After finishing my Inside Passage kayak trip and analyzing the high and low points, I looked back on the journey and speculated on things that I could have done differently. I hope that these post trip insights will help others that come after me avoid some of the pitfalls I encountered and have a better kayaking experience.
Do the trip in one summer.
I had originally planned to do the whole trip in one summer, but because of problems with my tent, rain tarp, and food supply organization, I had to cut the first trip short and come back the next summer to finish. This ended up costing me quite a bit more in travel expenses than would have been the case if the whole trip took place in one push. Not only did the cost of gas for two round trips to the west coast add up, but also the cost of the different ferries that were necessary to make the various connections added a considerable amount.
For maximum cost savings and convenience, I recommend that anyone planning an Inside Passage kayak trip start in Bellingham Washington and end in Skagway Alaska. The Alaska Marine Highway ferry uses these two cities as the southern and northern terminus of its west coast route. A paddler could leave their vehicle at a long term parking facility in Bellingham, paddle to Skagway, then take the ferry back to Bellingham and retrieve their vehicle. A ferry leaves Skagway once a week for the five-day southbound trip to Bellingham.
The problem with starting in Port Hardy
To get from Skagway to Port Hardy at the end of the trip, it is necessary to switch from the Alaska ferry to the British Columbia ferry. The only place along the entire route that the Alaska ferry and the BC ferry use a common port is in Prince Rupert. If a paddler starts in Port Hardy as I did, it is necessary when the trip is over, to take the Alaska ferry from Skagway to Prince Rupert then move the boat and all the gear over to a BC ferry for the trip to Port Hardy. The ferry terminal in Prince Rupert is not set up for paddlers to transfer easily from one ferry to another. It is necessary to carry everything about 1/4 mile (0.4km) through customs and around a long fence to get from one ferry to the other.
There is also the problem of the two ferries not arriving on the same day. This can necessitate an overnight stay in Prince Rupert. There is then the accompanying problem of what to do with the kayak and other gear while staying overnight in town which is a few miles away from the ferry terminal. The nice folks at the BC terminal did help me out with a place to store my boat overnight, and I was able to take a cab into Prince Rupert for an overnight stay. All of this would have been unnecessary and less costly if my trip would have started in Bellingham instead of Port Hardy.
Another added expense and logistics problem when launching from Port Hardy is the need to put your vehicle, with kayak on top, on a ferry twice. This requires one trip to Vancouver Island from the mainland, and another for the trip back. These little trips cost me $93 each way.
Alternate route from Bellingham to Shelter Bay
A trip starting from Bellingham could cross Rosario Strait over to Orcas Island and then across Boundary Pass into Canada’s Gulf Islands. From here, the route could follow the one I took, or alternately, continue up the east coast of Vancouver Island through Discovery Passage and into Johnstone Strait. This would necessitate navigating Seymour Narrows at slack tide just as I had to do through Yuculta Rapids on my route. If timed properly, Seymour Narrows should present no more of an obstacle than Yuculta Rapids did. This route would eliminate the exposed crossing of the Strait of Georgia by Texada Island. It would also require a paddler to stay close to a more populated shoreline, which may or may not be desirable to some.
Another possible change in route would eliminate the need to make the long exposed crossing of Queen Charlotte Strait once leaving Port Hardy. I was very lucky that the weather was perfect on the day I crossed Queen Charlotte Strait. You cannot count on calm weather in these waters. Eliminating this crossing altogether is possible.
After arriving in Telegraph Cove, it is possible to make a short crossing of Johnstone Strait, and head toward Blackfish Sound and Broughton Island. This route would then continue along the eastern or mainland shoreline of Queen Charlotte Strait toward Cape Caution. A food cache mailed ahead to Telegraph Cove would last until the next food cache pickup at Shearwater. Telegraph Cove has all the amenities of Port Hardy such as lodging, camping, showers, laundry, restaurant, and telephone service. The only thing missing is a large supermarket. A small grocery is available however.
Route change before Wrangell
After leaving Ketchikan, I headed up Ernest Sound to the Anan Creek Wildlife Observatory with the hope of seeing some bears. As it turns out, this is virtually impossible, as there is no place to stay once arriving there. Only one cabin is available on site and it has to be reserved in advance. There is no safe place to camp and the area is full of bears that come to feed on the salmon in the nearby creek.
If I went this way again, I would camp on Change Island, then head toward Wrangell through Zimovia Strait. The distance would be shorter, and there would likely be no fewer campsites available than there were in Blake Channel and Eastern Passage.
Be ready for rain.
When planning a trip to the Inside Passage it is very important to have the right clothing and equipment to handle rain that can sometimes last for days. Tents should be waterproof, self-supporting, have breathable but windproof inner walls, and take up minimal space when set up or stored in the kayak.
A waterproof rain shelter for cooking is necessary almost every day. On the first leg of my trip, I brought along a typical square rainfly with two poles and guy lines. This was not adequate, as the slightest wind would blow rain right underneath. On the second leg of the trip, I brought the rainfly to a Dana Designs Nuk Tuk tent. This shelter is shaped like a pyramid and uses just one center pole. This worked perfectly. It is lightweight and compact, easy to set up, and keeps out the rain even during windy conditions. I attached four-foot long loops of cord to each guy point. These could be staked down to the ground or held in place with rocks, small logs, or the kayak.
