OCEAN CAMP ALASKA June 2015 Sharell “I can fly” Benson
Logistics, Prep & Planning
Prep is a key for a trip like this. Here are the top three things that I started right away: Planning a fitness program, honing kayaking skills in the pool sessions and going over fit and function of the gear you have or need to replace. This was the first time that I had to plan for taking 100% of my gear on a plane. Think of the huge pile of clothes and gear that you need for paddling in conditions plus camping gear and travel clothes? Seemed impossible to fit in an oversized sports bag! My discovery was Travelon Compression Bags. They come in sets of 2 or 3. The bulky dry suit fit in the large bag and measured 16” x 23” x 3.” I also liked Granite Gear zipp bags. I found that compression bags help organize categories, and make finding articles much easier. There was a lot less pawing through a jumble of mixed up gear.
Other valuable items included were a storm cag, large garbage bags, duct tape, and I would add a deck of playing cards. We were there during the summer solstice (on June 21 the sun set at 12:39 and rose again at 2:30), so you could be outdoors until it was bedtime. There was always something to see or do.
We could have a checked bag and our paddles. The bag had to be under 50 pounds, so there was some packing and sorting, and repacking that went on the night before. We were able to leave a small carry- on bag back in Hoonah, so there would be clean clothes and a shower (after 8 days) at the end of the trip.
Travel from Hoonah to Greentop Cove.
The day we left Hoonah for our rustic U. S. Forest Service cabin the day was glorious–warm, sunny and in the 70s. It was remarkable weather for Alaska in June. Part of the trip would be retraced in our journey back to Hoonah and the other part would go down the Lisianski Inlet and into Greentop Cove, our base camp for four days.
The group traveled on two water taxis. It took a while to load the assortment of 10 boats and all of our gear and provisions for eight days. After introductions with our driver, he asked me how we were returning, he hadn’t seen a return trip on his schedule. I told him we would be traveling the 80 miles by kayak in the allotted 3 days. I couldn’t read his expression. It was somewhere between doubt and disbelief. He made certain we had his contact information—just in case.
During the 5 hour ride, we pulled out our charts and started looking for key points on it. I had concerns for paddling through a constriction called South Inian Pass. The chart stated that currents could reach 8 or 10 knots, I wanted to see what I was in for! The Pass was well behaved that day. I started to feel more comfortable.
Ryan was a great help in identifying the topography that we were seeing and how it was noted on the chart. One of the notations was for kelp. Kelp is a plant, so why was it important to know where the kelp beds were? As we pulled into the quiet inlet of Greentop Cove, I suddenly understood why the rocks and the kelp were noted on the chart. Kelp is this thick ropey stuff that looks like it’s made out of plastic with large plastic leaves and flotation bulbs attached. It floats in the ocean. It covers rocks and makes them slimy. We discovered later you can’t paddle through it. You can only push/pull yourself through the masses of it. It’s pretty nasty stuff. We were quickly learning some things about the ocean.
At last we landed at our base camp, Greentop Cabin. I could see that this cabin, situated about a mile from ocean exposure would have been a real gem in times of storms and raging seas. I wished the ancient little cabin could talk and tell the stories of the adventurers and fishermen that spent time there to get out of the elements. It had a wood stove, an ancient handmade rocking chair, a bench and shelves that would be our kitchen, and a small window that looked out to the cove through the trees.
We each staked out a wood pallet or a place on the floor upstairs as our “camp.” Fred added a privacy tarp to the open air biffy out back, complete with a rope suspending a boat bumper to signal whether the biffy was occupied or not. We had deluxe wilderness accommodations!
On Water Classroom
My sister made an interesting observation regarding the photos. She noted that some of them looked like we were in kayaking 101 classes. There were photos of us standing in water with our paddles, others sitting on the back deck with our feet dangling in the water. There is a reason to practice basics and Ryan and Jeff did a great job of creating a progression of flat water skills to rock gardening and then to journeying on the ocean to return to Hoonah.
My confession is that I am not crazy for rock gardening. My brain continues to go into fight or flight mode every time I feel waves lifting me up and into a rock face. (Others were reveling in this and it looked really fun for them). And now I am going to tie learning basics and my confession together. I have been hearing “look where you want to go” for so long now that it finally stuck. It became the technique for getting myself out of trouble to move around and between those rocks. It works! Although it does take some discipline to look away just as you are about to seemingly smack a rock with your head.
My other take away is that the paddle and boat really matter. I came back a Euro blade paddler and felt like I could fly on the ocean in a Tiderace Explore M. The last day was sublime when I got these two elements together! I CAN fly!!
Strikingly alive and wild, Alaska is an epic place. The terrain is rugged with the mountains still building under tectonic stress and abundant marine animals playing in its icy waters. This was a trip of a lifetime! The presence of our group of 10 was insignificant in this setting. We were there to learn to read the ocean—its tides and currents– and practice advancing our strokes and maneuvers, navigation, rock gardening and group paddling skills, but we came home with more than that. Watching the ever changing colors of the ocean/ mountain/ sky stratas against the play of whales, curious seals popping up a boat length away, otters floating by with their young riding high and dry on their bellies while building community with the very generous Alaskans that we met. This is truly the way to experience a place and have an amazing kayaking adventure, too! A heartfelt thank you to Ryan, Jeff and Michelle for making this trip possible.