Club Expedition to Alaska 2012
(Whittier to Icy Bay crossing over to Knight Island and return)
“Hey Bear”

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Club Expedition to Alaska
“Hey Bear” (Whittier to Icy Bay crossing over to Knight Island and return)

This clubs` expedition to Prince William Sound is now well established with trips in 2008, 2010 and again in 2012. This time we headed South towards Whale Bay and Icy Bay.  Here we were surrounded by pods of Humpback whales day after day as they circled around us and the islands.  The group made short open crossings, encountered extremely gusty winds (some up to 60 knots keeping us off the water for a couple of days) and enormous tide-water glaciers.  Nearly every day we encountered numerous marine mammals and birds; black bears, sea lions and common harbour seals, sea otters, bald headed eagles; they seemed to be everywhere.

Our friend Tom Pogson (opposite) delivered and collected the kayaks in Whittier, an 8 hour round trip for him from his base in Homer.

Pete Thomas, Carole Thomas, Debbie Hughes, Vicky Howell, Steph Long, Frankie Annan, Keith Steer, Kirk Williams and Ian Bell

“Hey Bear”…….


Carole Thomas

Debbie Hughes

Frankie Annan

Ian Bell


Pete Thomas - Alaska 2012 Photo by Carole Thomas 00007

Kirk Williams

Pete Thomas

Steph Long

Vicky Howell


The flight out and getting to Whittier

Garry, our driver from
Go Purple Shuttles

With all the increases in fuel prices the flights seem to have gone up by about £50 each year to around £1100 this year.  5 of us booked flights together leaving from Manchester via Schipol to Minneapolis and then onto Ted Stevens International Airport in Anchorage, Alaska.  Vicki had already arrived and checked into our hotel at 11am that morning.  By coincidence Debbie was given the seat next to us on the Anchorage flight.  We found Steph in Minneapolis and Kirks flight from Los Angeles although rescheduled 3 hrs later arrived 10 minutes ahead of ours.  Garry arrived after 20 minutes to shuttle us to the Motel 6 so we could grab 6 hours sleep at 2:00am

Wash and showered we went down for coffee at 9:00am and jumped on the Go Purple bus, which was now purple after Gary had decided that we needed a bigger van to get the 9 of us and all our gear and food to Whittier.  We just had time to sort some of our gear before being met by Tom Pogson with the boats.  We had plenty of time to pack, re-pack and launch opposite the Ferry in Whittier.

 More Photos……….



Day One (Friday) – Whittier to Decision Point
Having travelled for around 25 hours most of us arrived around midnight tired but excited. We were met by “Go Purple travel” and transferred to the motel.  Vicky had arrived at around midday and seemed happy to meet us. We arranged to be picked up at 9 for the journey to Whittier and the start of the expedition proper. On the way we stopped at a supermarket and a fuel station to buy the supplies for are expedition. Needless to say Keith and Kirk where first to finish shopping so where back on the bus in pole position to watch the other groups unloading their trolleys and  cast approval (or not) on their purchases. They also had the task of reassuring the driver that we would be back so he could get us to wittier and back in time for his next job.

The journey to Whitter was only about 1 and half hours but we would had to wait for the tunnel to open our way.  As we had time, the driver did his tour guide bit and pointed out things along the way. He made a couple of stops at local viewpoints, one to show us some strong tide currents in the area and at one for the fish viewing platforms (it was the middle of the salmon run). We arrived at the tunnel and after a short wait for the traffic flow to change direction we were off. The tunnel is a single track rail tunnel which has recently been opened to road vehicles but has a toll and traffic control so you wait in  turn for your direction or the train.

The transfer bus dropped us at 1.30pm by the ferry terminal.  This was to be the launching point and where we had arranged to meet Tom with the kayaks at around 2pm. So while we waited and as it was dry we changed into our paddling gear and sorted our food and kit from our travel bag into the dry bags ready for putting into the boats. Just as we had done all we could, Tom arrived with the kayaks. We helped unload and set up the boats as we where to be paddling from them for the next 14 days. Once we had them on the waters edge we where soon packed and ready to go.  Tom waved us off and I think it is at that the point that those who had not been on the previous trips realised this is it, it’s real and there is no turning back.

The first days paddle was only around 3 hours from Whitter to Decision point at the end of the fiord known as passage canal. This was ideal as if gave us sufficient time to check are boats and packing and got us away from the town and out into the wild but still able to make camp and check we had left nothing before getting too far into the trip. We made camp on the beach and settled down to cooking tea. Then my heart sank as my recently fully serviced stove decided not to work very well. So, while Frankie carried on cooking on Keith’s stove, I set to work on fixing it. I soon worked out that the pump was the problem, it was not pressurising the fuel bottle, so traced the fault to a sticky check valve in pump, not a problem as I had also packed a service kit after others stoves had had issues on previous trips. And as Kirk said “It would not be an Alaska Trip without the obligatory issues with an MSR stove somewhere along the way”. After that I had no other problems for the rest of the trip.  Kirks other quote of the day was to do with “him going to make himself pretty for his tent Mate (Keith)”. I think he was a simply going to find his wash kit from somewhere in his boat.  With the weather still fine we all settled down for the night.

Ian Bell    

More Photos…….       Voice over……..

Day Two (Saturday) – Decision Point to Applegate Island


After our first night camping in the Alaskan wilderness while trying to get used to the 9 hour difference on UK time, many of us “first timers” awoke bleary eyed and were somewhat surprised that we hadn’t been devoured by bears. It was the beginning of our first full day on the water and the reasonably bright start soon deteriorated into drizzle with slate grey skies and low hanging cloud hiding the majestic snow capped mountain tops that we knew were lurking somewhere above. At least the winds were light and the forecast derived from the recorded loop on VHF sounded reasonable for a longish day. I had spent the previous brighter afternoon scanning the shorelines for bears as we paddled steadily away from Whittier, our starting point for this two week expedition. Keith said that we would definitely see some at some point but what he was hoping to see was perhaps a whale or two, a creature that had eluded them on previous visits.


