Our First Kayak Adventure
4. Lessons and Tips
It was indeed a great trip and well worth the calculated risks we took.
It did rain more than we could have imagined, but at least that kept
the crowds down and made amazing waterfalls. We weren’t really fit
enough for the distances we were paddling, but we took it slow, got
through it and recovered in time. And you just cannot compare the
intensity of having a humpback surface within 100 meters, or paddling
up to the face of a mile wide glacier while in a kayak to
being on land or a boat. Plus the bears, otters, puffins and seals seem
less wary and so our encounters were startlingly immediate.
To summarize some of my biggest lessons learned:
- Kayaking is not scary. I am the first one to admit I was
intimidated before I tried it. Even as an experienced canoe
paddler, I was convinced it was a completely different sport where you
spent half your time upside down or being pummelled by waves.
truth is that while you are closer to the water level, that actually
improves your stability, especially in a touring-loaded tandem. Now,
perching in a canoe seems much tipsier than having my center of gravity
below the surface. And the sheer peacefullness further put me at ease.
- Kayaking is easy to learn. I
had refused to believe the people who had said you learn the balancing
almost instinctively and it’s far more efficient and thus less work
than a canoe. Well, they are right. To
enjoy using a tandem in fairly
calm water doesn’t require you to train for eskimo rolling in white
water. In fact, we didn’t have to practice capsizing and re-entry at
all. Even paddling through
moderate waves and managing the beach landings and launches required
less skill than
expected. Plus I found the fast and easy steering control absolutely
from the start.
- A good local guide is well worth the cost. Our main reason
a guide (learning to use the kayaks) wasn’t the half of what we got. We
set out at the same time as a couple who had minimal experience but
were going it alone in a rental, and if Dave hadn’t provided them extra
and support they would have risked serious troubles. Not only did he
know the weather and tide patterns, but he also had excellent insights
on navigation and map reading. Further, he knew all the camping low
down and even had special access to restricted beaches for us. By the
end, we had gained skills far beyond packing and paddling a kayak, and
could realistically assess our skill level for picking and planning our
- Kayaking should be easy. Proper kayak paddling takes far
work than canoe paddling, so when it was too hard, it was a reminder
that I was doing it wrong. I had to keep working on proper form and
stop myself clenching and digging. So, though I still wished I
had done some
pushups and arm exercises in the weeks before the trip, Dave wasn’t
crazy to take us 10 miles our first day.
If you are going to try this, especially in Alaska, here are a few more
- Kayaking is a watersport, so you do get wet. Even the rare
periods when it wasn’t raining water was flying at us from our
partner’s and our own paddles or spraying from waves. The best
plan is to expect to be
wet, wearing layers of light wool or polypro clothing under rain gear.
At times we were freezing sitting in glacial cold water with gusting
winds, and soon after we were sweating from paddling, so we were
constantly donning and doffing, opening and closing our layers.
- To ensure a warm dry sleep, Wendy taught us to keep a
set of “sacred” clothes- they never leave the tent except in a separate
dry bag, so you always have something comfy to go to bed in. It is so
tempting to change into them when you climb dripping out of the boat,
but if they get rained on, then what?
- Tall people might not be able to fit the rudders properly,
should let a shorter partner steer. F settled for “close enough” but
went so numb after our first 4 hour outing, that he couldn’t stand when
exiting. (Yes, this means he had the delight of falling into the ice
- Have light gloves even if it’s warm- the paddle
hot-spots on various parts of your hands until you build some calluses
- Bring multiple head coverings- we used hoods, rain hats and
depending on the temperature. Hoods sometimes impeded communication,
but were invaluable in blowing rain. A separate dry knit cap for
would have been great.
- You don’t need to bear-proof your first day’s
(snacks, lunch and dinner), so if you are short on room put that stuff
in a separate watertight bag.
We are now strong proponents of kayak adventuring for novices.
Certainly if you have the time, money and commitment to start with
lessons and build yourself up to a big adventure you might get even
more out of a trip like ours. But if doing it that way is too big a
barrier to getting started, then jumping right in to a
trip is not completely crazy. In fact, it’s a suprisingly fast and
economical way to learn. And if you happen to be in Alaska, then there
is no reason to hold out for learning in a more temperate climate.
- Lonely Planet Alaska online.
- More Misty Fjords info.