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Two Gales, Five Glaciers, One Orca, a Bear's Butt...and much, more more: A Journey on Prince William Sound, Alaska, June 4-15, 2015


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Two Gales, Five Glaciers, One Orca, a Bears Butt and much, much more:

A Journey on Western Prince William Sound, Alaska

June 4 15, 2015

[A note to the reader/viewer: While the NSPN website now features larger thumbnail photographs, anyone interested in seeing the photographs as they are meant to be seen might consider clicking on the thumbnail to get a full-sized view.]



Oh, but the arc of this trip was perfect: from stormy to calm, rain to sun, cold to hot, south to north, and in the case of one unfortunate trip participant, illness to health. Four of us - two NSPNers (Beth Sangree and me; Warren had planned to go but ended up deciding not to) - an Anchorage resident who went on last years trip, Beth Baker, and our escort/guide Ryan Collins of Paddlers Realm comprised the merry band.

Beth and I flew to Anchorage two days before the launch to do last minute shopping (at REI and the local grocery store for starters) and for boat test-packing. I also made use of a local Salvation Army store (for a $5 LL Bean fleece top), and a consignment shop (where for $10 I acquired a rain jacket made out of Tyvek, which I will hereafter refer to as my paper raincoat). We were delighted to find out that we would be paddling brand new fresh-out-of-their-plastic-wrapping Cetus MVs. Beth was to be patriotic in red, white and blue; and I got the Bling Boat: sparkly green over grey with orange trim - wow!

Ryan proposed a route that would take us to the most southern and westerly part of Prince William Sound, an area with which he was not familiar and which he wished to explore.

Day One: Whittier - Chenega Bay on Evans Island to Elrington Island


The Weather Gods were definitely scowling to start the trip. A gale was forecast for Prince William Sound for our launch day, with big seas and strong winds. Our plan had us launching from the very small settlement of Chenega Bay on Evans Island, a five and a half hour ferry ride from the mainland at Whittier. We wondered whether the ferry might be cancelled. It was not.

And so we set out in the rain for Whittier, a rather strange coastal village where almost all the residents live in one high rise apartment complex, where most of the town services are also located. A month before, I had listened to an episode of This American Life on NPR about a teenager moving with her family from American Samoa to Whittier - quite the transition! (If youre interested, you can listen to the podcast: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/555/the-incredible-rarity-of-changing-your-mind?act=3) I was curious to see this place.

The final stage of the drive from Anchorage to Whittier involves driving through a two and a half mile one-way tunnel roughly gouged out of the mountain by the army during WWII, when Whittier was a strategic location. You wait your turn in line until Anchorage-Whittier traffic is allowed through. The town did not disappoint. There was the high rise, and not far from it, a stunningly dreary now abandoned concrete army building, streaked dark with rain. And the weather - oh, the weather. Whittier is shittier, our Anchorage resident told us, referring to Whittier's often abysmal weather as compared to elsewhere in the state. And indeed it was. It was pouring.


It was pure chaos organizing four boats, four passengers, and a truckload of paddling gear - all of which had to be identified or tagged for the journey. The task was made more difficult by the presence in the ferry terminal of a large crowd of teenagers - state track stars, it turned out, heading to Kodiak, ten hours away at the end of the ferry line, for a meet. Chaotic enough that you will just have to trust me as I took no photos.

Everything finally loaded, we settled on the ferry, a seven story behemouth. The track-star teenagers were lounging everywhere, but were most notably quiet and polite. Beth B, Ryan and I chatted, while Beth S, in the initial stages of an illness that would lay her out for much of the first half of our whole trip, napped. The rain and fog were so heavy we could see almost nothing out the windows.

The ship's crew provided amusement by conducting a fire drill that did not involve the passengers.


From the near-top deck of the boat, it was hard to gauge how big the waves were, but we definitely felt them for a time. But then, everything let up. The rain stopped. The wind died down. And for the first time, we could see our environment. Our first glimpse of The Pleides, an island group that would reappear - much to at least my astonishment - later in the trip.


And then, we had arrived at the tiny settlement of Chenega Bay, notable more for a few fishing boats than the number of houses.


We saw our first whale spouting not far off.

When the ferry docked, our boats, as well as those of two other paddlers on board, were prepared for off-loading.


With all our gear off the boat, we looked back it.


And looked away to start loading up. When we looked again, the ferry was gone - we had not noticed it leaving - and we were ready to start the paddling part of our journey.


The rain had (momentarily) stopped. The sea was calm. The gale was gone. The whale spouted again. And we were heading southwest down Elrington Passage, heading toward Elrington Island, where we hoped to find a suitable camp for the first night.

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Almost immediately, I was overcome by a set of thoughts and feelings that I had not anticipated. Everything around us was so big and so remote that I felt very uncomfortably overwhelmed. No villages, no boats, not even any lobster or other buoy speaking to a human presence somewhere near. At the south end of Evans Island, we saw whales carving up out of the water and disappearing with a flip of their tails. The whoosh and plume of their spouting. But all I felt was unease, and even though we had just started, I repeatedly counted over in my head the number of days that would have to pass until we were done. I found myself engaged in a conversation with Beth B from Anchorage about sports (one of the endless series of topics about which she was able to discourse knowledgeably). This had the effect of grounding me for the moment in something familiar, and distracted me from how I was feeling.

We had left in such chaos that I had not thought through what I should be wearing, and with only a light wicking layer under my drysuit (it had been quite warm on the ferry), I was soon not only mentally but now physically uncomfortable. A brief stop to pull on my storm cag, which helped a lot, and on we went in the rain and fog. Driving rain and wind ensued.

We reached the end of Evans island to our right, and saw more whales (humpbacks or minkes?) spouting across the passage. Eagles, including immature ones with their speckly brown plumage, sat sentry on tree tops or swooped toward a perch. Close to shore, sea otters curious heads up, front paws curled on their bellies, and feet up - motored along on their backs before sinking below the waters surface when we got close. Sea lions here and there.

