Sunday, August 3, 2014

Winning the Weather Lottery - Kayaking in Berner's Bay

The weather towards the end of June was cloudy and rainy, with not much hope for improvement any time soon. We squeezed in some good bike rides and hikes when we got the chance, but for the most part we put on rain gear and made the best of it. One rainy, foggy day we loaded up the kayaks and went to Echo Cove. 

We hadn’t been kayaking yet this year. Truth be told, we had not done any good, long kayak trips in a number of years, although both of us have spent many summers kayaking in Glacier Bay, the Chichagof outer coast, Admiralty Island, and the many island passages and waterways along the Juneau coast line.

We enjoyed a quiet day paddling the shore towards Sawmill Creek. I’d forgotten how peaceful and relaxing it is to silently glide through the water, sneaking up on ducks, shorebirds, and seals. We are out on the water quite a bit on our 25’ aluminum boat, but kayaking is a different experience – like bicycling through a park instead of driving by in a car. All of your senses are engaged. Sight, smell, touch, sound, and even the taste of the salt air are more intense when you’re moving slowly in a kayak.

Sea kayaking is enjoyable even on a foggy, rainy day
We had so much fun that as soon as we got home, I decided it would be a great idea to rent the Berner’s Bay cabin and plan a kayak trip there. Turns out it was fully booked for most of the summer, with only two open nights at the end of July. I snapped up the reservation without a second thought.

The gray, wet weather continued for the next month. Mostly rainy, drizzly, and cloudy with a few breaks here and there. We told ourselves we’d still have a good time on our kayak camping trip despite the rain. We took the boats out on a wet day and double checked our gear and our attitude, getting ready for our little trip.

As our departure date approached, the rain continued. But - what was this? I don’t like to put much faith in weather forecasts, but I actually saw the word “sunny” appear for the days we planned to be gone. Nah, that couldn’t be right. No one has good luck like that.

Wednesday morning we drove out to Echo Cove, ready to start the eight mile paddle to the Berner’s Bay cabin. The farther out the road we drove, the nicer the weather became. By the time we reached the boat ramp, we had blue sky and calm waters. The normally busy Echo Cove recreation area was unusually quiet. It was the middle of the work week, and the weather in town was still cloudy and damp, so we figured most people weren’t going to bother with driving to the “end of the road” for boating and camping.
The next three days and two nights proved to be so amazingly beautiful that words almost fail me, so I’ll let the pictures speak instead. We were completely spoiled from start to finish, with glassy, calm waters, blue skies, and not another soul around except for the occasional crabber checking pots. The cabin was in excellent condition despite the continual flow of visitors all summer long. We explored the east and west shores of the bay until our arms were ready to fall off. Over a dozen loons accompanied us when we crossed the bay to explore, and seals followed us everywhere we paddled. Dall porpoise jumped gracefully across the water as we sat on the beach in the evening. In true northern fashion, the sunsets lasted for hours. The Big Dipper, surrounded by thousands of stars, appeared bright and large in front of the cabin in the middle of the night. We may never be so lucky again, but this time we truly won the lottery.
Morning view of Lion's Head peak from Berner's Bay cabin. A boat pulling crab pots was our only company all day.
Looking forward to a full day of exploring Berner's Bay. We paddled until our arms were ready to drop off.
We tried to get up the Berner's River, but the tide and current would not cooperate.

Seals followed us wherever we went.
Slate Creek cove on the west side of Berner's Bay. Kensington mine loading dock is at the mouth of this cove.
The sunsets were ridiculously beautiful every night, and lasted for hours.
Early morning fog looking across to the west side of the bay from the cabin.

We decided to rename Berner's Bay: Berner's Lake
A rest stop at Sawmill Creek on the trip home.
Great Blue Heron feeding in Sawmill Creek

Saying good-bye to Berner's Bay on the paddle home.
Berner's Bay: Discovered by Joseph Whidbey in 1794 and named by Capt. Vancouver. Name is probably from "Berners," his mother's family name. Dictionary of Alaska Place Names, 1971, p. 126.

Lions Head Mountain: Kakuhan Range, Coast Mts. Descriptive name given in 1867 by George Davidson, USC&GS, because its "serrated profile is said to show, when seen from Chatham strait, a resemblance to a couchant lion". Dictionary of Alaska Place Names, 1971, p. 578.

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