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I knew I wanted to go North for some time, just didn't know where. Why? I want to paddle next to a whale; I want to see an iceberg calving; see wildlife along the water, see nature in a light I have never seen before. I guess I wanted to see how insignificant I really am. Go to the last frontier. Several years ago I did a paddle at Eastern Neck in November, what a paddle; we had a chance to see five thousand Tundra Swans. What a sight, what a sound, what an impression. With this in mind I knew I needed to get back on track with my trip.
Choices came up, Greenland, Alaska, Newfoundland maybe Iceland. I decided I wanted to stay in the US, for my first real adventure. So it is Alaska. Now where? Read, read and read. Try to find people that have paddled in different areas, keeping in mind my main goal of whales and icebergs. Thru emails I have met many people who have shared their adventures with me. Asking lots of questions, they have been so helpful in answering.
Do I want to go to exotic places like Barrow, the northern most point of Alaska, over to Nome, the western most, Kodiak, a strip of islands to the South? Then Homer, Seward, Icy Bay, Prince William Sound and GlacierBay? Glacier Bay seemed the best spot after reading looking at the charts and deciding for my first time out, there were more choices out of Gustavas then any where else. There is a starting point, the National Park where I can camp and put in. There is a small community with people, stores, and gear available if needed. The area is pristine and there are choices where to go. Glacier Bay , one thing down on the list.
Something I never wanted to be is held hostage by suppliers, therefore I wanted a boat I knew and could depend on. The folding boat. I had not thought of it before but I knew some people that have them, it just never registered. The people I know that have the folding boat have them because they do not have adequate space for a conventional boat. Some were the Klepper, big, wide, open kayaks and others have the Feathercraft. I just thought of them as a kayak, and did not know what a folding kayak can really do. I thought for some time about making a folding kayak. I could get plans, the poles, the skin, I am sharp enough to do it, but do I want to spend the time? Usually I would have to make two, the first thing I make would be good, but the second would be better. I just didn't know. However after talking to Dave Isabel, he made sense, "there are folding boats out there that are just what you want, go look and compare". And I did.
First I Googled folding boats, read about them, then I bought Ralf Diaz's "Complete Folding Kayaker". What a door opener to this "new" kind of kayak. Then I talked with Dave Biss and Kingsley, they both have Khatsalano's, this was the boat for me. Wow, what a yak, everything I wanted in a kayak, fast and roomy. Now where do I get one? A new one would cost over five thousand dollars, so the hunt was on and then I realized how scarce they are. I called Feathercraft to find out when they started making the Khatsalano to get an idea how many are out there. Eventually I found one. It took awhile for me to become friends with this new kayak. It is interesting; the more I learned about the folding boat the more I liked it, the Khat especially and with this I was meeting more and more fellow paddlers that have Khats.
Now I have the location, I have a kayak, now, how do I get there and when? Fairly easy, Alaska Airways. I called the Park Service at Glacier Bay and found out what is a good time to be there; the middle of June. June 17th to July 1st, those are my dates. Now start getting my gear, charts, food, water, etc. together and get any questions answered. More hunting.
I know I need a water purifier, dry bags, etc. so I have to delve into that. Need to get my navigation and paddling skills sharpened. I went to Dave Biss and I asked him for some help. So the weekend winters were spent on the Potomac, rolling, sculling and critique my skills. I received my chart toGlacier Bay, so now I can get acquainted with it and start to plan the trip visually. When I talk to others I can now follow their paddle with the chart. I have eight months to prep, seems like a long time.
I made lists of what I would need and what to take. I tried to find others that have done the trip and gleam as much info as I can. I enjoy this part; solving this part of the puzzle. My list grows and now I start to categorize my lists. Paddle gear, first aid, clothes, camping gear, emergency stuff and food. The National Park issues "bear canisters" to all campers and paddlers, you must take these with you. Gee, I couldn't think of the last time I used a bear canister, so I found out the size they issue 8"x18". A couple of questions with this, how much food does it take for fourteen days, what is the weight, and where will it go in the Khat? I needed to make samples of the "bear canister", so I went to Home Depot and picked up some vent pipe cut it to size 8"x18". One, I wanted to see how much food I can put in, how much they weigh and practice paddling with them on my back deck. The first canister seams to take 8lbs of food. This consisted of 16 days of oat meal, 13 days of dinner and two tuna packages and weighed 8lbs. So I can top off the other and have room for my trash. Ready to take this with me when ever I paddle. I found I needed two and found a way to lash them to the deck behind the cockpit. I was able to make a harness out of strapping and used Velcro. I positioned these in an east-west, north-south and cinched it down tight; sweet.
