2015 Alaska Sea Camp – Bernie’s Story

Greentop Harbor to Hoonah

We departed Greentop Harbor on Thursday, June 18th at 7:40 AM and began our journey back to Hoonah.  It was a very nice day with the temperature in the low 50’s and the ocean was very calm.  We saw dozens of sport fishing boats out in this area and it was interesting how popular it was with those people.

En route I saw a lone brown bear climbing steep rock, up and away from shore.  We came across massive kelp fields in the water and it was very interesting stuff. There were floating stems many feet long, with a sort of pod on each end.  They were stiff and inflexible, rather like PVC tubing, and were something you wanted to avoid, no matter what sort of boat you were in.  For kayakers, they were very difficult to paddle in and for power boaters, they would likely do major damage to your propeller.

We stopped along the way and had lunch and then continued on.  We saw a variety of wildlife in the ocean during this segment of travel, including sea lions and sea otters.  We passed some major rocks that had sea lions everywhere sunning themselves.  They must have gotten onto the rocks at high tide because when we passed them they were perched up much too high to have climbed up themselves.  The sea otters would follow us, often times with just their heads popped up out of the water.  Sometimes we would see the babies clinging onto their mothers back, getting a free ride and it was quite cute.

We pulled into Hoktaheen Cove and looked for a place to camp, having paddled about 18 nautical miles.  The chart listed fresh water as being available here and it was a major reason for stopping.  There was a small stream flowing into the cove here and it was very pretty.  Three of us went out to explore the two other coves in the area and see if something even better was available.  In one of the other coves we saw a bear, perhaps a yearling, patrolling the shoreline and apparently eating something on the ground, maybe seaweed or some vegetation, so we decided to return to our original spot.

We made camp and had dinner on the other side of the stream, a considerable distance from where we were camped.  We ate below the tide line so that any crumbs or particles of food would get washed away in the next tide cycle.  Ryan found a suitable tree and set up a rope to haul our food supplies up a tree and away from any bears.

We got up on Friday, June 19th and got ready for the next segment of our trip.  We were going to go through South Inian Pass and it was noteworthy because of the fast currents there.  Back home when I was preparing for the trip I saw a note in that section that warned of currents as high as 8-10 knots, so it got my attention.  Timing would be very important as you would want to be there when the currents were going our intended direction of travel.

Before we went anywhere though, we had to carry our boats down to the water.  The tide had gone out and we had a very long carry in from of us, certainly a hundred yards or more, all on slippery rocks and sea weed.  It was amazing that no one fell down during any of the many boat carries that we did.  It was difficult enough in the morning when you were fresh, but at the end of a long day of paddling it was even more of a struggle.

We got under way and passed some very beautiful sites along the route.  There was Soapstone Point, appropriately named for the color of the cliffs.  Then Three Hill Island, obviously named for the three distinct hills on the long slender island.  It was a great landmark that you could positively count on to verify your position.  We passed George Island and then Elfin Cove, a major fishing resort on Chichagof Island.  Finally we entered South Inian Pass.

The current was flowing rapidly and we moved along at a smart pace here.  There were various circulating currents here and the water did not simply flow straight through the pass.  A number of us paddled around these strangely moving waters in some type of attempt to get the best ride.

We got through and went by South Passage and then into Mud Bay, our end point for the day.  We had paddled about 30 miles that day and everyone was bushed.  We set up camp, had dinner and went to bed.  About 2:30 AM in the morning I got up briefly and saw it was already getting light out.

Saturday, June 20th was yet another beautiful day.  We put in and headed up to and around Point Adolphus.  There were waves good enough to do a little surfing and many of us took advantage of the opportunity.  We continued east and took a break at Burger Point.  Finally we got to Port Fredric and hopped over to Halibut Island, having prepared to fight some current but found very little.  From the island we headed to Cannery Point on Hoonah, the end of our journey and where we took out.  We paddled 26 miles this day.

Journey to White Sulfur Springs

After a couple of days of ocean training we took a journey to White Sulfur Springs to relax in the hot springs. The group was split into two smaller groups and Michelle and I each led one. My group consisted of Katie K, Fred L, Becky H and Jeff Forseth was our mentor. Jeff’s role was to be there as a resource we could ask questions of, but not to guide us.

We planned the route and strategy the night before and got up the next morning to begin the journey. Leaving from Greentop Harbor it was very protected and we had no feeling for what it would be like once we got out onto the ocean. Well, it was rocking and rolling and it soon became apparent that we would have to revise our plans to accommodate the conditions.

We had winds and waves and communication soon became difficult. We started out following the shoreline for a while but it really didn’t work out to well. With suggestions from Jeff, we began going from island to island (some were just large rocks) and got some shelter in the lee side of each one, where we could find a piece of calm water, communicate more easily and discuss plans on doing the next section.

We arrived at the bay that White Sulfur Springs was located in and saw countless large timbers piled on shore every which way. We pulled our boats out and went up to see a beautiful log cabin which was constructed over the springs. Inside there was a platform constructed around all four sides, allowing a comfortable access to the hot water. And hot it was, you had to slowly lower yourself in to acclimate to it.

There were cabins nearby and a family was staying there. They had babies, children, and at least one dog. They were very generous to us and build a roaring fire for us to warm up around. We had lunch around the fire and they offered us homemade cookies and it was quite a treat. Even more amazing, they gave us fresh caught and cleaned salmon. What a treat! We had it that evening back at Greentop and it was wonderful.

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