Paddle On Alaska

 The road to a sea kayakers dream is lined by the Turnagain Arm, where the famous Bore Tide occurs, and the Talkeetnah Range is the roadside guardrail.  We pass iridescent rivers of crystal clear blue, fed from the surrounding glaciers and home to where the salmon run. The glacial giants sit high in the valleys, 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 city of Whittier.

The local sea kayak outfitters set us up with the gear we need and drop us at a choice departure spot. With the tide low it is time to go.  As we hit the shore we talk about how to keep our muscles at their best for the trip and how not to strain your hands and shoulders on the first day. We hoist boats to hip level in teams and walk cautiously across the slick rock and washed up kelp. As the waves lap across the boats, we paddle out and pry on our spray skirts. The light mist that has been dancing around does little to disguise the stunning sea scape, with shores decorated in bright mosses and dark jagged rock faces that trees lean over as if scouting adventure for the vast pine forests that lay behind them. As the paddle continues, waterfalls appear in abundance, cascading hundreds of feet. Paddle on Alaska.

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, the Kittiwake to be exact. These migratory gulls are in their nesting season calling to their neighbors, giving warnings, and listening for their chick’s distinctive cry that they can pick out of the thousands occurring at once. They nest on these towering cliffs to keep away from predators and have ample opportunity to hunt for fish to feed themselves and their young. 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 skipping 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. We pass islands that seem to be disappearing as the tide rises and 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 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 golden hour starts to paint the waters surface and silhouette the shores; we are exhausted and ready for some rich, warm food. We pull into the cove that gives the best wind coverage and view of both sides of the shore and unload the boats. A deep green moss blankets the forest of tall trees and covers wood boards laid by thoughtful hands to help access camp platforms. Thick bushes and old fallen giants line the way to spring fed streams. The smell of dinner reminds me to return to camp for a well earned meal finished with a deep sleep.