The next step in this gets a little harder; the sizes of the dry bags. Don't forget there is a lot of space in the folding kayak, just hard to get the bags through the ribs of the kayak and in the hole area. This I am still working on. A few things I know for sure; the tent-down through the cockpit to the bow with the sleeping bag and mat, water- two large dromedaries-behind the cockpit, my food-all in bear canisters, on the deck behind the cockpit, more on that. I thought of making dry bags but luck was with me, I found in the REI Outlet 30 liter Diamond dry bags. These were flat, yellow, with a see through front for $10. each, what a deal.
Next the biggest issue; though I would be in the wilderness, I might as well use modern technology as much as possible, especially for safety, so I rented a satellite phone and a EPIRB.
Whew, next a couple of practice paddles. Cyndi had a trip to False Cape in March, same type of weather in Alaska in June. I had learned a few lessons on this trip with Dave, Cyndi, Caroline, Nelson and Gina. Pack flat, not thick and make it small. In the Khatsalano, this is the only way, so, as I packed I would flatten the gear as much as I could, it sort of looked like dehydrated clothes. I numbered each bag and kept a list with what was in each. It is amazing how much I was taking or should I say "need"; your camping gear, clothes [boat/on shore/rain gear] cooking stuff, water purifier, binoculars, books, washing gear.
Anyway with food it seemed like about 75lbs. The one thing to note, all the articles I read and all the advice I read about what to take, in reality for me it was too damn much, it just was not needed. None of these articles never mentioned the concept of "living in your clothes". Just a comment.
The next test was in bad weather. How would the kayak handle in rough water with the weight and the "bear canisters". In May the weather hit, Bob Pullman and I went out to Kent Island and camped, it was a rough day on the Bay , 15-18 mph and real choppy, a perfect test. The Khat handled well and I was comfortable with it, we finally were friends. I was ready.
With all the thoughts and planning things went well but a few mistakes.
When I left Washington National the plane was three hours late. I arrived in Juneau, AK and my gear was three hours behind in another plane arriving at 9:30pm. I went ahead to Glacier Bay by small plane and arrived at the Lodge in GB. Planning to camp and the next day take the ship up to a "drop off" area. Ok, change of plans, I'll just hang out and sleep in the lobby, but lucked out again; two kayakers had space in their room and offered it to me, yippee. The gear came the next day. I assembled the Khat and got everything together and off for the next part of the adventure.
Every day a boat leaves GB with tourists, hikers, kayakers to go up the Bay and take the west arm of the Bay . They have two drop off/pick up areas for kayakers which change yearly. The first was Mt. Wright just at the mouth of the East section and Queen on the West section. They then continue on to Tarr Inlet and come back down the Bay to GBNP. I was dropped off at Queen.
After the boat left, I got the gear together stowed it and realized, how much stuff I had. It was so easy adding one more piece, "it's small, it will fit". I am afraid I said this too many times and lost track. So I paddled off up into Queen Inlet, realizing I had way too much and the boat didn't feel right, but excitement took over.
It is hard to admit something and after swallowing, thinking, and confiding; it is better to share with experience where others can learn then not and take the consequences from others when they criticize…..so here goes.