 Soon after departing our campsite on Decision Point, we faced an open passage of about 15 kilometres ESE in the direction of Culross Island, one of a thousand or more islands in the Prince William Sound. The passage was generally uneventful and was so for offshore that, with my poor eyesight, I had no chance of seeing a bear. The only thing that kept us on our toes was the passing of the occasional speeding fishing boat whose wake set us bobbing up and down until it passed by. Whittier has a small boat harbour and many of the craft are used by families who simply head off when they can to their favourite spots for some weekend fishing and solitude. It seemed as if scores of them had decided to speed past us as we made our way across to the island.


Stopping briefly at the northern end of Culross Passage to observe the ritual break of “elevenses”, a decision was made that the weather was good enough to head on further and paddle down the exposed eastern side of Culross Island. Refreshed and ready for anything, our little group hugged the shoreline once more and kept eyes wide open in the hope of seeing the first bear. Those with a bit more about them noticed other things of interest out at sea! Steph was the first to comment that perhaps she had seen a whale blowing but Keith thought it was likely to be spray bouncing off rocks. I was convinced that it was probably engine exhaust drifting skyward from a distant fishing craft. After a while it became obvious that Steph was right and what we were all squinting at was indeed whales blowing as they breathed before taking a dive.


Instantly the chase was on and led by Keith who was spinning his paddles like a man possessed, the rest of us did our best to keep up and catch the whales. It was as if they knew of our presence early on and as we headed towards them they swam off in the opposite direction. Without noticing it, we had sped out past the north eastern point of the island and into the wide and exposed sound where the wind and swell had picked up significantly. A few of the team dropped out of the chase and stayed closer to the shore while the rest of us were in hot pursuit. The whales had us on a string, as soon as we got close they headed further offshore until we were reluctantly forced to give up. And so the team was split; six of us far out from the shore while three remained hugging the coast.


Heading south outside Culross Island, we spotted a fishing vessel that clearly had salmon nets stretching out to the shore. Kirk, Debbie and Vicky, the three inshore, paddled past the inshore end of the net while we six, Keith, Ian, Frankie, Steph, Carole and me, paddled to give the fishing vessel a wide berth. While all of this was going on we spotted yet more whales a few kilometres away and right in front of us. Our offshore party was the first to reach them while the inshore team where some distance away from the initial action. Again, I felt that these humpback whales were perfectly aware of our presence but it was more than that, I distinctly had the feeling that they were comfortable with our closeness and were happy to play with us on their terms. It was a group of about six or seven, some of them were perhaps young while larger adults also circled the group. They surfaced and blew loudly very close to us then disappeared for a minute or two before resurfacing again behind us and closer still. The noise from their breathing was like a jet turbine and their tails hung in the air as they slowly descended into the deep. Maybe it’s because we haven’t hunted them for over a hundred years now or maybe they always have been docile and mean no harm but I defiantly felt a connection and had no fear of them. They were in total control and appeared to have no fear of us but only let us as near as they wanted. Gradually they surfaced closer and closer to us until they were only a few meters away. Keith even got a face full of smelly breath as one of them blew spray right at him.


 Our inshore group looked on in amazement from a distance and I commented that it would be funny if one of the whales surfaced close to them and gave them a surprise. No sooner had the words left my mouth than a couple of whales did exactly that, causing Debbie or Vicky to scream in shock. But the whales meant no harm and just showed signs of inquisitiveness.


Carole and I have seen probably over a hundred whales while sailing but this was certainly a rare and privileged experience. I had never before had such intimate contact with these powerful animals and I’ll never forget this time spent in their company. The whales would probably have let us watch them play for hours but it was time to leave them and head further south towards our campsite for the night. It was raining but none of us really cared.


Our destination was a small isthmus close to Applegate Island, a small off-lier from the main island we had been paddling past most of the day. We headed off once more as a close group, smiling and relating what we had each just experienced. Within an hour or so we had reached the southern end of Culross Island and were joined by a single Stellar Sea Lion whose boisterous interest in us gave us the opposite feeling to the whales. This guy would probably liked to have capsized and eaten one of us but we returned snarl with ugly snarl, snort with snotty snort and eventually we saw him off to go and bother some other sources of food.


Arriving at our campsite we glided onto the shingle beach to discover we would not be alone that evening. There was a couple of tents and smoking embers in a fire. A chainsaw and a rucksack lay tucked close to a rock. There was no sign of people but it was obvious that they hadn’t gone far. We discussed whether or not to stay but it had been a long and tiring day so we decided to set up our tents and tarp and await the return of the others. While emptying our boats we saw our first bear of the trip who was swimming the short distance across from Applegate Island. Only half an hour after that we also saw an sea otter floating on its back while chewing on its evening meal. Soon after we saw a small water vole that was quietly searching our campsite for scraps to eat. Whatever next??


As our stoves roared and cooked our own food, the original occupants returned by boat. They were two families and I greeted them saying that I hoped they didn’t mind us sharing their space for the night. One of the women curled her lip and was clearly put out by our invasion. Realising that we had no intention of moving on, she and the rest of her friends and family accepted us and began to chat. Ian was even invited to share their roaring fire in the rainy evening but by then I was already in my sleeping bag dreaming of whales.


What a day!!  Pete Thomas    More Photos…….       Voice over……..


