Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Kayak Trip July 27 to August 2, 2015 - Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

This was our third trip to Glacier BayAlaska. Our first trip was in 2001 during our honeymoon and our second was in 2008. Kayaking in the icy cold waters of Glacier Bay surrounded by wildlife underneath and around me, has been the epitome of excitement, risk, adventure and beauty all rolled in to epic trips. Going back for a third chapter was a no brainer.

Cheryl at Reid Glacier, Day 2
Saturday, Pre-trip Day 1
We began our adventure on Saturday, flying out of the Sacramento airport instead of Reno as a convenience for Dave. We arrived in Seattle uneventfully on Southwest Airlines, went to baggage claim to pick up our two 50 pound gear bags, re-checked them on Alaska Airlines and re-entered security. Our flight to Juneau arrived on time that evening and we waited for our bags in the small baggage claims area of the Juneau airport. We met Paul and Bryan at the airport and shared our excitement for the coming trip.

Dave in Charpentier Inlet, Day 4
One of the 50 pound gear bags didn’t make it! Beside myself with panic, we filed a claim and anxiously explained that we had to have our bags the next day by 2 pm. I couldn’t believe that only one bag had made it! Dave was calm and optimistic that they would get our bag to us the next day. All I could think was that we would just have to book another flight home and call off the trip. The missing bag had our boots, tent, food and some other necessary gear for the trip. I couldn't imagine calling this off!

Sunday, Pre-trip Day 2
Alaska Airlines called us the next morning. The bag had been flown from Seattle to Juneau. Phew! They gave us 2500 miles for the inconvenience. I want our $25 for the bag check back, too!
Sunday afternoon, we boarded a huge catamaran ferry with Doc Warner’s Fishing Lodge clients and headed out to Excursion Inlet, about a two hour cruise. Our plan was to stay Sunday night at Docs, then Doc Warner himself, would take us out to our starting point, high up in Tarr Inlet in Glacier Bay National Park. Doc is Linda's father. Linda is Andy's wife. Andy had been on all three trips into GB with us and we were eager to see Doc Warner's Fishing Lodge - a unique fishing venue that offered no "guiding" but just provided the lodging, boats and gear to fish.

Zach (Andy & Linda's son), Lynda (Doc's wife), Andy, Linda
 and Doc on the pier at Doc Warner's Fishing Lodge
A lovely Sunday evening was spent at the Fishing Lodge – an excellent meal, a tour of the Lodge’s operations and meeting some of the staff preceded the tedious sorting of trip gear and food. All went into huge orange plastic garbage bags for the trip to Bartlett Cove the next day where we would rent our kayaks, attend a mandatory orientation to the park and pack up before we continued into Glacier Bay with Doc and his small fishing boat, Big Blue.
Doc Warner at the helm of Big Blue
on our way out to Glacier Bay
Monday, Day 1
Monday morning was rainy and cold for a Juneau summer – maybe 48 degrees, but the grey skies dampened our spirits. The sea was already choppy as we departed that morning around 7:30 am. Doc and Linda, his daughter and the wife of one of our five person group, Andy, traveled with us. So there were seven of us (Andy, Paul, Bryan, Dave and me plus Linda and Doc) in a tiny cabin in a small fishing boat on what would soon become fairly rough seas.

We made it to Bartlett Cove where it was drizzling rain off and on. Dismal. I tried to keep thoughts of a rainy week in the wilderness distant, but our trip in 2008 had left a huge impression on me. That year we had had rain for about 36 hours straight. By the third day, we were all exhausted from the constant wet and effort to stay warm and dry. There had been an extraordinary amount of attention to the details of keeping things as dry as possible. Nothing was dry except our clothes from our dry bags, and our sleeping bags. We had paddled in the rain, set up our tents in the rain, packed up in the rain and shivered despite the 50 degree temps. I dreaded having to go through that again. I remembered how hard we worked to stay dry despite soaking wet tents and an ever-present dampness next to our skin.

We sat through a mandatory orientation film with the Park Service at the Ranger Station in Bartlett Cove. Leave no Trace, use of Bear Canisters and bear and wildlife safety were covered. All things we were all too familiar with. Brown bears (Grizzlies) were really the least of my worries. I was more concerned with the rain and hypothermia from being wet all the time, and some unexpected hazard like a whale or a sea lion capsizing my kayak! Immersion in those icy waters was pretty much a guaranteed death.

Andy, Dave and Paul at the Park Service Office in Bartlett
 We loaded up our rented kayaks on the roof of Doc’s little fishing boat. The “yaks” precariously tied down to the roof and top heavy, Big Blue left the dock in gloomy, drizzling rain and headed out into the open sea and to Glacier Bay.

