Juneau / by Caroline Van Hemert

We arrived in Juneau last night after another miserably wet, windy day of rowing. Besides a humpback that surfaced very nearby, we couldn’t see much through the fog and our tightly cinched hoods.  But with a fierce tailwind, we made good time and covered 35 miles in 9 hours. By the time we’d reached Gastineau Channel, the rain and wind eased for a smooth ride to town. Spotting our friend Colin waiting to greet us at the Douglas Island bridge with his camera and a six pack was a very welcome sight! Perhaps fittingly, we rode out the “home stretch” to Juneau in day after day of wet, cold, often stressful, and sometimes scary conditions. Leaving Petersburg and entering Fredrick Sound, we enjoyed being dry for a couple of hours before the rain started in earnest. By mid-afternoon our Goretex paddling pants had lost the battle with this steady deluge and heavy fog shrouded the shorelines.  As winds began to pick up from the east, we tucked into a nearly perfect campsite with a steep, gravel beach protected from the surf.  We ate a quick pasta dinner before jumping into our sleeping bags to listen to the wind rush through the stalky hemlocks. The winds continued through the night, and by the time we’d finished breakfast the next morning, we looked out on a sea of white.  This junction of Fredrick Sound, Chatham Strait, and Stephens Passage creates a big body of water with significant fetch so even moderate winds can churn up lots of chop.  But it’s often hard to tell how rough the water is until sitting in it, especially from a protected vantage point, so we packed up the boats and headed out. The waves grew more intimidating as we blew further from the protection of the peninsula and fortunately we were able to find a beach nearby and land without too much surf.  As the wind continued to howl, we set up the tent and called it a day, only 1.7 miles from our last camp.  Darn.

The next morning looked promising—wet again, but calm when we left camp, and we hoped to make up a few lost miles.  Not to be.  The wind changed direction and started to pelt us from the north as we rounded Cape Fanshaw into Stephens Passage.  Painstakingly slow progress as we fought the stiff headwind for the next 10 hours. Our wet laps weren’t helped by the occasional wave sloshing into the cockpit.  Finally, the winds eased and we enjoyed several glorious miles of rowing on flat water before dark.  Low lying clouds, fog, and mist created surreal conditions with the illusion of birds, porpoises, seals, and whales floating without a discernible horizon, sea and sky merging into one.

Still 70 miles out from Juneau, strong winds and rain continued, though thankfully the wind direction changed in our favor.  We surfed along the mainland coast past Tracy Arm and hanging glaciers.  We spotted more whales, a small brown bear, a beaver (oddly swimming along the shoreline), plus lots of scoters, gulls, guillemots, murres, harlequins, goldeneyes, mergansers, and murrelets.  Abundant krill and herring, sometimes visible from our boats, created a feeding frenzy everywhere we looked. Unfortunately the clearcuts that persisted from Prince of Wales island, past Ketchikan, Wrangell, and Petersburg also scar many of the slopes in this area.  Powerlines running from the giant hydroelectric source in Port Snettisham travel more than 20 miles along incredibly rough terrain and cross several channels and inlets to provide the bulk of Juneau’s electricity.

The first Arctic Tern of the trip swooped over as we neared Juneau—a sure sign of spring!  After arriving, we enjoyed pizza and a comfy night at Colin and Amanda’s.  Colin gave us the tour of his house project on Starr Hill, which Pat designed and is currently under construction.  We now plan to take a short break from rowing to visit our new nephew and finalize logistics for the remaining legs.  We’ll then take the rowboats the last 80 miles to our cabin near Haines in northern Lynn Canal.  From there, we will head over the mountains and across Taku Arm to Whitehorse by ski and packraft.  Stay tuned for Inside Passage photos, which we’ll post soon.