Packrafting the Kodiak Archipelago

Philip.AK

Paddler
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
175
Location
Kodiak, Alaska
It's been a while since I have posted a trip report here. I have done a number of packrafting trips that you guys might find entertaining, though be forewarned that they often include a fair bit of hiking.

For this first one, I took the mail plane to Port William on the south side of Shuyak Island and then hiked and packrafted back to my home in Kodiak. Port William is one of my favorite starting points because you can go in literally any direction from there. It is the perfect jumping off point to explore Shuyak Island, or you can head east or west to access the north coast of Afognak Island, or you can do what I did on this trip and use the bays and lakes of Afognak to travel south. This was my first visit to the NW corner of Afognak Island and I feared lots of blowdowns in the forest and a sea of devil's club. Instead I found inviting, mature old growth Sitka spruce, blueberry bushes, and some wide elk trails. It was surprisingly pleasant traveling.

Here is a map of my route:


Enjoy:
 

Philip.AK

Paddler
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
175
Location
Kodiak, Alaska
I enjoyed the NW corner of Afognak so much that I went back and just concentrated on getting to know that area better. I did a counter-clockwise loop by leaving Port William to the west and paddled down into Devil Bay and Devils Inlet, a large tidal lagoon. From there I linked some alpine lakes together to explore the mountains of NW Afognak before dropping back down to tidewater and making my way back to Port William.

A map of my route:


The video:
 

Philip.AK

Paddler
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
175
Location
Kodiak, Alaska
The next summer I decided to do the Port William back to Kodiak trip again, but this time spend more time in the mountains, and also paddle all the way to the town of Kodiak. This route is an instant classic and I can definitely see doing it again.

The map:


The video:
 

Philip.AK

Paddler
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
175
Location
Kodiak, Alaska
This next trip is a bit thin on paddling, but I consider boats to be a tool to get a job done (even when that job is recreation, haha) so I use them where appropriate. I flew to the village of Port Lions on the mail plane and then paddled to the head of Kizhuyak Bay, hiked up the Terror Lake hydroelectric plant haul road, and then hiked back to Kodiak.

The trip map:


The video:
 

Philip.AK

Paddler
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
175
Location
Kodiak, Alaska
Last summer I went back to one of my favorite places to paddle in all the Kodiak archipelago; Shuyak Island. Shuyak has an incredibly convoluted coastline with a myriad of bays, inlets, sloughs, and short portages that get you from one inlet system to a totally different one. Such a cool place to explore by water and land. I did a counter clockwise lap of the island, mostly concentrating on the outer coast.

The map:


The video:
 

Philip.AK

Paddler
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
175
Location
Kodiak, Alaska
In late summer I did an overnight packrafting and hiking trip to an island north of Kodiak called Spruce Island to visit a site of religious significance to the Russian Orthodox faithful, called Monk’s Lagoon. This video took me longer to edit than most despite it being short. I just had a hard time working on it because the purpose of the trip was to mourn the loss of a friend who passed away this September.

I’m not religious, or really even spiritual. But I’ve been to Monk’s Lagoon before when I was sad, and it is one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited. The history of the place is fascinating if you are curious about the St Herman iconography.

No map, just the video (again, my apologies for this being thin on paddling):
 

Philip.AK

Paddler
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
175
Location
Kodiak, Alaska
Yay, a video with more paddling, lol!

Each spring I help a friend with his field archaeology. This video depicts an 8-day site survey, identifying prehistoric Native Alaskan settlements and site usage in Zachar Bay and Spiridon Bay on the west side of Kodiak Island, Alaska. The survey is conducted in the spring before grass and vegetation obscure subtle topographical features indicating barabaras (semi-subterranian house pits) and midden (waste) deposits. We paddled along the coastline and visited all beaches and probable settlement locations looking for house pits; evidence of fish, mollusc, and marine mammal bones; and probing the soil for charcoal and fire-modified rock.

