Sea Kayaking the Alaskan Coast
The road to a sea kayakers dream is lined by the Turnagain Arm. This is where the famous Bore Tide occurs and people have been known to surf the “endless wave”. We are on our way to the port city of Whittier for a coastal adventure, just a couple hours drive from Anchorage. The scenery is epic along this highway. Mountains to one side and the expansive Alaskan coast on the other.
Historic Roadways to the Coast
In the van, we pass iridescent rivers of crystal clear blue water. These rivers are home to a variety of salmon species. Giant glaciers sit high in the nearby hanging valleys that surround us. They become greeters to the entrance of the historic Anton Anderson Tunnel. Once excavated for WWII use, this road now serves as now a gateway to the Alaskan coast.
Once in Whittier, we steered towards our favorite boating professionals, Sound Paddlers. The local sea kayak outfitters set us up with the gear needed. With the safety briefing behind us, we strap our boats onto the trailer and hop into a van to head to the most optimal put-in spot.
On a nearby rocky beach, we quickly unloaded the boats and split the gear. We all help each other latch down the hatches and double check our items. Making sure to have snacks in our cockpits for the journey ahead. We lift our boats and gingerly cross the slippery rocks dressed to the nines in our water proof gear. With the tide low it was time to go.
We placed the boats in the water one by one. One person would hold the vessel as the other carefully got in, until we were all slowly shoving off from shore. We paddled out and pried on our spray skirts so as to deflect any splashes from the oncoming waves.
The Long Game
First, we went over how to sustain our muscles for the long days of paddling. And most importantly, we learned how not to strain our hands and shoulders on the first day. Soon we were all finding the flow and rhythm with the partners in our boats. And the couple of people who were in a solo kayak seemed to be moving right along as well.
There was a light mist that had been dancing around. However, it did little to disguise the stunning sea scape. As the it parted, we spotted shores decorated in bright mosses and lined with dark, sharp rock faces. Trees leaned over cliff sides, roots climbing deep into the sprawling forests behind them. As we pass the endless amounts of waterfalls we can’t help but get lost in the trance of the paddle on the Alaskan coast.
A Cliffside Spectacle
Looking up into the swirling greys and different layers of clouds, we start to round a peninsula. There is a harsh wailing sound that builds in amplification and echoes off the rock with each paddle stroke. Soon we come upon the cause of this uproar, a high hung cliff adorned with thousands of black footed gulls. These birds are known as the Kittiwake.
These migratory gulls are in their nesting season. They call to their neighbors, giving warnings, and listening for their chick’s distinctive cry. They can pick out their young’s cries from the thousands occurring at once.
These coastal gulls nest on towering cliffs next to the ocean to keep away from predators. We sit at the base of the rookery watching the chaotic synchronicity of parents leaving and returning to nest and let ourselves take in the sound of their calls, they’re singing their namesake: “Kitee-waa-aaake!”
We paddle off and find a beach to enjoy lunch. Some skip stones as others lounge in a brief moment of warm sunshine. With the tide coming in we decide it is better to paddle on than to move the boats again. Once in the water again, we pass islands that seem to be disappearing as the tide rises. It is important to give them a wide berth, as damage to the bottom of a fiberglass boat can quickly end a trip.
In the distance we see a dark figure poke its head from the water, like a scuba diver surfacing. It seems to be observing us and starts to rise a bit further out of the water. Straining my eyes, it seems it is a young harbor seal, testing his boundaries and exploring his curiosity. Upon trying to figure out just exactly who and what I was seeing, the seal plunges back under almost as quickly as he had appeared.
The End of the Beginning
The golden hour starts to paint the waters surface and silhouette the shores. We are exhausted and ready for some rich, warm food. Finally, we pull into the cove that gives the best wind coverage and view of both sides of the shore.
A deep green moss blankets the forest and covers wood boards laid by thoughtful hands. They also give access to nearby camp platforms. Thick bushes and old fallen giants line the way to spring fed streams. It is easy to get lost in the boundless wonders out here. Just as my mind reels over things large and small I am reminded of dinner as the smell of a cooked meal finds me. I finish filling my water, exhausted, I head towards the laughter of camp to reminisce on the day with the others.