Big Blue plowed through the rough water and bounced along through the mist and rain. Doc had a GPS thankfully otherwise I don’t know how we would have known where we were. When we noticed the straps flapping against the back door we realized that the kayaks were coming loose. We stopped briefly in Blue Mouse Cove to re-secure the kayaks. I held my breath as Dave and Andy and Paul worked on the roof to tighten down the straps while Big
Park Service Office in Bartlett
Blue rolled on the rough sea. All it would take would be one false move up there and someone would slip and fall into the sea. Linda told me not to watch. So I moved back into the tiny cabin and waited while they fixed the yaks.

The long trip wore on. The sea seemed to get rougher and Big Blue had to slow down. Luckily none of us got sea sick. We began to realize that we wouldn’t be able to get all the way into Tarr Inlet. It was getting late and Linda and Doc still needed to get back to the Lodge, nearly 50 miles away in seas that showed no sign of calming. So we went into Reid Inlet and pulled up to the beach. We unloaded as quickly as possible, but the tide was going out and as Linda had calmly warned us earlier, Big Blue became beached.
Big Blue beached at our Reid
Inlet Beach with Reid Glacier in the distance.
We set up camp while Doc and Linda waited for the tide to come back up. We all went to pump water at a nearby stream and when we returned they had been able to sail out of the Inlet. At the end of the week, when they picked us up, they explained that their trip back to the Lodge was exciting with 5 foot high seas and little visibility. They arrived back around 10 pm to an anxious Doc’s wife and staff.

Tuesday, Day 2
That first night at Reid, it rained. All night. I reluctantly began to psyche myself up for a rainy week. We woke up to a wet tent after sleeping in until 8 am when the rain finally stopped. We were dry inside. The rain did stop long enough for us to dry the tent, fly and ground cloth out as well as our soaked rain jackets.

Left to right: Bryan, Paul, Andy, Dave, Cheryl. Linda took this while
she and Doc waited for the tide to come up to free Big Blue

We left our camp set up and started our first day of paddling north up towards John Hopkins Glacier with our lightened kayaks. The sea was calm and flat, it wasn’t raining although fairly overcast and there was no wind. We were hopeful for a good day. A long paddle up to Jawbone point gave us a good view of the Hopkins Glacier as we rounded the corner. Ice in the inlet deceptively covered huge icebergs underneath, but there were few of them, much less ice in the inlet than 7 years ago. A Bald Eagle watched us from high on a cliff. Our first sighting of a harbor seal thrilled us.
We paddled back to Reid stopping at Ptarmigan beach for lunch where we met Julie and Sylvan who were also paddling the Bay.  They were friendly and we exchanged our stories. They 
Jawbone point to left. Topeka Glacier to right
of bow. My view on the way to Hopkins Glacier

invited us for wine at their campsite at Reid.  We arrived back at Reid late.  About 18 miles and 7 hours of paddling. No rain all day, thankfully. We had a good meal and walked over to meet our new friends Julie and Sylvan. We begged off on the wine as it was late and we all had big plans for the next day. They told us where the old ruins of a cabin were under three Spruce trees and we walked over to look at a few rotting pieces of timber on the ground where the Ibechs had built a cabin and lived for 30 years in the early part of the 20th century.

Andy paddles towards Jawbone point and the Hopkins Glacier

Paul paddles near the Lamplugh Glacier

Lunch spot with a view 

Wednesday, Day 2
Wednesday we woke to rain but eventually it stopped. Able to dry the tent and gear, we packed up camp to head down to the Scidmore Cut which would be a portage into Scidmore Bay. Our plan was to camp at the entrance to the Cut. We met a young couple hanging out on the beach near the Cut who told us we could get thru with 12 feet of tide. This was an interesting bit of information as the Ranger had told us that we wouldn't be able to paddle through with less than 15 feet. As they drank sangria from metal camp cups (and shared!), they told us they had just paddled through most of the Cut with only 12 feet. They reassured us that we would not have to carry the kayaks very much. We bought that one hook line and sinker, as they say.
It was rainy and wet as we searched for a decent campsite near the Cut. The beach was very rocky and the grass was thick and wet. We managed to find a suitable campsite and set up our tents when the rain slowed a bit. Wild strawberries carpeted the area and beautiful purple flowers were everywhere. There was no bear sign and that was reassuring.
It rained that night, but once again, stopped in the morning and we were able to pack up with relatively dry gear. Our trusty light fly that kept us dry while we cooked and hung out under when it was raining gave us confidence that we would get through the week dry and warm.

A Rainbow camp near the cut Wednesday evening.
The red is seaweed. This is relatively low tide.