Ten miles later, and close to 11 pm, although I would not have known it by the light, we had found a camp near the south end of Elrington Island on the far side of a tidal flat in a bay unnamed on our map (although we had marine charts, we ended up almost exclusively navigating with National Geographic Trails Illustrated map of Prince William Sound West). We set up camp - tents,


group shelter (a large square tent with mosquito netting for lower walls and no floor) where we would do almost all of our cooking and hanging out over the course of the trip, and bear hangs. We had a quick cold supper. Ryan went over some of the camp logistics - LNT camping, where to dig cat holes etc. Beth S had been feeling worse as the day went on, and let us know that she would be unable to paddle the next day, and as soon as her GIANT tent was up, she crawled in and was out for the night. I was basically useless that first night for group chores... What is this thing called bear hang?!? - but stayed up with Beth B and Ryan as they got our food supplies stored out of bears' reach.

It was 2 am and not exactly dark out when we finally went to bed.

Day Two: Base Camping on Elrington Island

While we knew we would be base camping for at least two nights,

Ryan, Beth B and I had planned to paddle the second day. As it turned out, we did not. It poured all night and the wind blew. No one was up before 10:30 that morning. Given the conditions outside, there was little reason to get out of warm and (mostly) dry sleeping bags. Ryan, Beth B and I finally gathered in the group shelter,


while Beth S slept on, and discussed plans for the trip. Ryan announced that rather than paddling, the day would be a trip planning day, and we all sat down with our maps (how strange it seems to use that word in this context), and armed with weather, tide, and current information, plotted out various possible routes with an eye toward distance, other environmental variables that would affect the paddle, as well as Beth S's condition and what she might be capable of doing. One possibility had us heading northeast up Prince of Wales Passage toward the inner part of Prince William Sound. The other involved staying outside, heading point to point up the western side of Bainbridge Island to our north.

No decisions were made, but we had a good handle on the options.

I also found myself settling down internally. The base camp started to provide a feeling of familiarity, of -dare I say it - home. While the notion of talking loudly to unseen bears as one walked down the long open beach


to find a suitable spot to answer the call of nature, clutching a canister of bear spray (basically hot peppers for bears, but don't every fire it off downwind, or if will be Prudence spray and not bear spray) still seemed alien and rather frightening, I enjoyed getting out. And indeed, on that very first morning, if the weather gods werent smiling, someone else was. As I chased an errant plastic bag down the beach, I saw out of the corner of my eyea glass orb A small Japanese fishing float! A small green treasure!


And it would become, e'er after, MY PRECIOUS my precious!... Stored wrapped in a microfiber towel in my drinking cup when the latter was not in use, and in my bowl when it was. A good omen. And it was at some point around then that I was able to start enjoying the trip.

We cooked and did camp chores (smashing a can, caveman style).


It was cold, though. Temperature in the 40s and wet I was wearing six layers on top, two on the bottom and a soggy hat. Walking around I felt fine, sitting in the shelter, it was cold.

Beth S's condition went downhill, and partway through the day, she indicated that she would need another day of rest before moving on. The rest of us made a plan for a paddle the next day. When we turned in at 9:30 that night, I was finally toasty warm snuggled in my sleeping bag.

Day Three: A Trip to North Twin Bay


It wasn't raining when the day started,


but that wouldn't last for long.


We headed out of our bay and once we reached the shore on the other side, ran into a confusing mix of wind and waves.


The weather forecast called for variable winds. When we started, it was from the north, with gusts to 25 kts and we headed into it.

Looking across Elrington Passage, we saw whales once again where we'd seen them the night we arrived. I saw the second half of a complete breaching, the entire body of the whale out of the water and crashing back in with an enormous splash.

Far off in the distance, we saw a line of rocky islands (barely visible in photo below) behind which we could see a hint of snow-capped mountains. We would see more of both the next day.


The water close to shore became a turquoise blue.

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Caves along the way dwarfed Ryan's boat,


as did almost everything around us.


We had hoped for protection from the wind in North Twin Bay, but it switched to the east, and again we were paddling into it. There were fierce gusts that howled down the bay. Ryan found some rocks and waves to get into trouble with and was almost wiped out by one. No harm done other than losing the map off his deck.

We stopped for lunch on a cobbly beach


where of course it began raining again. Beth, who had discovered just as we were set to debark from the ferry, that she had left her paddling shoes in her garage at home, had purchased a pair of completely oversized steel-toed wellies right off the feet of a man on the dock at Chenega Bay. Acrobatics were needed to rid them of water before she got back in her boat.


Ryan pointed out puffins flying by. We headed back to camp in the gloom and rain. While we had moments of following seas to push us along, they didn't last long. It became clear that VARIABLE winds actually means IN YOUR FACE the whole way.

While we had only gone about 11 miles, it was a tiring paddle,


and both Beth and Ryan said that conditions were more demanding than anything they'd faced on last years adventure in the eastern part of the sound.

And while it was wet and windy and cold, and I was wet and chilly, I began to make peace with the environment.

Beth S was still under the weather, but we planned to move on the next morning. Our plan was to ride forecast SW winds up Prince of Wales Passage to Bainbridge Point, where we would camp. It is a protected route, and given how Beth S was feeling, seemed more sensible than continuing west and north up the outer points of Bainbridge Island. We planned for a 10 am departure. First, though, there were bears to hang [sic]


and trash to burn.


Another night late to bed.

It rained all night.

Day Four: Elrington Island to north of Hogg Point, Bainbridge Island


I awoke in the middle of the night to find that the wind, predicted to be from the south, was blowing steadily from the north. Would it be another day of slogging into a headwind?

By the time we arose at 7 that morning, though, the wind had died down. When we all gathered to discuss plans for the day, we changed them. Because it was looking very benign, and because who knew when anyone (including Ryan) would be back this way again, we decided to go for the outer route, to Procession Rocks, which three of us had seen through the fog the day before a sea lion haulout spot.

Loading up took forever, but miracle of miracles, by the time even Beth B was loaded up, Clampett Family style


it was flat calm and there was no rain!

Rorschach tests everywhere.


We paddled out into Elrington Passage, where Ryan paused to take pictures.


