Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Prince William Sound Kayak Adventure

Hey guys,

Mom made a blog, and so can I. For this episode, I am going to put pictures from my summer here. This is my trip from Nellie Juan to Whittier in the Prince William Sound.

This first picture is me with a pretty nice sized silver salmon. I caught it with a pixie in Deepwater Bay. Deepwater Bay is inside Port Nellie Juan, which is inside the Prince William Sound. We got dropped off on the blue 'x' marked on the map below and finished at the red blob. It was a seven day trip. The green spots are where we camped.

Sarah and I owe much thanks to her parents, who took us on this amazing trip. I was impressed by the fact that I had to work to keep up with the two of them. They are pretty tough. The weather was pretty wet for five of the seven days and we had one day of rough seas, but they never showed any indication of giving up. This picture below was the sixth day where we finally had a respite from the rain. The food was great, by the way. Momma Hamm cooked and everything was very tasty.

An itinerary:

Day 1, sunny weather. Dropped off in the afternoon by Poppa Hamm's friend from church. We paddled over to the nearby Nellie Juan Glacier and enjoyed some beautiful scenery and wonderful weather. We hiked up a nearby waterfall and got a broader view of the area. I caught up on some "academic" reading (Without Remorse by Tom Clancy). We stayed the night right there where we got let off.

Day 2, stayed sunny. Paddled over to Deepwater Bay where I caught that silver. Sarah really liked the yellow gravel that prevailed in this granite-rich area. Most beaches in Alaska have boring grey sand (or mud flats), but these were pretty neat. We camped on the smallest piece of beach ever, because the nicer beach nearby was already occupied.

Day 3, the rains began. We awoke to fog. We could hardly see across the bay. It was the wet kind of fog that constantly drizzles when it's not pouring. The Prince William Sound is pretty well know for it's dampness. And why not? It is a rain forest. The plants get their nourishment and we get completely drenched. We were lucky, however, because the rain hadn't permeated every spot yet. We were able to find some dry wood and get a fire going. We made a shelter also under some very large spruce trees with a tarp.

Day 4, the rain continued. We left the next morning all cheery, because we had dried out overnight. However, the dryness didn't last long. It was even wetter than the previous day. Poppa Hamm and I continued our fishing. He caught a silver that was even bigger than mine, as well as two rockfish. We both caught pink salmon sporadically, though we kept only one for bait. We were unlucky with that bait, however, because our attempts at trolling the bottom for bigger fish failed. We made good time and camped close to the entrance of Culross Passage on Mink Island.
Our camp was notable, because it laid on a sandbar on a small island with the tide coming up on both sides. We had such little space and the wind was so constant that we ate dinner in another alcove where we built a shelter. If you look carefully at the picture below, you will see that both Sarah and I are standing on the edge of the ocean. That's how tight the spot was. After we had dinner and went to our tents, the tide crawled up the tarp until it was partially submerged in three feet of water. The tide came up only feet from our tents. We were prepared, though, because with our tide table and a careful look at the previous night's high tide, we were able to know how high the water would come.