Andy's light weight tarp was easy to set up and saved us from the rain
while we ate and waited out any showers.
Thursday, Day 3
Thursday morning was gloomy and it rained off and on all morning as we ate our breakfast and planned out our day. We packed the gear without rain but it was a bit wet. We launched dry and headed to the cut, only a short paddle less than a mile from our camp. We arrived at 11:45 or so well ahead of the high tide to be at 2:00. High tide was a predicted 14 feet, a foot under the 15 feet that the ranger felt was needed to paddle through the Cut. But then we had talked with the young couple drinking sangria the night before and chose to believe them about the 12 feet. We paddled in about a half mile then were stopped. Only trickling water through a muddy creek bottom was in front of us.

We began the first of many carries thru rocks and mud. We soon realized that we had been terribly misled, at our own choosing! The tide was still coming up, but there was no way it would come up enough for us to float through the mile long Cut. We often pulled the boats thru small pools of water too shallow to paddle thru. The boats were very heavy with all the gear, probably 150 pounds. It was hard work. The group was impatient to wait for the water to rise higher. So we just carried the kayaks. One person on each end for a 100 foot carry before needing to rest.  It was very difficult. We finally got the last boat through and settled to eat lunch on the beach in warm weather and sunshine.

Dave (at the stern) and Paul (at the bow) carrying one of the kayaks
 the last 100 yards thru the Cut to Scidmore Bay.
We gazed at the vast Scidmore Bay ahead of us with its two large islands and green forested coastline. Scidmore Glacier perched high above the west beach. After lunch we paddled another couple hours through the bay. Packs of harbor seals everywhere. After about an hour of paddling and passing a big island, we crossed over to the west side through some rough water. After cruising the shore line for 45 minutes or so we found an awesome campsite that sat on a large mound above the beach. This flat area had nice trees and easily enough space for all three tents. Moose scat was everywhere, but no bear sign. Streams ran down from the mountain behind us on either side of the camp. The beach was steep enough so that the huge change in tide would make for a shorter carry of the kayaks at the end of the day.
Bryan enjoys a much deserved break and lunch on the
 north beach of Scidmore Bay after the portage through the Cut.

We saw Scidmore hanging Glacier to our west after our
portage through the Cut.
We set up camp and soon heard wolves howling close by. They started around 4 pm and at first it sounded like a lot of them. We listened to the deep howl of one wolf who led several others who chorused with yips and yowls. It was wild and eerie. They serenaded us all evening and we decided that we should not go up either of the creeks into the woods behind us alone.

I put shorts on and walked around in my Tevas. Paul hung a clothes line and we dried socks, rain pants and jackets in the warm afternoon sunshine. The views from our camp were spectacular with the snow covered high mountains and the vast sea in the Scidmore Bay. It had been a beautiful warm day and an amazingly calm and peaceful evening. We sat near our tarp, enjoyed our hot Beef Stroganoff and watched the sunset around 9:30 pm.

Friday, Day 4
We woke up to a partly cloudy morning. No rain yesterday or last night, but briefly it rained in the morning before we got out of our tents. Sleep was easy in my Big Agnes sleeping bag and 3.25 inch pad. I was warm and dry and comfy in my bag. It was hard to get up.We decided to do a day paddle in to Charpentier Inlet then come back here to camp a second night. This was my favorite camp and a day paddle without a fully loaded kayak was always a good choice.

Paddling south into Charpentier Inlet. Calm, smooth
paddle going in. Different story on the way out,
We ate breakfast and packed lunch. We began our paddle south to Charpentier Inlet. A long paddle but flat, glassy water. Steep cliffs with waterfalls everywhere. A few porpoises surfaced. Huge salmon jumped completely out of the water. We made it to the end of the inlet. Seemed like a fairly easy trek on the way out. The return back to camp was not so easy. A head wind made the paddling difficult and slow. The water got choppy at the crossing. The paddle across required focus and persistence. I was very tired when we finally rested at the beach near a beautiful waterfall. It was another hour of paddling before we finally made it back to camp. A beautiful evening. Two bald eagles in the trees nearby. An otter cruised by on his back and two loons sang as they motored thru. A pink and blue sunset topped the day. Chocolate pudding for dessert. Another glorious day. We are so blessed!