See the little bumps on the water to the left? Procession Rocks, which we had seen through the fog yesterday and which would be our first stop today. Two and a half miles distant. And a backdrop of snow covered peaks on Bainbridge Island, seen only as a hint the day before.

We started the crossing. I looked to my right to the Road Not Taken, Prince of Wales Passage, which was hard to pass by given the promising sliver of blue sky in the distance - the first we'd seen since we launched.


Procession Rocks got closer


and closer


and closer.


Sea lions were draped everywhere.


But the sea lions,


who were grunting and flopping and making a mighty stink started to get more upset. A huge alpha male reared his head and looked as if he wanted to take us on.


Time to move on.

Could it be blue sky!


We continued north and passed Point Pyke on Bainbridge Island, hung a right, and stopped at another cobbled beach for lunch.

Another crossing to Swanson Point.


And to Hogg Point. Along the way, we got our first good look at Bainbridge Glacier, three miles away across Port Bainbridge in this photo.


Our crossings were done for the day, and we had a very pleasant shoreline paddle the rest of the way, the sky blue and sun shining, and the sea turned a most pleasing shade of green.

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We landed,


made camp


cooked supper (and have I mentioned that it was a fierce competition to prepare meals everyone wanted to lighten the load she/he was carrying!),


washed dishes,


did the bear hangs,


and enjoyed the view of the glacier.


It was getting toward midnight. Hard to tell.


Day Five: Outrunning a Gale: Bainbridge Island to Gaanak Cove in Icy Bay


Our beautiful hours of weather were not to last. Another gale was forecast for the Sound. Ryan wondered how protected we would or would not be if we stayed where we were. Beth S, still hacking and coughing and not up to snuff, wondered if she would be able to paddle. I was anxious to go north into Prince William Sound, to the protection that we would clearly get at Gaanaak Cove, many miles away. We had done the math the night before: 18 miles. But there was good news to lighten what might otherwise be a very difficult day: Winds from the SW to push us up Bainbridge Passage, and a current running at a max of 2.4 knots just when we'd be in the inner passage if we were to go that way. We all decided to go for it!

We were up at 7, the winds creating small waves on the beach.


The clouds were hovering low over the glacier as we launched.


The view down Bainbridge Passage was ominous.


Bainbridge Passage is the narrowest of all the passages in Prince William Sound. Only a quarter mile wide at its narrowest, it creates a good current and some confused water as well where sea otters like to play. After a day of open crossings, I enjoyed having land on either side of me as flew up the passage.


Pigeon guillemots.


And then the vista widened and we were through.


We turned the corner to our left, and Ryan announced that Chapter One was complete. He meant Chapter One for the day, but I took it to mean the first chapter of the trip was over. We were now in Prince William Sound itself.

And hey, don't I recognize those cute little islands in the distance?!?


Yup, the very same Pleides that we had seen from the ferry. Just as I've had the experience in Maine of knitting together various parts of bays that I've seen piecemeal, I started to knit together a map of this part of the Sound.

A few moments later, we saw a boat approaching us. It was perhaps the third we'd seen since we set out. A nice couple with a dog (Bailey.... For Baileys Irish Cream) hailed us.


They were concerned that we might not know a gale was forecast as we were in a part of the Sound where there is no marine radio reception.

Ryan thanked them, letting them know that we were aware and heading for safe harbor. Off we all went, looking for a good spot to stop for lunch.


A nice little bay and beach around the corner from Point Countess, where Ryan went to collect water (for the first time, the heavens had provided adequately up to this point), and the rest of us stretched our legs and had lunch.


Looked at weird beached starfish.


And on we went, hugging the coastline until we reached yet another crossing at Whale Bay. Rain and fog came and went. There were no whales. Sun shone on peaks to the east. In the distance, we saw small white shapes that looked like moored boats, but which were in actuality icebergs. The temperature dropped the closer we got to aptly named Icy Bay. The water color started changing as well to a beautiful silty green. Claw Peak in the background.


Verdant Island in the distance looked more like Black Blob Island on this darkening day.


It got darker,


then lighter.


An island of harlequin ducks.


An eagle standing sentry.


And the water got green-blueier, more and more.

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It lifted our spirits as we were now in the home stretch, only another mile or so to go until we reached Gaanaak Cove. At which point, of course, it started raining again

Ryan was also distressed to see a bright orange blob on the beach - a human figure! When we finally pulled up to this expansive meadow camping area, we saw that we would not be alone. Eight boats were already pulled up on shore. Ryan quickly ascertained that they were The Israelis, a group that comes to paddle PWS from Israel every year, using boats rented from a friend of Ryan's, and possibly wearing dry suits of Ryan's rented out while he was on this trip. Thank heavens it wasn't a troop of boy scouts! We were also happy to see that they had chosen to pitch their tents in the most exposed part of the meadow, which left us to tuck into sheltered spots with trees all around - good for hanging tarps and dodging the storm to come.

But how cool a spot was this?! Icebergs at our doorstep.


The storm was due to arrive after midnight. It didn't.

Day Six: Base Camping at Gaanaak Cove

It came during the sixth day. Only Ryan and I got up that morning. Icebergs had arrived at our doorstep.


How beautiful a sight.


Although the storm's later-than-predicted arrival should have allowed us all a good night's sleep, two families of raucous crows had other things in mind. Stereophonically, two nests, untold baby birds and however many parents the chicks required, rang in the early hour. The squawking (low pitched for the parents, higher for their hungry offspring) started in the middle of the night and continued into the morning. There was an eagle's nest nearby as well, but the most we heard from there was a modest peep peep peeping.

Ryan and I were the only ones to get up in the morning. We sat in the shelter, which Ryan and Beth had hastily thrown up the night before. It poured, and we collected rainwater running off the shelter into pots and pans. We must have had the jetboil going all day. We talked about music (Phish), movies (Quentin Tarantino), college majors of some of us - not me! (philosophy), and this and that. The hours passed. The wind increased and pulled the staked guylines from the ground. Ryan and I decided to move the shelter to a more protected area now that the storm had arrived with as much of a vengeance as it would have in our protected cove.


