to move my mosquito head net from inside the kayak to a place in my deck bag for the rest of the trip.

As I made my way along the shoreline of Mitkof Island I was entering the lower stretches of Frederick Sound with LeConte Bay directly across in the distance. Icebergs that had calved off the LeConte Glacier were making their way out into Frederick Sound giving me my first views of floating ice on the trip.

Although the Mitkof Island shoreline is covered with sand beaches, they are all shallow and most would not be protected from high tides. As I searched the shoreline looking for a decent place to make camp, I kept seeing Black Bears, three in all, over a distance of about five miles. This was not looking good.

At 6:30pm, after paddling 26 miles, I came across a large wooden float or dock that had washed up on the beach and was sitting almost level. This turned out to be an incredible find and provided a perfect spot to camp. I was able to sit back and watch as icebergs and bergy-bits floated by in Frederick Sound all evening. As I was setting up camp, I spotted a baby Black Bear feeding in the grass about 100 feet away. Luckily mom-ma bear was nowhere around. Occasionally throughout the evening, it would call out with a sound almost like a cow calf, apparently trying to make contact with its lost mother.

Day 43 - Tuesday - July 8 - Frederick Sound to Petersburg
The bears left me alone last night on the beached dock so I was able to get a few hours sleep. This turned out to be a good spot to camp considering the other choices that were available in the area. By 7:10am, I had packed up and was launching into Frederick Sound, heading for today’s destination, Petersburg, Alaska. Far across the sound, I could see the water covered with car-sized icebergs that had floated out from LeConte Bay. The current and wind were both with me so I made good time. It was raining off and on and the air temperature was in the low 50's. I was able to stay comfortably warm as long as I kept paddling.

Today I ran into the first kayaker I had seen yet on this year’s trip. His name was Dave and he was going on a three-day trip in the opposite direction having just left Petersburg. We stopped and talked for a while and I asked him to take a few photos of me, as I did not have any of myself while actually on the water. Dave turned out to be the only other kayaker I came across in the 48 days of paddling on this trip.

The wind was strong as I got to within a couple of miles of Petersburg but luckily, it was still going my way. Once into Wrangell Narrows the current was against me slowing my progress to about 1 mph. I pulled into the first harbor I reached to get out of the current, and passed a series of huge fish processing facilities built up on piles that lined the entrance to the harbor. As soon as I got past these large commercial buildings, the Harbormasters office came into view. It was 11am and I had just paddled 14 miles from last night’s campsite. I pulled up to the dock, went in to the office, and booked a space in the harbor for the next two nights. The office staff was very helpful and told me I could store my kayak right next to the gangway on the dock in front of their office. This spot was perfect except for one thing, it was covered with green slime and was very slippery. If landing here, keep a blue tarp available to haul yourself and all your gear onto to avoid the slime.

Just two blocks away from this dock is the "Tides Inn" hotel, which was recommended by the staff in the Harbormasters office. This turned out to be the perfect place to stay while in Petersburg. The room was very nice and had a great view of the harbor and Wrangell Narrows. Although it was a little pricey, it was centrally located to downtown and within a short walking distance of the dock and my boat. This turned out to be very handy.

I spent my first evening in Petersburg looking around town and getting oriented. Petersburg is much larger than Wrangell but still smaller than Ketchikan. The port looks to be highly commercial with hundreds of large fishing boats tied up to the docks. There is not as much tourism trade in Petersburg as in Ketchikan partly because the big cruise ships do not stop here. Travelers will find plenty of places to eat and many stores available selling all types of supplies. I spotted a few tourists walking around, but not in the large numbers that I saw in Prince Rupert and Ketchikan.

Day 44 - Wednesday - July 9 - Petersburg layover
Today was a layover in Petersburg and predictably, it rained all day. I did my laundry and got a haircut, then went to a grocery and bought some supplies and packed them in the kayak. I listened to the weather forecast for the next few days on the TV in the hotel room and hung up some of my wet things to dry. My main goal during this layover was to rest and get ready for the push to Juneau.

I have documented my entire 1,250 mile Inside Passage trip along with hundreds of photos at http://denisdwyer.blogspot.com/

Outfitting:

Easy Rider Eskimo Expedition 17ft.

Directions:

Take Alaska Marine Highway ferry from Bellingham Washington or do like I did and paddle there from Washington.

Resources:

Marine Charts and my web site which has all the coordinates of my campsites and lots of photos and advice.


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