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Aug 24, 9:00 p.m.

An overwhelming day today! But before I get into it, let me go back to the island and fill in yesterday’s events.

I was finally able to leave my small island around 1:30 p.m., the sky remained crystal clear and deep blue. As I started paddling, it seemed I couldn’t get more than a hundred yards before I was moved by some beautiful sight to take a picture. Photography is a little tricky from a kayak, but not impossible if you don’t rush. (It’s a little like rock climbing, you move only one thing at a time.) First, you remove the spray skirt, open up the waterproof camera bag, take out the camera and change lenses or filters, if necessary and shoot and repeat each step in reverse. There was a fairly stiff headwind that complicated the process first making the kayak rock consistently as well as impeding forward progress, but the scenery was so spectacular, I didn’t mind a little wind. An hour after I had been paddling, I realized I wasn’t going to get too far this day. It was 2:30 p.m. I was barely out of sight of last night’s camp. There was supposed to be a possible campsite a few miles ahead, so I decided to just take my time, enjoy the scenery and take lots of pictures, which I did. It really felt like Tracy Arm was showing me her best side revealing to me one magnificent view after another. Views one could only get from a kayak snaking my way along next to the cliffs, shooting up out of the water. I felt blessed to be treated to such an array of visual treats.

I reached the place on my map where the alleged campsite was supposed to be about 5:00 p.m. It was just after high tide and all I could see was a sloping slippery rock ledge to exit onto. I felt with my paddle a ways off shore and found more rocks underneath me. So at least reloading and reentering the kayak would be possible when the tide was lower. It’s easier to get out of and unload a kayak than it is to load and get into it, so when you exit a kayak, you first have to consider the chances of being able to successfully reenter it.

I climbed out of the kayak with great difficulty, but without mishap and pulled the boat up on the rocks. The campsite was really small; just a small patch of grass (quite tilted at that!) between large massive stone formations, but anywhere you can put up a tent this far into Tracy Arm is considered a “good” campsite, as there are so few places that you can ever get out of your kayak.

After setting up my tent, I laid down to test the ground and felt a small stone sticking into my back which would be very uncomfortable to sleep on, so I reach under my tent and under some grass and freed up this small flat rock. When I pulled it out and looked at it, I was knocked out by it’s beauty, shaped like an elongated heart, it was wet and glistening, all silvery and deep greens, it was like a huge jewel – another gift? It sure felt like it, so I accepted it as such and thanked the spirits that live here. A short distance from my tent was a gorgeous flume. Water cascaded over a 20-foot falls into a sculpted stone pool before its final plunge into the fjord. The late afternoon sun was doing wondrous things to the mountains and rock faces around me, so I got out my cameras and started shooting, realizing that eventually I would get around to preparing dinner. There was a pool of water in a carved-out rock next to my tent that I used to capture the reflections of the mountains across the fjord. A small bird landed right next to me and drank from the pool seemingly undisturbed by my presence. A small squirrel-like animal came out of the brush behind me and got so close I could almost touch him. He looked at me as if he’d never seen anything quite like this before, not sure if I was a threat or not. He darted off when I reached for my camera.

There was a pool of water in a carved-out rock next to my tent

I prepared and ate dinner while taking in the sights, truly feeling like I was being showered with wondrous gifts and feeling fully accepted by this place. I gave thanks once again to the spirits that live here and, at that moment, seemed to live inside of me as well. I was in a state of true euphoria. I reminded myself to remember well how I was feeling just then so that when life starts feeling shitty, as it is prone to do from time to time, I’ll have the memory of this time and place to balance it off. I went to bed after the sun went down and fell asleep without reading or writing, not wanting to engage myself in any activity that would break the spell.

Today was another good day, mostly sunny with very little wind. I packed up and left my campsite wondering if I’d ever find another to which I felt so connected.

With no wind to paddle against, I made good time. In a few hours I had reached a fork where the fjord split in two directions, one leading to the North Sawyer Glacier, the other to South Sawyer Glacier. This innermost part of the fjord is banked by the highest cliffs and mountains in the area and even though the waterway is a good mile wide, I had that closed-in feeling… like I was walking down Wall Street. There was a good-sized island rising up 150 feet or so out of the water. I pulled up to it and found a rock outcropping that I could use to get out of my kayak. I decided to change into my wetsuit before continuing on to South Sawyer Glacier. I also looked around the island for a possible campsite but didn’t find anything too promising.