Still no sign of the The Beths. Beth B, it turned out, had devoured two books as she luxuriated in her tiny tent. Poor Beth S was completely done in by the previous day's long paddle, and was suffering a setback in her condition, which had been improving. We brought them tea and hot water and food in bed.

At 2 pm, Beth B got up and joined us. Praying for her supper? Sun? What?


Finally, at four in the afternoon, I gave in: I was COLD! Ryan and I had both already discovered that waterproof socks...aren't, and that the only way to keep our feet warm was to wear our neoprene paddling booties over the waterproof socks, and to pour near boiling water into the boots. Ahhhh! Relief! But even that wasn't enough. Three smart wool tops, a fleece, a nanopuff jacket, my paper rain jacket, and soaking storm cag plus two pairs of long underwear under goretex paddling pants and I was.cold.

Nothing to do but get in the tent and warm up in my sleeping bag. Which I proceeded to do. At seven, Ryan rang the dinner bell. He had prepared a wonderful Mexican meal. The piece de resistance was a margarita complete with salt-rimmed glasses and a stick of glacial ice. Of all days!! The hot food was great. I can't say that I derived the same enjoyment from a drink cooled with a chunk of an iceberg as much as I would have had the conditions been different.

But it was cozy and dry in our shelter, and cooking food warmed it up.


When we went to do the bear hangs after supper, we saw the Israelis all standing huddled under a tarp. A more cold and miserable sight I had not seen on the trip.

By 9:30 that night, the storm was winding down. And when I went to bed, that image of the Israelis standing up, barely out of the elements, made me keep shivering longer than I would have otherwise.

Day Seven: A Trip to Tiger Glacier


Poor Beth S was still done in. We decided to put off a planned trip to the spectacular Chenega Glacier in Nassau Fjord until the following day, when Beth thought she would be up to. Instead, Ryan, Beth S and I headed southwest down Icy Bay to where it ends at Tiger Glacier. The rain had stopped. It was calm and cloudy.


We paddled out through icebergs.


And enjoyed looking at some that had washed ashore


and others that had not.


Icy Bay was spectacular.

Waterfalls everywhere.

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Icebergs, small and large.

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Still water.


And finally, a view of Tiger Glacier at the end of the bay.


We stopped for lunch in the company of two oystercatchers.


There were icebergs to focus one's view.

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It was cold but ever so beautiful.


OK, OK, I could have stayed all day taking pictures

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But it was time to go.

The fog returned but rain held off and we were dwarfed once again by our surroundings.


The views never stopped

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And when we got back, we found Beth S up and about, walking around. The Israelis had left, and she had had the pleasure of spending the day napping and then walking around, having the whole place to herself.


She also found a spectacular BIG rock that she later managed to cram into her boat to bring home as a souvenir.

Day Seven was, all in all, particularly special. The rain even stopped and the day ended with the unexpected pleasure of being able to sit outside after supper


and enjoy the view.


And Beth S pronounced herself ready to paddle again the next day! Off to Nassau Fjord and the biggest glacier that we would see!

STAYED TUNED FOR PART TWO... which will continue on this thread (not as a separate post)...so keep track of new posting with my name on it!

(Updated note - entire trip report - in three parts - is now posted on this thread.)



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Wow! It is good to have you and Beth safely back in New England.

I am reminded of a passage in the book by Eva Saulitis entitled, “Into Great Silence” where she writes the following. “Storms define Prince William Sound, not its rare sunny days. Salmon streams, plankton blooms, muskegs – all depend on rain, lots of it, two hundred or more inches a year. Storms sweep the Sound clean, drive back fair-weather boaters, discourage tourists, drench kayakers.”


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So much for my afternoon's productivity. :)

Great report, Pru! I found myself shivering at times - the cold and damp really comes through in your photos and storytelling. Some of those iceberg photos are simply breathtaking.

Beth, I'm rooting for your recovery in part 2.

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PART TWO (of three): Prince William Sound Journey



Day 8: A Trip to Chenega Glacier


Miracle of miracles! We awoke to a bright sunny day! And Beth S pronounced herself fit to paddle! And have you noticed that I have not used the word “bug,” “black fly,” or “mosquito” yet?! I am not planning to for a while…

A morning for eating outside,


drying things out


and letting down one’s hair…


And so we launched, the four of us, for a day trip to a huge tidewater glacier. The icebergs by our camp were striking in the sun.

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And soon we had our first full view down Nassau Fjord to Chenega Glacier.


Just to give you a sense of scale…which I can’t, really… Imagine the Boston skyline anchored on the left by the Hancock Tower and on the right by the Prudential Center Tower. It’s a little under a mile between the one and the other. Put this familiar vista up against the face of this glacier… and it will fit nicely with plenty of room to spare. The face of the glacier is over 500 feet high, and over a mile wide.

The paddle down the fjord is four miles or so. Along the way, the water got greener and milkier. It looked clear enough, but when I stuck my paddle vertically into the water, it didn’t take long before I wasn’t able to see the blade at all. It was such a pleasure to paddle in the sun, and there was so much to look at and explore.


Ryan disappeared into a cave.


Then the rest of us did.

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To our right, another glacier – Princeton Glacier (oh those Ivy League explorers with their Nassau Fjord and Tiger Glacier and Tigertail Glacier, the main drag in Princeton and the Princeton mascot respectively).


Stopping for lunch by a striped iceberg

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and filtering water.


And throughout, we could hear the intermittent thunderous rumble of the calving glacier, and a spume of water and minutes later, swells reached our beach.

We paddled toward the tidewater glacier.

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To our left was Tigertail Glacier…


I was quite apprehensive – not only of the huge tidewater glacier itself, but the many large icebergs floating around us, any with the capacity to choose that precise moment to roll over and capsize us… None did, but that they could was worry enough. Closer and closer we got to the glacier,


Ryan leading the charge – me hanging back. It doesn’t make one want to get closer when one has been regaled by tales of those who lost their life in a calving glacier’s tidal wave!

