A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
Fairbanks: -24°/-1°/Partly cloudy
A kayaker collects beached glacier ice along Derickson Bay in Prince William Sound for coolers back at camp. Much of Prince William Sound is accessible to paddlers using water-taxi drop-off services out of Whittier and Valdez.
Whether it's on your own or with a tour, paddling is a great way to see wildlife.
WHITTIER -- A strong north wind ruffled the waters of Passage Canal on this Thursday in August as Jon Nickles of Anchorage stuffed gear into a faded blue Klepper kayak pulled up on the rocks along the boat ramp in the local harbor.
Northern Alaska, far from the madding crowds, has many rivers to choose from for kayaking and rafting.
Keystone Canyon is a spectacular place of sheer rock walls and hissing waterfalls that flank the pitching, glacial Lowe River. The river roars through a deep notch in the Chugach Mountains northeast of Valdez.
Suppose they came by sea.
Skimming over the waves makes it easy to see islands and wildlife
Paddling a kayak puts an adventurer in touch with Alaska's big saltwater domain.
Sweepers and log jams
Sweepers are trees that have fallen flat across the water or bend down with their trunks and branches. It's easy to get caught against a sweeper and suddenly find the boat listing and filling with water. Kayakers with their double paddles may have extra difficulty in getting themselves out if there's not room overhead for the long paddle. Sweepers appear frequently on slow water. Log jams are deposited by high water. Generally, be alert and ready to backpaddle away from the bank and tree problems.
Rocks and canyons
Read your topographical map carefully and check with guidebooks for the locations of rapids. If you have any doubts about the water ahead, get out and look it over before plunging through. Getting stuck against a rock or log jam can sink your boat quickly and leave you with a long hike through difficult country.
Changing water levels
As the day warms up, glaciers and snowfields melt more quickly, causing the river levels to rise. Also, heavy rains upstream may cause the level to rise quickly. Much of Alaska's soil is rocky and steep, so runoff will gather in a hurry. Also, higher water can add a degree of difficulty to a stream, making rapids out of pleasant riffles and pulling logs into the stream. Get the latest report on river conditions from the Alaska River Forecast Center.
Camp on open gravel bars in most cases. That will provide a safer place for a campfire, let the wind blow away more mosquitoes and give you and the bears a better chance of seeing each other early enough to avoid a nasty encounter.
In addition to your guidebook and compass, get the best U.S. Geological Survey map you can for the region, preferably 1 inch = 1 mile. Some boaters on older streams that wander across the landscape mark off every bend as they pass it.
Book readers may want to look for expedition guide Karen Jettmar's "Alaska River Guide: Canoeing, Kayaking and Rafting in the Last Frontier," which covers a number of Northern streams.
It's the perfect way to explore the coves and islands in the state with the country's longest coastline. Popular destinations include Southcentral Alaska's Prince William Sound, Kachemak Bay and Resurrection Bay; the Inside Passage; and Kenai Fjords National Park and Glacier Bay National Park.
With a little practice and help from an established kayak guide service, running a kayak over the waves can be safe and enjoyable.
The low design cuts wind resistance, and the long, narrow boats are designed for slicing through waves.
Kayakers use a double-bladed paddle, and sea kayaks have a wire-and-pulley pedal system to turn the rudder.
Most kayaks seat one or two people.
The tour may start either with a push off from the town beach or with a dropoff (and later, a pickup) by a water taxi on some distant shore.
Tours may be for an hour or two -- or for several days. To help you plan your trip, some companies offer online kayaking brochures.