Chichagof Island to the Inian Islands

When you catch your cadence, it feels like you are dancing on the water.  

With each paddle stroke you reach out to plant your blade, put pressure on your leading foot, unwind as you move the boat forward, pop the blade, twist, and repeat on your opposite side.  The muscles in your hips, quads, arms, and core sway and pull with a rhythm you set to allow your boat to move through the water.  Currents, winds, tides, and the conditions dictate the song you dance to.  On Icy Strait in Alaska, you feel small and connected as you move through the landscape with the ebb and flood of the tide.  

I have missed this connection.  

It had been six and a half years since I had last guided a kayak trip in Alaska.  Over the years, I put away my paddle and picked up other adventures in my new home in the Pacific Northwest.  My fingers started moving to a new rhythm as I scripted emails and managed my days in the city in order to gain a career with a more stable financial footing in my life.  In the city, I earned the nickname Xtratuf for wearing my boots to almost every occasion and I caught myself feeling like an old high school football player reminiscing of my bygone glory days in Alaska. 

Eventually, with the support of some friends and my partner, I realized that even though my guiding days were likely over, I could still make it a priority to spend small pockets of my vacation time on the water in a place that I so dearly love.  So, in June of this year, I found myself on a flight from Seattle to Gustavus for a four-day kayaking trip on Chichagof Island, with a few good friends in tow. 

As we flew towards Gustavus I had a strong feeling of going home.

We were immediately greeted by old friends as we hopped off the plane, and shared stories with the new generation of guides over a potluck dinner in true Gustavus style.  As I walked through our old building, I could see small relics from the days I had lived there; handmade picture frames, photos, and books. The evening ended with hugs and promises to catch up soon. 


Trip Log 

June 30 - July 3, 2017

Party: Ambrose Bittner, Arie Voorman, Kara McKay, Aaron Nash, and Kaylyn Messer. 

 

I invite you to hover over the photos for captions that help to tell the story of our trip.


Gustavus to Pinta Cove 

Day 1. June 30, 2017.

High Tide: 6:37am 13.8',   7:30pm 14.8' 

Low Tide: 12:39am 3',   12:52pm 1.2'   

The Gustavus Dock.  We arrived at the Gustavus dock where we would meet Keith with the Gustavus Water Taxi for a shuttle from the mainland to Chichagof Island.  Icy Strait can be a difficult channel to cross if conditions are not good so we were happy to find a charter drop-off and pick up for our trip.  

The Gustavus Dock.  We arrived at the Gustavus dock where we would meet Keith with the Gustavus Water Taxi for a shuttle from the mainland to Chichagof Island.  Icy Strait can be a difficult channel to cross if conditions are not good so we were happy to find a charter drop-off and pick up for our trip.  

Rain jackets. Waiting for our water taxi. The weather predictions were wet: rain, with showers in the evening.  The first two days of our trip would be a lesson in wetness management and an appropriate introduction to the temperate rainforest of the Tongass National Forest.  

Rain jackets. Waiting for our water taxi. The weather predictions were wet: rain, with showers in the evening.  The first two days of our trip would be a lesson in wetness management and an appropriate introduction to the temperate rainforest of the Tongass National Forest.  

Our first day on Chichagof we spent some time reviewing paddling technique and getting comfortable in the boats.  The rain was quite consistent so it felt nice to continue paddling as a way to stay warm.  

Our first day on Chichagof we spent some time reviewing paddling technique and getting comfortable in the boats.  The rain was quite consistent so it felt nice to continue paddling as a way to stay warm.  

Watching wildlife.  In the past few years, we heard that the sea otters had moved to Chichagof, Island from up in Glacier Bay.  When I had guided here in the past we may have seen one or two sea otters in a day.  During our trip we saw dozens of otters, many with small babies balanced on their bellies.  

Watching wildlife.  In the past few years, we heard that the sea otters had moved to Chichagof, Island from up in Glacier Bay.  When I had guided here in the past we may have seen one or two sea otters in a day.  During our trip we saw dozens of otters, many with small babies balanced on their bellies.  

