Orange Rhymes With: A weekend at sea

In a last-ditch attempt to obliterate any chance of passing my few remaining midterms I decided to make the obvious decision to take sea kayaking at the last minute. If you’ve been even remotely following these columns this semester, you’ll recognize this as just another installment in the growing trend of my lack of academic awareness.

Much like backpacking, sea kayaking was offered through the outdoor recreation academic program, however this course was jam packed into two weeks rather than half a semester. Our training involved intensive pool sessions to practice various paddle strokes, “wet exits” and rescue techniques, and a great deal of research into local weather conditions for the excursion.

The trip itself started on the outskirts of Seward, where we were set to paddle out to Caine’s Head, a natural rocky cliff housing an abandoned WWII era military fort. We were set to do a short paddle to our camp at North Beach, do a day paddle and hike on day two, and then return on the third day to drive back to Anchorage in hopes of getting at least some homework done.

The first day began without issue and the water was the calmest I’ve ever seen outside of a bathtub. We saw all manner of sea life, from seals and aquatic birds, to jellyfish that seemed to be in a competition to see who could display the most outlandish color patterns. Setting up camp was a breeze with the clear weather, and we were all thrilled to get to work cooking our meals for the evening.

Before the trip my camp partner and I — having taken the backpacking course where every ounce of weight had to be evaluated prior to packing — were met with the startling revelation that weight wasn’t going to be a constraint on this trip. Admittedly we may have gone a bit overboard after we made this discovery.

While our meals on the backpacking trips had consisted of gourmet chili-mac and dehydrated Thanksgiving-style dinners, for this trip we kicked it up a notch — or 10. With no weight restrictions we brought giant red salmon fillets, juicy steaks and caribou sausage and eggs for breakfast. My tent mate even made a garlic butter and white wine reduction sauce for the steak in the middle of a coastal rainforest. We didn’t just ring the dinner bell for any local bears, I’m fairly sure we just outright confused them.

While we had also each packed ocean rods in hope of catching rockfish, our catch of the day instead consisted of a deceptive kelp bed and the occasional tangled mass of seaweed. Unfortunately this meant that we missed the opportunity to practice a rescue in real conditions, though this did allow me to avoid putting my dry suit — which, for some reason resembled a Star Trek officer’s uniform — to the test.

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On day two we hiked up to the top of Caine’s Head where the fort was located. Exploring Fort McGilvray was something that I’ve always wanted to do, but never had a group large enough to justify going with. The entire fort must be explored with a headlamp and a healthy appreciation for horror movie cliches. The experience certainly didn’t disappoint, from the garage sized indentations left over from massive gun turrets, to the massive maze of concrete walls designed to withstand a full-scale attack. A previous explorer even helpfully scrawled the words “you will die” on the walls for us, something that sent me into an uncontrollable laughing fit in a veritable mountain fortress high above Resurrection Bay.

On the final day the winds picked up, and we hastily broke camp to try and limit our exposure to the wind during the paddle. A trip that had taken us under three hours at a leisurely pace now turned into a five hour excursion due to rough seas and a strong headwind. At one point, an experienced student was hit broadside by a wave and suffered what can only be described at the most exuberant mishap I’ve ever seen. While my campmate and I pulled up next to her boat to do an assisted rescue, she was all smiles and laughter as she struggled to get back into the kayak amid the rough waves.

The trip ended without incident, as we all made it back to the bus safely and promptly fell asleep before we had even left Seward. Being that this was my final outdoor class of the semester, the last class meeting was far more bitter than sweet. But, armed with my plan to take some combination of winter camping and backcountry skiing in the spring, and the knowledge that we’ll soon have a non-academic version of the program up and running, I suppose I’ll be able to grind through the rest of my (now woefully boring) semester. Until then, I’m content with my 6 billion pictures and enough memories to last a lifetime.

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UAA kayakers float through the mouth of Tonsina Creek
UAA kayakers float through the mouth of Tonsina Creek
 Students in a UAA sea kayaking class prepare for departure at Lowell Point, Alaska.

Students in a UAA sea kayaking class prepare for departure at Lowell Point, Alaska.

 

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 UAA kayaking students paddle back to shore from North Beach

UAA kayaking students paddle back to shore from North Beach
 Students stop for lunch on the way to Caine's Head.

Students stop for lunch on the way to Caine’s Head.

 

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