PRINCE WILLIAM SOUND
We began paddling in Prince William Sound in 1982 as personal trips and expanded them to educational opportunities later in the mid eighties. After a long hiatus following the Exxon Valdez incident, we are again conducting modest length trips to witness the grandeur that surrounds this northern temperate rain forest of towering hemlocks and spruce and riotous calving tidewater glaciers. In the past couple years these trips have become increasingly popular and we responded this year by expanding the opportunities.
No other factor comes close to rivaling the importance of plate tectonics for defining the unique character of Prince William Sound. Its curious position along the leading edge of the North Pacific's 'ring of fire' is responsible for building the steeps of the Chugach and Kenai mountains and their expansive ice fields which act as barriers to the influences of Alaska's interior and frames the 10,000 square mile basin that is Prince William Sound. As recently as 1964 the 3000 miles of coastline has been dramatically altered by the rumbling within the Earth's crust. Climate resulting from this juxt of position of major mountain building so near a large body of water nourishes both icefields and rain forests with copious quantities of precipitation, which is the catalyst for the extravagant growth of both glaciers and vegetation. Two bountiful communities, the terrestrial and pelagic environments, melds into a super abundant collision of natural wonder. Over 220 species of birds exploit the resources of these varied habitats as well as nearly a dozen marine mammals even more terrestrial mammals and 5 species of salmon.
In May the surrounding mountains will be blanketed in deep snow, skies tend to be clearest and there is a sense of freshness as all things begin to respond to the abundant daylight. Fewer visitors also allow for a more intimate experience. By season's end in August the mountain sides are emerald green and laced with waterfalls. The forest's understory is ripe with berries and flowers. Increasing dusk in the evenings can reveal northern lights. At any time of year, there is an abundance of marine life passing by to entertain. A day here may begin by waking to a serenade of nesting songbirds and perhaps watching a family of sea otters float by during breakfast and mixed with a day of paddling with pelagic birds and marine mammals to anchoring in a camp near a calving tidewater glacier and catching a mink feeding on a mussel bed. A short walk away and you are gathering fresh water at the base of a slender waterfall. At the end of the day your eyes will hammer shut from sensory overload.
All sea kayak trips begin with a drive from Anchorage along the scenic Seward Highway to the charter boat's slip in Whittier. On this ride we generally see moose, sheep and belugas all unlikely in the Sound. We will board a charter vessel that ferries us directly to and fro our remote starting and finishing locations. This trip, generally 1 1/2 hour, can be a great way to see other parts of the Sound and some of its special interests like bird rookeries and whales. Our trips usually consist of 6 people (considerable smaller than most other companies) and thus are very flexible and responsive to the whims of the group. This year we are offering trips during a broad appropriate time frame in an attempt to increase the accessibility. Smaller group can confirm a launch with a slight increased fee representing the higher costs associated by less people sharing the fixed costs, primarily logistical.
Sea Kayaking Trips
5 days, launching mid May through August
This trip is our best glacier showcase trip and is especially appropriate for novice paddlers. Harriman is ~12 mile long narrow tidewater glacier studded fiord located in the remote northwest corner of the Sound far from the chaotic sea of the Gulf of Alaska. From a centrally located beach we will develop paddling skills and explore the greater part of the fiord during day paddles. This camp is situated across from an actively calving glacier and adjacent to a roiling fresh water creek. After extensive exploration of the back bay we will cap off our trip with a stay at a great ice amphitheater for an often spectacular view of 3 active glaciers. This one spot rivaled by few others for sheer intensity of ice field immensity. The trip ends with a short paddle out into a more mature forest ecosystem and an expansive view of the wide open Sound. With lots of smaller marine mammals (otters, sea lions, seals), this can be a very complete view of the Prince William Sound experience and hands down our most popular trip.
ICE TO ISLANDS
6 days, launching mid May through July
This trip exposes the many different sides of the Sound, from glacial ice to pelagically active islands. To begin, we will explore the great ice amphitheater of the Harriman trip and will also peer into glacier studded College Fiord, the steeper twin sister to Harriman. We will continue the trip south down narrow Ester Passage lined emerald green with stately evergreens for an almost 'reach out and touch it' experience. From the south end of Ester Passage a series of open crossings are possible to discover small islands rich in history and bird life. Weather permitting we will end on the northern tip of Perry Island in the middle of the Sound. There are many options to this trip which can be catered to the group's interests and the weather, but basically this is a travel trip. To get the most from this trip, some paddling experience is recommended.
DERICKSON SPIT BASECAMP
4 days launching mid June through August
Theater in the round. The Sargent ice field has carved out a stunning bowl in the local granite. We establish our comfortable basecamp on the remnant terminal moraine of this Pleistocene excavation with great views of both the open Sound in front and the ice berg dappled waters of the quiet bay behind. Fresh water rushes down each side of the Bay from the retreating ice field. It would be easy to be entertained for the entire time watching the 15' tide turn blue-green water into cobblestone mussel beds, but why with an abundance of activities that surround you. Great hikes up in the granite shield, local paddling to Nellie Juan glacier and longer paddle trips to nearby scenic bays. This is a very flexible and relaxing trip to a magnificent landmark.
6 days, launching mid May through August
College Fiord is the twin sister of Harriman Fiord, just steeper, deeper, bigger and less visited. Camping beaches are less common here which may explain why it is less visited by kayakers. A number of our favorite stops on the Ice to Islands trip are here and with a few species of salmon returning to spawn, there are more orcas and black bears than in Harriman. With common williwaw winds the paddling is slightly more demanding, so this is our Harriman advanced trip. Also we are traveling more and basecamping less. In some ways this is the Ice half of the Ice to Islands trip with more time to explore everything the north half of the trip has to offer.
NORTHERN ISLAND TOUR
6 days, launching mid May through mid July
As the College Fiord trip highlights the Ice half of the Ice to Islands trip, the Island Tour highlights the Islands. Frustration runs high when we have such a short time to explore this part of the outing, so we made it its own trip. In spring the islands are nurseries to both marine mammals and pelagic birds. We will loop through nearly a dozen islands and discover the productivity of each. Expect a lot of wildlife; otters and seals are common as are eagles, terns, auklets and puffins. In addition, there is an interesting human history of abandoned fox farms and communications outposts to examine here, though the area doesn't get many modern visitors probably because there are no glaciers. It is remote and exotic. Because we are constantly crossing from island to island fundamental kayaking experience is required.
OUTER ISLAND TOUR
5 days, launching early June - mid July
Much like the Northern Islands Tour, this trip is heavily focused on bird watching and requiring some previous kayaking experience. Located dead center in the Sound these islands couldn't be more removed. Twice a day the tide pulls most of the water in the western Sound passed including its nutrients; this fact has not been overlooked by the resident marine mammals and pelagic birds. As we paddle from cove to cove we will pass cliffs of various breeding birds including both species of puffins. Inland there are also colonies of herons and numerous sitka black tailed deer. Expect a lot of wildlife and not many other people you need to share it with.
5 days, launching mid June through early August
Highest on everyone's wish list when visiting the Sound are whales and glaciers. This is our solution. Structured like our Harriman Fiord trip this is mostly a day paddling/basecamping trip. The scenery is much more pelagic than Harriman. The big ocean views lend themselves to wonderful whale watching, in fact we have been incredibly entertained for entire days without having to leave camp. The whales, sea otters, sea lions, river otters, bears, mink, bald eagles and puffins all seem to come to us, the glaciers are more stubborn and requires day paddle trips. The two tidewater glaciers we visit could not be more different which makes them complementary as well; one is steep and narrow the other 2.5 miles wide and slopes gradually to the sky, both calve regularly.
KNIGHT ISLAND PASSAGE
7 days, launching mid June to early August
This is the platinum version of our Icy Bay trip. With the great tidewater glaciers, whales and wildlife viewing it adds a travel itinerary that includes coasting the western shore of Knight Island. Knight Island resilient backbone of granite and basalt offers singularly unique hiking opportunities and the bay studded western side offers endless days of exploring. After spending 2 days in the Icy Bay region we will head south and east to make our crossing over to Knight Island and the spend the remainder of the trip paddling north exploring the numerous bays. Ideally we will have an entire day for hiking. Humpback whales should remain common throughout the trip.
7 days launching mid May through July
Our small group size is especially appropriate for this super productive body of water. Located halfway between Whittier and Valdez, Unakwik has been overlooked by most paddlers as too awkward to access. Also there are a limited number of suitable beaches to camp on, but once one does decide to visit, they are rewarded by a largely unvisited Inlet with abundant wildlife. We will spend the first half of the trip exploring this remote country including a tidewater glacier, before heading back toward Whittier along the outer mainland. This is another travel (paddle) oriented trip for those already comfortable in sea kayaks and paddling 12 to 15 miles a day.
3 days launching June through August
Through the years we have numerous requests for short trips to see the glaciers. This is our answer. Blackstone is the closest gathering of tidewater glaciers to Whittier, and despite its lack of remoteness it is unbearably scenic and impressive. Ice rings the back of the Bay and collapses to the sea. The best ice viewing/camping are not reachable by the charter boat so we paddle into and out of the Bay and will spend the middle day taking as much in as we can on a day paddle. If you are looking for a quick glacier experience to fit into a larger Alaskan itinerary this might meet your needs.
SOUTHERN SOUND TOUR
6 days, launching mid May through July
After a very positive exploratory trip last summer, we are offering regular trips to the most southern part of the Sound. Its distance from Whittier and exposure to the Gulf select against many paddlers visiting the area. For those with experience, this is a remarkable opportunity. Here we begin our exploration in a whale playground that has just the right combination of nutrient-rich tidal flush from the Gulf of Alaska and protection from the open waters. On the mainland there are still a few glaciers trailing off the Sargent ice field which adds the perfect combination of geology and wildlife. Off we go traveling in a loop through narrow island passages and along steep shores of dense luxurious forests. The richness of these waters fosters a vibrant community of marine wildlife. And unlike many parts of the Sound, the pulse of the sea is very real here. Longer days and more challenging conditions makes this an experienced paddlers trip only. The rewards of this tour is it's dramatic landscape which are many and magnificent.
6 days, launching mid May through August
The big attractions in Prince William Sound are whales and glaciers. As more people discover and appreciate these qualities, remoteness and solitude become more precious. The success of our Unakwik Inlet trip has prompted us to add this trip called Hidden Cove, but not it's real name. We are offering another paddling trip oriented for those whose primary goal is to get off the 'beaten path'. Without a tidewater glacier, far from the primary feeding grounds of the whales and distant from Whittier and Valdez, this bay is way off the radar screen. Striking granite outcroppings, an unusual forest of cedar trees and numerous hikes to small lakes are some of the attractions. Deer and bears more sensitive to human intrusions are also more obvious here. Like Unakwik finding big high gravel camping beaches is the puzzle. This is a real explorer's trip.
Wilderness Alaska is operating under Special Use Permit on the Chugach National Forest.
Wilderness Alaska is an Equal Opportunity Provider.