Approximately 38 Kilometres


Day Three (Sunday) – Applegate Island to Crafton Island

Well lets be honest after that amazing experience with the whales I struggled to recall day 3, that’s my excuse for being forgetful and laughing in the voice over as Keith gave me a few hints by pointing to spots on the map. (Now you are going to have to listen to the MP3)

Our neighbours on the campsite soon got over the invasion of kayakers and were very sociable when just about everyone had gone to bed.

The following morning we were up and on the water in good time, after a few days practice packing the boat becomes much easier as you know just where everything is going to fit and the food takes up a bit less space.

So we set out on what was to be a mostly murky day paddling, some low cloud and some rain, but the effect of the whales stayed with me and I really didn’t mind the weather too much. Surprised my neck didn’t ache with the constant scanning looking for whales now not bears.  Today the whales didn’t come as close but every now then we spotted the tell tale spouts of water which now recognized as due to whales not geological features in the rock.

We crossed from Applegate Island towards Lighthouse Reserve, as we slipped past Foul Bay, Eagles were spotted and there was a rumour of a bear siting from Debbie and Steph. We carried on past Main Bay and headed into Falls bay mainly to seek water, but there was always a chance of bears. After being surprised to see large cabins that looked to be under construction, I noticed that Keith was pointing ahead and making the bear signal, (we had a code for bears, eagles, sea otters and whales – ask for a demo the next time you bump into one of the ‘hey bear’ gang), this was followed by telling us to shush, so the only thing to do now was practice my stealth paddling and try and catch up with Keith and Pete who had spotted a bear.

I arrived at the waterfall just in time to spot the bear running off, we sat quietly for a while waiting to see if it would reappear, but we were out of luck. Falls bay was off course full of waterfalls so we filled up all the water bottles before heading off to find a campsite for the night. It didn’t take too long to reach the tip of Crafton Island, which met with Keith’s approval, as there was a chance of wind and fewer midges.

Space for the tarp and the cooking area looked to be an issue, but along the beach there was the perfect spot, outside a historical cabin. Once the tarp was up and tents positioned to everyone’s’ satisfaction, time to cook. Bison mince was quickly turned into bolognaise sauce and served with pasta. Ian and Steph never once complained about my cooking – I am sure they were being nice. Before the weather worsened overnight, Debbie decided to take advantage of the tide dropping and went exploring the smaller island off the tip of Crafton Island, her calls of ‘hey bear’ could be heard by all of us, and disturbed an eagle who flew off to return once Debbie gave up bear hunting and decided to study the fish left swimming in shallow pools left by the dropping tide.

That was quite enough excitement for one day; we know the forecast wasn’t great for the next morning so with the prospect of a lie in, I crawled into the tent to grab some precious sleep………

Frankie Annan    More Photos…….        Voice over……..

Day Four (Monday) – Crafton Island to Point Nowell

The night had been very windy and wet and it was clear that we were going nowhere.  Most of the party slept in listening to the weather beating down on our tents.  As the tide started to drop we were able to make our way to the porch of the old miners cabin where we had set up our tarp to give some shelter.  A morning of brews and reading as we all wondered what was going to happen with the weather.

The forecast hinted that the conditions would begin to ease during the afternoon / evening.  We set off at around 2pm as the wind began to decrease.  However, as soon as we left the shelter of Crafton Island the waves began to build.  We had a tense hour or so as we crossed Eshamy Bay but it was not too long before we reached Point Nowell.  We made our way around the headland to find a sheltered but rocky inlet.  There were two cabins and a very small rocky beach.  There was very little flat ground to set up camp.  Debbie and I made a small terrace on the beach next to the kayaks, the others camped in a small garden / path to the side of the cabin. 

As soon as the tarp was set up the sun came out, we managed to get a small fire going and our gear was hung up to dry.  As the wind had dropped off it was time for all the bugs and files to venture out to find anything to eat.   During the night a fishing trawler came into the inlet and anchored.  Refreshed we were ready for a long paddle down to “dangerous passage” and to head towards Icy Bay.

Vicky Howell    More Photos…….      Voice over……..

Day Five (Tuesday) – Point Nowell to Nassau Fjord

The next few days were spent paddling towards our next destination - Icy Bay via Dangerous Passage. The weather remained calm and we blissfully paddled our way past floating sea otters and leaping salmon whilst bald eagles soared above our heads.

We stopped briefly for a quick snack and a sunbathe, on a small beach whilst looking at icebergs. From a distance they just looked like white dots on the horizon but as we paddled closer they were huge, glistening structures.  As a geographer, I couldn't paddle fast enough in order to see my first iceberg close up. Finally, there I was just five feet away from a real iceberg. We paddled further through a small ice field which floated on aqua blue glacial water. On a sunny day, the scene couldn't get any better-or so I thought.

Around the headland, I was left stunned and completely speechless as I saw Chenga Glacier for the first time. It was a huge, natural river of ice and yet again I sprinted forward to get a closer look at one of nature's wonders. The icebergs became larger and more intimidating. By the time we had reached the ice field; we were reduced to paddling single file because the ice field was that dense. I was smiling from ear to ear.  It was geography heaven for me! 'Now this is an expedition', I thought.

As we paddled through the concrete like icebergs, the noise of the ice scrapping the side my sea kayak made me realize why the  huge pieces of ice sealed Titanic's fate. In the distance, seals lazily used the icebergs as sun loungers and looked on as we carved our way through the ice. After an hour of kayaking through ice cubes we eventually reached a beach, just around corner from the glacier. Tents were hastily put up, as the beach was covered in flies -with a big bite! Going to the toilet that night was pretty spectacular to say the least. It is not often you have a glacier to watch whilst going to the loo!

