Alaska, Featured, Outdoors, Travel

Around the Horn on Knight Island

by Allison Sayer for Seward City News-

This past spring, I was invited to join a group of women paddlers on a kayak trip out of Whittier starting on July 4. As the day of our trip approached, the forecast was almost too good to be true: variable winds up to ten knots, seas 2 feet. This forecast continued for several days. We were hoping to spend some of the trip on Knight Island, and the promising weather made this plan extremely likely.

Captain Chris of Chugach Charters was our water taxi. He dropped us on a large beach called Bush Point on Perry Island. He suggested picking us up at Herring Point on Knight Island at the end of our trip.

There were five of us on the whole trip, all women around 40 years old. That gave us about 100 years of paddling experience to draw from! Another friend came along on the one way water taxi, spent a couple of days with us, and then paddled home solo.

Calm Waters. Photo: Allison Sayer.

On our first day of paddling, we paddled north around Perry Island, enjoying the cliff and ledge scenery. On the east side, we did a check in to see how we felt about starting to do some crossings.

Even with good weather, crossings require confidence. How were everybody’s shoulders/wrists/elbows/spines? I was in a new boat and three women were in borrowed boats- how did the boats feel?

From Perry, we crossed to Lone Island. On Lone Island, we did another group inventory and all systems were still go.

We were fortunate to have hot, sunny weather, but that weather can cause katabatic winds in the afternoon. No matter where you’re going the afternoon winds always seem to be headwinds! We got up early every day of this trip to ensure we got some paddling in before this phenomenon could occur.

Beach Camping on Perry Island. Photo: Allison Sayer.

Early the morning of the 6th, we had a light breakfast, organized our gear, and checked the weather on our radios. Everyone was excited to paddle the 9 mile crossing. We put on drysuits even though the weather was hot, and organized our boats to have snacks and water handy.

Once on the water, we sent out a radio call to alert any boat traffic to our presence, grouped up together, and felt out the current. We picked points on the shoreline to aim for with our bows that would compensate for the current. We took compass bearings of those points just in case of unexpected visibility loss and we also had a GPS handy. Due to the sunny skies, we did not actually need to use these pieces of equipment. However, we would have been remiss to cross the strait without some navigational tools. Orcas passed us to the south while we were in the channel, giving us all a thrill.

After three hours of steady paddling, we reached the north shore of Eleanor Island. This island was the most beautiful to me of the whole trip. The cliffs were made of pillow basalts and other lava formations, and filled with huge broken rocks like crazy castles. Alternating light and dark beaches made the water glow green. Hummingbirds flew down from the forest to check out the brightly colored boats. Whales passed through the bay, with the sound of their breath echoing off the cliff walls.

Green Water and Volcanic Rocks on Eleanor Island. Photo: Allison Sayer.

We slowed our pace way down and explored nooks and crannies in the lava. Eventually we found a place to camp. The following day we would actually reach Knight Island.

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Once on Knight Island we had another decision to make- inside or outside? If we paddled around the outside and then got stuck there for some reason, it would be a very expensive water taxi back. Also, on the map it looked like the shoreline was extremely cliffy. This could make the paddle along that shoreline similar to a crossing in that we would not be able to beach the boats for long stretches of the paddle. Paddling around the outside would also commit us to doing high mileage most days to get back around to the northwestern side of the island. However, the weather forecast was still good with only one questionable day in the future.

We felt we could compensate for one weather day. We knew we might not be in this exact spot again, and certainly could never count on having such good weather again. We decided to do the outer route.

Kayaker Dwarfed by Cliff. Photo: Allison Sayer

The paddle down the outer shore of Knight Island was amazing. It was not as exposed as we had anticipated, with many storm beaches available for breaks. With clear weather we could see the mountains of Montague Island. We encountered a large raft of mother and baby otters, nesting eagles, harbor seal haul outs, river otters, many shore and seabirds, and porpoises. The water was extremely clear, and we could see the eelgrass beds, sculpins, sea stars, pink encrusting algae, and many other little life forms as we paddled.

We did have one day of rain and headwinds while we were on the outer shore of the island. However, we were able to make some miles in the morning before finding a spot to tuck in for the rest of the weather. The campsite we found had a huge, beautiful beach and a freshwater waterfall and pool. It was a great place to hunker down.

Camped in the Tundra. Photo: Allison Sayer

On one beach just north of the southern point, we saw a humpback whale that had been dead for some time. We got out to check it out even though it was pretty grossly decayed. Oddly, there were no bears nor any signs bears had disturbed the carcass. We saw no signs of entanglement or any other human causes of death. We were not sure whether we should call any scientists to report the whale. Coincidentally, just thirty minutes later a boat full of women approached us. They were whale researchers! We told them the location of the carcass. We also had the opportunity to watch them maneuver into place to photograph a live whale while we ate lunch on the southern tip of the island.

We rounded the horn of Knight Island on July 9, and then had until the night of July 11 to reach Herring Point. On the west side of Knight Island, finding camping that would stay dry through high tide was challenging. We set up our tents in the forest one night, and in the tundra another. The tundra site was extremely beautiful and filled with wetland wildflowers. It was also very buggy!

Clear Water. Photo: Allison Sayer.

The inner shore of Knight Island was teeming with life. We saw groups of fledgling hermit thrushes, many small marine mammals, mothers with baby mergansers, and lots of oystercatchers. We heard thrushes singing constantly.

We reached our destination on the afternoon of July 11. We set up our last camp, and started thinking about the transition back to Whittier. This beach contained one final gift: tidepools in the rocks filled with anemones.

We were extremely fortunate to have great weather, a good group, and an awesome water taxi. We can’t wait for another Prince William Sound adventure!

Green Water. Photo: Allison Sayer

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