Ryan ultimately got within about a quarter mile, although it was really hard to estimate distance.



We paused for a photo op,


wondered at the origin of the neat line of green scum


and paddled on.

We arrived back at camp in late afternoon. After several days there, it felt like coming home, but tomorrow we would move on.


Day Nine: Gaanack Cove to Jackpot Cove


Up at a decent hour and the sun was still with us. It promised to be another beautiful day.


Beth B declared that she had seen possibly four bugs (BUGS!) around her, and donned her headnet for the first time, determined to use every piece of gear she’d brought on the trip. No one else bothered as we packed up to go.


A last farewell walk up the path in our lovely campsite…


Once on the water, our first stop was the kittiwake rookery at the far end of Gaanack Cove.


See all those little white dots in the middle of the picture?



We watched for a while.

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A crow swept in and to the screeching distress of the rookery inhabitants went nest to nest until he found an egg to grab and fly of with.

It was such a benign day, it could almost have been Maine…


Until of course, you turned your head and saw snow capped mountains in the distance…

The tide was perfect for a little bit of whitewater (by which I do mean a little) paddling up a stream to a pounding waterfall.


And after that waterfall, another along the coast.


And the great surprise of seeing Verdant Island again, this time from the other side as we paddled northeast up the coast.


It was really cool to see that the water had by now completely changed. We were well clear of Icy Bay and its glacial waters, and now the water was most unbelievably clear…


I thought I had seen clear water up in Maine. Nothing compared to this!

We stopped at a little beach for lunch


and considered it as a possible camping spot for the night. Beth S stripped down to her native state and ran into the water, screaming. She rinsed off in a stream, dried off lying on the rocks, and proclaimed it a most refreshing experience.

We decided to press on into Jackpot Bay, an area particularly attractive to Ryan because it was totally unfamiliar to him. We paddled two and a half miles into the bay into a headwind, and found a well-used campsite (signs of life: toilet paper and etc) but decided to use it anyway. A pretty spot with another killer view of a mountain across the way (more of that later).


And a feeling of intimacy that was missing in others of our campsites - but perhaps that was only because the sun was shining…


But, for the very first time, on Day Nine – serious BUGS! We all donned our headnets. The ladies were all tuckered out from the labors of the day, and so Ryan went off on his own to do some more exploration. The Beths and I sat protected from black flies in the group shelter talking about the whales we had expected to see that day but hadn’t, when we heard Ryan shouting at us to come out to the beach.

Right in front of our beach, the spout of a whale!


And on closer examination, likely an orca!!

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So strange to see on this bay that looked like a lake, when out on the open water, near Whale Bay, we had seen none.

That kind of made the day.

The sun (wonderful warm sun, despite its attraction to black flies as well as humans) cast warm shadows.


We ate inside.

And went to bed tired, toasty, happy.

Day Ten: Jackpot Bay to Chenega Island


I’m not quite sure when it became my mission to prove Ryan wrong when he said it got dark in the Alaskan “night,” but when I found myself walking out of my tent at 2:20 in the morning, this was the sight that greeted me... the single most striking or surprising image of the trip:


Dark, indeed…

The same view at 5:40 am…


And at 7:30 am, it was still flat calm and I longed to be on this lake-like water…

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But it was not to be, and by the time we had packed up


and paid a visit to several local birds,

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the wind had kicked up and we were, as seemed often to be the case, heading into it. Sigh…

The night before we had considered two options: one to head up (the apparently not aptly named) Dangerous Passage to a camping spot on Point Nowell; the other to make a crossing to Chenega Island, which is sacred native land (more below) and camp on an easement there. We decided on the Chenega option, which required a two mile crossing out of Jackpot Bay. Kind of a dull way to start the day, but as I was to discover on the last crossing of the trip the next day, any crossing early in the day is pure pleasure compared to one later on…

And so we crossed.


Chenega is not a tall island, but still it dwarfed Beth S below it.


Finally we reached the island, where there were meadows that were likely very boggy.


There were jellies


and the water still so clear.


We headed counterclockwise. A large bay was overseen by a most perfectly breast-shaped mountain, Chenega Peak… Yes?


And over four miles away across Knight Island Passage, up which we’d soon be heading, was Knight Island, a huge (20 plus miles long) island with a super-convoluted shoreline and, at its southern end, snow covered mountains.


We soon came to the abandoned hamlet of Chenega Bay, a sacred site. It was here on Good Friday, 1964, that nine native townspeople watched the water miraculously sucking out of the bay, only to return as a wall of water, a tsunami - caused by the 9.2 earthquake, the second strongest ever recorded – that killed them all.

Approaching we could see the roof of a pavilion built since then,


and a couple of cabins in which native visitors are allowed to stay. We landed quietly. The remains of the town pier jutted out into the water.


A short walk up from the beach is a telephone-booth shaped building latched by a hasp held with a stick of driftwood and topped by the Russian Orthodox cross that must have been on the town church that was destroyed.

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Open it up and you find a small shrine or altar,


and a plaque dedicated to the memory of the dead, the Russian names showing the historical Russian influence on the native population in this part of Alaska.


Up on a hill, the remains of the village schoolhouse.


As I walked back down to the beach, looking first through the pavilion,


and then at the beach itself,


it was easy to see why the inhabitants had chosen this spot on which to build a village.

While I cannot say I could feel the sacredness of the spot, it was a deeply sad place, and we were more quiet than usual as we ate lunch and prepared to leave.

We had another five and a half miles to go until we reached our campsite, and I found myself lagging, this tired body beginning to feel the effects of day after day of paddling…

But the water was wonderfully clear and it was soothing to look at what was below as I glided along,


and we thanked heavens we were not there when this log washed ashore…


Ryan stopped at one beach to check out a potential camp site. When he got back into his boat, he began making strange insistent silent gestures toward the rest of us. We paddled toward him without speaking, and looking where he was pointing, saw the big black butt of a big black bear ambling away from us into the brush. Our first…and as it turned out..only! Bear! Now the trip was complete…

An eagle, unhappy at our proximity.


Finally, we were approaching the long rocky beach that would be our second to last camp.


