Photo: Mark Luttrell
Trip Number: 13019A
Staff: Jan Lockie
- Kayak one of Alaska’s premier paddling destinations
- Be a part of the historic Tsunami marine debris cleanup effort
- Help preserve Prince William Sound for future visitors
- Kayak rental, safety equipment, and project tools
- All on-trip transportation to and from Anchorage
- All meals
Photo: Jan Lockie
One of Alaska's premier kayaking destinations, Prince William Sound, resides
just south of Anchorage. This wild, remote, and beautiful coastline is a special
gem among the crown jewels of wilderness experiences. The summer of 2013 offers
a unique opportunity to participate in two events that are critically important
to the preservation of this amazing area. First, massive amounts of debris from
the Japan tsunami are headed to Prince William Sound. According to Chris Pallister
of the nonprofit Gulf of Alaska Keeper Organization, “… this is
the single greatest environmental pollution event that has ever hit the west
coast of North America. . . It far exceeds the Santa Barbara or Exxon Valdez
oil spills in gross tonnage and also geographic scope.” While some light
debris arrived in 2012, the heavier, current-driven debris is expected in 2013.
We will be part of the clean-up effort. Second, as 2013 unrolls and brings us
closer to the big wilderness celebration year of 2014 -- 50th anniversary of
the Wilderness Act -- the Sierra Club and others in Alaska want to seek wilderness
status for the huge College Fjord-Nellie Juan Wilderness Study Area surrounding
Prince William Sound. Currently, Chugach National Forest, arguably America's
wildest and least roaded national forest, has no (zero) designated wilderness.
We will assist the Forest Service in assessing wilderness characteristics of
the area to help them as the agency starts to revise the land management plan
for the Chugach National Forest.
By early spring of 2013, the precise needs of the Forest Service and the various
agencies involved in the tsunami debris cleanup effort will be updated and our
specific trip plan revised as called for to ensure our volunteer service efforts
will be put to the best use. The current plan calls for us to paddle and camp
along the coast of Knight Island. Our group, plus kayaks and gear, will be transported
from Whittier to the first of two basecamps by water taxi. Once there we will
be on our own until the water taxi picks us up at the end of the week. We have
a general route in mind, however, we will let the weather, the tides, and any
safety considerations dictate our movements. We aim to spend 2-3 nights at our
first camp, paddling out each day to collect debris to be picked up later by
USFS or other cleanup partner vessels. Midweek we will pack our gear into our
kayaks and spend a day paddling to a second basecamp farther along the Knight
Island coastline. We will then continue our project, paddling to various locations
in the new area.
Photo: Jan Lockie
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 sea
scapes 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 leader has been visiting Alaska for over 15 years
and has led several trips in Prince William Sound. However, this trip is a new
itinerary and the leader has not paddled or hiked these particular routes --
so bring your spirit of adventure as we explore this new area together.
As U.S. Forest Service volunteers, we will begin our project with a comprehensive
safety orientation. This will include very specific instructions as to what
debris we will clean up and what we will leave alone, reporting its location
to the USFS or other agencies for special handling. NOAA and the Alaska Department
of Environmental Conservation confirm that it is highly unlikely that the tsunami
debris has been affected by radiation from Japan's Fukushima Nuclear Reactor.
The debris was already in the ocean, miles away from the reactor, before the
radioactive water leak developed. Spring/Summer 2012 inspections of Alaska beaches
have found no marine debris with levels of radiation above normal. The magnitude
of this 2013 cleanup project is unprecedented. In the words of our forest service
liaison, we will be assisting in "a dirty job, no doubt, but also a rewarding
and historic one."
Photo: Jan Lockie
So on the one hand we will help return Prince William Sound to its natural
state -- and at the same time 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 as they will help the agency
meet its Forest Plan direction to manage the area 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.
And some of our observations may actually become a part of Chugach's revised
The trip officially starts in Anchorage on the morning of Tuesday, July 2nd,
and ends back in Anchorage on the evening of July 8th. 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 Monday, July 1st. This is a good opportunity to meet
the other trip participants and to solve any last-minute equipment challenges.
We will depart early Tuesday morning from Anchorage for the two-hour drive to
Whittier by charter bus. There we will pick up our kayaking equipment and load
everything onto our charter boat for the ride out to Knight Island, where we
will set up our first camp.
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 plan to move camp once midweek.
On July 8th, our water taxi will pick us up and transport us back to Whittier
to board our charter bus back to Anchorage. We should arrive late afternoon
in time for that wonderful shower before 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 30th if possible.
