FOX & RUGGED ISLANDS, AK
THE trip started as all trips do - an idea. I was sipping my extra hot dark brew at the local coffee shop, perusing a map of Alaska, hoping it would spark an idea for a new adventure. Over the past year I had spent several glorious days exploring the nooks & crannies of spectacular Seward, climbing peaks, camping in the backcountry and skiing down mountains and off rocky bluffs. What was missing? What ground had I not covered? Ah yes, those little specks in the distance far out in Resurrection Bay.
I had not heard of anyone kayaking the whole distance to remote and uninhabited Fox, Hive and Rugged Islands. Just shy of 17 nautical miles would put me on the shore. It was as good as done. Once the idea was in my head, I knew it was going to happen. It was only a matter of when.
I called two trusted and kayak-ready Girdwood buddies and convinced them to join me. Adventurous souls they are, and they eagerly agreed. Now that the crew was established we set about working out the details. A single kayak? A double and a single? Would it be possible to take all the gear we needed in the limited room of a triple? The triple would afford only 60% of the usual storage space of 3 singles. We chose the triple as it would give us the fastest paddle time. Then we set a date for a month out, a long weekend in early June.
In the weeks leading up to our trip, we dug dry bags, spray skirts and summer tents out of storage. The weather forecast was superb - clear skies and a perfect 75 degrees. We were ready. Launch day. After loading our gear, and tying our precariously balanced 18’ long kayak to the top of my Jeep, we headed to Seward. Over the course of the 90 minute drive the weather became a concern. Blue skies turned gray and windy, then rainy. By the time we arrived at Seward waterfront we faced a full on storm. We walked the beach, which in past forays had always bordered calm waters, and were presented with two foot waves with whitecaps as far as we could see. We waited for a while, hoping for a break, but the weather clearly had no intention of cooperating. We had to decide. Now or never.
We decided to try. Packing the kayak in record time, we pushed out and immediately caught a wave and rolled just enough to completely fill the kayak. OK one more try. We were determined. This time we succeeded. As we pressed on we felt like we were standing still. The wind and current seemed equally determined. It was slow going, to be sure. We knew we would not make it to Rugged Island by nightfall. we paddled hard for about 2 hours and then …. we had an amazing experience. A pod of Humpback whales surfaced about 60 feet from our kayak and proceeded to stay with us for the rest of the day. They dove deep, then every 40 minutes or so they surfaced right next to us, rolling and spraying us with water. The remaining 6 hours were nothing short of humbling, inspiring and sublime. What a day! In spite of all the struggles, these enchanting creatures made it all worth it.
As we set up camp with wet tents, wet sleeping bags and wet clothes (Yeah, remember our first attempt to leave shore when we flipped?) our only relief was our meager campfire and Mountain House dinner. The sky finally cleared and we spent the night under the stars reminiscing about the whales that graced us with their company.
Seven easy miles the following day brought us to the three pristine islands where we bushwhacked our way up a steep, small mountain, with the assistance of an old ragged rope. Exhausted, we reached the peak and were presented with breathtaking views on all sides. Sometimes it’s good to be able to look back and see where you have come from, and to look forward and see where you are going. We were able to do both, from a uniquely resplendent spot. We also got an unexpected surprise. In the distance we saw a pod of humpback whales. They might not have been the same pod, but we like to think they were.
An idea that turned out to be one of the best days of the summer. Unless you go, you never come face to face with the unexpected.