A Prince of a Project: Kayak Service in Chugach National Forest, Alaska
- Kayak one of Alaska’s premier paddling destinations
- Join conservation efforts in the wilderness
- Help preserve Prince William Sound for future visitors
- Kayak rental, safety equipment, and project tools
- All on-trip transportation to and from Anchorage
- Most meals
|Dates||Jun 29–Jul 5, 2014|
One of Alaska's premier kayaking destinations, Prince William Sound, is situated just south of Anchorage. This wild, remote, and beautiful coastline is a special gem among the crown jewels of wilderness experiences. Surrounded by the almost seven-million-acre Chugach National Forest, the sound has amazing sights from the largest (snow-capped mountain ranges, menagerie of cloud formations, and forest-lined shores) to the smallest (bald eagles, starfish, and sea anemones). Chugach National Forest is one of America’s wildest and least roaded national forests and yet has no (zero) designated wilderness. Within the Sound and the National Forest is the Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area. This area, of just more than two million acres, was designated a Study Area in 1980 and has yet to receive Wilderness status. As 2014 is the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the Sierra Club and others in Alaska want to seek Wilderness status for this Study Area. We will help the Forest Service assess the area's wilderness characteristics, which will help as the agency starts to revise the land management plan for the Chugach National Forest.
By early spring of 2014, the precise needs of the Forest Service and the Wilderness Study Area will be updated and our specific trip plan will be revised to ensure our volunteer service efforts are put to the best use. Our group, plus kayaks and gear, will be transported from Whittier by water taxi to the first of our two or more base camps. Once there we will be on our own until the water taxi picks us up at the end of the week. Work plans may be determined as late as the day of our work depending on the rangers’ priorities, the weather, the tides, and any safety considerations. The current plan calls for us to paddle and camp along the coast of Herring Bay on Knight Island. We will either paddle along the coast to collect debris (to be picked up later by USFS or other cleanup vessels), or we will stay in camp and work on rehabilitating the site (an old camp, worksite, or dump site).
We hope to stay in the same general area all week, but we may pack our gear into our kayaks and spend a day paddling to a second or third base camp farther along the Herring Bay coastline. We will then continue with our projects.
In addition to carrying out important clean-up efforts, paddling these waters in sea kayaks is the perfect way to explore the sweeping mingled land and seascapes of Prince William Sound. Our double kayaks are stable, quiet, and can go places other vessels cannot reach. The silent visitor may see wildlife that could include bald eagles, whales, seals, sea otters, and bears, just to name a few. We hope to have opportunities during the week to explore the island, possibly hiking up to a vantage point for a totally different perspective of the area. Hiking in Alaska is very different from the lower 48 in that there are no trails and you may be wading up glacial streams or through thick alder trees in order to reach more open, sometimes still snow-covered, meadows. If you've never been to Alaska before, this will be an extraordinary introduction -- a true wilderness experience without heavy backpacks. Plan to arrive well rested, because the extended daylight hours and wonders of the area will encourage you to stay up well past your usual bedtime.
Please note that the trip leaders have been to Prince William Sound before, yet the itinerary may include areas where they have not visited. Please bring your spirit of adventure as we explore the area together.
As U.S. Forest Service volunteers, we will begin our project with a comprehensive safety orientation and a general plan laid out for the week. With more than two million acres in the Nellie Juan-College Fjord Wilderness Study Area and just a handful of Wilderness Rangers to manage it, you can perhaps imagine how difficult it would be to make specific plans this far out. There are known and unknown dump sites to be cleared, old work sites to be rehabilitated and, unfortunately, always trash to be found on the shores, but the specific details of our week will be decided later.
So on one hand we will help return Prince William Sound to its natural state, and at the same time we will help influence the future preservation of it as designated wilderness. "Assessing wilderness characteristics" is a formal requirement for agencies that manage our federal public lands in accordance with the 1964 Wilderness Act. We'll learn more about how all this works and discuss why our 1964 Wilderness Act is such a major cultural and environmental achievement. To top it off, some of our observations may actually become a part of Chugach's revised plan.
The trip officially starts in Anchorage on the morning of Sunday, June 29th and ends back in Anchorage late afternoon on July 5th. You should plan on arriving in Anchorage two days early to allow for flight and baggage delays. There will be a pre-trip meeting on Saturday, June 28th. This is a good opportunity to meet the other trip participants and to solve any last-minute equipment challenges. We will depart early Sunday morning from Anchorage for the two-hour drive to Whittier by charter van. There we will pick up our kayaking equipment and load everything onto our charter boat for the ride out to our first camping and work destination.
Before beginning the paddling portion of the trip, we will take time for kayak instructions and safety information about coastal paddling and cold water. You will learn how to fit everything you brought, plus our group food and equipment, into those tiny hatches on your boat. Once oriented to our boats, weather permitting, we will set out for a “shakedown cruise” so we’ll be ready for our first cleanup day the next morning. We may move camp a few times during the trip, depending on the work priorities of the park rangers. On July 5th, our water taxi will pick us up and transport us back to Whittier to board our charter van back to Anchorage. We should arrive late afternoon in time for that wonderful shower before our no-host dinner.
When you are approved for the trip by the leader, you may make your airline reservations to Anchorage and start thinking about accommodations there. We will let you know about possible hotels, bed and breakfasts, or hostels after you sign up. You should try to arrive in Anchorage by June 27th if possible. You may schedule your departure for as early as the late evening of July 5th or stay on for more Alaska adventures.