You may schedule your departure for as early as July 9th or stay on for more
Accommodations and Food
Photo: Joan Bennett
There are no developed campsites on Knight Island, 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
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. Vegetarian
preferences can be accommodated. The first trip meal will be lunch on July 2nd
on our way into Prince William Sound. The last meal will be breakfast on the
last day. 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 8th.
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 6 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 arms, shoulders, 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. 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
Photo: Tim Johnson and Michelle Keagle
While out in Prince William Sound we will be camping every night. You will
need to bring your own tent, 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”), 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
- Delorme Atlas of Alaska. Available in the travel section of most major bookstores,
you'll find this trip's general area on page 72.
- Twardock, Paul, Kayaking and Camping in Prince William Sound.
- Information on the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act: http://www.wilderness.net/50th
- Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation website has a wealth of information
about the tsunami debris cleanup efforts: http://www.mcafoundation.org/
- NOAA website Japan tsunami marine debris FAQs: http://marinedebris.noaa.gov/tsunamidebris/faqs.html
- Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation regarding tsunami debris:
- Joint agency website re: tsunami debris cleanup: http://disasterdebris.wordpress.com/
The trip leaders will also provide copies of topo maps of our paddling area.
Photo: Jan Lockie
A key conservation focus of our outing (but not part of our service project)
to Prince William Sound will be the emerging campaign in Alaska to seek wilderness
status for the long-established Forest Service Wilderness Study Area comprising
most of the land around Prince William Sound. A Congressionally legislated WSA
in the Chugach NF, the huge -- 2.1 million acres -- College Fjord-Nellie Juan
WSA has never been acted on by Congress, in part because Alaska’s legislators
have over the years not been supportive 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 2013 unrolls, and brings us closer to the big wilderness year of
2014 -- as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act -- the Sierra
Club and others in Alaska who are already gearing up for major wilderness activities
and events plan a renewed wilderness campaign for College Fjord-Nellie Juan
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.
We are honored to have Vicky Hoover as our trip conservation coordinator. Vicky
has led Sierra Club national and international outings for nearly 40 years,
including the Club's first official "activist outing" in 1993. She
served as Sierra Club’s Alaska staff in San Francisco for 20 years, encouraging
Sierra Club members in the Lower 48 to get involved in Alaska issues and producing
a newsletter with action alerts on contacting legislators and agencies, as needed.
Vicky is now directing the Sierra Club’s role in celebrating the 50th
anniversary of the Wilderness Act -- as well as co-leading the national effort
for the 50th, which involves many organizations and agencies. Check out 50th
anniversary plans at http://www.wilderness.net/50th.
Travel in Alaska and the Arctic
Sierra Club outings in Alaska and Arctic Canada are special experiences in true wilderness, but they also carry an element of risk. Trip locales are often remote, away from the amenities of civilization, including sophisticated medical care and immediate evacuation possibilities. Many of our Alaska and Arctic Canada trips now carry satellite phones, but even with this technology, communication with the outside world can be difficult and emergency assistance can be days away. Weather in Alaska and Arctic Canada is unpredictable, and inclement weather can be severe. Among other hazards are cold river and stream crossings, tidal activity, calving glaciers, the psychological effects of remoteness, and the presence of large wild animals. You're in good hands, though, so don't worry: Your trip leaders have vast experience in the Last Frontier, and they'll provide all the guidance you need.
See the How to Apply for an Outing section for more details on registering for this trip and details
about our Reservation and Cancellation Policy.
The payment of a deposit does not confirm you as a member on the trip. Participants must be approved by the trip leader. After signing up for this trip, you will be sent a confirmation packet containing approval materials (Participant Approval Questionnaire, Medical Form, Liability Release Form). Each applicant (including those on the waitlist) must fill out these forms and promptly mail them to the trip leader. The leader will review the approval materials and notify you of your acceptance in a timely manner.
Jan Lockie has been an outdoor guide for over 17 years, leading paddling, backpacking and wilderness trips in her home state of California, as well as Alaska, Canada and other outdoor destinations. She is a certified Recreation Therapist and Wilderness First Responder who enjoys introducing people to the wonders of the outdoors. Working with Wilderness Inquiry, Environmental Traveling Companions and the Sierra Club, Jan is most content when she is in the wilderness, experiencing nature and the companionship of other outdoor enthusiasts.
Rebecca Dameron, assistant leader, began her sea kayaking experience on a sea-kayaking trip to Alaska in 2006 and she was hooked. Since then she has kayaked in the Everglades and elsewhere in Florida, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Iceland, Chile, New Zealand, Scotland, and Greenland. She loves experiencing the quiet and power of the kayaks as well as the water. Seeing the coastline from this vantage point is a treasure.
General Notes About Sierra Club Trips