Kayaking out of Hoonah

So much work getting ready for a kayak trip! Gear must be assembled and made to fit along with food for a week and clothes into waterproof “dry” bags. My paddling partner and I loaded all in the car, put the kayak atop of it and drove to the Alaska Marine Highway Terminal at 6 am.

We leave Juneau on the MV Le Conte. Low clouds obscure the glacier and its surrounding mountains which is just as well. We are too tired to stand on the rainy deck to watch our town slip away. In three hours we reach the Tlinght village of Hoonah on Chichagof Island. There, in a drizzle we carry gear and kayak off the ferry to a rocky path that leads down to the waters of Port Frederick. After filling a used gallon milk jug with water from the terminal we carry everything to the sea and begin to load the kayak as it floats near shore.

The sigh like exhale of a humpback whale diverts us from the task and we look up to watch it’s black back rise and then roll as it re submerges. The whale repeats this two more times before throwing its flukes skyward in a silent dive. Good start for the trip.

The whale comes and goes from our field of vision as we paddle toward the island where we plan to camp. Rain continues to fall from low clouds that seem to collapses over the green hills lining the shore. At first only golden seaweed lining the shore break the monopoly of grey and green. Then we begin to pass islands of rock worn into provocative shapes like castles and mansions. We stop near one, now stranded from the water by the low tide and eat a sad lunch of dry bread and peanut butter that is soon covered by a film of tiny biting midges (no-seemuns).

When spirits flagged a sea creature appears to lighten the mood. Often it is our new friend, the humpback whale swimming along for a bit before diving. Sometimes a pair of Dahl Porpoise streak past us while chasing down homeward bound salmon. The whale puts on a great show just before we reached our island goal. Over and over it throws itself from the water and sends up great splashes on each side of its body as it crashes back into the sea. We began to worry that it might inadvertently crush us with one his exuberant displays.  It returns beneath the sea as we round the island and pull out at a suitable spot on its back side.

Here no bugs bother us while we set up the tent, cook dinner, and use ropes to suspend the food bags from tree branches to keep them from the reach from the local brown bears. (grizzlies). The rain continues but so do chances to watch animals. Porpoise and the whale hunt for food within 50 meters of camp. Beyond them the waters of Port Frederick offer us passage to the portage where we will have to carry boat and gear over land to a beach on Tenakee Inlet. But that challenge is days away so we settle onto comfortable rocks on the beach to drink after dinner tea and watch the whale roll on his back just off shore. 

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