In the summer of 2017, Hale and I set off on a much-anticipated sea kayak adventure in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The plan, Whittier to Valdez Alaska, and journey up as many inlets and around as many islands as time would allow in a more than ample budget of 3 weeks.
We are seasoned independent kayak expeditioners, having completed a 3-week 175-mile trip from Hoonah to Sitka on the outer coast of Alaska, self-guided, with paper charts, back in 2009, and another 12-day trip to Yakobi and Taylor Bay two years later.
But this was our first long trip on the water in years - 5 years living abroad in Ireland, and 2 kids later - we were stoked.
Friends of ours convinced us of the virtues of sailing kayaks, so we tried something new, got ourselves acquainted with Hobie Adventure Island sailing kayak/trimarans.
We planned, purchased, prepared and packed, and soon enough it was time for our journey to begin.
My key pieces of gear included:
Kokatat paddle suit, Astral paddle boots and life vest, Skhoop trucker Hat, Coast polarized super light sunglasses, ancient Arc'teryx anorak that has accompanied me for more miles than I can recall, my Xtratuf boots (this is Alaska!) and a small selection of old tried and tested base layers, mid layers, underwear and wool socks.
Interestingly enough, aside from the outer layers being a paddle suit and life vest, the under layers are the same things I wear hiking, trail running, cross country skiing, downhill skiing, biking, camping, on family adventures outdoors, and generally just keep a stash of in the back of my car for whenever an impromptu opportunity arises to get out on the trails.
An idea was born – or at least began to grow. We also wear-tested an early concept fabric.
Back to the trip.
We departed in glorious sun in Whittier – yes Whittier, Alaska, which is always grey and rainy.
Our friends, a couple expecting their first baby with only 10 weeks to go, joined us for the first leg of the trip south to Nellie Juan Glacier.
Sunny skies, good food, awesome camp spots, a few bugs and some good fires made the trip down to Port Nellie Juan like a dream.
Fresh Salmon cooked on the fire, bear footprints, a skookumchuck and extreme tides made for plenty of good opportunities for photos, problem solving, conversations and laughs.
We headed north, with views of Knight Island making our way to Perry Island and on to Little Axel Island to go our separate ways. Our friends back to Whittier, us on to the north shore and inlets of the sound. We saw a puffin rookery on the way there! And a sea lion haul-out on the way forward.
All along the north of Prince William Sound, are fingers of deep bays and inlets, some with waterfalls, others with tidewater glaciers.
Up Eaglek Bay to see seals, sea lions and glorious Cascade Falls.
Up Unakwik Inlet to see a deer swimming in frigid water and Meares Glacier – tidewater and actually a rare case of an advancing glacier rather than extraordinarily receded – and out to find 3 black bears hanging out where we planned to camp.
Islands, inlets, whales, seals, eagles, otters, puffins, sea stars – no other people other than the odd fishing boat on the horizon, or recreational power boat or sailor.
One night when we were on the water, we came upon a surreal sight. Jelly fish by the hundreds.
In Columbia Bay, we saw the unbelievably receded Columbia Glacier. Icebergs that had calved off the glacier floating out into the sound the size of apartment buildings.
Thousands of sea otters – including some that munched their breakfast only feet from our tent.
Our journey on from Columbia glacier brought us into Valdez arm right in the middle of the season opener for pink salmon. If you were one on one of the hundreds of seining fishing boats we saw that morning, those idiots hanging out by the cliff lined shoreline trying to squeak by like a game of leap frog was us.
With the tide, wind and weather in our favor we cruised up the arm and port to Shoup Bay for our final night before making it into Valdez, and the ferry back to Whittier, and reality as we know it.