While you are paddling, you will need a waterproof hat with a wide brim and either a paddling jacket or dry suit. While on shore, a rain parka and pants are a necessity. All these items should be made of Gore Tex or some other high quality waterproof / breathable fabric.
While paddling the Inside Passage there are few opportunities to stop at towns that have supermarkets. The long stretch from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert has none, so food supplies must be shipped ahead. It will be necessary to ship to yourself any food items that cannot be found in an average supermarket. This includes any pre packaged; freeze dried, or dehydrated foods that you choose to bring along. Backpackers hiking the entire lengths of the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trails have been using this method to re-supply themselves for years.
To dehydrate food just cook up your favorite one pot meal and place it in the dehydrator trays with the liquid tray inserts in place.
After 24 hours flip the food in the trays over to dry the bottom side and dehydrate for another 24 hours.
After the food is completely dry, crumble it up in a bowl then put it in vacume bags so it lasts longer and tastes better when it's re-hydrated.
Here's all the food I dehydrated to use on my trip.
For the second leg of my trip, I cooked, dehydrated, and vacuum packaged all my own dinner meals. By cooking the meals myself, I knew in advance that I would be happy with the taste and that each meal would be filling. I then shipped these dehydrated, packaged meals ahead marked General Delivery, to Post Offices in towns along the route. To find Post Office locations in the US and Canada go to usps.com and canadapost.ca
Here are three of my food boxes ready to ship.
When getting these packages ready to ship, mark each one something like this.
City, State, Zip Code
On the side write:
Postmaster: This package contains essential food for an Inside Passage kayaker. Please hold for his/her arrival around --/--/--. Your name and phone number
On each side in big letters, write your last name. Your return address should be in the upper left corner as always. Write your name and address inside the box also.
When shipping a package from the US into Canada, keep in mind that clearing customs could take a month. To be sure your package arrives before you do, ship it six weeks before your planned arrival date.
If you have equipment or clothing that is not being used, put it in one of the empty food boxes and send it home. While in Prince Rupert I had my photo SD cards copied onto CD’s and sent the CD’s home in one of these boxes along with some clothing I was not using. By doing this, I made sure there were copies of my photos in another location just in case something happened to the SD cards that were with me.
Helpful Tips - Miscellaneous Items
Try to have as many of your electronic devices as possible operate on AA or AAA batteries and not some odd battery that only works in one device.
Have a small paperback to read for the multiple days that will be spent stuck on shore during storms.
All your gear should be stored inside the kayak except what is needed for emergencies. Any gear stored on deck makes the kayak top heavy and more prone to capsize. It also increases wind resistance and can make the boat harder to roll or re-enter after a wet exit.
Do exercises to build up your rotator cuff muscles when training for the trip. You will after all be using your arms to propel yourself 1,200 miles (1930km) from Washington to Alaska. For a description of exercises to do to strengthen these muscles go to
Have waterproof articulated neoprene or rubber gloves or Pogies for paddling on cold wet days.
Bring photocopied pages from other guidebooks covering the route. Staple them together in groups covering each section. When you finish one section mail the pages home.
Bring waterproof shoes to wear onshore and for trips into town. I had neoprene booties to wear while paddling and sandals to wear the rest of the time. The sandals were not adequate.
Keep a trip log to record the events of the day. Note the time and distance you paddle each day, weather conditions, people you meet, animals you see, and what your campsite was like. Years in the future, you and even your descendents, will look back in awe at your accomplishments.
A small lightweight daypack is very handy to have when going into town to do laundry and buy groceries.
On the second leg of my trip I brought a large net duffle bag with a two-inch wide carrying strap. It was extremely lightweight and very strong. I used it every day while loading and unloading the kayak to carry the many small items that did not have to be kept waterproof.
A lightweight closed cell foam kneeling pad like those used for gardening came in very handy every day. I used it to kneel on while shoving waterproof bags into the boat hatches, as a seat cushion, as a pillow, and while I was paddling it fit just behind my knees on the floor of the boat.
Keep a waterproof watch on deck to keep track of time. Mark charts with launch and landing times and whenever a prominent landmark is reached. If you know the time and distance traveled you can estimate paddling speed.
Have plenty of Ibuprofen and antihistamine on hand as you will definitely need some pain reliever and you may develop some type of itchy rash.
Hostels in Prince Rupert and Ketchikan were within walking distance of the harbors, and provided nice clean accommodations while in town. The cost was about one fourth of what I would have paid for a hotel room. There were Hostels in some of the other towns, but they were far away from the harbors.
I highly recommend printing your charts using a Chart Navigator computer program and then laminating them to be waterproof.
Download Tide Tool software onto a Palm Pilot or similar PDA device instead of using printed tide charts.
I carried an EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacon) on me at all times so I could summon help if I became incapacitated. I would not have gone on the trip without this device.
Practice using your GPS and all other complicated electronics before leaving on your trip.
Bring the user manuals or photocopies of them in case you forget how to do a procedure.
Upon arrival in any town your first stop should be the Harbormasters Office. They will show you where to store your boat and give you advice on lodging and information about the local waters.