Kayak adventure in Alaska

Follow a Sunset editor as she paddles among icebergs, humpback whales, and 350-pound sea lions

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JUNE 4 

Rest day. It's rainy and cold as we head out for Knight Island. The plan is to paddle and hike again, but the rain and winds are heavy, so we hunker down in the boat over a meal of soup and smoked salmon. The storm picks up as Dan crosses the sound back to Long Bay. The crossing is rough ― 5-foot seas. As we come into the bay, we enter an otter-pupping ground.

JUNE 5

More bears. We paddle into Long Bay, which is filled with otters and seals. The seals look like slim divers, surfacing without a sound just feet from our kayaks. We beach the kayaks and explore. Colleen and Ben see two bear cubs scurry up a tree, followed by the mother, so we all hustle back down to the beach quickly. Adrenaline! Back on the boat, I take my first shower after four straight days of wearing my hat 24/7.

Miles paddled: 4

JUNE 6

The most unbelievable day of my life. Dan drops us off not in a bay but in the open sea. As we set out toward a sea-lion rookery, the ice becomes thicker and the group grows quieter. We carefully pick our way through chunks the size of refrigerators. My heart is pounding, and I can feel the sweat on my back. There are tidal surges, and the kayaks are tippier. I am, for the first time, truly scared. After 30 minutes, we clear the ice and are on our way to the rookery when we see them: two humpback whales. One is about 60 feet long, the other 40. They're breaching, jumping high into the air and flipping over. They slap the water with their giant flippers, and the sound is unbelievably loud. The whales keep coming closer to us, and there's nowhere for us to go ― not the sheer cliffs where surf is pounding, not back into the ice field. I'm frozen, focusing on Warren's gentle words behind me. "Just keep paddling, keep breathing." This is it, this is how I'll go out, flattened in a kayak by a humpback whale. My thoughts turn to my family, and I tear up.

The whales are 400 feet away from us ― I can see the color variations of their flippers. And then, just as suddenly as they approached us, they move on. We raft together, then paddle hard for a beach just beyond the sea-lion rookery. We can't stop talking about the whales. Miles later, as Warren and I pull up to the Denali to get out of our kayak, a 350-pound sea lion erupts out of the water right next to the boat. I practically jump out of the kayak onto the deck, shaking with fear. Enough wildlife!

Miles paddled: 8

Next: We're like family now

 

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