That night we fell asleep whilst listening to the glacier carving. The sound resembled a severe thunder clap and it echoed eerily throughout the valley. What a perfect day!  Steph Long   

More Photos…….         Voice over……..

Day Six (Wednesday) –Nassau Fjord to Icy Point

 We left the campsite at the mouth of river from the Princeton Glacier and paddled around the corner to take a closer look at the Chenega glacier.  It stretched for several kilometres across the ice front with a large shear face, in places up to 100m high.  We took care not to get too close in case a large slab broke off creating a large impulse wave which could have spread out in all directions and may have been large enough to endanger us.  After staying as long as we dared we headed off through the broken ice field towards the mouth of Nassau Fjord.  A large waterfall cascaded down a smooth slab of granite and gave several opportunities for photos.  We landed on a small rocky beach for elevenses.

After an hour or so we paddled off around the point and back into Ice Bay.  Here we came across two other paddlers who crossed in front of us and landed to fill up with fresh water. We detoured to chat with them for a while before paddling off again towards Tiger Glacier and our furthest most point from the start.  Tiger glacier looked magnificent, a white stream of ice making its way down the valley towards the sea.   It  rumbled and groaned as millions of tonnes of ice and rock ground along its bed.  Every now and then there was a large crack as pieces fell off into the water at its snout.  After the obligatory photographs we landed on a flat beach in front of the glacier for elevenses. 

MSR stoves were soon fired-up and brews put on while we admired the view before us.  There was a strong breeze blowing off the glacier.  This was caused as the air was cooled by contact with the ice field that fed the glacier and now heavier than the surrounding air, descended rapidly down the face of glacier and away down the fjord.  We gained what shelter we could by sitting behind the glacial boulders strewn around the beach.  Suddenly there was a thunderous crack as an enormous lump fell off the front of the glacier.  We watched for about a minute to see if it would have any effect.  Bergy bits bobbed a little and seemed to absorb most of the energy.  About 30 seconds later the sea started to be sucked out just like a little tsunami. Then waves started breaking as the water rushed in again.  It started to break around some of the kayaks which had been carried what we thought was a safe distance up the beach.  Ian Bells kayak and those nearest to it stated to be washed out to sea.  We all ran down the beach to grab hold of any kayak we could.  Fortunately the waves stopped after about a minute and we had managed to save everything by grabbing hold and moving it all up the beach.

After elevenses we climbed back into our boats and paddled over too some magnificent waterfalls that descended from the numerous snow patches on the shaded north side of the Fjord.  We decided to fill our water bottles as we did not know where we were going to make camp that night.  As we paddled out of the Fjord we kept happening upon floating, occasionally sleeping and often feeding sea otters.  The breeze died off as we moved further and further from Tiger Glacier and the water went mirror calm.


The plan was to paddle the 12 or so miles out of Icy Bay and head for Dual Head and Whale Bay.  It was now about 4pm and a few whispy clouds started to form high up (Cirrus).  As we had been in VHF range for a few days as we had lost line of sight by venturing into the back of the Fjords it was time to stop and update the weather forecast.  It did not sound good and a decision was made to abandon our plan and head across the entrance of Icy Bay (about 4 miles) and take shelter at Icy Point.  This was a reluctant choice as we were all very tired after a very long couple of days.  We arrived at the beach after about an hour of paddling.  Where was the campsite, surely this tiny beach did not have room for 5 tents.  Too tired to go on we explored our tiny cove and made small tent platforms.  A little gardening made room of Ian and Kirks tent.  We had a resident sea eagle perched on the tree opposite watching our every move and in no time at all we had pitched camp, sorted our boats and most  important of all started a fire.  “Single match Ian” had not let us down and there was plenty of drift wood which burned strongly in the increasing breeze; there had not been anyone camping of this beach in a long while.

Keith Steer    More Photos…….       Voice over……..

Day Seven (Thursday) – Icy Point to Delenia Island

I awoke at our sheltered campsite at Icy Point with the steady sound of rain battering the outside of the tent and immediately thought perhaps we would be allowed a short lie in to see if the rain abated. Of course not! “This was an expedition not a holiday” as Keith reminded us every so often. On the water by 9 so everything was packed up in the rain and both the inner and fly of the tent was soaking wet. We set off into Jackpot Bay, this was going to be a silent paddle up the inlet to try and spot a bear unawares so no chit chat this morning. We silently paddled in the rain and with little wind it had a rather eyrie and isolated atmosphere. We saw American Bald Eagles perched high on the tree tops looking down on us eerily, and sea otters on their backs, relaxing or eating fish they had just caught, but they disappearing quickly and silently below the water as we approached.

It was not long before Keith put both his hands on head in the bear’s ears mimic pose to let us know he had sighted a Black Bear on the beach ahead, we approached as silently as possible hoping to sneak as close as possible before he noticed or scented us. The American Black Bear (Ursus Americanus) is a medium sized bear native to North America, it is the smallest of the bear species and the most common. It usually prefers to avoid human contact , being aggressive mainly when threatened, or looking for food in human habituated areas where food has been left giving the bears easy pickings, all the bears we saw were the Black species very few if any Brown or grizzlies were in the area that we were paddling. Bears normally retreat fairly quickly into the undergrowth behind the beach but on this occasion the area behind the beach had a small rocky bluff which prevented the bear escaping quickly. It therefore began traversing the beach to find an escape route and this allowed us to get closer and have a better view, as we drew closer the bear became more agitated, and finally when Kirk approached too close it made a exit by climbing up a tree to make its escape. When on land, as in Gordon Buchanan’s BBC program, we walked around calling “ hey Bear” so they would be aware of our presence and hopefully retreat.

