Kayaking in Alaska – Alone in the Wild

By Abi King | Tempt Me

Feb 17

Photos from a kayak expedition to southeast Alaska. Featuring red and yellow kayaks against clear blue water, mountains and cloud-streaked skies. (Abigail King)

Kayaking in Alaska

Finally, I stop. My heartbeat reels like a dizzy child who’s been spinning around on the spot, my lungs test their boundaries and my soul smiles with joy. This must be what they mean by a natural high.

I am, as it happens, pretty low on the surface of the earth. At sea level, in fact. My legs bound beneath plastic, my belongings wrapped between them and a paddle across my lap. I’m in a kayak, I’m in Alaska, and I’m in seventh heaven.

I’m in a kayak, I’m in Alaska, and I’m in seventh heaven.

It’s almost embarrassing for a typically cynical Brit to be enjoying myself this much. No, strike that, it is embarrassing. When I get back to the main boat and catch up with the rest of the crew, I fully expect a chorus of “awesomes” and “you did great” from my American comrades, since that’s pretty much the reaction I got when introduced myself. Coming from a country that uses the phrase “not too bad” to congratulate people, I always sound, well, repressed.

A drip of water brings me back to the present, a noise amplified by the silence, with the echo of a solitary church bell. Waspish clouds hang low on the horizon, forested mountains rise up on either side and the water stretches away like cerulean honey.

Mountains, pine forests, lakes and clouds...The wild Alaskan landscape in the sun and at its best (Abigail King)

View from my kayak in Alaska

There’s no-one else in sight.

Southeast Alaska doesn’t really do roads; its jigsaw geography doesn’t let it. Floatplanes and jet boats cover the distances, with skiffs and the odd ferry picking up the slack. It’s been years since people relied on canoes, but for centuries, of course, that was it, the only way to get around. Trade, travel, hunting and war. Paddling underpinned it all.

For centuries, this was the only way to get around.

My lightweight shell is far from the cedar and spruce that the Tlingits carved, but the connection’s still there. I’m still seeing the same Alaska that people saw a thousand years ago.

Well, almost. Out on the horizon, the odd flash of sunlight catches my eye before a tip of canary yellow appears. It’s Nellie and Pokin in a two –man kayak, steadily making ground.

Photos from a kayak expedition to southeast Alaska. Featuring red and yellow kayaks against clear blue water, mountains and cloud-streaked skies. (Abigail King)

Closest company in a kayak

As it turns out, more kayaks make it more fun. Sure, there’s coordination jiggery-pokery to get sorted and only one of you can steer, but you can also be incredibly mature and race each other or compete to block one other off.

No-one wants to fall in: the Chuck River may look as smooth as polished sapphire, but it’s riddled with the carcasses of salmon as they’ve swum upstream to mate.

No-one wants to fall in.

Luckily, the water’s not always like this. Another full day’s kayaking takes us past rocky shores with amber starfish, bear tracks in the mud and the challenge of navigating a narrow network of streams.

This isn’t for extremists (we do head back to a yacht each night) but neither is it for the faint hearted. We’re in the kayaks for six or seven hours at a time, paddling, working, breathing, laughing. And although we’re a small group, it turns out that we’re not alone.

Behind me, I hear another noise. Soft, stunted, and almost silent. I hold my breath and turn around. Slowly, slowly, trying to become invisible. I’ve got company.

I’m still seeing the same Alaska that people saw a thousand years ago.

The saucer eyes of a seal greet me and then another row of heads pop up. I want to scream, I want to dance, I want to find some better way of saying “Wow. Just. Wow!”

The word “awesome” crosses my mind but I let it pass. I don’t want to break the spell.

Instead I hold my breath and hold still – and I thrill in the experience of kayaking through southeast Alaska.

kayaking in alaska - scarlet kayak paddle in southeast alaska innersea discovery cruises
Kayaking in Southeast Alaska

Kayaking in Southeast Alaska

(Final photo credit John Beath of My Travel Tastes. ) I kayaked as a guest on an “Un-Cruise” run by InnerSea Discoveries and American Safari Cruises. These guys specialise in small cruise ships (no more than 20 passengers on our trip, 50 on the cruise this summer and 75 the year after.) This way, you get off the beaten track and escape the giant liners. Kayaking equipment was provided, right down to the waterproof trousers, as was a wonderful meal each night.

Read more about Alaska

Icebergs in Alaska – How Close Can You Get?

The Northern Lights in Alaska

Gold Dust & Magic Mud – Alaska’s Baird Glacier

Flightseeing in Alaska


About the Author

Abigail King is a writer and photographer who swapped a career as a doctor for a life on the road. Now published by Lonely Planet, the BBC, CNN, National Geographic Traveler & more, she feels most at home experimenting here: covering unusual journeys, thoughtful travel and luxury on www.insidethetravellab.com

Marina NC April 6, 2011

It is nice to read your experience. Kayaking alone in such a place is not a small thing. I also congratulate you for the great job u did.

Sonya April 9, 2011

I would love me some kayaking in Alaska right now.

Lindy April 28, 2011

So beautifully written! :) I just ended up here from a google search–I love the outdoors but have never been kayaking, and was wondering what it’s like. You really captured the experience. Glad you had such an “awesome” time!

Abi King May 1, 2011

Thanks for appreciating my sense of humour ;) This was definitely one of the most incredible adventures I’ve ever had.

Travel September 19, 2011

What an exciting experience you have,it’s the most wonderful feelings when you spend quality time for yourself and engage ourselves to nature,it make us relaxing,have a peace of mind,far from the city noise.

Paula Londe (Americana the Beautiful) April 19, 2012

love the context that kayaking used to be the only way to get around!

    Abi King April 19, 2012

    Makes sense when you’re there, though!

Sofie November 2, 2012

Sounds like an amazing experience.
You describe it in a way that makes everyone – well, certainly me – want to do it.

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