Whale watching off of Pinta and trying to stay warm.  Even the best jackets get a little waterlogged after consistent rain and we spent a fair bit of time trying to stay warm in the wet conditions. 

Whale watching off of Pinta and trying to stay warm.  Even the best jackets get a little waterlogged after consistent rain and we spent a fair bit of time trying to stay warm in the wet conditions. 

While we camped, we had one whale feeding near our beach.  It would surface 3-4 times to breathe before diving deeper.  We could hear the sound of the whale spouts during the night from our camping spot in the nearby forest. 

While we camped, we had one whale feeding near our beach.  It would surface 3-4 times to breathe before diving deeper.  We could hear the sound of the whale spouts during the night from our camping spot in the nearby forest. 

Humpback whale, Chichagof Island. 

Humpback whale, Chichagof Island. 

The humpback whale arches its back as it prepares to dive. 

The humpback whale arches its back as it prepares to dive. 

The whale's flukes appear in the air as it dives deeper to feed.  At this point in the evening the rain began to lift for a very welcome break in the weather.  You can see the lower point of Pleasant Island and the mainland in the background. 

The whale's flukes appear in the air as it dives deeper to feed.  At this point in the evening the rain began to lift for a very welcome break in the weather.  You can see the lower point of Pleasant Island and the mainland in the background. 

A reprieve from the rain and the confined space under our kitchen tarp.

A reprieve from the rain and the confined space under our kitchen tarp.

Aaron skipping stones. 

Aaron skipping stones. 

The group shares a quite moment in the evening when the rain  broke in consistency and allowed for a  few short break between showers. 

The group shares a quite moment in the evening when the rain  broke in consistency and allowed for a  few short break between showers. 

Pinta Cove to Goose Island Connection 

Day 2. July 1, 2017

High Tide: 7:45am 12.5',   8:26pm 14.5' 

Low Tide: 1:45am 3.3',   1:50pm 2.6'   

After breakfast we packed up our camp, carried the boats to the shore, and put together a puzzle that made sure each piece of gear was in place for our trip to evening our destination, Mud Bay.  Kara and Arie paddle a rented kayak from Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks. 

After breakfast we packed up our camp, carried the boats to the shore, and put together a puzzle that made sure each piece of gear was in place for our trip to evening our destination, Mud Bay.  Kara and Arie paddle a rented kayak from Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks. 

I think one of my favorite parts of the trip was being able to share something that was a huge part of my life with Aaron.  He didn't know me when I was a guide and it was pretty fun getting him into a kayak and showing him around the waters of Icy Strait. 

I think one of my favorite parts of the trip was being able to share something that was a huge part of my life with Aaron.  He didn't know me when I was a guide and it was pretty fun getting him into a kayak and showing him around the waters of Icy Strait. 

Yay, kayaking.  

Yay, kayaking.  

Aaron and Ambrose setting up lunch.  "It's not a guided trip," became my favorite phrase of the week.  My friends were incredible at stepping up to help out in any way that they could and I jokingly used the phrase before giving any advice.  My friends are all avid outdoors people who mainly spend their time in the mountains.  It was fun to be able to talk to them about the tides, and tips to keep the boats floating. 

Aaron and Ambrose setting up lunch.  "It's not a guided trip," became my favorite phrase of the week.  My friends were incredible at stepping up to help out in any way that they could and I jokingly used the phrase before giving any advice.  My friends are all avid outdoors people who mainly spend their time in the mountains.  It was fun to be able to talk to them about the tides, and tips to keep the boats floating. 

Arie pumping water. 

Arie pumping water. 

Icy Strait, Alaska.  We ended up getting slightly wetter weather than normal, but we lucked out with nearly perfect water every day. 

Icy Strait, Alaska.  We ended up getting slightly wetter weather than normal, but we lucked out with nearly perfect water every day. 

Ambrose Bittner paddling the single kayak.  During the trip we rotated boats daily so that everyone would have an opportunity to try out the single kayak.  Paddling the single was a good opportunity for each person to feel the difference in stability, control, and speed between our available boats.    