We landed at low tide, but it was to rise soon. We tied off the boats to a rock, and periodically moved the rock higher up on the beach. No one had the energy to lug even empty boats over the very unsure footing of this rocky beach.


We pitched our tents on a rocky shelf above the high tide line at the top of the beach. By now I had come to appreciate what a master Ryan was/is at tarp-hanging, and I started taking pictures for further study from the comfort of home:


And did I mention that this was Buggy Beach #2? We all donned head nets, and found refuge in the group shelter. These bugs are so stupid that even when they get inside, all they can figure out to do is huddle at the top of the tent, leaving potential prey sitting below them completely alone…


Beth S cooked her first meal (given how sick she had been, no one wanted to either stress her or expose the rest of us to whatever it was she had). It was a hot night for cooking, and she did her best to stay cool…

Relaxing in the shelter…


Beth B and Ryan washed the dishes sometime after 9 pm.


We put the boats to bed.

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The shelter awaited our return at breakfast-time…


The view from the bear hangs.


Ryan decided to take a late night paddle up a stream accessible with the tide coming in to fill and filter our water bladders one last time.


Thankfully, he was not eaten by a bear and returned sometime after 11:30 that night, but we we were all confident that if he had been devoured, we would have had no trouble getting ourselves to our final destination!

It was a beautiful night, perhaps the most lovely of the trip.


10:30 pm, view from my tent…


11:40 pm…


(Are you wondering why I took to taking so many middle of the night shots? My wonderful Synmat sleeping pad sprang a slow leak – from god knows where…we looked! a few nights back, and would require multiple toppings off with air over the course of the night, unless I wanted to be sleeping right on the rocks…which I didn’t!)





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PART THREE (of three): Prince William Sound Journey



Day Eleven: Chenega Island to Crafton Island


Midnight on Chenega Island


3:00 am


It was at about this time that I started hearing the familiar (again, Maine-like) sound of motor boats, fishermen up and at their work.

Our camp was quiet come proper morning.


But we were soon up and about, packed and launched for another rough day on the water


Hugging the coastline.



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And somewhere near the northern end of Chenega Island, we could see far in the distance, far up north, the Chugach Mountain range.


We crossed the far end of Dangerous Passage, observed by a few curious onlookers.


More and more fishing boats. Strange looking creatures to those of used to lobster boats. First, theyre all made of aluminum, and second, the configuration is just to these eastern eyes strange. Turned out Ryan had worked with the skipper of this vessel, and they ended up chatting for a few minutes.


Buoy, Alaska style


Our last lunch stopping place.

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We made one other stop at Point Nowell to check out the camp, which was very clean despite being a very popular spot. And then, the final slog of the day a dreaded crossing, three miles to our final destination, Crafton Island, seen here for the first time.


A wee bit of a headwind (of course)


And then, this beautiful, beautiful little island! Multiple beaches with small rounded stones rather than ankle turning cobbles. Even some sand for those unaccustomed to such a substance. And most of all, the relief of knowing that once unpacked, we would not have to load the boats again!

Another beach where campsites sat above the high tide line on the top of the beach. These spots on the rocks ended up being the most comfortable of all the places that I pitched my tent.


The boats were tucked away for the night for the last time. And the latest miracle, on this beautiful beach on this beautiful island on this beautiful warm night, there were NO BUGS, and so we sat wearing all clean clothes t shirts never worn, clean underwear, clean socks and dry shoes! basking in the sun and waiting for Ryan to finish preparing our last meal a pad thai feast with an appetizer salad of fresh (hallelujah!) purple cabbage!


Wait a second! Whats up with this bug net?! OK, maybe there were three bugs, but no need to ruin a perfect ending, Beth B!


10:30 pm

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11 pm


And I was so comfortable, deflating air mattress and all, that I slept through the night on my rocky bed on this lovely island.

Day Twelve: Around Crafton Island and back to Whittier


Yet another perfectly beautiful day. The view from my sleeping bag, 6:30 am.


Could it really have been that we set out in a gale rain and wind and cold twelve days before? Could it really have been that for day after day we doused our feet with hot water to keep them warm? That everything we had was dampish? This run of days to savor continued.

Our plan, a water taxi pickup at 3 pm to take us back to Whittier. We had decided even before we launched that we would rather spend more time in the outer areas than move along more quickly to paddle back into Whittier. This proved to be an excellent decision on many levels.

While we had talked for the last several days about doing a middle of the night paddle - in the light to see the sun rise, that never happened. The closest we came to it was this morning, when we actually made it onto the water at the ungodly early hour of eight am!!


Flat calm for the most leisurely possible circumnavigation of our little island. No need to put an ounce of effort into powering the boat. We had all day to get nowhere.

Ryan, Beth B and I were about to launch when Beth S, who had said she might want to sleep in, came running down the beach so say she would catch up with us shortly. And so the first three of us launched onto the flat calm water. Slowly, slowly we paddled.


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Many-legged starfish.


Cave, outside and in...

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An eagle in its nest.


Another cave.


But when we turned the corner at the north end of the island, we were confronted bythe fish-industrial complex! Many fishing boats busily setting nets and pulling them up.


Our decision to water-taxi back to Whittier was validated once again. I thought back to how I had felt the first day of the trip, how overwhelmed and uncomfortable I was at the scale and isolation of our surroundings, and nowwhile I hardly have the comfort level of a Ryan or Beth B, I was really enjoying having the world to ourselves, and the thought of sharing it over the several days it would have taken to paddle on to Whittier was not appealing. Better to have spent that time in the more isolated outer areas of the Sound.

It was fun, however, looking at the strange little boats. Aluminum seemed such an odd material, but given the banging and scraping they do, makes sense I guess.


We paddled down the east side of the island back to our beach, where for the last time, we hauled the boats out of the water.


We had hours to enjoy before our scheduled pickup. So what did we do? Laid out our gear for a final drying, even though nothing really needed it now.