I paddled up the Inlet about a mile, 200 ft. off shore, something happened and the yak tipped over, a wave, shifting of the gear, a slip of the paddle, all I know I was on my side. Needless to say I tried to right myself but as I got up, I went right back down. The balance was off. I had my drysuit on in the 41 degree water, with my Greenland paddle. I could always wet exit and I had my EPIRB on my life jacket along with a marine radio. Remember I had said Dave and I had practiced most of the winter, one of the skills Dave drove into me was sculling, we did it sitting up and we did it with the boat on its side, who would have thought. I did not panic, I just realized my situation and went through the options and started sculling. Certainly not a fast way to get to shore; a little tiring but I just kept it up and made it to shore. I bailed the boat out and moved things around and went back to the drop off spot, paddling 5 feet from shore. I set up camp and hung everything out to dry and started sorting through the gear. I was going to wait for the next day and give back gear to the drop off boat and asked to put the stuff back at the Lodge. I was mad at myself, dumb! I knew the boat didn't feel right and I should have realized then that what I was doing now, going over my gear and get rid of what I didn't need.
I had cancer of the tonsils nine years ago and I was treated with chemo and radiation. Because of this, I have trouble eating; my main diet is Ensure, oat meal; easy, bland foods but selective. Believe me water does not wash food down. So my next little problem. I did buy the Mountain foods, just add hot water and eat. I had practiced this before the trip and it seemed good. I also brought along some Pita bread for the peanut butter and the packaged tuna. After seeing a number of bears I decided not to even open the tuna, trying to wash the container out and storing the trash in the bear canisters just seemed too inviting.
Anyway, the Pita bread got soaked from the tip over. The bear canisters came with a plastic sleeve and a tie but I didn't tie it tight, opps. Now the Mountain food. What I had forgotten was that I graze all day in my food consumption and here I was with a serving for two; it was just too much food to consume at one time.
On a trip like this, it is nothing like our weekend paddles of two, three, four days when you have more luxuries in eating. The bottom line, FOOD is FUEL and you have to keep your fuel tank at a 100%. Needless to say, mine had dipped after a few days. With the sixteen foot tides, lugging your gear and boat to above high tide, the huge currents in the bay, the tides and wind [not all the time] takes a lot out of you. Where I usually paddle a couple of hundred feet off shore I soon realized paddling closer to shore made it easier and less depleting. Anyway, with my fuel down, I camped for a couple of days, regaining my strength with powdered Ensure, Oat meal and some of the Mountain food products. My eating habits changed to accommodate the situation.
The other thing I learned, check, recheck and recheck again. Do I really need it? I soon found that for this kind of adventure you live in your clothes, this cuts down quite a bit on gear. Bring what you wear and one change, then wash! On the water I lived in my drysuit. Then zipper shorts and a long sleeve shirt and I slept in silks. Your toothpaste, deodorant, etc. is always put away in the bear canisters, along with your trash. For gear and things, you don't have to support REI, we have a club of 600, borrow, that will cut costs!
Was it worth it? You bet. It was the trip of a lifetime!
I paddled with the icebergs, whales, sea otters. I saw bears, lots of them including tiny cubs; eagles a plenty; moose, scary. I had a chance to feel what being alone in the wilderness really feels like. Yes I was at first scared. My first campsite, will I have a bear encounter? No, nor on the second day, as I saw them along the edge of the water they just blended in with the adventure, my sleeping became more sound and I just lived with it. Being alone, did it bother me? No. There is enough out there to keep you busy, the paddling, setting up camp, looking for water, washing, looking, seeing and feeling the world around you. No radio, TV, people, cars, traffic, news. Silence, but not really, Nature has her own ways of filling the wilderness and I think I found it. It truly was a trip of a lifetime, the planning, preparation, the adventure and now the memories, wow. Now I have to work on next years adventure, hmmmm. The Arctic!!!!
I want to thank Bob Pullman, Dave Biss, Cyndi Janetzko, Dave Isbell, Alison Sigethy, Margaret Pully, Nelson Labbe, Gail Ferris and many others, CPA, KIP Paddles, for helping to make this a most successful trip.
More pictures are at:
A follow up to the story.
I had mentioned that my eating was off. Didn't know why. I made many reasons, that was in June. In Sept. I found a bump on my clavicle and had a biopsy… cancer, lymphoma stage 4. It was attacking my kidneys, bone marrow, liver, spleen, thyroid, neck and clavicle and during the trip my body was telling me something, I just didn't know what. After lots of chemo I am back in the game.
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