Ambrose Bittner paddling the single kayak.  During the trip we rotated boats daily so that everyone would have an opportunity to try out the single kayak.  Paddling the single was a good opportunity for each person to feel the difference in stability, control, and speed between our available boats.    

Ambrose paddling along the misty shore of Chichagof Island. 

Ambrose paddling along the misty shore of Chichagof Island. 

Looking down to Mud Bay.  We had anticipated camping at Mud Bay for the evening, but decided to continue paddling to make our next day a little shorter in distance.  We knew we had a tricky crossing to time and we wanted to give ourselves plenty of space to get it right.  We stopped at Mud Bay, checked out the area, and got back into our boats for one of the wettest and roughest sections of the trip.  After a few hours of paddling, we found a campsite on the small spit connecting Chichagof Island to Goose Island.  We camped on Chichagof with a view of Goose. 

Looking down to Mud Bay.  We had anticipated camping at Mud Bay for the evening, but decided to continue paddling to make our next day a little shorter in distance.  We knew we had a tricky crossing to time and we wanted to give ourselves plenty of space to get it right.  We stopped at Mud Bay, checked out the area, and got back into our boats for one of the wettest and roughest sections of the trip.  After a few hours of paddling, we found a campsite on the small spit connecting Chichagof Island to Goose Island.  We camped on Chichagof with a view of Goose. 

Coastal Brown Bear tracks.  Our campsite near Goose Island had fine sand on the beach.  A set of large tracks could be seen above the high tide line.  The tracks were softened by rain and were likely a little old.  We saw some bear sign, moved our tents a little further down the beach, and camped with caution.  Chichagof Island has the highest population of brown bears per square mile.  We took many precautions including hanging our food, cooking below the high tide line away from our tents, traveling in groups, and carried bear spray.  However,  we also realized that in order to camp on this island we would need to be respectful of  the local wildlife and make sure that we made it easy for them to travel along the beaches and paths they created. During the night we tried to differentiate possible bear snorts from human snoring - depending on who you ask, both may have been heard. 

Coastal Brown Bear tracks.  Our campsite near Goose Island had fine sand on the beach.  A set of large tracks could be seen above the high tide line.  The tracks were softened by rain and were likely a little old.  We saw some bear sign, moved our tents a little further down the beach, and camped with caution.  Chichagof Island has the highest population of brown bears per square mile.  We took many precautions including hanging our food, cooking below the high tide line away from our tents, traveling in groups, and carried bear spray.  However,  we also realized that in order to camp on this island we would need to be respectful of  the local wildlife and make sure that we made it easy for them to travel along the beaches and paths they created. During the night we tried to differentiate possible bear snorts from human snoring - depending on who you ask, both may have been heard. 

Campsite #2.  We ended moving our tents slightly down the beach after finding some possible bear sign.   Note to self: next time remember to take photos of the wildflowers - we were surrounded by beautiful tiny blossoms. 

Campsite #2.  We ended moving our tents slightly down the beach after finding some possible bear sign.   Note to self: next time remember to take photos of the wildflowers - we were surrounded by beautiful tiny blossoms. 

Goose Island Connection to Inian Islands 

Day 3. July 2, 2017

High Tide: 9:00am 11.8',   9:22pm 14.4' 

Low Tide: 2:54am 3.2',   2:53pm 3.7'   

In the evening and early morning we heard fog horns echoing off of the water.  Our third day began draped in a thick grey-white fog.  The water was calm and we set out along the coast towards Idaho Inlet.  

In the evening and early morning we heard fog horns echoing off of the water.  Our third day began draped in a thick grey-white fog.  The water was calm and we set out along the coast towards Idaho Inlet.  

Ambrose looks out into the fog. 

Ambrose looks out into the fog. 

Arie and Kara paddle inside of the kelp line.  By day three these two were making incredible time on the water. 

Arie and Kara paddle inside of the kelp line.  By day three these two were making incredible time on the water. 

Aaron Nash looks out into the fog as the shape of Lemesurier Island starts to become apparent a brighter fog builds near the top of the island.   

Aaron Nash looks out into the fog as the shape of Lemesurier Island starts to become apparent a brighter fog builds near the top of the island.   

Kara, Arie, Aaron paddle on calm, glassy waters.  Flat calm conditions like these are some of my favorite to paddle in.  You dance along the top of the water.  With each paddle stroke you can hear every drop of salt water fall off of the paddle blade and back into the ocean.  You hear the water pull around the paddle as you move through the water, and your breath as you move through a dream-like scene with foggy edges blurred like memories. 

Kara, Arie, Aaron paddle on calm, glassy waters.  Flat calm conditions like these are some of my favorite to paddle in.  You dance along the top of the water.  With each paddle stroke you can hear every drop of salt water fall off of the paddle blade and back into the ocean.  You hear the water pull around the paddle as you move through the water, and your breath as you move through a dream-like scene with foggy edges blurred like memories. 

As we entered Idaho Inlet, we stopped for a short break. As the day progressed, the fog began to break up.  We made great time and as we approached the crossing in Idaho Inlet, the other shore became visible to allow for a safe crossing.   

As we entered Idaho Inlet, we stopped for a short break. As the day progressed, the fog began to break up.  We made great time and as we approached the crossing in Idaho Inlet, the other shore became visible to allow for a safe crossing.   

Aaron watches as the fog lifts and breaks in Idaho Inlet, AK. 

Aaron watches as the fog lifts and breaks in Idaho Inlet, AK. 

We radioed in our crossing location and time so that passing boats would know to expect some intrepid kayakers crossing the inlet.  We kept our pace pretty consistent and traveled in a tightly formed group.  As we made our crossing, we took a short break to watch whales breaching in the distance.  The whales must have been more than a mile away, but with the glassy calm water, and no wind, we could see the white water erupt as their bodies hit the surface in a breach.  A few seconds later we heard the boom from the impact the whale made on the water.  The group was likely 8 or so whales and they continued breaching, tail slapping, and pectoral fin slapping as we made our crossing.  We felt incredibly lucky to have experienced such a large and active group of whales.  This experience stayed with us all.  

We radioed in our crossing location and time so that passing boats would know to expect some intrepid kayakers crossing the inlet.  We kept our pace pretty consistent and traveled in a tightly formed group.  As we made our crossing, we took a short break to watch whales breaching in the distance.  The whales must have been more than a mile away, but with the glassy calm water, and no wind, we could see the white water erupt as their bodies hit the surface in a breach.  A few seconds later we heard the boom from the impact the whale made on the water.  The group was likely 8 or so whales and they continued breaching, tail slapping, and pectoral fin slapping as we made our crossing.  We felt incredibly lucky to have experienced such a large and active group of whales.  This experience stayed with us all.  

Aaron Nash approaching Shaw Island.  

Aaron Nash approaching Shaw Island.  

Harbor Seals hauled out on rocks near Shaw Island.  As we paddled to Shaw Island we could see several sets of eyes peering at us from the shallow water.  We tried to give the seals space as we found an area to grab a quick lunch before continuing our crossing across Idaho Inlet.  

Harbor Seals hauled out on rocks near Shaw Island.  As we paddled to Shaw Island we could see several sets of eyes peering at us from the shallow water.  We tried to give the seals space as we found an area to grab a quick lunch before continuing our crossing across Idaho Inlet.  

Kara and Arie stretching their legs on Shaw Island. 

Kara and Arie stretching their legs on Shaw Island. 

Inian Pass is notorious for having strong currents that need to be timed carefully in order to make it from Chichagof Island to the Inian Islands.  The Inians are like a small cork placed in the bottleneck that connects Cross Sound to the Inside Passage starting at Icy Strait. Large volumes of water are squeezed between the islands during each high tide flood and low tide ebb.  Thankfully, the time we were visiting had small tide changes and we made sure to make the crossing during a weak period in the cycle to make the crossing as easy as possible.  The water moved quickly as we ferried across Inian Pass and we made it to the opposite shore in good time.  This was definitely the moment where I was able to relax as the most difficult section of our journey was now behind us. 

