A Trip Where? How does Prince William Sound?

posted Sep 8, 2012, 10:09 AM by Richard Sevenich   [ updated Sep 13, 2012, 7:38 AM ]
Photogenic Berg

I suppose I'm old enough to have a bucket list, nevertheless I don't. But if I did, this trip would have been on the list. Eli and I recently returned from a 6 day kayak trip in western Prince William Sound, sponsored by Breakwater Expeditions. The participants ranged in age from 4 to 75. Eli and I haven't camped in many years (since shortly after the invention of the tent) so Breakwater's support was essential - providing all gear and food. Further, they handled the transport logistics - we just needed to arrange our round trip between Spokane and Anchorage.

We reached Anchorage just after noon on August 21 and splurged on a one-day bus pass at $1.50 apiece. This allowed us to easily get from our hotel to downtown where we wandered about for a few hours. In the evening some of our fellow kayakers arrived and we all took the 15 minute bus ride downtown and had dinner at the Glacier Brewhouse - quite crowded, but fast service and good pizza.

Whittier in Lower Left, Cascade, Barry, Coxe Glaciers Upper Right

Closer, from Hobo Bay North

The next morning 12 of us loaded all our gear and ourselves into 2 shuttles bound for Whittier. Our more specific destination was Prince William Sound Kayak Center where we would claim our kayaks, unload our gear from the shuttle, unpack it from our airline luggage, and repack it into dry bags. Then that was loaded, with the kayaks, onto a trailer which was hauled to the waterfront. The water taxi (Fera Mare) arrived and we helped stow our gear aboard. The Fera Mare worked its way NE up the Port Wells channel and delivered us to our first camp site, at Hobo Bay. At the end of our 6 days of paddling, we would do all this stowing, unloading, repacking, etc. in reverse. Breakwater organized the transportation and gear shuffling so that at both ends of the trip everything went without a hitch and on time. In the past, I have organized less complicated logistics myself and realize that to make this all run so smoothly takes significant effort, skill, and experience - kudos to Breakwater.

In passing, I'll mention that Whittier is a somewhat strange place - but in a stunning setting.
Exiting Alien Spacecraft
Trip Leaders Arriving from an Alien Spacecraft

Her Lunch Looks Better
Exceptional Lunch on Whittier's Waterfront - Does
Her Lunch Look Better?

Paddling Day 1:


The delicious reindeer sausage and scrambled egg breakfast provoked the typical queries about the health of Rudolph. This first paddling day took us from Hobo Bay up Barry Arm toward the seaside glaciers. The rainy, cold day didn't bother the many sea otters and eagles. Most exciting were the frequent sightings of Humpbacks, although none really close. Our lunch spot was a cabin on Harrison Lagoon. By then I was a bit cold, but put on my storm cag and became toasty once again. The end of the long, rainy day found us just south of Coxe Glacier with Cascade Glacier across the way and Barry Glacier 'around the next corner'. There we set up a splendid camp as the rain sputtered to a stop. Dinner featured a delectable spaghetti concoction with shrimp and veggies lurking amidst the noodles.
Cary and Maria, in the Lead as Usual
Typical Day, Typical Glacier

Hope the Glacier Stays Put
Tiny Tents Show Scale of Glacier

I hadn't been near seaside glaciers before (just those in the mountains) and their constant fracturing continued to provide thunder through the night, but we slept anyway.
We calculate a Safe Spot

Paddling Day 2:

The next morning, we stumbled out of our tents to find fresh coffee and tea awaiting. As on subsequent mornings, I chose coffee and Eli, tea. The group decided to keep this camp site for another night. After a hearty breakfast of oatmeal with raisins, almonds, etc., we began our day trip by navigating through the ice debris to Barry Glacier. Being in the rear of the tandem, my view was occasionally blocked by Eli, but with her using her paddle as the bow rudder, we avoided any chunks that would 'hurt' and stayed well clear of any larger bergs. There were many seals hanging out on the more stable ice chunks; perhaps this is a sort of seal's safe haven. Then we headed toward Cascade Glacier, passing between that and a largish rock islet. Not too many years ago, Coxe and Barry Glaciers joined there and the islet was invisible, buried deep under the ice. After again navigating through the ice chunks, we returned to our camp site. Although the day stayed dry, rain arrived in the evening for an overnight stay. Our sleeping bags and tents kept us warm and dry, but as non campers our enthusiasm was dampened.
But Not too Close
Navigating the Ice Chunks