Day 5, the rain never stopped, and neither did the wind. Big waves. This was the day we entered Culross Passage. If you look on the map, that's where we went between the mainland and an island, Culross Island. The difficulty came in the fact that we left a calm spot behind Mink Island and had to pass though an exposed area with lots of open water ahead building up waves before we could return to a sheltered passage. If this had been my first kayak trip, I probably would have been scared. However, I have grown pretty comfortable in a kayak, so took the experience in as a thrill. We left that morning and came almost immediately into big waves. When I say "big waves", I don't mean something an aircraft carrier would notice, just something that mandates a small craft advisory, as the marine radio stated. Waves are vaguely shaped like long lines of w's, i.e. "wwwwwwww". Well, if you measure the distance from the bottom of the 'w' to the top, these waves were about four feet high on average, ranging from three to seven feet. Picture this, Sarah and I were in a kayak together, as were her parents. I kept a close eye on them to make sure they were okay (after all, it was a couple hours of intense, nonstop paddling in order to make any progress against the wind). As we turned into Culross Passage, I would constantly be losing sight of them and their paddles. Momma Hamm was periodically yelling for us to come closer. As a matter of fact, Sarah kept the rudder turned towards her parents the entire time, but the current and winds just kept turning us away. My favorite part of the entire experience was smashing down onto the water. I was in the front, so when we crossed over some particularly choppy waves, my half of the kayak came crashing down and splashed with lots of water showering over me. I did nothing to stop this, actually I helped the fall to be even harder by leaning forward when the time was right. I thought that was pretty fun. I paddled constantly with as much strength as I could. After four days of constant kayaking, I was in prime shape for it.
Well, the passage was very calm and we made it all the way to the top where we stayed the night. This was another interesting campsite, due to the improvements we made upon it. Three days of rain had turned the campsite created by others into a small pond. It was marshy country to begin with and it filled up with rain water. We fixed that problem by carrying loads and loads of gravel from the beach up to our campsite and filled it in with rocks, digging trenches to let the water run out. We built a shelter with a tarp and had ourselves a dry little spot to hide from the weather. That was important, because this was the day Sarah and I were feeling discouraged. We were both very, very cold. Our rain gear had been soaked inside and out for two days. The dampness had soaked our tent and thus our sleeping bags were also wet. Nothing is fun when your sleeping bag is wet. But we endured and waited for the next morning to make our move.

Day 6, relative calm. The early morning marine radio forecast said that it was still windy and choppy. We were uncertain whether we should wait the weather out in our nice spot or push on ahead, hoping that the robot voice on the radio lied. Ultimately, we decided to just go see for ourselves what kind of weather was in store.
Now, I must speak of something that was an overarching theme for our trip. Since day 1 (actually, since before we even left Anchorage), Momma Hamm was fretting continuously about the crossing we would make this day with comments such as, "I'm worried about Cochrane." "The weather had better be good when we cross Cochrane." "We'd better stick together when we cross Cochrane." Last year, when we were kayaking in Blackstone Bay, a whole troupe of school-aged children got into trouble there and a couple kayaks rolled, so why shouldn't we? Cochrane Bay is the largest open body of water we crossed on this trip. It had the potential to be worse, much worse, than what we had experienced the previous day. The weather forecast was predicting some waves, and wo be us if we ever attempt to cross Cochrane with any hint of wind.
Well, when it came right down to it, Cochrane Bay was almost as calm as glass. The youngsters who had a dangerous situation were barraged by 40 knot winds. We had none. They shouldn't have tried to cross the bay. We were lucky to have good weather, though we had sense enough to know when to turn back. We stopped only briefly when our objective came into view to turn on the GPS and then scooted our way across it. Sarah was so happy, because we got to go into Suprise Cove, which is a picturesque little alcove that would be perfect for a family outing. We went further into Passage Canal towards Whittier until we passed the head of Blackstone Bay and camped at Decision Point. That was a beautiful day. The rain let up in the evening and we were able to dry out everything. We camped at a spacious, dry beach with trees overhead. It was very nice.

Day 7, the end. It rained the entire day, but we didn't really care. The fact was, we would be home again that night and we could stand getting wet, as long as we didn't have to sleep wet. We paddled long and hard. We switched kayak buddies to keep Sarah's parents from getting too tired. I went with Poppa Hamm. He was happy about that. He could just turn the rudder and I would paddle. He said I was like a motor. Yah, Ben "the motor". Pretty accurate. Feed me and I work for you. That's how it goes. The sight of the day was the rookery. It has lots of seagulls that Sarah insists aren't really seagulls. She calls them kittiwakes. I think she probably has that right technically, but they are really just special seagulls. If they flew ten miles out and you saw one, you'd certainly not call it a kittiwake, just a seagull. It's only in the proximity of their nest that you can properly determine their identity. Sounds fishy to me.

Well, that was the extent of this adventure. Please wait for the next adventure when I have time and feel like it.

(Maps blatantly stolen from other web pages. You know how long it would take for me to draw one!)