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Laid out an array of all the dry bags that David Mercer had beem good enough to lend me (pre-marked so Id know what to put in each one!) so that Ryan and Beth B could have Hello, David, although it was nice that your bags were here, it would have been even better if you had been, as well! photos taken:

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I counted all of our Ikea bagsTwenty-three total.


I thanked Ryan for pointing out that Bic lighters work better when you remove the safety strip. The what? Safety strip the smooth piece of metal where you flick your thumb. Beth B thanked him for this new piece of information as well.


We dozed and fooled with little plastic bags.


I paused to admire the excellent tarp construction skills of both Ryan and Beth B, one of the ongoing wonders of the trip

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Checked out the (cosmetic) damage that rocky beaches and icebergs can do to a brand new boat


And then, and then, there was nothing left to do as the temperature soared into the 80s, but more or less strip down and go for a nice Prince William Sound swim! (Ryan recorded this on his camera and I can only hope it never makes it to YouTube.) We ran into the water, screaming and whooping to distract us from the freezing cold. But boy did it feel great when we got out. The clothes that we were wearing, pants and shorts, some tops, were wet and refreshing.

But when they dried, it was time for another dip. This time, only Ryan went all the way in, but having discovered that just sitting in shallow water after a full plunge feels really nice, he enticed Beth B and me in as well.

Beth S was off skinny dipping from another beach.

We sat in the water Beth just barely wetting her bottom (not quite sure why she was looking so stern; it was really very nice!).

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and compared our paddlers tans.


Everything was packed up and ready to go.


And then, at 3 on the button, a water taxi loomed out of the distance, and there was our ride, carrying two special passengers: Ryans wife, Cheryl, and their two and a half year old, Griffin.


While we all loaded boats and bags

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On board was fresh fruit (hallelujah again!), cold drinks (ditto!), and chips. Food of the gods!

Any final doubt about our choice to have the last leg of the trip be by water taxi...(there was none, but just for the sake of argument), it allowed us to have a special interaction with Dalls porpoises, a pod of which swam and leapt in front of the boat, carried on its bow wave, as we hung over the stowed landing ramp and watched as the porpoises coasted and leapt in concert with the boat.

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And with final slight detour to watch a whale in the distance, we headed into Whittier, which looked nothing like the sopping grey village from which we had departed the week before last.

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There was a final unpacking of boats and gear to be done from the dock and a reloading of the million Ikea bags into Ryans truck. Then we headed through the one-way tunnel to Anchorage under a sparkling sky, stopping for sustenance (Diet Coke! A sandwich made with real bread! A Greek salad!) on the way back. Happy, tired and excitedly anticipating a wonderful hot shower with soap and shampoo, we arrived back at our hostel

only to find that the plumbing was broken and while there was no HOT water there was still plenty of cold... Oh brrrrrrrr.

Yet somehow, it was a fitting end to a journey that had started in the rain and cold to find oneself - on a day that was outside hot, beautiful and sunny - soaking wet and shivering once again!

Many thanks to Ryan Collins of Paddlers Realm (www.paddlersrealm.com), our peerless guide; Beth Baker, physician, outdoorswoman, botanist and Energizer bunny par excellence; and Beth Sangree, fellow Cantabridgian, NSPNer, and complete trouper for soldiering on when it was necessary, even when all she wanted to do was curl up in her giant dry tent and sleep many thanks to all for their comradeship and wisdom in the wild (from plant identification to tying bowlines to the secret of the Bic and much much more). Thanks also to David Mercer and Warren for their generosity in sharing some of what theyd learned the year before. But a special thank you to David, who loaned me so many things that made the trip a lot easier.

In a later post, I will address some of what I learned about gear, clothing and food that might be of interest to anyone contemplating a trip into this or a similar environment.


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Pru, as I sit here back in Cambridge, all dry and comfy, I am so moved and happy to be transported back to our amazing trip... Yes, some of it was hard (ie being quite sick in a tent during a wet cold gale, not really fun at all...) but still most of the trip was simply wonderful, and even the hard parts were meaningful and filled with extraordinary moments. I am glad we had the full range of weather that Alaska has to offer, and I am especially glad that we spent so much of our trip in an area that is still truly quite wild. Thank you Pru for knitting together the threads of our journey. I am still sorting through my pictures, and will eventually add a few to this thread as an appendix. But I think you really captured the essence of this magical place, thanks so much for sharing this with us all!


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Sorry, double post!!!!

Pru, as I sit here back in Cambridge, all dry and comfy, I am so moved and happy to be transported back to our amazing trip... Yes, some of it was hard (ie being quite sick in a tent during a wet cold gale, not really fun at all...) but still most of the trip was simply wonderful, and even the hard parts were meaningful and filled with extraordinary moments. I am glad we had the full range of weather that Alaska has to offer, and I am especially glad that we spent so much of our trip in an area that is still truly quite wild. Thank you Pru for knitting together the threads of our journey. I am still sorting through my pictures, and will eventually add a few to this thread as an appendix. But I think you really captured the essence of this magical place, thanks so much for sharing this with us all!


Edited by BethS
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Thank you so much for an amazing trip report! Reading it transported me back to the experience David and I shared. Prince William Sound is a land of extremes. Extreme weather, landscape and wildlife. It is truly a paradise for kayakers.

I look forward to reading your insights regarding gear, etc. As you and Beth discovered, PWS is a place where your gear and processes are fully tested.


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I enjoyed reading how you discovered the feeling of paddling in a wilderness location. It is unlike what we feel paddling off the coast of Maine. An illness/injury in a wilderness environment can be a really big deal.

Last year our PWS team discovered the common occurrence of a team member becoming ill. At the time, I looked within at my training and my first aid supplies and felt the need for improvement. Back in January we both enrolled in a nine day Wilderness First Responder training class at UML. That effort was connected to three goals. 1. Determine the most common types of illnesses/injuries we might encounter on PWS. 2. Prepare a fully stocked First Aid Kit which could address each identified illness/injury and would serve as a back-up to the one carried by Ryan. 3. Develop a core knowledge on how to assess an illness/injury and provide a remedy.

Based on your recent experience, was the WFR training helpful? Were the team supplies adequate? What might you do differently?