We carried on paddling in the rain hoping for another viewing and Pete and Keith spotted another bear some distance off which disappeared by the time they paddled over for a better view. After a while we rounded an island in the bay, and headed across to the other side towards a beach with a overhanging cliff that Keith had spotted that would give us some shelter for our elevenses. Stoves were set up and various beverages were brewed, and as the biting flying insects were held at bay by the rain, a fairly short but relaxed break was had.

 Following this we hugged the coast around to head out of the bay, and towards Delenia Island, were we were to stop for lunch and as it turned out spend the night to ride out a worsening forecast. Delenia is a fairly small island in the so-called “Dangerous Passage” with a couple of small beaches on its south side. Pete investigated one and found the wind blowing hard which would have chilled us to the bone so we ended up on the smaller but more sheltered south east beach. The tarp went up and as there was not much space, the tents were squashed in at close proximity. The tarp and eating area should be away from the tents so any food and smells that might attract the bears in the night were some distance from where we slept. Any small spills of food had to be picked up, in fact Frankie spent a good long time under Keith’s eagle eyes, picking up every grain of rice she had accidently spilled on opening the boil in bag rice. Paddling in the rain is fine, it’s when you stop that I find it more unpleasant as I start to chill down in the damp. Sitting under the tarp at least gives you somewhere to change your wet paddling gear, and hopefully warm up.

The rain continued to fall and on erecting our very wet tent from the morning, we discovered that it was now leaking badly. The thought of a long wet night was in prospect with the worry that the rain could continue for days, my only solution was to open up one of the aluminium foil emergency space blankets and drape it over the top of us. Unfortunately it wasn’t big enough for two so we were still getting our sleeping bags wet. Luckily Kirk came to the rescue with a bivi bag for Pete and I slept wrapped in tin foil like a turkey waiting for the oven. With waterproofs over our heads we had a not too unpleasant night and although damp in the morning, to my relief the rain had eased.

Packing up the next morning we set off and as the sun came out and we gradually warmed up and dried off. All was well again.


Carole Thomas      More Photos…….       Voice over……..


Day Eight (Friday) – Delenia Island to Knight Island (Herring Point)

By this time in the trip my recollection of days has become a little hazy to say the least.  I am pretty sure as we were starting to pack the boats to leave Delania Island that I was greeted by a “Bon Annee” from Keith, and I was convinced that Friday was indeed my birthday, and what a way to celebrate it in style – in Prince William Sound.  Looking on the calendar since returning I see the 25th was actually a Saturday, so hey ho, what’s one day here or there? 

 Having broken my spork (on its first outing) Pete very kindly presented me with a new birthday spork – bright orange so it’s easy to spot on the floor, and Vicky gave me a pair of wooden moose head salad servers.  Bought in Anchorage and transported in her hatch together with a burst red wine bag, which resulted in the said mooses now being marinated to a beautiful shade of purple.

Thanks Pete and Vicky – I will remember this birthday (whichever day it was) for ever.

Leaving Delania Island the intermittent drizzle was drying up and although overcast the weather stayed dry for the rest of the day.  We paddled on up Dangerous Passage, going from headland to headland parallel to the mainland coast, across the entrance to Ewan Bay, to Paddy Point.  We filled up water supplies along the way and eventually arrived at Grit Point at the end of Dangerous Passage.  The decision was made to cross what was now Knight Island Passage and spend a night on Knight Island.  Frankie in particular was very pleased about that as she had told various people that she would be going there and any suggestion of fibbing would be avoided.

The crossing from Grit Point to Shoulder Point took about an hour and a half, the sea smooth and we made good time.  The whales seemed to be having a day off and this was one of the very few days we didn’t see any.  After a brief rest on the water at Shoulder Point we set off up the coast to the north end of Knight Island, past the entrance to Herring Bay and an hour or so later arrived at Herring Point where we set up camp for the Knight.  The usual landscaping of shingle took place to flatten enough room for the tents but we had more room than the night before on Delania Island.  There were rather too many spiders scuttling about in the pebbles for my liking – they were on all the beaches but more so on this particular one.  The fly sheet was kept tightly zippered.

I am pretty sure there was no lunch stop on this day and that I was ravenous by the time we had put the tent up.  We had supper watching sea otters doing their usual floating on their backs stuff whilst crunching delicious shellfish.  Pete had a go at tossing the caber – or was it collecting firewood?  Fires had become a part of the evening ritual now, using the leave no trace below the high water mark method.  It was good to get rid of rubbish before it began to stink.  Taking your spray deck off having had a bag of trash (see, getting to grips with the lingo) in your cockpit all day was not pleasant.  Plus, it might have contaminated my pineapple…….

Woke very early next morning to hear the sea sloshing around quite a lot on the shingle but by the time we got on the water to depart all was calm and tranquil again and we were treated to spectacular views of snow capped peaks many, many miles away on the mainland to the north.

P.S. Pineapple made it to Day 10 before we ate it – it was absolutely delicious despite having been kicked around by my feet in the cockpit, drenched in sea water and bashed about in the bear cache every night (except one – whoops) All trips should have a pineapple!  I bet it was the first one to make it to Icy Bay ever! 

Debbie Hughes    More Photos…….        Voice over……..


Day Nine (Saturday) – Knight Island (Herring Point) to Picturesque Cove

We had stayed the night at Herring point, an excellent campsite with stunning views across the sound to the mountains in the north.  We got up in the morning and Pete wanted to look around the corner so undertook a small excursion out to the headland. Once we were all afloat we headed off to make our longest crossing of the trip (approximately 11 miles) across to Crafton Island.  The weather was just about perfect, flat calm with excellent visibility.

