Kenai Wilderness Cabin

Into the Swells
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At noon on our third day, Dave and I revel in midday heat as we share lunch on a black-sand beach. A plane passes somewhere far overhead; ten seconds of motorized humming and it's gone. In five days we'll see or hear a half-dozen aircraft, all of them distant, and meet only two other people, rangers on patrol. Yes, we've picked the right spot.

The air had been still, the sky overcast, and the paddling easy when we left the cabin three hours earlier. Now the sun has appeared. And as it heats the land, it sets in motion a current of air; a steady southeast wind begins blowing up the bay.

Lunch finished, Dave grabs his camera gear and heads toward the glacial Nuka River. I linger, content to intermittently daydream and study our surroundings. Across Beauty Bay is one of the area's few named peaks: Mount Diablo, topping out at 2,451 feet. Its lower slopes are cloaked in dense spruce forest and subalpine brush, so it must be a devil of a peak to climb; maybe that's what prompted its naming. If so, then just about every mountain around here is similarly devilish.

My thoughts don't stay in high places for long. There's too much going on down here, by the water. At the head of the bay hundreds of gulls talk noisily among themselves, while in the saltwater two seals hunt salmon. It's been another good day for wildlife; paddling here, we'd seen two harbor porpoises off in the distance, their dark gray backs and dorsal fins gracefully rolling in and out of the water. And we'd crossed paths with eight horned puffins—the first Dave has seen—their squat bodies skimming the water, wings beating furiously.

Dave and I rendezvous at 3 p.m. and prepare for our return voyage. The wind is now blowing 15 or 20 mph, right into our faces, and the water is churned into white-capped swells. Progress is slow as we angle into the wind, across three- and four-foot waves. "Are we moving?" Dave finally asks. "Sometimes it seems like we're going backward."

"We're doing OK," I assure him. "We just need to keep at it, keep paddling."

We're soaked by waves that crash against the bow and occasionally midships, but we're not in any danger. The double Klepper is a sturdy, stable, seaworthy boat; we won't capsize as long as we don't take unnecessary chances. If conditions worsen we can retreat, wait out the wind. Paddling hard and steady, we move out of Beauty Bay and into the arm. Twenty minutes more and the worst is over; the wind eases, the swells diminish. For the first time in an hour, we can rest. We sit in silence for several minutes, content to dry out, warm up in the late afternoon sun, relax.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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