I just got back yesterday from Southeast Alaska. Fourteen days of sea kayaking in the most wild and impressive venue ever. It’s hard to know where to start with trying to explain it all; perhaps a somewhat different way of relating the events of the past two weeks will hopefully answer most pertinent questions:
Me: Thanks for agreeing to meet. I just have a few questions about your recent trip to Kuiu Island and the paddle from Wrangell to the outer coast. Are you comfortable?
Myself: Actually, I could use a bottle opener. Or, wait… never mind.
Me: So tell me about the trip. Where did you go?
Myself: Well, we started…
Me: Who is “we?”
Myself: Ah, yes… I went with Marc Mahoney, somebody I’ve been paddling and working with for years. I’ve gone on some trips in the past with folks who weren’t quite ready for prime time, but Marc is a great paddler and an excellent expedition partner. It was his first time in Alaska and he really ate it up.
Myself: Yeah, we started in Wrangell, Alaska, and paddled about a hundred miles out to the Cape Decision Lighthouse, stayed there a few nights, and got in a couple more day trips and overnights in the surrounding area of southern Kuiu Island. It’s out near the open coast, with Coronation Island to the south and Baranof Island just to the north and west. From the lighthouse you can look directly south into the Spanish Islands… I spent a lot of time up by the light, looking out that way. Thinking about the next trip already.
Me: Let’s try to stay on topic, okay? Just for a few more minutes? How was the trip from Wrangell to Cape Decision? Were they a hard hundred miles?
Myself: Not real difficult paddling, no, although my boat was leaking pretty bad by the time we got there. A few too many encounters with rocky shorelines. The big adjustment we had to make was just dealing with the scale of Alaska. Everything is big and every distance is much farther than you might think, at first. It was hard to estimate crossings – and we had plenty of them – and hard to gauge progress, especially out in open water.
Me: Tell me about the lighthouse. What’s Cape Decision like?
Myself: It would be hard for me to talk about it without sounding like a travel brochure. The lighthouse was amazing, sitting right on the southern tip of Kuiu Island. The Lighthouse Society owns almost 300 acres north of the light and there were a lot of projects going on with the folks who were out there. We got the chance to help with some of them, moving stones and wood, building a few items and constructing a new tent platform out in the woods. Volunteers working to preserve and improve not just the lighthouse, but also the surrounding area, and providing an access point for people who want to experience what real SE Alaska wilderness is all about.
Me: And what is it all about, exactly?
Myself: Well, we saw whales every day, sometimes just a few feet from our boats. There were bears on the beach in several different spots, sea lions and sea otter were everywhere. There were humpbacks breaching and eagles diving to claw their dinner out of the water right in front of us. It got to the point that we didn’t even remark on the eagles after a while. They were easily the most common bird we saw during the trip. It’s a powerful and wild place, and to be able to spend some time there was worth every bit of effort involved.
Me:What was the most amazing part of the trip?
Myself: There were so many. I guess I’d have to say it was watching a 50-foot humpback lunge-feeding on herring right next to where we were in our boats. He would herd the fish into slots along the rocky shoreline using taps and sweeps from his massive tail, then push right into the rocks with his mouth open, vacuuming up the little guys. And we were right there in it, just a few feet away. Marc almost t-boned him one time, he came so close.
Me: I assume you’re going back?
Myself: No question about it. I think I’ve gotten a glimpse of my kayaking future, at least for the next few years.
Me: When you go back, what are you most looking forward to?
Myself: Well, we’re in the process of putting together an inaugural trip we’re calling the “South Kuiu Loop.” Probably going to try to put it on the calendar for an attempt sometime next July. It will be some solidly world-class paddling, with a few nights at the lighthouse (in comparative luxury), and possibly a difficult and demanding portage through untracked, and likely treacherous, terrain. We’ll be working on setting up camp sites and breaking some trail before that can happen, so we’ll be going up a little early for that.
Also, we didn’t have the time to explore the Spanish Islands and Coronation, that’s the trip I alluded to earlier. I think it would be an incredible paddling expedition to circle those, starting and ending at the lighthouse. Definitely on the short list.
Me: Can I go on that South Kuiu Loop thing too?
Myself: Naturally. The hope is that, with some effort put in next year to make sure it’s a feasible trip and to establish the route, it will be available as a guided wilderness adventure beginning in 2019.
Me: Thanks for the time. It sure has been great to talk with you. Perhaps we could get together again at some point.
Myself: Hmm. Yeah, possibly. Sure. Maybe.
And now I’m home, to temps in the 90’s and a thick haze from all the out-of-control fires in British Columbia. Home to the dog days, the sluggish summer afternoons that ooze slowly into sluggish summer evenings. Thinking about cool breezes, whales and a lighthouse.