Once on Crafton Island we landed on a perfect white stone beach for elevenses.  We spent a few hours in enjoying the sunshine (we were also waiting for the tide to change direction).  We followed the coast along past Falls Bay and Main Bay towards a small island inside “the reef” near Foul Bay. As we made our way along our friends the Whales made yet another appearance.  We stopped and watched a while and then paddled parallel to them as they blew and snorted their way along with us.

After a very late lunch we started to look for a campsite.  The plan was paddle around in Port Nellie Juan to explore for a few days.  Unfortunately the weather was about to break with very strong winds forecast.  We could not afford to be caught in the exposed Fjord so we decided to put in the miles and cross over to Applegate Island and find a camp at the South End of the Culross Passage.  If the winds were as strong as forecast we may still be able to paddle up the passage and not loose a day.

As we crossed the three miles we saw lots of the now familiar spurts of water indicating whales.  They were back but also had a large flotilla of watching boats. The Whales popped up right in front of us and I could not contain myself and decided that I had to power over towards them.  As I did this the others reminded me that I risked a $1000 fine for chasing or harassing any marine mammals so I eased back as I realised that there were plenty of other small boats around to observe my actions.  Despite this I did get a number of close views of the whales with a number of broaches and blows before they had decided that they had had enough of spectators for the day and swum off out to sea again.

We found a good campsite in the shelter of the passage but we needed water so explored Picturesque Cove.  We found a number of streams; the second one had a 100 or more dead salmon strewn all around.  This was obviously the result of bears.  We paddled into the stream stealthily and caught a glimpse of a small black bear wandering off into the undergrowth.  The third stream had a small waterfall and some of us had a little bit of sport trying to fill water bottles from the boats (there was no way to climb the small cliff and access the water sensibly).

We returned to the beach to make camp after a long, long day but at least we were now within striking distance of the finish.

Kirk Williams    More Photos…….       Voice over……..


Day Ten (Sunday) – Picturesque Cove to Surprise cove

The weather had been quite kind to us over the course of the trip but my sea kayaking skills were tested on day 10  rounded the point from Culross passage and crossed the Sound heading for Surprise Cove. We had received radio reports that the winds would become extremely strong over the next few days so we had to cross the Sound whether we liked it or not; as it was going to get a whole lot worse. It was the first time I had experience rough seas in a sea kayak. As the waves pushed some of us towards the rocks; both the incoming waves and the reflective waves battered my kayak. At one point, whilst I was at the trough of a wave, I could not see the others trying to head further out to sea. My heart was racing as I was bombarded by massive waves. Eventually, through sheer determination and “not wanting to die”, I paddled through the huge waves and high winds and made my way out into deeper water. It was like being in a “tsunami”. After another hour of paddling and praying, I was relieved to see Surprise Cove.  This was extremely sheltered and it even had wooden platforms for our tents.

We spent the next two days at Surprise Cove as there was a storm out to sea. At Surprise Cove though, the sun shone gloriously and we sat on the beach sheltered from the 50 knot winds. The beach became a laundrette as we set about drying our sodden kit and we also dried ourselves out with two days of sunbathing, reading, listening to music and relaxing.   Steph Long    More Photos……      Voice over……mp3..

Day Eleven (Monday) – Surprise cove – Storm Bound

We woke up in Surprise Cover after a very wet night.  The tents, paddling gear and everything was absolutely soaking but it was now clear skies and promised a very sunny day.  We were still waiting for the storm to roll in which was forecast to appear in the afternoon.  The forecast was for 50 knot winds which would make paddling a tad difficult.  We all had a very lazy day spent drying our kit, swimming, cooking and generally recovering from the previous 10 days.

By the afternoon the breeze had started to pick up, the tarp began to move around, the trees started to bend and the water had bigger ripples.  By the evening the wind started to really gust through.  That night we were worried that our tent was going to be squashed if a tree fell down on top of us.  Fortunately Surprise Bay was extremely sheltered so we all survived in tact.  However we were glad that the tarp had been taken down as precaution.


Vicky Howell      More Photos…….       Voice over…….mp3.


Day Twelve (Tuesday) – Surprise Cove – Storm Bound

Another day at Surprise Cove.  A really beautiful sunny day with a nice lie in.  We slept on the lovely tent platforms with the security of my “rock solid quasar”.  The winds were a little tasty during the evening / night, with reportedly 40-50 mph winds.  Fortunately there were no trees down on us.  A coffee and breakfast at about 10:00 am.  I spent the rest of the morning exploring the state park trails behind the campsite, I found a small lake with what looked like a stream emanating from it.  It later turned into a good little waterfall.

All my kit was now bone dry so I spent the rest of the day reading and relaxing.  The usual evening meal of creamy potato soup, salami and pasta.

I was now looking to get back in to a kayak and getting back onto the water tomorrow.  A good holiday day!    Kirk Williams      More Photos…….     Voice over…….mp3.


Day Thirteen (Wednesday) – Surprise cove to Squirrel Cove

It was going to be a long day and the plan was to paddle deep into Blackstone Bay and visit the many glaciers that terminate at its head.


Emerging from my pit at 5 in the morning to ensure we got on the water by 7 to take advantage of the flood tide and light winds, I watched the dawn gradually light the settled sky following our enforced two-day shelter from the predicted 50 – 60 knot winds. Feeling a bit lethargic and slow after our restful couple of days off, I paddled at the back of the group and marvelled at how the low dawn light illuminated our team and the tops of the mountains behind them reflecting in the calm waters. Our stay at Surprise Cove was a good, safe and sheltered one and it allowed us all to recharge our batteries, dry our kit and generally sort ourselves out. What a pity that this next paddle was to be the second to last one we would do on our Alaskan odyssey.