Accommodations and Food
There are no developed campsites where we’ll be in Prince William Sound, so be ready for wilderness camping. This may include setting up tents on moist, uneven surfaces and cozying up to your fellow group members under a tarp at mealtime when the bluster of Prince William Sound weather reminds us of the forces of nature, which we cannot control.
Most all on-trip food will be provided by the leaders, and preparation and cleanup will be shared by the trip participants with the leaders' guidance. Meals will be hearty, sustaining, and generally vegetarian. We will work with you to accommodate specific dietary requirements as much as possible given our wilderness setting. However, any dietary restrictions must be discussed in detail with the leader well in advance of the trip. It may be that not all restrictions can be met. The first trip meal will be lunch on the first day. The last trip meal will be breakfast at our campsite in the Sound. Lunch that day will be on your own in Whittier before the shuttle takes us back to Anchorage. We'll also plan a final no-host dinner at an Anchorage restaurant on the 5th.
Kayaking is a wonderful, gentle way to explore the wild coastline of Alaska. It is not as exhausting as backpacking in the arctic, but there are some very specific requirements: You must feel comfortable in a small boat with a cockpit a few inches above very deep ocean water; you must be able to sit for a couple of hours at a time with your legs straight out in front of you; and you must be able to swim in cold water if there is an emergency. In general, our paddling days will vary from 5 to 15 miles. Keep in mind that 6 miles can seem like 15 if you are paddling against the wind or a strong current, so building up the muscles in your core and lower back before the trip is essential. You need not be an experienced kayaker to enjoy this trip. We are happy to take novices who are willing to learn basic kayaking skills from the leaders. However, we strongly encourage all participants to take a basic kayak and self-rescue class in advance of the trip if you do not already have those skills.
Expect to do a lot of walking and carrying of equipment up and down the beach each day, sometimes over wet and possibly slippery rocks. Prince William Sound has some of the most extreme tidal differences in North America -- up to a 20-foot difference between high and low tides at this time of year, which can translate to a long walk to secure boats and gear. You must be able and willing to work as part of a team. In addition to your personal gear, expect to carry your share of the 80-pound kayaks and community equipment and food.
We will also be hiking and completing work projects where we may be hauling debris through oftentimes slippery forest paths. You must be able and willing to perform these activities. To truly enjoy this trip, you owe it to yourself and the group to get into the best possible physical condition before the trip.
Another aspect of the trip's degree of difficulty has to do with the weather and other land and sea conditions we encounter. For example, several rainy days in a row can feel stressful, as can persistently sunny weather with an abundance of mosquitoes. The best strategy is to relax, be flexible, and understand that it is all part of the Alaska experience!
Equipment and Clothing
While out in Prince William Sound, we will be camping every night. You will need to bring your own tent (we will also stress the need to share tents), sleeping bag, and pad. It is absolutely essential that your tent be waterproof. Extended periods of rain are possible, and staying dry can become a serious safety issue. Detailed lists of recommended clothing and equipment will be sent to participants after they register for the trip. Most of this is similar to what you would use on a backpacking trip, but a few more items are necessary to stay dry on the water. Our footwear on sea kayak trips includes wearing "Wellie" (Wellington-style) rubber boots (aka “Juneau tennis shoes”) or neoprene boots, as we launch and land in water that is ankle- to calf-deep. Do not plan on bringing cotton clothing as cotton will chill you when wet and refuse to dry in the damp air.
- National Geographic’s Trails Illustrated Map: Prince William Sound - West. Available at http://www.natgeomaps.com/ti_761.html or various other outlets.
- Twardock, Paul, Kayaking and Camping in Prince William Sound.
- Information on the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act: http://www.wilderness.net/50th
- Alaska Sierra Club page and action alerts: http://alaska.sierraclub.org/
The trip leaders will also provide copies of topo maps of our paddling area.
A key conservation focus of our outing to Prince William Sound will be the emerging campaign in Alaska to seek wilderness status for the long-established Forest Service Wilderness Study Area (WSA) comprising most of the land around Prince William Sound. A Congressionally legislated WSA in 1980, the huge (2.1-million-acre) Nellie Juan-College Fjord WSA has never been acted on by Congress, in part because Alaska’s legislators have not been supportive over the years of additional wilderness protection in Alaska -- the state in our country that has far more designated federal wilderness than any other. And while the Forest Service is mandated to manage this big WSA in a way to keep its wild qualities inviolate until Congress should make up its mind about the long-term status of the area, local activists have recently been concerned that management may be allowing activities that degrade the wilderness values. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the Sierra Club and others in Alaska plan a renewed wilderness campaign for Nellie Juan-College Fjord WSA.
An additional (but related) conservation “thread” to note on our trip is the upcoming revision of the Chugach National Forest management plan -- exact timing not yet certain. A comment period for such a planning process is an excellent opportunity to urge the agency to make additional recommendations for wilderness. In its previous plan, the Forest Service recommended only a relatively small portion of its big WSA for actual wilderness designation. Present agency management may be more receptive to wilderness, and the strong public comments on the new plan (when the time comes) could be instrumental in formulating a better recommendation.
In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.
Notes for Sierra Club Outings
- Carbon Offsets
- Electronic Billing and Forms
- Electronic Devices
- How to Apply for a Trip
- Leader Gratuities
- Liability Release and Assumption of Risk
- Medical Issues
- Non-discrimination Statement
- Participant Approval
- Reservation and Cancellation Policy
- Seller of Travel Disclosure
- Travel Insurance
- Trip Feedback
- Trip Price
- Wilderness Manners