Last Monday we left from Ketchikan towards Wrangell, our very first section. Things went well, but we decided to turn around about half way at Yes Bay. Winter is lingering in Southeast Alaska and our planned route overland crossing the Cleveland Peninsula was too ambitious. Here’s how it played out.
We flew to Ketchikan on Monday morning, and after buying fuel and bear spray, we were ready to go. The first day we walked 16 miles to the end of the road at Settlers Cove Campground. It wasn’t technically hard, but our packs felt heavy. We are carrying packrafts, paddles, dry suits, tent, sleeping bags and pads, clothing, and food for 10 days. Are we going to get used to carrying so much weight? We hope that within a few weeks we will strengthen our backs so to make our loads feel a bit lighter. On the road, we were stopped by locals asking where we were going to, a state trooper offered us a ride, the locksmith wondered what we planned to do with the boats and mentioned Erin and Hig’s book and asked if we were going to write one of our own! Finally, someone stopped us and asked us if we were going to be warm enough for the night. We made it to camp, and were given a bit of fire starter by the lovely camp host. We were not so successful at getting a big fire going, it was just too humid.
The next day we set off for our first paddling day. We had a small breeze blowing towards us which made for slow progress. In the afternoon the rain set in and the wind started pushing us into our direction of travel which made for a more tricky landing at the bay where we planned on camping. We had to walk inland on an old mining road until we found a somewhat suitable camping spot. The forests is very dense here and everything is so wet. The next morning we waited out the strong winds until noon and walked 3 miles in the rain to the next bay where we saw a huge wolf print. We set off in our packrafts again but did not go very far, the sea was still too rough with 4-5 foot waves. Fortunately, they were not breaking and the packrafts are very stable!
Our 4th day started well - blue sky, finally! After all the grey skies and the rain, we were so excited and we set off quickly. This day turned out to be beautiful and quite an adventure. We went from sunshine to snow and back to sun and snow multiple times this day. We learned how quickly we can get very cold and had to pull out at beaches to warm up. We also saw a lot of wildlife: orcas, sea lions, seals, sea otters, and countless bald eagles. And we made good distance (17 miles) and arrived to the closed Yes Bay Lodge. The owner of the lodge, Kevin, tried to convince us to not cross the 200ft pass / 5 mile bushwack over to Santa Anna Inlet due to the cold weather and the deep snow. He let us stay in a storage shed in a little bay, a shed we shared with a mink and its food leftovers. We still were considering giving a try to cross the pass the next morning, as it we still had a lot of food and were in good spirits.
However, the next morning the bay had frozen over and it was snowing heavily. We started reconsidering our plan from the previous night. How hard could it be? Was it worth it? Were we ready? We pondered and pondered and ended up deciding that it was not the right time to push through it. Perhaps in a few months, once we have sorted all the small issues with our gear, and are more attuned to the wet and cold Alaska conditions, we would have made a different decision. We contacted Kevin through the Inreach and he agreed to take us back to Ketchikan the following day, as the wind was blowing too strong that day. Kevin was really happy that we made that decision, he has seen others perish in the same traverse that we were planning.
How do we feel? It was not easy to backtrack so early in our journey but we consider this to be our training leg, the one we planned to do in Seattle but got too busy to do so. In so many ways, doing a training leg in Alaska was a much better test to our gear, our paddling technique and our resistance to the harsh weather here. It taught us that we need a better glove system and that we need to research more about conditions and cabins along the way - it’s so humid out here that we need places to dry our gear. But it also made us more confident about our packrafting, the distance we can cover in a day paddling and about many of our gear choices.
We are now on the ferry to Wrangell from where we’ll resume our journey. Funnily enough, it’s the same sailing what we tried to get on 10 days ago in Bellingham. We are also thinking how we can complete the 50 miles we skipped once we are done in the Arctic in September. But first we have a lot of miles ahead of us.
<figure> <img src="/assets/images/04-04/walmart.jpg"> <figcaption> As we flew into Alaska, we had to buy bear spray and fuel again. Our packs were so heavy that the carts at Walmart felt like a vacation for our shoulders. </figcaption> </figure> <figure> <img src="/assets/images/04-04/road.jpg"> <figcaption> Walking on the road towards the start of the wilderness. </figcaption> </figure> <figure> <img src="/assets/images/04-04/camp.jpg"> <figcaption> Our camp the first night, we are still figuring out how to pitch the pyramid shelter to not get condensation. </figcaption> </figure> <figure> <img src="/assets/images/04-04/wolf.jpg"> <figcaption> Massive wolf print. </figcaption> </figure> <figure> <img src="/assets/images/04-04/launching.jpg"> <figcaption> Launching on grassy beach. </figcaption> </figure> <figure> <img src="/assets/images/04-04/pool.jpg"> <figcaption> Finally blue skies! </figcaption> </figure> <figure> <img src="/assets/images/04-04/everything.jpg"> <figcaption> Wearing all our layers to paddle: two base layers, one synthetic, and one (Ricardo) or two (Salome) down layers, a dry suit and a rain jacket. </figcaption> </figure> <figure> <img src="/assets/images/04-04/shack.jpg"> <figcaption> Maintenance shack on a floating pier where we spent two nights, littered with mussels and half eaten crabs brought in by a mink. </figcaption> </figure> <figure> <img src="/assets/images/04-04/crack.jpg"> <figcaption> The salt water bay where we stayed froze over both nights, note the boat below for scale. </figcaption> </figure> <figure> <img src="/assets/images/04-04/breakfast.jpg"> <figcaption> Eating breakfast while watching the ice after the storm has passed by. </figcaption> </figure>