Kayaking Glacier Bay
Beartrack Cove lies at the northern end of the Beardslee Islands, and presents the northbound paddler with the first taste of open, exposed water. Wind direction during periods of clear weather is often from the north, where the wind can blow for 20 miles across open water. You need to take the wind strength into account when paddling in this area, particularly in the afternoon.
The Beartrack River flows into the head of Beartrack Cove. Around 15 miles in length, it drains an area of several dozen square miles north of the cove and as far east as the divide at the park boundary. Streams of this size mean food for bears, especially during salmon spawning season. You will probably see tracks as well as the bears themselves on this trip. Large inflow streams also indicate widespread tidal flats, which exist along the east and north shores of the cove.
Beartrack Island, halfway into the cove near the north shore, is an island at high water only. During low tides, it is connected to the mainland by mud flats. Campsites along the south shore of the cove are not recommended because they are exposed to the prevailing wind. Campsites do exist on the north shore, just west of Beartrack Island.
Since Beartrack Cove was free of ice by 1820, adequate time has elapsed for a respectable forest to grow. The shoreline is densely wooded with conifers that have shaded out the alders and cottonwoods. Paddling up this coast, you will notice the diminishing size of the coniferous forest.
Many paddlers spend time on the protected beach one mile south of York Creek (near GOAT survey marker). A blunt point provides shelter, and a series of older gravel beaches extends varying distances from the water, at different elevations. It is easy to find a campsite above the high water. The alder screen is thin to nonexistent here. On entering the forest you are immediately engulfed in a moss-carpeted rain forest where devil's club spreads its broad, spiny leaves. Bear trails lace the moss in every direction. York Creek drains a small glacier 5 miles inland, as well as other ice fields. The final outpouring to salt water is tumultuous, roaring over and around granite boulders. From this point northward, campsites are scarce and limited.
Northwest of York Creek, Leland Island dominates the view of Glacier Bay. Some 5 miles off shore beyond it are South Marble and North Marble islands. South Marble's southern half is closed year-round, including the waters off shore. This island is a common haul-out spot for sea lions, and the only place within Glacier Bay where these animals are found. Both Marble islands are bird rookeries. The Park Service recommends not going ashore on any unwooded islands to avoid disturbing birds that primarily congregate and nest on bare rock. Both Marble Islands are easily recognized at a distance by their distinctive dome shape, lack of vegetation, and near-white bird-guano and natural limestone coloring. A visit to the proximity of these islands should be considered only during times of calm water because of their distance from shore.
Wolf Creek is one of two streams entering at the head of Spokane Cove. Both streams drain several square miles of territory. Extensive tidal flats dominate the east end of the cove, flanked by dense stands of rye grass and alders. In the early spring, it is hard to imagine more perfect bear habitat. The closure area, due to bear activity, begins at Wolf Creek. After bear-closure restrictions are lifted, there is good camping along the north shore of the peninsula enclosing Spokane Cove. The best is near the blunt point forming the north shore at the mouth of the cove proper. Be sure to pick a campsite above high water, where adequate water depth exists near shore to avoid stranding your kayak.
South Sandy Cove offers great protection from all winds except strong westerlies. The island shown as the topo survey mark DANCE becomes the tip of a small peninsula at low water.
Inside its shelter and that furnished by other points, the water is usually calm. The passage between South and North Sandy coves is dry, except at high tide, so using this narrow time slot requires careful attention to the tides.
Whether the main feature of North Sandy Cove is Puffin Island, there is a delightful mini-bay that lies at its east end. The island sports many cliffs, colorful lichens and rocks, and is home to easily observed tidal creatures such as stars and chitons. In the summer it also hosts nesting tufted puffins. Nest sites in rock jumbles and cracks in cliffs can sometimes be identified by the dirt that the birds have excavated from their nesting burrows. Within the mini-bay, about a half square mile in area, are a variety of shoreline-cliffs and grassy flats—tiny coves, various bird habitat, and most important, completely protected water. These benefits attract small cruise ships that frequently anchor here. Such "eco-tour" passengers are good neighbors, but their presence can be disconcerting to kayakers who have paddled many miles in search of wilderness and solitude.
From Puffin Island 4 miles north to Mt. Wright, there is little protection offered along shore. Two distinct points within the first mile and a half can shelter you from northerly breezes. Beyond that, only tiny coves and points provide less-than-ideal shelter. The shoreline becomes especially precipitous along the west slopes of Mt. Wright. Northbound paddlers caught in windy conditions along this section can consider stopping at Garforth Island, which is less than half a mile from the mainland shore. Camping is possible near the north and south ends of the island. Fortunately, Glacier Bay narrows as you approach the entrance to Muir Point, reducing the wind's sweep.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication