Dist: not yet finished!
Start: 4:10 End: 00:00
The forecast for Tuesday/ Wednesday was changing from good to not good to good again, and I dared to have a run along the “Lost Coast” before the harsh weather on Thursday/ Friday would be kicking in.
Here in this area are two big weather patterns: Either it is North/ Westerly headwind with rather sunshine and lower seas, or South/ Easterly following wind with mostly higher seas and rainy. Sure, it could be anything in between, and so far, my paddling direction going north from Seattle felt 80 % right in the early months I was paddling. The last weeks it seems to have changed though…
Anyway, I felt I could handle it! I was truly not keen to wait another four days in the Icy Bay Lodge though I had not much to suffer here and people were welcoming me friendly, or even flying back a second time to Yakutat to bother my host there once more who already went far out of his way to look after me. Thanks to all of them!
I left early morning 4 am, Ivan and Paul were just up and waved me good bye out of the lounge. Conditions were calm, with the outgoing tide and low following winds the ride across the bay was easy. If I would have been to land once more on the other side, I could have done it to the right of the Bluffs on a decent low swell beach. But I was mentally all set to stay out until Kayak Island, if necessary, had packed enough food and water in reach and just kept on paddling.
The cost first had high mountains behind the beach, but no glaciers any more, just lush green forest with the occasional patch of snow. This went on until Cape Yakataga, a rocky outcrop on a small headland, 60 km away from the Lodge. I was hoping I would be able to land there, the satellite image showed a gap in the rocky headland, a narrow channel almost like a natural harbor. The dumper on the steep narrow beach before might have also been still ok to land on in the 1,50-1,80 m swell, surely with good timing, skills and a bit of luck.
But as I had strong following winds and a good current pushing me along with about 8 km/h, I missed out the decision to land on the dumper beach. During low tide, I was also paddling so far out I could not get caught by the occasionally developing second line of boomers coming out of nowhere, trashing down about 500 m before the beach. That had already happened before Icy Bay, and kept on going here.
I had already donned my PFD and helmet, when I was carefully nearing the rocky headland to find the channel, things looked too confused on the strong onshore wind into the channel and the quite high seas to find a safe enough unbroken line. In westerly wind conditions and seas below 1,50 m, it might have been the best place to land. So, I just got blown and washed past without I could decide to go in here. It was maybe better not even to try.
My last hope, with this easterly wind, conditions on the other side of the headland may be good today, proved fully wrong. As soon as I was on the other side, long rolling swells out of South trashed on a low sandy coast, with many rocks first, and then in multiple breaking lines. No safe way to get in here either, if I was not in the urge to do so. And wasn’t I mentally set to keep on going anyway? Going back against wind and current around the Cape to land on the single dumper coast was not really a possibility either, as I have not been close enough to judge this would have been ok.
So, I stayed out, mourning not too much the possibility to find people here in the bunch of buildings at the Cape. If someone skillful would have signaled me in on the best spot to land, but by myself I felt more safe staying away. What’s another 110 km to go??? But maybe I would have preferred to do those not overnight and after at least a bit of rest on land before the bad weather kicks in on Thursday…but I knew I could do it! I had done many similar long stretches before.
I stayed far out, and found the coast changing from the mountains with forest to simple steep cliff dunes and sand. As I was paddling according to my chart “on land”, I assume the coast got eaten away quite a bit recently, or by the Tsunami wave 1964.
I saw the bridge on the South Channel of the Yakataga River, but no clean unbroken line to go in here either. The satellite image also shows only a shallow broken river bar.
The sea conditions and surf changed over times from higher and rough to lower and smooth, depending on the river outflows, and if I would be still paddling on the colored river water or already on the deep blue deep sea with mostly a high piling up counter current. So, I constantly had to look out for the best and safest line along the coast. I had kept on my PFD and even helmet now for warmth, as it started to rain, and conditions were not too pleasant. I knew it would be raining overnight, and in case, I have at least another set of dry headgear handy which is good for staying warm. The Gore-Tex hood on my dry suit does not full cover all my scarfs and neck warmer, and over times, it is soaked with water like a wick with wax on a candle.
My feet are cold as always, but I am used to stand that…With the rising tide, my speed went a bit down, but the following wind made up for that, and I still averaged close to 7 km/h, which is very good! I am really flying along this dreaded piece of coast line!
But whoever has paddled long time with following winds, knows that this needs also a lot of concentration, even if it is not breaking and even if you are not surfing the waves on purpose. Thank goodness, it WAS not breaking where I chose to paddle, only the occasional second boomer line was to be considered.
I was feasting meanwhile on my food I had packed, and ate for the first time one of those homemade smoked moose sticks Steve has given me in Yakutat. After the home made smoked salmon filet I ate on the two days paddling up to Icy Bay, I was once more thankful for such a delicacy my well-caring host has packed for me. I find it really exciting how people in remote places must find different delicious ways to conserve their fish or venison meat they have caught themselves, to have it available to eat later. Freezing, smoking, canning, sterilizing in glass jars, drying to jerky…a huge variation creates not only delicacies, but also a lot of work!
I also came from a family with a hunting-loving father and had to help more than once to hold the spread-out legs of a deer on the kitchen table while my father was cutting it out of the fur coat and slicing the meat to handy pieces, but not to this extend as people here in Alaska and Canada must handle their preys. I would love to learn! Btw., when I was in the tender age of 16 years, I have passed the tough German hunter’s license to jump in the footsteps of my father, but never shot an animal myself…just joined him many times.