Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Tuesday, August 16
I unzip my tent and step out into a sunny morning. The first thing I notice is that the Zodiak is resting just at the waterline on the beach, instead of in the high grass where we had tied it to a stout sapling.

Had it broken free at high tide? If so, we were very lucky it didn't float away and strand us on the point with no way to get back to the Dora Keen. The mystery was solved when Barbara came out of her tent and told me that they couldn't sleep for being nervous about the anchor so went out to the boat in the middle of the night and slept there. Barbara had returned with the Zodiac early to make coffee and breakfast. After we eat, I wash the dishes in the gentle waves at the shore, among the rocks and sea urchins, then we break down camp and say goodbye to Pakenham Point.

After a quick stop to pick up the shrimp pot Tim points the DK back to our spot in Serpentine Cove.  We retrieve our kayaks from the little island where they are hidden in the grass and bring them back to the boat to load. This time only two are packed, mine and Tim's, with just enough for our last overnight camp. Barbara can travel light, she will be boarding the small cruise ship we will meet under Surprise Glacier so her camping is done and she will be back in Whittier before us. 

Then it's off towards Surprise Glacier to wait for the ship. This is the choppiest the water has been so far and we paddle into a stiff wind. As we get closer the water is full of ice, the glacier grumling and adding to the slushy mix. Tim and Barbara turn every so often to ask me if I'm doing ok, and I always answer yes, but in my mind I think "just as long as it doesn't get any worse".

We cross the ice field and the wind dies down.  Right on schedule the Klondike Express approaches. It's not a huge ship, but I am very leery of its wake, so hang back a bit as Barbara and Tim paddle to it.

My fears are exaggerated, for with its slow speed and the depth of the channel there are only gentle swells. I come nearer and see the passengers at the rail, taking photographs. I have to laugh to myself as they photograph me in my kayak as if I'm a ranger, or at least, a "real Alaskan kayaker", not the New England urbanite I am in real life.

Barbara boards and we wave goodby to her and all the happy cruisers at the rail. Tim pulls the cover over the cockpit on her kayak which he attaches with a towline to his. All our scheduled events over for the day we paddle towards the glacier to see how close we can get without risking falling cliffs of ice and the resulting surges of icy water.

It is pretty impressive, there is not much more you can say!

Surprise beach, which we had visited earlier in the trip, is where we will make our last campsite. The big icebergs are gone from the beach, taken by the tide. There is plenty of room to pitch our tents well back from the shore, amongst the brush and flowers — hare's bells and fireweed. Once that is done, we relax. Tim spots an eagle's nest with a fledgling high in a nearby tree and settles in with a view of it, waiting for the mother to return.  I explore a bit of the woods and a roaring stream, the terminus of a waterfall that from across the fiord had seemed to disappear into the talus slope. I can see now that it re-emeges at its base in the form of mutiple streams racing through the gravel, taking on iceburg blue where the water runs deep. If I were in the city I would think its roaring sound were a nearby freeway. Here it is soothing and clean sounding.

Exploring done, I find a nice flat rock and begin painting of one of the shrimp heads I had saved. While I cannot stand to see an animal suffering, I have long been fascinated with their bodies once they have passed on. Taking it out of the plastic bag, I find it has lost some of its glow, its eyes have gone black, and the colors, while still beautiful, fade as I work. The legs are still attached, but it is hard to figure out how many, mixed are they are with the long antennae, flagella, and maxillipeds. 

My painting does not go well but it is very peaceful sitting on the shore. I make a point to let it all soak in on my last evening in the Chugach. The sound of gulls in their last frenzy before sleep, seals gliding underneath, or poking up head and shoulders up to get a good look at me, a strange visitor to their spaces. Along the shore oyster catchers spot me with their crazy red and yellow rimmed eyes and run away with nervous trilling calls along the tide line populated with snails, mussels and barnacles. Through the breaks in the clouds are patterns of snow and glacier, so many shade of white.  The mysterious woods provide beds for river otters and hide walls of mountains, trees standing guard with mossy sleeved limbs. And now a tiny rustle in the brush, out pops an ermine, so impossibly cute that he looks like a stuffed animal, but his strong armed stance tells me he is ready to defend his nest. And with that I retreat into mine, and snuggle into my sleeping bag for the last time.

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