Kayaking Glacier Bay

Mt. Wright to Beartrack Cove
Gorp.com

We intended to slip into Beartrack Cove from the Beardslees through the narrow channel between their northernmost island and the peninsula to the east. Helped by a flood tide, we did fine until encountering a dry spot in mid-channel. Millions of mussels, forming a royal blue-purple carpet in the intertidal zone, lent visual stimulation as we waited. A first trickle of water ran its rivulet across the reef of mussels, quickly becoming a stream deep enough to float our kayak. We paddled a tiny, secondary bay, and entered Beartrack Cove.

Afternoons are not the best time for open crossings, and this afternoon a 10-knot wind, sweeping from the north across 20 miles of open water, kicked up 18-inch waves. We quartered into the waves, and crossed the 2-mile width of Beartrack Cove to the north shore. The shoreline offered us some protection. Turning north, we paddled up the coast to a welcome campsite at the inland end of a south-facing beach one mile below York Creek. Snug from the wind and yet tired from the paddle, we set up camp on the highest gravel shelf, above all visible signs of high water. Our stove hissed while we anchored the tent, then moved the boat above high water and tied it to alders. After hot food and drinks on the beach, we relaxed to write in our logs as a light sprinkle fell on the tent.

Morning brought a steely sky and unabated wind. Anxious as we were to see more of this coast, little was to be gained by paddling directly into a minor gale. By ten o'clock, the wind diminished and we were able to head north. York Creek descended in a rush of whitewater as it entered the bay. There was wildlife here. A pair of especially bright harlequin ducks paddled out of our way as we landed to replenish drinking water. A blue heron peered at us with suspicion before taking wing. Brilliant green algae affixed to granite boulders below the high-tide line contrasted with the foaming white water.

Intrigued by Leland Island just 2 miles west, we considered the camping possibilities there. All but the south tip of the island is closed to landing year-round. When we looked into Spokane Cove, 3 miles north, our binoculars revealed a couple of black bears grazing just above the high-tide mark. Homing on the tiny black dots, we paddled closer for half an hour. The hooked peninsula jutting southwest between Spokane and South Sandy coves stopped the wind, and our boat slipped over the calm surface like a knife. We spotted more bears ashore, and, mindful of the bear closure in effect here, changed course to round the peninsula, leaving Spokane Cove to its ursine occupants.

The exposed rock faces on Puffin Island presented lichens and colors markedly different from the shoreline to the south. We paddled close to the island, speculating on which fissure or crack provided nesting sites to tufted puffins. Drifting very close to the island, we saw many chitons and sea stars clinging to rocks in the intertidal zone at the base of cliffs.

The wide, protected east end of North Sandy Cove is a kayaker's dream. We spotted another kayak in the cove, and as we rounded the point, a 200' cruise vessel came into view. Anchored there, the ship gave passengers a taste of the intimate coves of Glacier Bay. As we watched, a dozen kayaks were launched to paddle the cove. A black bear on shore drew much attention.

As we left this reminder of civilization behind and headed north, a white dot moving far up on a precipitous slope caught our eye. Our first mountain go, we scouted for several more that came into view on the high cliffs. For a minute we drifted in our kayak, watching. A feeling of belonging settled over us. Careful not to break the spell, we dipped our paddles and headed north.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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