South Prince of Wales Wilderness Part 7

This morning would mark the end of our trip as a full group. Team WA and Team AK parted ways and continued our separate journeys - Aaron and I had work waiting for us back home, so we departed with three days to paddle up to Hydaburg where we would catch a ride with our outfitter, Katie, back to the airport. We wished our friends farewell and posed for a quick picture before launching our kayaks and paddling away. I was so excited for our friends to have another 10 days to explore this beautiful, wild place.

 Photo by: Nathan Borson

Photo by: Nathan Borson

South Prince of Wales is a very remote place. At this point, we didn’t have a consistent or reliable weather forecast. We could pick up weather from Canada but the conditions in our region would differ from the closest Canadian waters.

We paddled out among the inlet and islands watching the conditions around us to understand what the day ahead held.

 Day 1 of our paddle home.

Day 1 of our paddle home.

 Aaron in the islands.

Aaron in the islands.

 S POW was rich in wildlife. We say many black bear, and quite a few cubs. This mother and her cubs were on the beach rolling rocks to forage for food.

S POW was rich in wildlife. We say many black bear, and quite a few cubs. This mother and her cubs were on the beach rolling rocks to forage for food.

 Wind ripples beginning to show up as we exited the sheltered waters.

Wind ripples beginning to show up as we exited the sheltered waters.

 Wind ripples raced along the water as gusts hit us head on. Ship Island Passage offered protection from big waves but channeled the wind into gusts that were physically strenuous to paddle against.

Wind ripples raced along the water as gusts hit us head on. Ship Island Passage offered protection from big waves but channeled the wind into gusts that were physically strenuous to paddle against.

We could hear the wind as we moved beyond sheltered waters to the more open landscape. Strong headwinds slowed our pace and would stick with us all day for over 18 miles.

We first hit the weather as we rounded Klakas Island where choppy waves and large rollers built up along the point. We we immediately began looking for a sheltered beach where we could rest and put our dry suits on. I let out a huge sigh as we found a spot to rest and to try for a better weather forecast. We stayed on the beach for a little over two hours to let the tides shift and to watch the wind to determine if the conditions were worsening. Out in the channel we saw a fury of whitecaps build and hold for an hour. Eventually, the conditions eased and we made a plan to continue on with re-evaluations at each safe landing area.

Make good choices became our motto - we checked in with each other often, gave encouragement, and made each decision to continue together. Conditions eased a little, but we kept a close eye on Cordova Bay to see what conditions would be coming our way. Point Webster was the feature I knew would bring waves and rough water again. The paddling stretch was long. We were on the water for hours, trying to make good time and cover the distance we would need to make in order to get to Hydaburg on time. We pushed through paddling in conditions that we were skilled for, but we would have preferred to skip on a long tour. We had one more point to round as fatigue set in. Thankfully, we found a few beaches to set up camp after tucking in behind Mable Island for shelter. We found a quiet spot that would do for the night. We ate a quick meal, replenished water, Aaron set up the tent, and we talked about the day and made plans for the morning.

 We took nearly no pictures during the day - we had to keep moving and wanted to keep our boats stable with our paddles in the water. The sunset was beautiful and we tried to appreciate the colors through our fog of exhaustion.

We took nearly no pictures during the day - we had to keep moving and wanted to keep our boats stable with our paddles in the water. The sunset was beautiful and we tried to appreciate the colors through our fog of exhaustion.

 

 

The plan: we would wake up early and if we had calm seas we would paddle hard and fast to cover as much distance as possible. If the weather was not good, we would stay put and wait out the conditions - even if it meant we would miss our flight home. There were a series of large crossings to make over open water and we did not want to get stuck in the waves and wind of yesterday.

We got up at 4:45am and set out as quickly as we could with bars in our PFD for breakfast. We watched the sun rise through the clouds as we got on to the water. A single whale fluke appeared as we set out around Mable Island.

The conditions were perfect - calm, glassy, and we had the tides with us. We made the decision to paddle to Sukkwan Island.

We would be moving quickly to cross Hassiah Inlet, Nutkwa Inlet, and Hetta Inlet (which opens to Cordova Bay). The inlets were beautiful - you could easily spend a week exploring these areas alone. We paddled in an arch across open water, watching the conditions carefully for change.