Enjoy:
 

CPS

Paddler
Joined
Oct 27, 2020
Messages
204
Location
BC
These look like some great adventures. I'll be back to watch the videos when I have a bit more time on my hands. Looks like something I want to be able to devote some attention to.
 

AM

Paddler
Joined
Jan 30, 2006
Messages
963
Location
Vancouver
Wow! Thank you so much, Philip! A new area for me to dream about...

Cheers,
Andrew
 

Philip.AK

Paddler
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
175
Location
Kodiak, Alaska
I did a quick lap around Shuyak Island again a couple of weeks ago in late June between stints doing my spring field work for Fish and Game. Shuyak Island is a fantastic place to explore by kayak or packraft. Cheers!

 

Philip.AK

Paddler
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
175
Location
Kodiak, Alaska
Last week we had a nice weather window so I headed back up to north Afognak Island to explore some parts of the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge there that I had not traveled through before. It really is one of my favorite places to hike and paddle, and it’s just a 45 minute hop on the mail plane away from my home in Kodiak. Enjoy.

The Mountains, Lakes & Wildlife of Afognak Island

 

JKA

Paddler
Joined
Jul 25, 2016
Messages
184
Location
Banks Peninsula, New Zealand
WOW!

Thank you Philip, these are fantastic.

I've just binge-watched all nine videos, what awesome adventures. You have raised the bar on solo-trip videography, that's a lot of work you've put in. I'm humbled.

Thanks for educating me on a part of the world I knew nothing about, about the capabilities of packrafting, and for your sense of adventure. I'm indebted.

A few nerdy questions if you don't mind.

On your Terror Lake trip did you leave your packraft at the head of Kizhuyak Bay? The following shots don't seem to show you hiking with it. Was it cached, or is it able to be stored completely inside your pack? Further to that, on some of the other trips there was no sign while hiking, does it pack away or was that just continuity of filming?

In some clips you are obviously following animal trails, but is most of your travel 'off track' or are there known routes?

What camera gear are you using? I'm guessing a very light tripod for the walking past shots, but I also imagine a chest rig of some kind. Is that from the iPhone on the pack strap?

Thanks again, you've got me thinking about places to visit when international travel is once again possible, but also about doing more local exploring.

Cheers

John
 

Philip.AK

Paddler
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
175
Location
Kodiak, Alaska
Good questions! I am always carrying the packraft. I don't really have any options to drop it to retrieve later and anything left laying around just turns into a bear chew toy within about 24 hours. I carry a 55 L backpack which is not large enough to accomodate the raft along with all my camping stuff so the raft gets strapped to the bottom of the pack in its own stuff sack. I sewed my own raft storage bag and an early version was orange but more recently I made a black one that matches the packs better. You can probably see it in the videos now that I have pointed out where to look. The raft weighs about 3 kg and is a fairly dense object once deflated and rolled/folded, so carrying it on the bottom of the pack makes the center of gravity a bit lower and also means the pack does not stick up as high, allowing me to duck under branches and negotiate dense brush more easily. When I checked in for my most recent flight, all my gear together (food for 5 days, 1 liter of water, loaded backpack, raft, paddle, etc) weighed 17 kg.

This summer for the first time I am using a packraft that has a "cargo zipper." This means I can get inside the single tube to cache my gear when paddling. I have to empty the backpack and transfer the gear into 2 light dry bags which are themselves secured inside the raft tubes roughly on either side of my hips when seated, and the empty backpack can fit inside the stern. It's actually pretty quick to do this gear shuffle but still not as fast as simply securing the pack on the bow, so for shorter paddling sections where I will be transitioning soon I put the pack on the bow and for longer paddles (say, more than 1 hour) or if I anticipate rough conditions I will put the gear 'under decks.' So sometimes in the 2 most recent videos you will see my pack on the bow, but sometimes only a small deck bag that I sewed for this purpose.