View from our camp at sunset in Scidmore Bay looking north up the Bay.
My favorite camp, we stayed here two nights.
Saturday, Day 5
Saturday morning sparkled with promise. No rain last night. We packed everything up and began our last day of paddling. Out towards Blue Mouse Cove we headed. A stop on the opposite beach to pee and I was back in the boat pushing away to see a Hump Back whale blowing three times not 50 yards away! Wow. Four sea lions followed us. They raised as high as they could in the water to watch us. Porpoise in pairs swam easily ahead of us. Otters and seals everywhere. Andy banged on his kayak with his paddle to let them all know we were on the water. The last thing I wanted was one of those creatures to breach near or underneath me!
Kayaks beached near Blue Mouse Cove. This is Scidmore Bay where
we paddled with a Hump Back whale

Sundew Cove looking south from our campsite at low tide and sunset Saturday evening.
Doc, Linda and Big Blue would pick us up here on Sunday.
The whale showed us tail several times as he cruised through the Bay. What an experience to be in the water with a whale. And it was a beautiful warm day with puffy clouds and no threat of rain. The water was smooth and even though we were paddling against the tide the boats cut thru the buttery water smooth as silk. We beached for lunch after crossing over from the entrance to Blue Mouse Cove. Two yakkers walked towards us. Gabriel and his son Raymond were on Day 2 of their trip. Gabriel owns a restaurant in San Diego called Chiquita. Like the banana. He invited us to stop by and visit next time we were in the area. They were the third couple and last people we saw that week.

We paddled in to the south side of Sundew Cove where the map indicated there was water flowing from the hillside. We found water but also lots of bear sign – flattened grass and fish heads and tails! Not going to camp there! We eventually found a campsite with water and a good beach for Big Blue to pick us up. The view and peace and sunshine were sublime. The water in the cove was glass as we waited out the evening.

Andy, Paul and Bryan enjoying the afternoon in Sundew camp

A small yacht cruised in to Sundew Cove,
parked for the night and left early Sunday

Sunday, Day 6
Sunday morning was gloomy. We got up early and began to pack up. It began to rain despite my objections and loud assurances to everyone that it wouldn't! Not on our last day. We hastily set up our tarp and sat dejectedly waiting to see Big Blue, Doc and Linda round the corner from the south.

Then to our amazement, we saw Big Blue go right past the cove around 8:30 am. They eventually came back and found us because they saw Gabriel and Raymond in Scidmore Bay paddling. They told them where to find us in Sundew Cove. Around 10:00 we saw Big Blue round the north corner of Sundew Cove. Our ride home had arrived. And our adventure was nearly over.
It had stopped raining when they arrived and we quickly finished packing up. I helped raise the kayaks overhead as the boys pulled them to the roof of Big Blue where they lashed the boats to a more secure roof enhanced by another wood rail. While they worked I watched a seagull pull finger sized salmon from a small stream running into the cove. He must have eaten 15 or so while I stood there.

Then we sailed away to Bartlett Cove. Beautiful seas accompanied us. A much different ride than the one we took only 5 days earlier.
Loading the kayaks on Big Blue in Sundew Cove. The timing was perfect. 
Tide began to come in just as they got the last one on.
Paul, Andy, Bryan, Dave and me on Big Blue as she pulls away from
Sundew Cove. The orange "necklaces" are the keys to the 
bear canisters. We had 8 of them on this trip.
We showered at Doc's, had a good meal, then boarded the deadhead trip on the catamaran back to Juneau. Bedtime was early for a flight on Monday morning at 6 am. What a trip! What a memory!

Click here for more pictures on my Facebook page. You can access this link even if you don't have a FB account.

Notes to remember for next time:
Tortillas for cheese and bean dip and salmon for lunches was great. Bring packets of hot sauce. Bring more wheat thins.
An apple split between the 5 of us a day with peanut butter cups X 2 per Apple.
Pudding - we ate 3 for the week. Didn't need that much and it was definitely a hassle. Andy and Bryan didn't eat much pudding.
We went thru 2 large summer sausages - 1.2 pounds each. good call. Didn't eat the two small ones.
2 blocks (2.5 lbs. each) of Tilamook cheese was enough.
One packet of Trader Joes trail mix in with the cereal. Did this the last day. Wished I'd done it every day.
Mountain House favorites: Beef Stroganoff, Beef Stew, Chicken Teriyaki. Chicken wraps with tortillas.

2 pair of tights was good
1 pair of shorts good.
Two fleece, yellow kayak jacket, rain jacket and pants good. Need a better rain jacket with gortex or something similar. It got wet quickly both inside and out.
3 pair of socks was good but bring 4 for a trip this long.
Underwear every day good.
Shammy important as well as bandana.
Warm hat and CR Hat as well as purple rain hat all good.
Bring a book!!
No need for hand lotion. Small container of sunscreen worked fine. Used it just once.
Never used a flashlight.
Beef jerky good. Salmon packets good. Bring 3 salmon packets. Ate few snacks because lunches were so good.
Tevas were great to have in camp.

Lodging: extended Stay was $186 for one night! Yikes. Do something different next timed, like arrive the same day as leaving for Bartlett.

Bryan, Paul, Andy, Dave and Cheryl on Reid Glacier.
This map shows our route, in red, and camping spots for the week.

This map shows the west and east arms of Glacier Bay National Park.
We have been up the west arm twice. Our first trip, in 2001, was in the east arm.