 Soon after paddling around the corner from Surprise Cove and into open water a Bald Eagle flew over our heads. It was one of dozens that we saw on the trip but it’s hard to be blasé about seeing such a large and noble looking symbol of the USA flying just meters away from us. Very close to Whittier now, our start point and end destination, we heard the buzz of fishing boat engines as we paddled deeper into Blackstone Bay.


A few hours passed carelessly as we all paddled steadily towards our goal. Ian stopped suddenly and signalled to the rest of us by waving fingers of both hands on each side of his head; by now we recognised that this was a signal that a bear was close by. Sure enough, there it was, initially close to the shoreline and, spotting us by smell, sound or sight well before we saw it, the bear was already heading uphill and away from whatever danger it thought we represented. Perhaps it was alarmed by 9 multi-coloured smelly fashion victims gawping in its direction. Whatever the reason it soon evaporated out of sight and we were left only with the memory and perhaps a blurry photograph or two.


Although the tide was flooding towards the head of the bay where the glaciers where, at times we experienced a noticeable counter current that we had to paddle against. This came from the fresh water flowing from the melting glaciers and, being less dense than sea water, the fresh water flows on top. The sea water which can flow in the opposite direction below the surface as it probably was on this occasion.


Pressing on, Willard Island became obvious to our right in the centre of the bay. This area gained notoriety in Paul Twardock’s book “Kayaking & Camping in Prince William Sound” as he describes how a couple paddlers lost their lives there when they capsized in cold water overfalls probably caused by Spring tides and adverse winds. Thankfully it was a calm day and we saw only slight evidence on these “skookemchucks” as the indigenous “First Nation” people call overfalls. We stopped briefly for elevenses on the terminal moraine that connects the mainland with Willard Island and forms a glacial dam, separating shallow, cold, brackish water close to the glacier from warmer and deeper seawater on the other side. From our unusual snack venue we could clearly see many of the glaciers we were about to get much closer to. In Blackstone Bay alone, there are seven glaciers and many of them tide line, that’s to say they actually terminate in the sea. The tide was coming in quickly so we couldn’t stay there long as the moraine would quickly cover. We were forced to gobble our elevenses as fast as we could and get back in our boats. This was a frequent problem for Frankie who suffered from severe indigestion as a result. Unfortunately, fly ridden beaches, encroaching tides and even mini-tsunamis caused by calving glaciers often forced us to get back on the water sooner than we had hoped.

After passing a number of spectacular glaciers with deep crevasses on our left that didn’t tide line, we were soon at one that did. Blackstone Glacier falls gradually from a vast snow mass into the sea and the sound of it calving can be heard many miles away. In fact, both Debbie and I heard an unmistakably deep rumbling noise about 4 the previous morning at our campsite some 25 kilometres away. It’s quite likely that we were listening to this glacier calving. For those that don’t know, glaciers are generally incredibly slow moving but even the slowest of them terminate somewhere in a tangled mass of broken ice. When this happens at sea level, under the force of gravity, the glaciers “calve” great chunks of ice that collapse suddenly in a crashing splash into the sea. Some of the deep throated rumbling noises come from glaciers inextricably moving over massive rock beds and some of the noise comes from this calving action. Either way, the noise is unforgettable and certainly makes me feel like an insignificant speck on a powerful and awesome landscape.


 The ice floating on the sea from this constant calving can be heavy and congested, choking further progress, or it can be sparse with leads opened up by the wind and tides. It’s possible to force a way through and today, this job fell to Debbie who did a great job opening up a passage for the rest of us to follow line-astern. It’s great being amongst the brash ice as it’s called. You can feel the cold water even through the thick padding of a Nigel Denis Explorer seat and the sound of it melting in the sea water sounds like you’re floating around in a bowl of snap crackle and pop Rice Crispies, especially since the water is sometimes milky white from the finely ground glacial till, a rock powder resulting from millions of tons of ice grinding away over bedrock for hundreds of thousands of years. As long as it’s not too choked, the ice moves out of the way easily if a bit alarmingly as it makes grinding noises against the kayak hull and prevents the paddles from landing in the water in the familiar way. Without the aid of any illegal substances, most of us could see all sort of odd shapes in the contorted shapes of the melting ice. Animals, cartoon characters and things you can’t mention before the watershed were all there on display waiting for us to catch them at the right angle as we paddled past.

Around the next headland was yet another glacier and yet another one around the next. Alaska has millions of them and we hadn’t begun to scratch the surface. One of us saw another group of kayakers about a kilometre or more away. They looked tiny close to a massive and powerful waterfall emerging from some hanging seracs that terminated yet another glacier as if in mid-air. This was apparently the scene of another kayaker’s death caused when one of these seracs collapsed and obliterated the unfortunate paddler. Enough said; we didn’t venture any closer to the waterfall and left the other unknown party to take their own risks. It was just a step too far for us and looked far too close for comfort.


By now the tide had turned and we headed back out of the bay on the ebb with a slight breeze at our backs. The going was easy and we stopped for lunch on a shingle beach that gave us an incredible view of the circ of mountains and icefields that fed the seven glaciers we had just negotiated. Just before we landed on our lunch beach we heard a loud rumble from one of the glaciers we had just left behind. We turned just in time to see a massive impulse wave emanating from where the ice had plunged into the sea. The wave swept the rocky walls for hundreds of meters before being finally absorbed by the brash ice and the body of water. Fortunately, we far away from its reach. The sky was blue and we were treated to a display from two float planes that flew their rich customers on a sightseeing tour out of Whittier or maybe the sea plane base at nearby Anchorage. Again, they were tiny against such a grand backdrop and served as a reminder that we were once more getting closer to civilisation after a couple of weeks in the wilderness.


