By Kelly Yelverton
Editor’s Note: Lyons resident Kelly Yelverton recently graduated from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Oregon. To celebrate her accomplishment, she and a friend have decided to paddle their sea kayaks on a 1,200-mile journey through the Inside Passage to Alaska. She will be sending updates and photo of her adventure throughout the summer.
The day we left San Juan Island I received some words of advice. “Love the adventure for where it takes you.” This adventure has definitely taken us to some
incredible locations. The last portion of our trip took us from Juneau to Glacier Bay, and then over to Haines and finally Skagway. Glacier Bay is separated from the Chatham Strait by the Icy Strait, which runs east to west. We would have to backtrack along this several days in order to make our way back into waters leading north to Haines and Skagway. The extra time and effort spent getting into the park though was worth it.
Glacier Bay was made into a National Park in 1980 and it’s easy to tell why many people sought to give it special treatment. We spent three nights in the east arm, in Muir Inlet, named after famous naturalist John Muir, who explored the area at the turn of the century. In 1750, shortly before Captain George Vancouver surveyed the area, the glaciers flowed into a single body and squeezed out into the icy strait several hundred feet. Today they have receded sixty-five miles into the bay. We made our way to the McBride Glacier, accessible only by kayak through a narrow and turbulent section of water that has to be navigated at slack tide. Even with frozen feet and hands, we were all smiles looking over the bows of our boats at the face of the massive ice wall, our compasses reading zero degrees. We had reached one of our northernmost terminuses!
It was easy to love the adventure as we wove through icebergs and fluking humpback whales, but in the midst of some tasks we occasionally lost that mentality. After chasing the rapidly receding tide over a quarter mile of boulders to get our boats packed and into the water one morning, I was not in a particularly enjoyable mood. Straddling my boat over a precarious drop off, I stuffed bags into the hatches with one hand and swatted swarming bugs with the other. The loud exhale of a whale made me look up to see a humpback surfacing less than fifteen feet away. No matter how frustrated, tired, or sore I was, this adventure always threw something at me as a reminder to absorb every second and look around at where I had paddled.
Including rest days, it took us exactly three months to kayak from Washington to Skagway. Seventy-six of those days we were on the water. We averaged around twenty nautical miles per day. Our voyage home, aboard the Alaskan ferry Malaspina, will only take three and a half days. Neither one of us can imagine waking up in the morning and doing anything besides paddling north, but I suppose it will sink in once we arrive in Bellingham. Many people we’ve spoken with in towns along the way have asked what the most difficult part of our trip has been. Funny enough it might actually be coming to terms with the fact that it’s over! We have undoubtedly loved this adventure for all the places it has taken us, but also for all the people it has led us to. We have made countless new friends along the way. Friendly fishermen, sailors, yachters, and locals all treated us to the occasional meal, a place to stay, and wonderful company. A list of the individuals who made this adventure an unforgettable reminder of the kindness of strangers would be very long indeed. We have been met with many words of congratulations as well as looks that plainly say, “you’re kidding, right?” Our adventure has been a realization for us both, and hopefully for some of the folks we met, that with enough time, food, and a friend crazy enough to join, it really is possible to go anywhere.
Sent from somewhere north of Portland