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Amazing trip and a wonderful report Pru (as always)! A minor correction, the good friday earthquake and tsunami was in 1964, not 1984. In the book by Susan Casey "The wave: ..." she mentions Shoup Bay near Valdez, where the waves reached over 200 feet up the shoreline. Glad all you had to deal with was a gale or two ;-).



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Thanks for correction, Phil, and I'll put it in report. That was just a brain cramp! I KNOW that it was 1964 because I have a very close friend who was a young teenager living in Anchorage then, and hearing from her what it was like gained new meaning for me after this trip. She said the earth just opened up in front of her - terrifying!

As for Warren's question about WFR, I did feel adequately prepared and didn't feel the need to put together a whole backup FA kit other than my own personal one. I know Ryan's was oriented to common medical issues and ortho stuff that might happen. I will leave it to Beth if she chooses to discuss her illness, as that was the only thing we had to deal with. I don't think anyone got so much as a scratch the whole time, and we were all super careful about cleanliness around food...for obvious reasons. If I were responsible for everyone on the trip, I would have had a different approach to FA. As it was, we had no room for redundancy. Seems main issues would be stabilizing someone with a serious injury until definitive care was accessible.

Even though PWS is farther out there, the injuries on a paddling trip ( beyond being mauled by wildlife on land or sea!) are pretty much what one would find on a Maine island trip, the difference being the time it might take for help to be summoned.

I appreciate peoples' enjoyment of the report, and am glad that it seems to be meeting my goal of giving a sense of what it was like out there.


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Hi All, I'll give a brief reply to the question about 1st Aid preparedness, with the option for more discussion later as needed. Basically, I never felt that I was in any danger, and I felt well cared for by the group. Thank you everyone!!! The only possible complication might have been that my viral respiratory infection could have advanced to pneumonia, which would have been serious, but still not at all life threatening under these circumstances. My goal was to try to get better as fast as possible under rather trying circumstances, so I could enjoy the rest of the trip!

The key to this was staying warm and dry, and getting as much rest for a few days as possible. The group accommodated my need to take some rest days, which was key to my getting better.

It was also a really good thing that I had a VERY warm sleeping bag (0 degree synthetic) and lot of warm clothes. In fact I even borrowed an extra emergency layer from Ryan to use when I was feverish and just kept getting chills. Having this really helped a LOT. It also helped a LOT that I had a large, comfortable 2 person 4 season tent, which would have been overkill normally, but made it a lot easier to stay both warm and dry during 2 gales! Having a tarp, tarp poles, and a pee bottle were also key. I've done a lot of wet/bad weather camping in the past, so I have a routine for how to stay reasonably dry, but still it is a lot of work and is never easy, so good gear makes all the difference.

It was really good that we had and used Purell faithfully, and that I didn't do any cooking until I was better and less contagious. No one else on the trip got sick, which was a public health achievement IMHO.

As far as first aid supplies, the only thing that was lacking was good cough syrup, I developed a really nasty cough that made it very hard to get enough sleep, as I kept coughing and coughing at night. I finally resorted to taking double doses of sleeping pills, as well as Nyquil, just so I could get some sleep. Some cough syrup with codeine might have really helped in this case. But who knows, even that doesn't always work. It had been so long since I had had a bad cough that I didn't even think of bringing such a thing.

I also made and drank a lot of spruce bud tea, which is supposed to be good for sore throats, and it seemed to help. But in the end what really helped the most was time and the sunshine!!

I think the takeaway lesson is, bring clothes that dry FAST just from body heat and are warm even when wet, bring extra clothes, bring handiwipes (they dry faster than anything else and really help to mop up condensation in the tent on cold rainy days) bring one group set of extra emergency layers (Ryan provided this, Thank you Ryan!!) and bring first aid supplies for the everyday "emergencies" as well as the serious medical conditions.

Be willing to be a little flexible in your itinerary, the weather rules here, as everywhere! Treat smaller problems aggressively before they become bigger ones. Be willing to say that you need help, or can't do something; not the easiest thing to do, but usually the wisest in the end.

I did get better in spite of the weather, and overall really enjoyed the trip!

Edited by BethS
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Responding to Beth's post about her illness...

We actually did discuss under what circumstances Beth's trip might have been over - with water taxi evac, but it never came to that.

As for meds, I don't think a group med kit would ever include cough syrup with codeine. That would be something that an individual with a history might bring for their personal kit. The pharmacy is necessarily limited; non MD's can't be handing out schedule 2 -or even schedule 5 - drugs. If things are bad enough to require them, then things may be bad enough that a person's trip is over. Also, another thing that we learned in WFR is not to be handing out lots of drugs that might mask symptoms. Symptoms may be telling us something important that we need to know.

It may be that having experienced what she did, Beth might ensure that she is not without an effective cough remedy should she get sick in the wild again.


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Responding to Beth's post about her illness...

We actually did discuss under what circumstances Beth's trip might have been over - with water taxi evac, but it never came to that.

As for meds, I don't think a group med kit would ever include cough syrup with codeine. That would be something that an individual with a history might bring for their personal kit. The pharmacy is necessarily limited; non MD's can't be handing out schedule 2 -or even schedule 5 - drugs. If things are bad enough to require them, then things may be bad enough that a person's trip is over. Also, another thing that we learned in WFR is not to be handing out lots of drugs that might mask symptoms. Symptoms may be telling us something important that we need to know.

It may be that having experienced what she did, Beth might ensure that she is not without an effective cough remedy should she get sick in the wild again.


Quite correct about the cough meds, and it was something that i never thought of needing. Next i'll at least bring cough drops, if not something stronger.

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Pru and Beth,

I had a mixed response reading your report of your Alaskan adventure. Part one with cold uncooperative weather felt so daunting that I wondered when the fun was to begin and envied you and your companions not. However, the more I read and thought about it I felt that in retrospect the pleasure of satisfaction in overcoming obstacles and your palpable acomplishments would long trump a few days of discomfort. You have my admiration for doing this awesome trip.

Jason: Isn't there a way to delete a redundant thread?

Edited by GCosloy
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