 Soft morning light as the clouds break.

Soft morning light as the clouds break.

 Looking out to Cordova Bay as we crossed Hetta Inlet.

Looking out to Cordova Bay as we crossed Hetta Inlet.

After our crossing, we bunny hopped an island and a point looking for a beach to land at for a quick rest. We found a spot with large drift logs. Aaron and I stretched, gave each other a hug, ate another bar, and took a bathroom break.

We combed the beach for glass balls, when I noticed two cubs frantically climbing a tree near Aaron. I shouted at him to get off the beach - we didn’t want to meet the surprise of a mother bear charging out of the trees. We left and watched as the cubs settled in a branch of the tree.

We had made such great time on the water that we would likely make it to our expected campsite by lunch.

 Blanket Island

Blanket Island

 Aaron paddling towards the narrows between Sukkwan Island and Blanket Island.

Aaron paddling towards the narrows between Sukkwan Island and Blanket Island.

 Lunch on Sukkwan Island.

Lunch on Sukkwan Island.

We paddled a sheltered narrows between two islands. We saw river otters bobbing up and down in the long grass and smiled at their playful antics.

Our day was quite. We were both quite sore from our day of wind and waves. When we reached our expected campsite, Aaron and I discussed how we were feeling and what our last day could look like on the water. Aaron didn’t want to chance losing this weather window and I wanted to be done with the distance. We decided to paddle all the way to Hydaburg and to just enjoy our last day camping in the islands across from town.

The final three miles of or 22 mile day felt like they had stretched on forever. We explored the small islands - beautiful, but with very poor camping options. The undergrowth was rough, did our best to set up a tent, but knew we would be sleeping in the worst holes of the trip.

We pumped water, enjoyed hot toddies on the beach, and watched pink clouds form as the sun set.

 Hydaburg

Hydaburg

 

 

Dolce far Niente means pleasant idleness, or the art of doing nothing. Nate has spoken often of planning time in trips, and in life to practice this art. Today was a solid day of pleasant idleness. We slept poorly over a series of holes filled with our extra clothes and gear to make our sleeping pads more level.

 Sun hitting the hills outside of Hydaburg.

Sun hitting the hills outside of Hydaburg.

We left the tent at 9am, got around to making pancakes round 11am, and then enjoyed time on the beach until 3. Aaron read while I painted. I suggested a paddle with the intent to circumnavigate around all the small islands near Hydaburg. We only made it around a few before our achy bodies beckoned the beach once again.

 Aaron playing in the water - negotiating time on the water with the lure of hot toddies.

Aaron playing in the water - negotiating time on the water with the lure of hot toddies.

 Little rocky islands.

Little rocky islands.

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 Aaron closing the distance to our beach.

Aaron closing the distance to our beach.

We sat back down with hot toddies for more paining and reading. It was a lovely day to pause and think back on the trip, the time we had on the water, and the places we had an opportunity to explore. Our idle day gave us a chance to appreciate Alaska and soak in all of our experiences. We watched the pale pink of the sunset fade to blue as we got ready for bed.

 Sunset on our final night.

Sunset on our final night.

 

In the morning, we broke down the tent for the final time. We loaded the kayaks and launched the boats for the short paddle to the dock at Hydaburg. Katie Rooks, our outfitter, met us in Hydaburg and helped us organize our gear. We drove out to Craig for a hot breakfast and to share stories of the trip. After a big meal and several welcome cups of coffee, we said our goodbyes and hopped on a plane back home.

 We made it! Aaron Nash and I at the dock in Hydaburg. Photo by Katie Rooks

We made it! Aaron Nash and I at the dock in Hydaburg. Photo by Katie Rooks


Many thanks to our outfitter, Katie Rooks of Prince of Wales Excursion Outfitter, and to our traveling companions, Andis Arietta, Kim Ney, Wayne Howell, and Nathan Borson.

 Photo by Katie Rooks from Andis’s camera.

Photo by Katie Rooks from Andis’s camera.

 Photo by Katie Rooks from Andis’s camera.

Photo by Katie Rooks from Andis’s camera.