I got back in my kayak and started off toward the glacier feeling a little more secure in my wetsuit. The water is extremely cold close to the glaciers and there are lots of icebergs everywhere. The larger flat ones were covered with seals that would dart off into the water before I could get within 50 yards. Up ahead, I spotted a 35-foot yacht. I paddled up to it and talked to an older gentleman who owned it. He was very pleasant and asked how I was and if I needed anything. I said I was fine, he offered me a can of 7Up which I accepted. He took a picture of me in my kayak, which he said he would send to me. I told him my address that he wrote down. He offered me a nice piece of fresh halibut that he had caught earlier in the day. I gladly accepted it, thanked him and he then headed off out of the fjord leaving me alone once again.

I was about 1-1/2 miles from the glacier at this point and there was an open stretch of water on the right side of the fjord which I paddled for. When I got to within ½ mile of the glacier, I stopped not daring to go any closer (I was told to keep my distance from the glacier and watch out for ice flows blocking off my exit.) I sat there watching this huge crawling river of ice laid down over thousands of years, compressed to such a density turning it a deep cobalt blue, pondering the exploits of humankind since this ice was formed wondering if we are responsible for the fact that this glacier is receding at the rate of 330 feet a year. Every movement of the ice sent a thunderous moan echoing off the canyon walls.

The wind shifted suddenly and I looked behind me and saw a ton of floating ice coming toward my side of the channel. I turned and started paddling away from the glacier immediately but was unable to reach this point jutting out into the channel before my exit was choked off. There was now a barrier of 50 yards of tightly packed ice between me and open water. My first reaction was to want to panic but I calmed myself realizing that clear levelheaded thinking would serve me better. I thought back to advice I was given by the people at Alaska Discovery (where I rented the kayak). They distinctively said not to let this happen, but didn’t say what I should do if it did. Should I sit and wait for the ice to clear or should I try and claw my way through? They did say that this passage might remain choked for a few hours or possibly a few days. The idea of waiting and spending even one night trapped inside my kayak in these frigid waters didn’t appeal to me. It was about 5:00 p.m. and the day was slipping away. I still didn’t know where I was going to make camp.

I sat there waiting but the longer I waited; the more ice seemed to be coming in my direction.

Finally, I decided to try and break through the ice, had I not had my wetsuit on I definitely would have stayed put. I clawed my way into the ice flow using my paddle to push ice aside. Halfway through I became stuck unable to move forwards or backwards, and at one point being lifted partially out of the water. By the force of ice pushing against the sides of my kayak, a wave of fear came over me, fear of being out of control and at being at the whim of natural elements. To think that just a slight breeze pushing against floating ice could create such a formidable barrier. I struggled to keep my heart from racing and was able to calm myself down. I waited awhile and slowly I was able to move ahead a little then I made it to a less choked spot and moved more freely passed through one more tightly packed area and finally got clear. Feeing relieved to be out of that jam and also feeling humbled in the presence of such overwhelming forces, I paddled over to the other side of the fjord (now clear of ice) and sat for a while watching the glacier from a safe distance. I saw a few large pieces of ice fall off sending a spray of water high in the air.

It was getting late and time to find a place to camp. I was told by Robert Ketchum of a campsite just around the other side of the point from where I got stuck. There was a raging river cascading over a large set of rapids (closer to falls than rapids). I pulled up to the left side first because it looked easier to get out of my boat there. I looked around and climbed a small but very steep hill next to the river but could not find any place to pitch my tent. I could however see over to the other side of the rapids one or two spots where I might be able to camp. So I got back into my kayak and went to the other side and made a very tricky exit at high tide onto some slippery rocks. I scouted around and found 2 places where I could set my tent up. One place right next to the rapids/falls which was on a very tilted flat rock and was wet from the spray from the pounding waters. The other flat spot was a 100 feet down the bay. It was a few feet lower in elevation, but still a few feet above that evening’s high tide and the next high tide was supposed to be a bit lower so I figured it would be alright. I set my tent up and pulled my kayak high up onto the rocks and tied it down to some boulders. I cooked the halibut I was given (tasted great). Came to bed about 9:00; it’s now 11:30 and I’m quite sleepy. I’ll set my alarm for 3:00 a.m. to get up and check on the incoming tide.