Saturday, July 07, 2007

Glacier Bay: Day Three

The day dawned clear and crisp. Our pristine camp site was transformed by the day light. There was plenty of green grass and colorful wild flowers. The sky was a crisp blue and the distant mountains reflected off of the calm waters.
The first sign of trouble was me being buzzed by a humming bird.
The second sign was the look of concern on PB's and LB's (no relation) faces. They had listened to the AM weather forecast. It was not great. The forecast for today was for light winds and sun. The forecast for the tomorrow called for gusty 20knt winds and rain.
Our original plan called for a 10 mile paddle to Sturgess Island today and then paddle another 5 miles to Garforth Island tomorrow. We would get picked up the following morning, July 9th, about a half mile from Garforth Island.
If this were a series of day paddles in the Bay, I would be perfectly happy with the forecast. However, we were 15 miles from nowhere in unfamiliar kayaks, we had only our tents for shelter, and our handheld VHF radios could not transmit a call back to ranger station. To make matters worse the coast between our current camp sight and Garforth Island was closed for camping due to heavy bear activity.
Getting caught out in a major blow with no options but to sit it out didn't sound like a great option. We had limited food and could stay out maybe one or two extra days if we needed, but we would miss our planes. This was supposed to be fun and it sounded like the fun could end abruptly.
The options passed around were either stick to the original plan or to head back to Bartlett Cove and camp there for the rainy day... Despite the obvious answer we debated all possible angles because heading home early felt a little like defeat.
Then LB mentioned that it was too bad that the pick-up was too far from Sturgess Island to paddle on the last morning of our trip because it would be nice to have a layover day even if the weather turned out to be nice. Half-joking I suggested that we could get a layover day if we just paddled the 15 miles to Garforth Island in one day. If we were home, this option would be a no brainer. But, we were paddling laden barges on icy waters with strange currents...
Surprisingly, the group went for my crackpot idea and we steeled ourselves for a marathon day on the water.
Before we could even begin the marathon paddle we had to get the kayaks, and all of our gear, to the water. The tide was going out, rapidly, and the shallow beach was growing like mold after Katrina. H commented that she getting better cardio workouts launching the kayaks than she ever did at the gym. To make the task manageable, we broke it into three stages: Move the gear to a pile about 3/4 of the way down the beach. Move the kayaks to the edge of the water. Pack them very fast so that we wouldn't have to carry them full of gear in the mud to catch the retreating water. It took an hour and I was ready to nap before we even launched.
Our first leg for the day was a 5 mile crossing to Leland Island. The sun warmed us and the light breeze kept us cool. The water had a slight bounce to it - just enough to make the kayaks glide along the water easily. The only downside was that the forecasted tailwind turned out to be a headwind. Being on the open water surrounded by an unspoiled wilderness was breathtaking. In the distance you could see huge peaks that jutted out of the water thousands of feet. The only sounds were that of the paddles lapping on the water and the happy voices of our little crew.
After a quick lunch, we started the 2nd leg our marathon paddle: a 5 mile run to either Sturgess or Puffin Island. I had hoped that we would paddle closer to the coast line. The scenery begged for some ogling. Unfortunately, we decided that since we were not eating up miles at a good clip, it would be best to take a more direct route. We stayed a good mile off shore and made a bee line for the point that hides Puffin Island. What we could see was beautiful, but a little more nature watching would have been nice. I was beginning to curse the guy who came up with this silly plan...
We stopped on Puffin Island for a 2nd quick break and to listen for the forecast from the Ranger Station in Gustavas. (We had paddled about 10 miles in just under five hours.) The views were spectacular, but the forecast was not. It sill called for high winds and plenty of rain.
The final leg of our marathon was a 5 mile paddle to Garforth Island. Along the way we needed to locate a fresh water supply to refill our empty dromedary packs. This meant that we would have to hug the coast. It was fine by me. The coast between Puffin Island and Garforth Island is dominated by sheer cliffs that rise from the sea floor 500' below to 3000' in the sky. It is pocked with gravel slides and the occasional stream.
The group, while awed by the landscape, began to worry about the prospects of finding water. We saw plenty of streams, but they all vanished beneath the rubble before reaching the shore. About 1/3 of the way to our destination, PB, the water boy, found a stream that wound it way to the shore. He pulled up to the steep shore, and, with a little help from LB, filled our water sacks.
With our water supply replenished, our limbs tired, and our stomachs empty we made a bee line for Garforth Island which was still a few miles away. The tides had turned and were paddling against a building current. However, motivated by the promise of a hot meal and toasty tents, we made excellent time.
PB and H hopped out on the first amenable looking spit of land on Garforth Island. Meanwhile, LB and I drifted with the current towards the northern tip of the island. The southern tip that PB and H checked out was pleasantly wooded but looked a little damp. The northern tip was more exposed point that offered great view up Muir inlet and across the Bay. The northern tip also had tons of sandy beach: ideal for kitchen and bathroom use.
As the sun leisurely slipped behind the mountains, we set up our camp, ate a quick dinner, and slipped into our tents. We were too tired to worry about the prospect of waking up to a cold rainy day.
For PB's take on the day read Kayaking Adventures:Glacier Bay Day 3.

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