Leaving Willard Island to our right, we headed further and further out of the bay until we eventually reached Decision Point, our campsite on day 1. Leaving this behind, we were back in Passage Canal with Whittier at its head. Our destination for our final campsite was Squirrel Cove and while cooking our final evening meal on the beach, a squirrel obligingly appeared on a nearby tree.


We all slept well after such a long day, knowing that tomorrow would be our final paddle back to base and back out of the wild.                                                                                                                                                                        


Pete Thomas    More Photos…….     Voice over……mp3.

Approximately 58 Kilometres


Day Fourteen (Thursday) – Squirrel Cove to Whittier

 The wind was not as strong as the forecast had suggested and we had a reasonably leisurely start (certain individuals – names withheld - did not want to carry their boats too far, so we waited for the tide to make its way up the beach and with only a short day to paddle there was no real rush. It was not raining so the tent and most other kit packed away still dry; good news for fight home for those of us with little room to spare on weight limits. So we left the campsite at about 9.00am having packed our boats for final time on this trip.  As we left; Carol demonstrated a perfect launch without boat scratching by sitting a stride her boat, pushing off and then getting in once a float

From our last camp site we headed North; across Passage canal to paddle back to Whitter on the north side of the fjord having departed on south side.  We stopped about half way along on a very fly-infested beach for elevenses. This then gave us the opportunity to visit kittiwake falls before heading back south into Whitter. The Falls are a local place of interest visited by Cruises ships, Prince William Sound ferries and local Kayak guides. As the name suggest there is a large coloury of Kittiwakes nesting here  next to a couple of spectacular waterfalls. Keith followed by me paddle under the larger falls for the photo opportunity!  Kirk and a couple of others where brave enough to try the smaller one. Kirk had not bothered with his cag so avoided the larger falls.  As we left the falls we watched the tour boats leaving the harbour with the day trippers going to the glacier. We then paddled in to Whitter just as Tom arrived to pick up the boats.  Perfect timing.

Once all the kit was unpacked and boats checked we thanked Tom and said goodbye.  We then packed our personal belongings for the journey home and went to the local bar for some excellent fish and chips while we waited for Mr Go Purple to collect us. After an hour or so Keith texted him to check he was on way.  Good job as He had confused the dates  and was not expecting us until the next day. He promptly sent his son to collect us.   We used the extra time well to visit the local fudge and souvenir shop and to look around Whittier.

Back in Anchorage we checked into the motel for showers and to get tidied up for journey home. We all went to celebrate the end of our trip with a meal out before starting to split off for our journeys home. Kirk was heading back to California to meet up with Gerry and Karen; Vicky was staying on a couple more days to explore the interior and the rest of us where leaving in the middle of the night to fly home to Manchester.  Stephanie was leaving us in Amsterdam to go back via London.

One of the best trips I have been on, Great group of people, special place. Thanks Team, and partially to Keith for coordinating it all.  Ian Bell       More Photos…….   Voice over……mp3.


Advice for future trips:

1/ Food available from Fred Mayers from 6:30am / Seyers Mall 24hrs or Sainsbury`s on route.

2/ Getting to Whittier is relatively easy (train, hire car or shuttle bus).  We used go purple shuttles this time.  ($255 each way for whole group plus Gas, tolls and tips - Garry)

3/ UK style sea kayaks available for hire from Tom Pogson ( (cost was $648 each including delivery, top of the range paddles, BA, Flares and Pepper Spray etc)

4/ Need bug head nets in worst areas. (Although late August is the best time to go rather than July.

5/ Large lightweight tarp is very useful to cook under and for shelter from the rain.

6/ All stoves should be of the same fuel in case one has a mechanical problem. Such a long expedition means that you take only enough fuel for yourselves.

7/ Tents should be capable of pitching on rounded pebbles on the beach immediately above the tide line. Do not expect to use pegs in the conventional way but they can be buried sideways with the guy clove-hitched onto the middle. (similar to a dead-man or snow stake)  They should be 3+ season tents and be pretty waterproof.  In very heavy rain a spare tarp can be hung over them to shield them from torrential rain.

8/ Paul Twardock`s book “Kayaking and Camping in Prince William Sound” A Kayaker's Paradise is an excellent reference. National Geographic publish a topographical, waterproof map of the west of the sound (Sheet 761)

9/ Keep bear safe! All food needs to be sealed x 3 (2 zip-locked bags + 1 dry bag) and stored overnight away from the sleeping area (50m). Processed foods are far easier to keep bear safe (soup and pasta etc) and are easier to prepare.  Tooth paste and wash kits kept with foods – not in tents. Hand flares are probably better than pepper spray as defence against marauding bears. It is impossible to hang all your food for a two week expedition so a bear cache is used covered with a tarp and pots etc hung on the outside to try and alert you if it is raided.

10/ Neoprene boots with over trousers are ideal for keeping your feet dry and launching boats on the gravel beaches. (Wellington Boots would do a similar job but may not be as comfortable)

11/ $12 toll on tunnel to Whittier / Lazy Otter for charter boat drop-off or to pay for parking by the small beach under passenger ferry ramp.  Tunnel into Whittier is at half-past the hour and out of Whittier on the hour.  (Except when a train is going through it)

Discussion of the whole trip…….mp3.

Pete Thomas, Carole Thomas, Debbie Hughes, Vicky Howell, Steph Long, Frankie Annan, Keith Steer, Kirk Williams and Ian Bell