Saturday, 25 November 2017

Gigha - via Alaska - Ping 3

Having survived another night, well, what was left of it, without getting washed away, we emerged from our tents to an eerie light. The water was so still, no wind, misty, other than the spit of land we were on, someone had come along in the early hours and stolen Alaska!

Paddling to where?

Land beginning to emerge
By the time we were getting to the tip of Pakenham Point, we were just beginning to see the opposite side, about 5 miles away, emerging.  Off we set, again watched by lots of otters. Once we reached the opposite side, we hauled out on a beach for a quick snack then turned into Esther Passage and made our way to Waterfall Cove.
Surveying the depth of damp
 As soon as we landed, there in the mud was a large bear print! Out of all the areas we stayed, this was the place I was most wary of. It was a large open meadow, actually it was a large open marsh! As we were looking around, wary to go off on my own, Ken spotted a lemming running along a wee track, there were other prints as well and dollops of poo of varying varieties! All around us was the whistling of Marmots (they do say not to use a whistle if you are lost as this sounds like a Marmot to bears, having heard them, I can understand, why advertise yourself as bear nosh?)

Dressed for dinner

Doing the dishes

By the time we had set up camp (fairly close together!) and set up the tarp, I had settled down a bit and realised what a pretty, if slightly damp,  campsite this was. There were numerous wild flowers everywhere, a lovely fresh water river (another bath for some!) and more humming birds. The views were stunning.

Simply stunning

 Next morning we were headed on down Esther Passage, having a break on the south of Esther Island where we watched the fishing boats starting to head up the bays and rivers for the salmon. The amount and size of salmon that was jumping all around us was quite amazing. We could almost take off our spray decks and have them jumping in! It was no use Ken dropping a line for fishing. Apart from the fact he doesn't catch a lot!  the salmon aren't feeding at this time, they are just hell bent on getting up the rivers.

We had another large open crossing to Perry Island, passing little interesting named islands, Egg Rock, Fool Island and Bald Head Chris Island! Once again out in the open, the surrounding views were astonishing. We really could see for miles, all around and even the snowy tops of the highest mountain ranges I have ever seen - fantastic!

Perry Island

Coming near the bay at Perry, our first sea lions were spotted. Once inside the beautiful bay, we picked our camp sites. Once again it looked like a large beach! We set up camp when "Ping!"  yes, it had happened again! Our tent was now more sleeves and duct tape than anything else! We set up the "kitchen" high on the rocks. It was then time for a swim for Fiona and myself, surprisingly refreshing. Before bed, we lifted various items onto the next rock up. Elaine who had a lovely waterfront view spent a fair bit of the night listening to lapping water. Just as well the kayaks had been tied up as they were floating, as was the tarp bag which was never recovered. Had we not lifted our items onto the next rock, a lot more would have been floating - the tides really are a fair size and we were now past springs!
Sunbathing time

Beautiful clear waters

Day 7 was a fairly gentle one. The sun was once again out, so much so that at our lunch spot, a bit of sunbathing was done, or in Dave's case a bit of a snooze. This was also where we spotted a large humpback away off near Nellie Juan sound, before it flicked it's fluke and disappeared. We then carried on round Perry Island to Tipping point. Yet another stunning view, yet another large pebbly beach. Time for another swim, this time Elaine and Susan joined Fiona and myself - still no blokes out swimming!
Beach babe? Ha!

Interesting fashion - midge jacket and shorts!
Very late evening sun
Although we were sitting in glorious evening sun (quite late on too), the forecast was changing. It was decided that we should have an early start next day, turn tail and run or in our case paddle!
Up early, we started off with another 5 mile crossing over to the corner of Culross Island, skipping round the top with a couple of smaller crossings with the conditions getting a bit damper and a bit breezier!

 This was when navigation went a bit pear shaped. Having another open crossing and being slightly on and slightly off the map I was surprised we had covered our  next crossing so quickly and couldn't quite figure which glazier was high up at our side. Anyway with a couple of strong willed folks who hadn't listened to my previous map queries (I was correct at that time) in the lead at this point, we carried on. We had considered stopping for the night a few miles short of Whittier as we wouldn't be getting collected til the following day anyway, however David was now beginning to suffer quite a bit from the cold, so it was decided to bash on to Whittier a day early. It was at this point we discovered we were in the completely wrong ffiord!!! Thank goodness we didn't stop the night in a place that wasn't where we thought we were as the weather really was pretty well mingin' by now, by the next day we would have been pretty well stuffed! So more layers on David, some warm drinks and off we set back tracking. Bonus was we saw a bit of commotion in the water, it was a large sea lion leaping around feeding. Once back into the correct ffiord we were blown at a descent pace back.
We made it into Whittier and accepted gratefully the offer from a local of a  hand up to the campsite with our kit in the back of his truck. Out of all the campsites we had stayed in, the town site was by far the worst! Chemical toilets, fair enough they were clean. No water, fair enough, pipes would freeze, but the site was covered in dog poo!!! Yuck!

Next day, weather foul, we had a whole day to kill in Whittier! I kept my paddling trousers and wellies on - it was that wet! After breakfast, Ken and I wandered back down the road, under the tunnel and back to the kayaks to sort them out, then headed over to the Swiftwater cafe for steaming hot chowder and a beer - heaven!

