Magazine article Sunset

Kayaking the Wilderness Waterways of Southern Alaska

Magazine article Sunset

Kayaking the Wilderness Waterways of Southern Alaska

Article excerpt

Kayaking the protected waters of southeastern Alaska is an increasingly popular way to explore the state's wilderness waterways. Paddlers on guided and independent trips explore Glacier Bay and Misty Fiords; others go through island-crowded narrows off Sitka and Ketchikan.

Guided trips are usually geared toward novices. You can join for several days or paddle for only a few hours, perhaps during a cruise ship stopover.

This summer, the plentiful wildlife in these sheltered areas seems even more remarkably abundant in contrast with the devastation resulting from the recent oil spill in Prince William Sound (nearly 500 miles to the northwest). Bald eagles fly by; seals, dolphins, and humpback and killer whales are commonly seen; more

rare are bear, moose, and puffins.

On some outings, you paddle past giant glaciers and soaring coastal mountains; on others, you mosey along narrow inlets fringed by dense forests.

Here we list kayak tour and rental firms in southeastern Alaska. Each can send you brochures, equipment lists, and other information on Alaska paddling.

Rental rate for a single-cockpit kayak is about $30 a day. The cost of a multiday guided tour ranges ftom $105 to $200 per day; on these, your price includes kayak, camping gear (except sleeping bag), and food and possibly excursion boat or floatplane drop-offs or pickups.

The season begins now and runs through mid-September in Glacier Bay, through October in the Ketchikan and Sitka areas. Reserve rental kayaks early particularly for Glacier Bay. Some kayakers planning to use the Alaska Marine Highway ferries (they carry passengers' kayaks for free) reserve their ferry tickets as early as Christmas.

Alaska weather is notoriously fickle; bring good camping equipment and rain gear (up to 20 inches of rain can fall in the summer season). Water temperature is in the mid-40s. Knee-high rubber boots are a must for getting in and out of kayaks and walking on mucky shores.

For ferry rates and schedules, write or call Alaska Marine Highway System, Box R, Juneau 99811; (800) 642-0066. For more on the wilderness areas of Alaska, see page 120 in the May 1988 Sunset.

Juneau: Gastineau Channel, Mendenhall Peninsula, Glacier Bay National Park You can rent kayaks in Juneau for day paddles in the Gastineau Channel and Auke Bay, along the Mendenhall Peninsula, and to Spuhn Island. But the highlight of the area is Glacier Bay National Park, around 60 air miles northwest.

Fringed by the snow-crested Fairweather and Saint Elias mountain ranges, Glacier Bay boasts 16 tidewater glaciers and abundant animal and bird life.

Rentals are available at park headquarters at Bartlett Cove and in Juneau. And one firm offers guided kayak tours.

Most kayakers tour Glacier Bay's West Arm. A ranger at park headquarters gives a daily orientation (also for backpackers) on tides, navigation, and bears.

Lodging and camping are available at the park; there are several inns in Gustavus, nearest town to headquarters. For park information, write or call Glacier Bay National Park, Gustavus 99826; (907) 697-2230.

Daily flights between Juneau and Gustavus are offered by Alaska Airlines (800/426-0333), $94 round trip; Glacier Bay Airways (907/697-2249), $95; and LAB Airlines (907/789-9160), $94. A shuttle bus ($7.50 one way) brings you to park headquarters, 9 miles away. …

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