Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Kayaking to Shoup Glacier (a lengthy post)

All right, I started this journal so I could chronologue my various trips and adventures...so I thought I would finally write one up.

This past weekend, I went kayaking to Shoup Glacier with my boyfriend and four other friends. E and I had planned this trip last year, but I was unable to go because my leave got canceled. So this year, we planned to take the trip at the end of August and I signed up for leave, again.

Shoup Glacier is located in Shoup Bay about 10 miles east of Valdez. I had been kayaking before, but only on a couple of short trips, so E requested that I take that kayak safety class first. I was really glad I did, even though we had a fairly uneventful trip.

Friday we drove from Anchorage to Valdez. This is about a 6 hour drive, so we didn't get there until 1 p.m. After trying to pack all of our stuff into 6 kayaks, we didn't hit the water until 4 p.m. Unfortunately, this is about the same time that the 25kt headwind started up. At first, kayaking was pretty easy. Then the wind blew harder and harder, and the seas really started to pick up. My guess is that they were about 3 feet high. I had the nose of the kayak pointed into the waves, so I felt pretty stable, but I was also getting pretty tired. I was pretty nervous, especially since we didn't seem to be making any headway. Fortunately I had my friend H with me, who distracted me by talking to me, which kept me from the panic zone. This is when I was really glad that I had taken that kayak safety course.

Finally we made it to a beach that E had camped at last year. Unfortunately, last year he camped in June...before all the salmon runs had started. This year the beach was absolutely covered with stinking, rotting fish. There was also a lot of tall grass around. Combine these two factors, and it pretty much spells out bear territory. So we decided to move on. We didn't make it to a better camping spot until 10 p.m., when we reached the spit at the entrance to Shoup Bay. We threw up our tents and ended up cooking our meals in the dark. Everyone was pretty tired and grumpy by then, so we just went to bed after that.

The next morning we got a leisurely start to paddle the remaining 2 miles to the glacier. Just like Thursday, it was easy at first, but became increasingly more difficult as a strong northerly wind started to pick up. Fortunately H was there again to distract me from panicking too much. I even saw a couple of seals! Finally we made it to the spot where the lake in front of the glacier ran into the bay. This was a narrow channel with a fast current, so it seemed pretty unlikely that we would be able to paddle our kayaks in. We got out along shore and pulled them up the channel until we had to get back in. Then E, the strongest kayaker, went ahead and landed, followed by H. They got out and were able to help me and the other newbies (C and D) by holding our tow ropes while we paddled around the rocks. This prevented us from getting swept back out into the bay and starting all over again.

Now we were in the lake that the glacier formed. There was a kittiwake rookery there to check out and plenty of shoreline to paddle along. (Kittiwakes are basically a type of sea gull; a rookery is where they have all their nests). We headed over to the shore where we set up camp. It was still pretty windy, and I was tired, so I rested instead of paddling up near the glacier. After setting up camp and resting, we took a short hike up along some tall cliffs carved by a stream coming down from the mountain.

In the meantime, another group came in from Valdez and set up camp right next to us. We were a little miffed at first; Alaska camping etiquette states that you do not camp too close to others, because people who are camping usually are trying to get away from others. Later, they came up when we were eating and sat down to hang out. They turned out to be really friendly, fun people. Two of them were from the Czech Republic and one guy was from Kansas. We had plenty of alcohol to share, so we just hung out for the evening. It was too windy to build a fire, but we had fun anyway.

Sunday morning, we woke up and packed to start our return paddle to Valdez. The wind had died down, so we paddled up near the glacier. We were lucky enough to see a huge piece calve off right in front of us! Surprisingly, the waves it made were not bad. They were big, but came slowly, so it felt like a gentle rise. Then we turned around and paddled back to Valdez. It was a long paddle, but the wind was light and the tide was with us, so it was much easier than Friday’s paddle. On the way back, I saw 2 or 3 seals. One came up right in front of H’s boat. Then it quickly dove back down once it saw her coming. We also saw a sea otter just outside of Valdez harbor. It was showing off, doing flips in the water and then watching us to see if we were looking.

15 minutes later, we arrived in Valdez harbor, quickly unpacked and started the long drive back to Anchorage. We got in late on Sunday night, but it was well worth it. We had beautiful weather (except for the wind), saw plenty of animals, and even got to see the awesome sight of the glacier calving! Although long and exhausting, I had lots of fun.

I’ll post pictures once I get them developed.


Henna said...

Sounds like fun! I figured you were out and about because you had been so quiet lately. I can't wait to see some picutures!

Anonymous said...

What's 25kt?

L said...

Oh, oops! That's 25 knots, or nautical miles per hour, to non-marine folks. A nautical mile is longer than a statute mile, so that would be roughly 30 statute (regular) miles per hour.