Moving house

Never too cold or wet for ice cream
The rain was by now flooding the campsite (washing away poo?) so we uprooted our tents and moved them under the "shelter" then spent the evening in the bar, somewhere warm and dry to sit.
That night, Sue and Elaine were sure they heard snuffling and footprints round the tents!!!!
Next day, Levi came back and collected us. Back in Hope we sorted out kit, got it dried, the sun was out again, repacked it, returned everyone's tent sleeves, then had a wander into "town". Again lots of bear prints in the mud and warning notices about a distressed bear and cub in the area but no sightings.
Hope main street

It was a tiring trip!
 Next morning we all piled back in the minibus, back to Anchorage, then back to Scotland!
 A few lessons learnt. Take pulleys to make hoisting bags easier. Appreciate wild camping sites in Scotland. Speak up, no matter what about navigation.

 But WOW! what a great trip we had. Would I go again? - in a flash!

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Gigha - via Alaska - Ping 2

Zeigler Cove
Well after our rather chaotic day and a bit before, it was so good just to sink into bed. I even forgot we were in bear country! Next morning, we found that Paul has stayed up til high tide, watching how close the water came in.

Breakfast eaten, lunch and snacks organised, otters watched, we were ready for another days paddling, aiming for Hobo bay, that's not to say we looked like Hobos, well not yet! As we got on the water we were watched by another couple of Bald Eagles, just 2 of approx 20 that day!
Looking up College Fiord
 Getting the hang of the sheer vastness of the area took a bit of getting used to, the air seemed so clear and no rubbish, well apart from a rusty old truck on a beach in the middle of absolutely no where! There were quite alot of granite mines in the past here. Lots of whale "splooshes" far off.
Hobo Bay

Or just Hobo's?
Having made it to Hobo Bay and after lots more humming and hoeing about how far up the tide would come, we eventually camped for the evening and listened to "Ping!", yes our tent pole had snapped - again! Scrounging a sleeve, we got that sorted and taped up and settled for the evening.
Passing Harrison Lagoon
Next morning, we were going to be heading up into the glacier area which we had been looking at for so long. When we stopped for lunch, Ken decided on a spot of fishing, managing to catch an ugly brute, an Alaskan rockfish!
Ken fishing

Ugly brute!

Approaching Point Doran

Cascade Glacier

We were now being met by "bergy bits", small chunks of ice.  Turning the corner gave us the chance to really feel as though we were out in the wilds. The whole area seemed so peaceful, except now and again there would be a big rumble, another chunk of ice falling off one of the many glaciers in this fiord. The water had turned an almost tropical colour, beautiful blue, but cloudy with sediment. It really was a stunning area.

We had hoped to camp beside a tidal flat about 5 miles up from the start of the Harriman Fiord, however once we arrived, we found that someone else was camping there. This was a commercial group who had set up here. They had been brought in with a water taxi, had their tents put up for them, while they go off for a wee paddle. The mess they left was shocking. Having admired the cleanliness of the area earlier, this place had rubbish lying around which could quite easily blow away, with bags of open food, in an area known for bears! We carried on a little bit further, but there were more campers - who would have thought, out in the wilds, there would be other folks! so on we paddled and found a lovely beach - all to ourselves.

Beach looks huge, not huge enough!
Once again the tide line was checked, once again there was going to be a lack of beach, however there was a bit of a dip behind the beach which we settles on. Had it been the next day, when we were full on springs, I'm not so sure that patch would have stayed dry! We even had baths at this sight, well some of us had a dip in the river - very refreshing!

Glacial waters

Up and close

Me 'n' He and Harriman
Next morning, off we set, further up the Harriman Fiord. There weren't so many Bald Eagles in this area and still no bear sightings, but a tiny Rufous Hummingbird was spotted. Again the clarity of the air  was surprising, making it hard to judge distance. The Harriman Glacier looked to be within touching distance from our camp, but was still easily 7 miles away. We eventually made it up to what we thought was a safe distance, then saw a tiny boat further up. This boat wasn't that tiny, just still far off, so we jumped back in the kayaks to get a bit closer. We were actually able to get out the boats round the corner a bit from the glacier and walk over to it.

The Mob

Quite a magnificent sight and absolutely enormous! - and noisy, with chunks falling continuously. Back in the boats, we cut across the bay and headed back down the other side, passing Surprise Glacier, quite an active one!
Spot the boat!

Matches my boat!
If you couldn't see the glaciers, you would still know they were around, apart from the colour of the water, the air changed. Between glaciers, it was really quite warm, as you neared the glaciers, the air got decidedly chilly.

 We stopped for lunch just down a bit, not too peaceful. There was an American Oystercatcher claiming this beach as his. They are just like our Oystercatchers but bigger (of course!), all black and just as noisy!

Trying to make icecream!

Our next stop was Point Doran, then across Barry Arm, being accompanied by more otters.
My favourite otter pic!
The Bald eagles were also returning to us. We eventually made it to Pakenham Point. A very thin stretch of land being guarded by 2 magnificent Bald Eagles.
 Once again, the tide line was examined, once again we were camping on the thin, if not slightly overgrown stretch of grass. We were very late having dinner, it had been a long days paddling, 42k, but as the light never completely went, it didn't feel like a midnight feast instead of just dinner. We were watching the water levels carefully tonight as this was springs and boy, did the water rise! See the photos!
After midnight, tide still coming in!