Field notes from a solo paddle in Alaska’s Inside Passage

  • A sea kayaker approaches an iceberg at Tracy Arm in the Summer Fords-Terror Wilderness Area of the Southeast Alaska portion of the Inside Passage.

    © John Hyde / Alaskastock.com
  • "Looks like a bird, right?" blogged Nadia White, after paddling from Wrangell, Alaska, to Le Conte Bay. "I fell asleep to the booming of bergs calving from the glacier, and the sharp crack, splash and hiss of big bergs becoming smaller."

    Nadia White
  • "Oh, what a tease of a day. Despite strong wind warnings, the sea hardly rippled and 25 miles flew under me like kelp," blogged the author, after paddling Cape Caution. "A white shell beach and rare sunny afternoon camp."

    Nadia White
  • Coving up on Young's Point on Lasqueti Island, Strait of Georgia.

    Nadia White
  • Another day, following a trail in search of a spot, the author had to think again: "Long curved claw marks revealed whose trail it was -- as did some of the biggest, grassiest bear poop I have ever seen. I beat it back to the boat ..."

    Nadia White
  • Author Nadia White on launch day of her Alaskan adventure.

    Michael Gallacher
 

Page 5

Beyond Ketchikan, a few towns punctuate long, isolated stretches of scenic grandeur. Two routes onward offer a stark choice: bears or bergs. To see bears, a paddler can pass the Anan Creek Wildlife Sanctuary and cross the wide Stephens Passage to the grizzly-rich shores of Admiralty Island. Those who prefer icebergs and glaciers can stay on the east shore of Stephens Passage, exploring spectacular fjords. I had seen plenty of bears, so I chose bergs, starting with the parade from LaConte Glacier.

In Frederick Sound, humpback whales woke me early as they passed by. At noon, a pod of orcas followed me into a cove for lunch, surging through the water with such power that I was content to dabble in a tide pool and let them go by. Twice the next day, humpbacks corralled me in the shallows while they blew bubbles, rolling and bursting through the surface, feeding at low tide.

On Day 40, a Steller's sea lion rushed my boat, looking for all the world like a drowning grizzly bear. They became so common that I talked to these big carnivores as if they were bad dogs pawing at me.

A day away from Juneau, I sought shelter from a storm in a state park cabin. Its rightful renters arrived toward dusk. It could have been awkward. Instead, I made friends for life.

The final leg of the route offered many options, including spectacular Glacier Bay, and Sitka, the site of the historic capital of Russian Alaska. My original plans had been somewhat open-ended, and I stopped paddling in Juneau when my parents joined me. Together, we sought out every address where Josie had lived and found her husband's gravestone. We hiked at Mendenhall Glacier, as near as we could to the base of the mountain that bears my great-grandfather's name: Mount Stroller White.

Then we took the ferry to Skagway, where we walked directly into the office of the newspaper once edited by "The Stroller" -- as his readers called him. It was cluttered with the familiar flotsam of community journalism -- posters and press releases, computers and coffee cups. It was warm and smelled of paper and toner and was occupied by the current editor, who keeps the spirit of history alive in a town that peddles the remembrance of boom times past.

I had come a very long way alone, and I was immensely satisfied to cross the finish line in the company of people I love. I had paddled hundreds of miles through an unfamiliar world, meeting challenges I had never imagined. And now I had emerged, stronger and more humble, in a place so instantly familiar that I felt at home -- a newsroom.

Nadia White is an associate professor in the University of Montana School of Journalism, with past experience as a reporter and editor for Wyoming's Casper Star-Tribune, the Boulder, Colo., Daily Camera and other newspapers in Maine and Minnesota.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Board of Diablo Trust is seeking applications for full-time Program Manager with duties of overseeing the coordination and administration of the Diablo Trusts ongoing...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. [email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • SECLUDED TWO-STORY CUSTOM LOG HOME
    in 16-acre pinion pine forest with year-round stream, mountain views, wildlife. Garage, root cellar, wood shop, one-room cabin, RV shed, pasture, garden. [email protected]
  • BEAUTIFUL, CUSTOM RASTRA BLOCK ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME
    Mature, six-acre Ponderosa forest, open pasture. Spectacular Sangre de Cristo mountain & valley views. Well maintained, paved county road, easy drive to world-class skiing &...
  • OJO CALIENTE RIVERSIDE SECLUSION
    Private, 2bd/2bath green home on 2 acres on the Ojo Caliente River between the confluence of the Chama & Rio Grande Rivers. Close to hiking,...
  • CLASSIC NEW MEXICO MOUNTAIN VIEWS
    of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. 3.19 acre lot to build on to escape the crush of city/town life. Short distance to trails, skiing, fishing,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • ASSOCIATE OF PROGRAMS
    The Orton Family Foundation empowers people to shape the future of their communities by improving local decision-making, creating a shared sense of belonging, and ultimately...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...