Inian Pass is notorious for having strong currents that need to be timed carefully in order to make it from Chichagof Island to the Inian Islands.  The Inians are like a small cork placed in the bottleneck that connects Cross Sound to the Inside Passage starting at Icy Strait. Large volumes of water are squeezed between the islands during each high tide flood and low tide ebb.  Thankfully, the time we were visiting had small tide changes and we made sure to make the crossing during a weak period in the cycle to make the crossing as easy as possible.  The water moved quickly as we ferried across Inian Pass and we made it to the opposite shore in good time.  This was definitely the moment where I was able to relax as the most difficult section of our journey was now behind us. 

When planning our trip I had reached out to Jane and Greg, operators of the Hobbit Hole for permission to come and visit them on their island property.  They were old friends I had met though guiding for Spirit Walker Expeditions.  Jane and Greg live in a unique spot, in a small protected cove on an island that is placed between Icy Strait (part of the Inside Passage) and Cross Sound on the open ocean.  This location makes it particularly tricky to get to with fast and currents that need to be timed well.  The currents contribute to a wonderfully dense wildlife population, supplying rich nutrients for wildlife to feed on. We stopped in at the Hobbit Hole and Jane and Greg recommended a nice spot for us to stay for the evening. We were also able to say hello to Zach Brown of the Inian Islands Institute, and education based program that will be taking over at the Hobbit Hole next year when Jane and Greg retire and move on. 

When planning our trip I had reached out to Jane and Greg, operators of the Hobbit Hole for permission to come and visit them on their island property.  They were old friends I had met though guiding for Spirit Walker Expeditions.  Jane and Greg live in a unique spot, in a small protected cove on an island that is placed between Icy Strait (part of the Inside Passage) and Cross Sound on the open ocean.  This location makes it particularly tricky to get to with fast and currents that need to be timed well.  The currents contribute to a wonderfully dense wildlife population, supplying rich nutrients for wildlife to feed on. We stopped in at the Hobbit Hole and Jane and Greg recommended a nice spot for us to stay for the evening. We were also able to say hello to Zach Brown of the Inian Islands Institute, and education based program that will be taking over at the Hobbit Hole next year when Jane and Greg retire and move on. 

A view of a sea lion haul out in the Inian Islands.  You can hear the sea lions vocalizations from our beach.  While camping we got to hear a series of burps, belches, and grunts that seemed to go on forever.

A view of a sea lion haul out in the Inian Islands.  You can hear the sea lions vocalizations from our beach.  While camping we got to hear a series of burps, belches, and grunts that seemed to go on forever.

Overcast skies, small pockets of blue, and a wine toast completing the Inian Islands crossing.  I think we ended up celebrating the incredible weather more than anything. 

Overcast skies, small pockets of blue, and a wine toast completing the Inian Islands crossing.  I think we ended up celebrating the incredible weather more than anything. 

Aaron cooking up a his famous pasta sauce.  

Aaron cooking up a his famous pasta sauce.  

Kara McKay and Arie Voorman. 

Kara McKay and Arie Voorman. 

Aaron Nash and Kay Messer.  Photo by Kara McKay.  

Aaron Nash and Kay Messer.  Photo by Kara McKay.  

Ambrose Bittner and Aaron Nash. 

Ambrose Bittner and Aaron Nash. 

A small hemlock tree grows atop the rocks on Crescent beach.

A small hemlock tree grows atop the rocks on Crescent beach.

Inian Islands 

Day 4 

High Tide: 10:14am 11.7',   10:15pm 14.7' 

Low Tide: 4:00am 2.7',   3:57pm 4.2'   

We had planned on circumnavigating the islands of the Inian Island group today, but the weather was so nice that we decided to have a lazy beach day with a shorter paddle. I struggled a little with the decision to cut our paddle a little short, but how can you leave a campsite as beautiful as this?  

