We’re very excited to share a blog update with you from our Explorers in Residence Hazel and Luke! Below they’ve shared with us their experience from the kayak stage of their expedition.
As our Kayaks touched the inland waters of the Pacific Ocean at the Southernmost point of mainland Alaska – the prospect of kayaking, biking and running 2000 miles through the largest state in the USA became very real. After months of preparation, logistics and physical training we were now alone – and it didn’t take long for a real and somewhat surreal introduction to this wild place and its creatures all around us.
Over the very first few miles alone, a curious sealion huffed and puffed confidently, while the the conspicuous sharp and curved fins of porpoises broke the surface of the water. Above us, bald eagles – omnipresent in the Tongass temperate rainforest – circled overhead, climbing effortlessly in the thermals. This was just the start of our time spent in the Tongass Natinoal Forest – the largest national forest in the United States at 17 million acres (69,000 km2).
Over the next few weeks we kayaked over two hundred miles, setting up camp on beaches, islands and in forests, making our best judgement as to the both the safest and comfiest spot to spend the night. In the evening, all outside the tent came alive and it didn’t take much for the alien sounds of mysterious creatures to make the imagination run wild. What is out there and what is making that noise?!
During each day we often heard the majestic humpback whales before we saw them – as the gunshot-like crack of their bodies slapped the water and the pop of the clearing of a blowhole broke the silence. There’s nothing like a whale breaching uncomfortably close to the kayak in the open ocean to make you feel that little bit smaller. Then, on one memorable day we were fortunate spectators from afar, as two grizzly bears scoured a beach route for their summer sustenance as we kayaked silently behind them upwind for many miles.
One of the most challenging aspects other than the weather conditions were undoubtedly the mixed semidiurnal tides. Two high tides and two lows per day (each of those reaching varying heights) meant that often landing at low tide required an 8m uphill lift of kayak and equipment to a safe spot as high on the island as possible – often at the highest spot possible. Fast forward 6 hours and we found ourselves awoken in the early hours with the ocean now lapping at the tent – but just about as calculated. Now was not the time for the slightest error with our tidal prediction measurements.
When travelling through rainforest in such a remote place we never doubted for a second that unfavourable weather would play a part in the journey. And so having caused a number of days delay with seas far too rough for most boats let alone a sea kayak, we arrived in the fishing village of Petersburg with a decision to make. With further storms predicted and the expedition time-restricted, should we press on and simply hope to make progress or make a jump to the second stage – and press on with the bike from Haines to Fairbanks, thus cutting short this first kayak stage.
In the end the decision was easy.
In order to be able to share the other parts of the journey in this incredible place and to give us the chance to complete the other sections we headed northwards to Haines – but not in our kayaks.
When biking or running weather can slow progress. Sea-kayaking – particularly in the Pacific – is a very different game where conditions can become dangerous almost instantly and ultimate respect has to be shown to the environment and surroundings.
As is the nature with expeditions to extreme locations, it’s essential to be prepared to adapt when required. It was tough, but a decision that prioritised safety, overall progress and retains the vision and goals of the expedition.
We’re looking forward to coming back next year to complete the Petersburg to Haines kayak section as we press on with the rest of ‘Due North Alaska.
Thanks to Luke and Hazel for the update and we wish them all the best as they press on! Check back next week for the next instalment.