Paddling Day 3:


With the morning appearance of the sun, our spirits rose markedly and I once again allowed Eli access to the sharp objects I had hidden. We had another good breakfast, broke camp, and paddled west toward the waterfall just south of Cascade Glacier. Once near that shore, we worked our way into Harriman Fjord. We traversed the tidal flats with its many hidden rocks, but Eli's bow rudder skills (recently and quickly honed among the ice chunks) kept us from harm. We lunched just west of Serpentine Cove, before continuing to a nice spot below Baker Glacier to set up camp. The sunny day was much appreciated.
Let's Ge Some Fresh Water
Fresh Water

Campsite #3 with Baker Glacier Behind
Camp Site Below Baker Glacier

Paddling Day 4:

In Alaska, sunny days are for wimps, but do keep the suicide rate under control. Today was mostly rainy and cold. The consensus was to keep this camp site and paddle to Harriman Glacier and back, around 11.3 nautical miles round trip. We had lunch on the black silt below that glacier. Both going and coming, we negotiated the drifting pack of ice chunks adroitly. Wash from 2 cruise boats caused a delay on the return - no benefit to be caught by the wash while in closely spaced glacier fragments. As on most days, we saw seals, sea otters, eagles, and the dainty Bonaparte gulls. A rainy night was awaiting us after a brief respite near dinner. Once again I hid all sharp objects.

Paddling Day 5:


Dawn, although with a light rain, promised clearing - maybe sunshine. And clear it did, with the light drizzle evolving into a spectacular day. The forecast high winds never materialized. Our plan was to leave Harriman Fjord and work our way down Barry Arm toward Hobo Bay, but expecting to fall short of that. We made 9 nautical miles averaging a rather slow 2.1 knots. We weren't slow because of depleted energy levels; rather we were busy having close encounters with several humpbacks, here and there. Their pattern is quite reproducible - after feeding for a while, the whale comes up for maybe 7 or 8 breaths ('thar she blows'), and then flaunts its flukes to dive deep for the next feeding run. Our closest encounter came when a humpback swam beneath our tandem and surfaced about 10 feet behind Pam in her single. Others in the group got much better photos than this:
Humpback Getting Air

Earlier at dawn, we had packed our soggy (soggy on the outside, but dry on the inside) tents etc. But in the evening as we made camp, we were able to dry all our damp gear.
Moon at Dusk
Evening Moon

John Takes the High Ground
John Takes the High Ground

Paddling Day 6:

The water taxi would pick us up at about 1 PM at Hobo Bay; so we would have a leisurely 5.3 nautical mile paddle. The day was again sunny, but calm. We packed our dry gear and headed for the pickup. It must be atypical to end a trip here with dry gear, perhaps even illegal - but very nice. The Fera Mare was on time and so were we. The wind exposure changed on the ride back to Whittier, so it was a bumpy ride.
Cary Manhandles Kayak
Fera Mare Will Take Us Home

Conclusions:


1. Despite my snide comments on the weather, we probably had more sunny weather than most experience. The water was never rough, a real bonus.

2. Seeing/hearing glaciers and whales close up made this trip memorable and special - for us, probably a once in a lifetime experience.

3. In general, the scenery was spectacular with snowy mountains a backdrop for the sea.

4. Breakwater Expeditions did an over-the-top job. Earlier I mentioned the professional handling of the relatively complex logistics. Meals were tasty and nourishing, always enough food. The equipment was also top notch. We stayed dry and warm in our tents, despite occasionally wet weather. The kayaks were excellent e.g. our tandem had comfortable seats (not always a given, in our experience) and were not 'fat barges', so they performed well. The guides, John and Todd, came across as genuine, knowledgeable about the area and kayaking in general, and safety aware. They involved us in the decision making when appropriate, but always presented us with only the viable options. They made the trip both fun and interesting. They know their stuff and clearly enjoy their work. I highly recommend Breakwater.

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