Second Leg - Days 53-63 - Juneau to Skagway
The main natural and man made features encountered along this stretch of the route include:
The city of Juneau, the Mendenhall Bar wetlands, Auke Bay, Favorite Channel, Berners Bay, Lynn Canal, Chilkoot Inlet, the town of Haines, Taiya Inlet, and the town of Skagway.
Launching from Aurora Harbor in Juneau from the dock where I stored my kayak.
Today ended up being one of the worst days on the trip. It started raining overnight and continued throughout the next two days. The wind was blowing and it was colder than it had been on any day so far. After checking out of the hotel, and carrying my gear to the boat, I was launching at 6:20am.
Heading toward the Mendenhall Bar Wetlands.
I paddled north toward the Mendenhall Bar and wetlands and hoped the information I had received yesterday at the Harbormasters Office about the water depth at low tide was accurate. For a while, everything was going well, until around 8am when I reached the narrowest and shallowest part of the channel and the tide had reached its lowest point of the day. It was now obvious that the advice I had received was completely incorrect. The water had totally drained out of the wetlands and I was sitting high and dry in a muddy channel.
Stuck at low tide in the Mendenhall Bar Wetlands.
I knew the water level would eventually rise and re-float the kayak, but would it take one hour or five hours? All I could do was to wait, dragging the boat was impossible. The wind and rain, combined with the inactivity, started to chill me, so I took out a small blue plastic tarp and wrapped it around myself, as I hunkered down in the boat. The tarp just managed to trap enough still air around me to keep me from starting to shiver. I stayed like this until 12:45pm when I could hear the telltale sound of water hitting my boat and felt a slight movement. I peeked out from under the tarp and was happy to see the tide rising, after waiting almost five hours, my kayak was finally floating again.
I paddled hard to produce body heat and try to put some miles behind me. Because of the long delay, my intended destination for today, Eagle Beach State Park would be unreachable so I decided to settle for Auke Village Campground instead. It is necessary to stay in campgrounds along this stretch since all shoreline property is private with homes on every beach where it would be possible to camp.
As I was reaching the end of the Mendenhall Bar area, the water filled with a huge volume of tiny bubbles floating to the surface. It was as if I was paddling in carbonated water. I believe these bubbles were coming from rotting vegetation releasing gas in the underlying sediments.
After rounding the Mendenhall Peninsula, I entered Auke Bay. The wind was blowing hard out of the east but the peninsula shielded the bay from its full influence. The distance across was about two miles, and the waves did not look too bad. I decided to head straight across and not hug the shoreline, which would have added about 2 more miles to the route. About halfway across, when the peninsula gave up its windbreak effect, the wind and waves had both grown to a precarious level. I was barely able to maintain control of the boat and make headway. Steep waves were hitting me from the rear and pushing me along, but also forcing me to be constantly bracing just to stay upright. I was actually thinking to myself at the time, “wouldn’t it be pathetic, if after all the more dangerous places I’ve been on this trip, I could loose it now in Auke Bay”. I finally made it into some relatively sheltered water to the west of a little peninsula called Auke Cape and was back along the shoreline.
A stormy day in Auke Bay from the campground pavilion.
After paddling 15 miles from Juneau, I pulled onto the beach at Auke Village Campground at 2:50pm. There were two pavilions in the campground with no one in sight. This was to be expected, considering the cold, rainy, and windy weather situation. Once I got all my gear up to the pavilion, I took a break for a while then moved my boat and most of my gear to an out of the way spot so others could use the pavilion.
I ended up spending the next two nights here because of the storm. A much better place for a paddler to stay would be the little wooded area out at the tip of Point Louisa just a few hundred yards away. That spot would provide more privacy and a better view of the surrounding waterways.