Mon 08/07-2019 Day 409
Loc: west of Umkumiut
Acc: Hilleberg Keron 4 tent
Dist: 91,3 km
Start: 09:20 End: 28:30 (4:30)
We agreed we had enough rest after landing yesterday at lunchtime and a good night’s sleep to tackle the distance to Nelson Island Bay with solid ground beaches in one go – 85 to 90 km. No reason to try to find dry ground in between, this might only be possible from high high tide to high high tide – 20-24 hrs out on the water anyway. We estimated to paddle this leg of 85 km in 17-18 hrs, starting any time from our sand bank beach and being able to land any time on likely steep gravel beach below a cliffy headland.
So we slept conveniently until 7.30 am, and were on the water on low tide at 9.20 am, after a long portage down the sandy beach. Paddling felt energetic and strong today for both of us. We had some discussions about how to continue the next legs to Nome, with a mix of few solid headlands and many only high-tide accessible (if at all…) mudflats in between. Fylkir is not motivated to paddle these challenging legs, and is complaining about all “inconveniences” of this Alaskan section. Too many unknown factors like tides, sand banks, mudflats, dry-suit paddling despite summer weather (we stripped the top anyway and no PFD…), bugs, bears, remoteness…the mental factor to keep on going strong like he did in Mexico plays hard up on him.
We would have to now paddle long somehow boring stretches far out on the sea, with no chances of landings anywhere and high chances to get stuck on low tides – like today…But if not with my experienced strong long-distance paddler Fylkir Saevarsson – with whom else? He basically has nothing to suffer on these stretches – I do the thinking and planning with the tides, mudflats and sandbanks, thoughts he hates to do, and he can just follow and paddle strong which physically he still does. The weather is summer-like with temperatures around 20 degrees, the water is warm-ish around 16-18 degrees or even more on sunny banks, the sea is dead-low and calm – conditions for easy and risk-less long-distance gliding along. at the end of this day – he was as proud of himself as me to have successfully tackled 90 km, and his once-more and again thoughts about pulling out in the next village seem to be once more and again gone. It is another game to paddle 160+ km on a 24-hr race in circles in the middle of Malmö city, or to paddle day by day 80+ km legs on his record-circumnavigation of Denmark where he could land mostly anywhere. Here, the exposure and remoteness plays up on no-landing long legs like today.
So we paddled and paddled, with a good average speed of 6-7 km/h. At some point I realized that the direct line from our last sandbank island to my camp beach on the headland at a river close to the tiny settlement of Umkumiut with 60 people living there, just before Toksook Bay with maybe 600 people, crossed a huge wide green area on the chart. I remembered from the satellite image there was a wide sandbank/ mudflat sticking out at the southern side of the entrance to Nelson Island Bay, but I forgot to check our direct line track how close in we would be crossing…and at what tide time we would be doing it…I realized my mistake only when we suddenly neared the boarder of the fat green area after maybe 45 km.
It might have been a detour of 5 km if we would have sticked to the outer edge of the green area, but it was just perfect high tide, and I somehow could not imagine that the whole green area would turn dry on low low tide…but sure it did at some point! There were no depth numbers on my not perfect chart, I just guessed…and we took our chance and kept on paddling on our direct line, just a bit more bent offshore to maintain a “reasonable” distance of 8 km to the coast, the distance which was enough on all other areas to avoid the mud flats. But this green area was sticking out up to 20 km…so either paddling 12 km off course, or going straight and risking some hour s around low tide to sit there and wait for the water to raise again. We took our chance and opted for the latter.
It all went fine until the last 6 km before the other edge of the green area…we had covered already another 33 km on the green with plenty water depth over the length of our paddles, and I thought those last 6 km we will make it easy on enough water, starting with maybe 1,60 m we could measure, despite the tide still going out on a range of 3,55 m. But to our bad luck, it did not work out, and we jumped out and walked our kayaks for a while offshore, in the hope to find deeper water again. I was an hour before low tide. We walked a few hundred meters, could paddle again, walked again, paddled again…until we even could not walk and drag our kayaks any more on only 10 cm of water just on low tide. Ok, it can’t take long to get flooded again…we donned our over cags to stay warm, both of our fleece underwear under the dry suit was meanwhile soaked from sweat and it became sight bit chilly. All day, we both had paddled with the tops stripped down in sunny warm weather.
The last hour before walking, even the for the next day fore casted 15 kn headwind came up, it has been low following wind all day. Not really adding to our pleasure of tackling the last 15 km with being stuck on and off…Fylkir was muttering constantly, I was laughing at my navigational mistake, enjoyed the midnight sun and the special environment we were in, and pulled out my e-book for reading until we got flooded up again.
Finally, we hit deeper water with strong headwind and side current running into the bay. It became quite lumpy for a while, before we neared the cliffy coast of the Nelson Island Bay headland. I was aiming for a river I saw on the satellite images which had enough beach upfront, but didn’t take into account rivers might also fall down steep cliffs a waterfalls which came to my mind the last km…we got drifted into the bay with 4-5 km/h, and had to paddle back in the eddy for another 1,5 km as we actually ended up almost in the village. We rather liked to have a remote campsite of our own, especially landing that late resp. early in the morning, where we didn’t like to disturb people in the village. The outlook on a river campsite was also perfect for resting and recovering the next days.
The coast looked scary with steep cliffs in the twilight around 4 am, but landing was possible everywhere on dead-calm water and gravel beaches. But we finally had to realize our shallow “river mouth” ended in a waterfall over steep cliffs, and the beach besides looked not inviting steep with shingles fallen off the cliffs. Bad luck! We turned back right into the bay, to maybe find a campsite closer to the village then, but already the next beach showed dry sand, green cliffs with no falling rocks in that area – and wheel tracks of quad bikes on low tide. Chainsaw woodsplits showed locals had harvested here some driftwood logs. Nice fresh wood smell on the otherwise wood-free area!
We were so tired and worn we had a hard time to walk upright, but made camp as usual, and showered generously with the outlook to refill fresh water next day. No signs of bear presence here, so no fence for Fylkir’s good night’s rest necessary. It was already bright sunny morning when we finally crashed to sleep…good job for today, but with a bit of bad job and bad luck being stuck for so long!