Coming from a sea kayaking background I at first was dismissive of packrafts as not much more than pool toys. Some of the trips people were doing with them seemed contrived simply to rationalize using the packraft. But with a bit of a shift in attitude I began to realize they offered some unique travel opportunities. We don't have large rivers here in Kodiak, and the outer coasts are best negotiated by sea kayak. But inland waters, bays, and lakes offer a way of avoiding some otherwise horrific terrain and brush, so if you could hit the beach and have a reasonably worthy vessel assembled in about 5 minutes it would actually open up a lot of new terrain. Since the raft is so small and light you can also fly with it easily. Inexpensive "mail" flights between small communities means I can reach most regions in the archipelago for $100-200. Port William, a now defunct herring saltery and salmon cannery on the south side of Shuyak Island, is just such a mail plane stop and it only costs me $140 each way. If I'm feeling really cheap I will fly to a village/cannery and then hike/paddle back home, lol.

As long as the sea state is neither working for or against me, I can cruise at about 7 km/h in my kayak and I average about 50 km per day on trips. In a packraft I can cruise at 5 km/h and paddling 25 km in a day is no problem. But as soon as the wind picks up or it gets a bit rough, the sea kayak outperforms the packraft easily. You need to pick your weather carefully to paddle a packraft.

Other than near the city of Kodiak, there are almost no developed trails in the Kodiak Archipelago. Shuyak Island State Park has a few maintained trails, but frankly the bear trails on the island are wider and better laid out (always trust the locals to know the best routes). I am basically always hiking 'off route' and I follow animal trails whenever possible. Elk make amazing trails, as do bears. Deer trails are okay. But if I don't find a critter path going in my intended direction, I just go cross country.

I have 3 cameras with me. A compact super-zoom point and shoot (Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS60), a 'pov' action camera (DJI Osmo Action- basically like a GoPro), and the camera in my iPhone. The Panasonic is used for any telephoto shots of animals and also for general scenics. The DJI is for point-of-view shots like while hiking and paddling, and I honestly just hold it by the camera shoe in my teeth, haha. The iPhone is for flowers and some scenics, but mostly I have it along as my gps. They all produce somewhat different color profiles so I have to fiddle a bit when editing so that scenes don't contrast too badly with each other, but in general I have all the focal lengths and angles covered this way, and each camera is quite small and light. I have a mini tripod too (the original Joby GorillaPod).

I'm happy to answer any other Q's. Cheers, folks.
 
Last edited:

JKA

Paddler
Joined
Jul 25, 2016
Messages
184
Location
Banks Peninsula, New Zealand
Thanks Philip.

Ahh, the old 'hold-in-mouth, head-as-a-gyro-stabiliser mount', always a winner. As long as you're not a mouth breather but still want natural sound! :speechless:

"Some of the trips people were doing with them seemed contrived simply to rationalise using the packraft."

That's what I'm seeing locally as most of the trips are simply grade 2-3 rivers that would probably be best done in a hard shell. Your locale looks perfect for packrafting.

Re bears; you appear to have a lot of them but negative interactions with people seem rare. Is this because of sensible human behaviour or simply fewer people? I note in the survey video your partner was carrying bear spray. Is that the only thing people carry, or are firearms also carried?

Cheers

John
 

Philip.AK

Paddler
Joined
Jun 30, 2012
Messages
175
Location
Kodiak, Alaska
Everyone I know carries bear spray here. It's reasonably light and effective. In over 30 years I've only pulled it out a few times, and only once sprayed it at a charging sow (with cubs). Kodiak bears are hunted and they have a strong fear of humans. As long as you avoid bears habituated to humans (near villages, popular fishing locations, etc) they will just run away from you given the chance. Problems mainly arise when you surprise them. I maintain a pretty clean camp and try to keep food/trash smells to a minimum. My human smell is a thousand times the disincentive to a bear compared to whatever I'm carrying being an attractant. I keep my food with me and sleep soundly using ear plugs. It's worked so far... :)

Also, here is a map for that last video:

 
Last edited:
  • Like
Reactions: CPS
Top