We had planned on circumnavigating the islands of the Inian Island group today, but the weather was so nice that we decided to have a lazy beach day with a shorter paddle. I struggled a little with the decision to cut our paddle a little short, but how can you leave a campsite as beautiful as this?  

We started our day with pancakes, coffee, and all the apples we forgot to eat during the trip. 

We started our day with pancakes, coffee, and all the apples we forgot to eat during the trip. 

Kara turning out the best walnut pancakes I've ever had.  Many thanks to Jane for giving us a stick of butter which took our camp cooking up a notch. 

Kara turning out the best walnut pancakes I've ever had.  Many thanks to Jane for giving us a stick of butter which took our camp cooking up a notch. 

Aaron fly fishing from the point.  We had hoped to fly fish up the small river at the end of Mud Bay, but the weather wasn't quite right.  So, we waited and tried our hand at fly fishing from the beach.  Aaron and I both spent a good part of the morning casting for Dolly Varden and salmon.  We didn't catch any fish, but it was the perfect area to practice our cast. .  

Aaron fly fishing from the point.  We had hoped to fly fish up the small river at the end of Mud Bay, but the weather wasn't quite right.  So, we waited and tried our hand at fly fishing from the beach.  Aaron and I both spent a good part of the morning casting for Dolly Varden and salmon.  We didn't catch any fish, but it was the perfect area to practice our cast. .  

Kara pauses and lets the boat catch the current to drift as she returned from a short solo paddle.    

Kara pauses and lets the boat catch the current to drift as she returned from a short solo paddle.    

Aaron and Ambrose finding every opportunity to scramble around on rocks.

Aaron and Ambrose finding every opportunity to scramble around on rocks.

Aaron and Ambrose looking at a summer sea lion haul out. Sea lions are not inherently aggressive but can become pushy and a little too curious for my comfort. The large males are big enough to cause me to hesitate to get a closer look of the haul out than we did.  We kept our distance and watched as one of the huge males began patrolling the left point in front of the island.  They can get up to 1.2 tons in size! 

Aaron and Ambrose looking at a summer sea lion haul out. Sea lions are not inherently aggressive but can become pushy and a little too curious for my comfort. The large males are big enough to cause me to hesitate to get a closer look of the haul out than we did.  We kept our distance and watched as one of the huge males began patrolling the left point in front of the island.  They can get up to 1.2 tons in size! 

Kara and Arie. 

Kara and Arie. 

In addition to our fly rods, we brought up my rod and reel to attempt a little trolling.  Aaron and Ambrose tested out the system.

In addition to our fly rods, we brought up my rod and reel to attempt a little trolling.  Aaron and Ambrose tested out the system.

Inian Cove. We spotted a whale breaching in the distance and had the good luck to see it breach several times.  Later, the whale approached a little closer and our group saw the splash of the breach and a series of pectoral slaps.

Inian Cove. We spotted a whale breaching in the distance and had the good luck to see it breach several times.  Later, the whale approached a little closer and our group saw the splash of the breach and a series of pectoral slaps.

Kara on a short break on our return to the Hobbit Hole. 

Kara on a short break on our return to the Hobbit Hole. 

We planned on meeting out boat taxi, the Taurus, back at the Hobbit Hole.  We were able to stop by to say hello to Jane and Greg before departing back to Gustavus for the 4th of July celebrations.  

We planned on meeting out boat taxi, the Taurus, back at the Hobbit Hole.  We were able to stop by to say hello to Jane and Greg before departing back to Gustavus for the 4th of July celebrations.  

Taking the water taxi back to Gustavus. 

Taking the water taxi back to Gustavus. 

One last look at the Inian Islands as we returned to Gustavus for the 4th of July celebrations. 

One last look at the Inian Islands as we returned to Gustavus for the 4th of July celebrations. 

Many thanks to all of the people who made this trip possible; the entire Spirit Walker Family, the Glacier Bay Sea Kayak family, Keith and Zach of Gustavus Water Taxi, Kim Ney, Jane and Greg, and the folks at Pep's Packing and Toshco.

Also, thank you to Ambrose, Arie, Kara, and Aaron for a fantastic trip.