Saturday, September 19, 2009

Wilderness Sea Kayaking at Sitka

It was early morning August 5, 2009, the sun was still behind the glacier-covered mountains. Justin and I, however, were already on a yellow raft, leaving Sitka, speeding eastward to Camp Coogan Bay for our morning kayak wilderness adventure.

Camp Coogan bay is about 6 miles away from Sitka, and it is about 1.5 mile long. The kayak put in, where we would get into our kayak, is actually a float house located about half mile from the mouth of the bay, on a small side branch of the bay. As the raft was beginning to turn left to the kayak put in, I spotted a bald eagle perching on the top of a spruce on the right hand side shoreline. All the passengers on the raft were quite excited, it was a good start for our wilderness adventure.

This early morning kayak group was small, total of 7 people, Justin and I, plus a couple from Wisconsin and their 3 sons. All of us had kayak experience before, so there was not much need for kayak instruction. The kayaks are all tandem sea kayaks, long, narrow body kayak. The 7 kayakers plus a tour guide fitted into 4 kayaks just fine.

Following the lead of the guide, we paddled into the bay. Starting out, we sort of raced against each other a little bit, that was when it showed that I was the kayaker with formal training, our kayak moved straight forward, stopped quickly and turned smoothly. But wilderness kayaking is not about speed, it is about getting close to nature, getting intimate with wild life at water level at and near shore - a perspective not available from a big cruise or from hiking on land.

Paddling along the shoreline, looking up, we saw vegetation on the rocky shore, dark blue mussels on the fallen tree branches, looking down, the water was actually clear, we could clearly see several types of star fishes at the bottom of the water, the usual red star fish, and yellowish green star fishes. We picked up a star fish, held it in hand then put it back in water. After a while, the other family wanted to have a family picture in the kayaks, so we paddled near their kayak, and I used "draw" to get close and took their camera to take a picture of them - demonstrating my formal training one more time. They also took a picture of us kayaking. Afterwards, the other 3 kayaks moved ahead, and we fell back on purpose because we wanted to go slow to look for other wild life.

A few minutes later, I spotted a bald eagle again, it was on top of a tree in front of us, by the shore. We paddled forward gently, without telling the others, fearing that loud voice might startle the eagle. We paddled until we were right beneath the eagle, took a few pictures of the grand bird, and just sitting there watching it. Suddenly the eagle flapped its wings and flew down to the water level, about 50 feet away from us, grabbed a fish with its feet and flew into the woods. Wow! A first time for both Justin and me!! (It happened so quickly, we did not get a chance to take our cameras out of the cases)

Keeping our excitement in check, we paddled hard to catch up with the rest of the group. Reaching the end of the narrow bay, we turned around and paddled back on the other side of the shore. This side is not as lively or beautiful as the other side. We did see fish keep jumping out of water ahead of us, not sure if those were Salmon or not. The other 3 kayaks were near the middle of the bay, we, again, paddled toward the shoreline. As we neared the shore, Justin and I heard several tree branches cracking. We stopped paddling and waited anxiously. Sure enough, we saw a brown bear waddle down to the edge of the shoreline, seemingly about to catch a fish until I shouted “Bear!” to the rest of the group. The bear was startled and went back into thick bushes. I should have known better, but I felt guilty not telling the group last time about the eagle, I wanted to let the others to share our excitement of discovery! We paddled along the shoreline, and the bear was in and out of sight, moving in the direction we were moving. The guide finally saw the bear, he told us that the bear was about 2 to 3 year old, and that the bear ate plants and would not be likely to catch a fish. He asked us to hurry up as he did not want to be behind schedule - The next group was coming soon.

When we got out the kayak, we could still stand without problem despite over an hour kayaking. After apple cider and clam chowder provided by the outfitter, the next group arrived - a full raft, about 40 passengers! I felt so lucky that our group was small so that we had a quiet water, an environment close to its true nature.

Travel Note: 1) We have been kayaking around North Texas and Southern Oklahoma for a few years. This was our first sea kayaking. In fact this was not my first choice of sea kayaking. Initially we planned to have a sea kayaking around iceberg at the lake in front of Mendenhall Glacier. That trip was replaced by a Mendenhall Glacier Helicopter flightseeing and walk about - another unforgettable excursion. 2) A dream of mine is to have a white water kayaking in a glacier river on my own. This will need significant improvement on my white water techniques.

1 comment:

  1. You could see the site of kayaking by typing sitka, alaska in Google map and look for camp coogan bay east to Sitka.

    Leave a message if you come this far.