Kodiak to Chignik, June 22 to July 22, 2022: 31 days, 308 nm


Feb 21, 2019
San Francisco, CA
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This trip continued my travel along the coast of the Gulf of Alaska, this time down to the southwest, from Kodiak to Chignik. Actually the trip was planned as Chignik to Kodiak, but after I booked it, the June ferry, which was my ride to Chignik, was cancelled. But I could still book passage back to Kodiak on the July ferry 33 days later, and did, figuring it would be a relief to get the Shelikof Strait crossing done early in the trip.

There are good and bad points to either direction, but from my own experience, I must counsel those who want an easier time of it to go Chignik to Kodiak. The prevailing northwest wind along the Alaska Peninsula was a frequent pain to deal with, often greeting me as I rounded a cape. It could provide a welcome push to a paddler going northeast.

Unlike my Kodiak to Seward paddle, there were no whales or orcas encountered on this trip— just a few dolphins and an occasional otter, sea lion and harbor seal. No rafts of otters. But on land there were plenty of brown bears, foxes and even a small caribou herd, whose dominant male took one look at me as I paddled by and trotted up the nearest knoll to face me in challenge. His rack must have been 4 feet wide, quite a sight.

Then there was the very windy day— too fierce to paddle— when, while hiding from the wind at the front of my tent, I heard a loud, deep hissing sound. It sounded like a big cat. That was followed by noises right in back of the tent that sounded to me like two large cats getting ready to have it out with each other. I’d seen badgers fight before, and I certainly didn’t want to miss a cat fight, but as I stood up to turn around, I heard deep growls and footfalls only to turn and see a brownie mom and her big blond yearling cub running away from me. It was interesting to me that they ran in different directions, 90 degrees apart. They stopped about twenty feet away and turned to look at me. They had been upwind and were obviously surprised. I stooped to grab my bear spray in case she charged, but quickly realized that it would just blow back in my face. When I stood back up they were retreating again, then stopped and turned at about 40 feet. I looked up at the sky and gave them my loudest, longest, friendliest bear holler, a Freddie Mercury-style DAYYYY—O. When I looked back they were gone.

Bears encountered my camps regularly, most of the time when I was unaware. On more than one occasion I found tracks in the sand where they had spotted my camp and turned away. I made it a practice to announce my arrival at a new campsite with a friendly bear holler, then repeated it from time to time. Foxes on the other hand would walk through my camp while scouting the tide with no fear of me whatsoever. They’d look wistfully into my eyes like stray cats. Alaska Peninsula foxes looked a bit scrawny, but Kodiak foxes looked like concentration camp survivors.

There were big gull and puffin rookeries, but very few bald eagles— I must have seen less than a half-dozen on the entire trip. The mystery for me is why there was enough food for sea birds, but not enough for whales, orcas or eagles. In the Shumagin Islands, as seen on a previous trip, eagles were actually building their nests next to gull rookeries. It made feeding their brood a breeze, although a tad noisy.

I have to say this is the most challenging trip I have ever done, owing to the winds of the Alaska Peninsula (although crossing the Shelikof Strait at barely 2 knots while loaded to the gunwales for a long expedition was an ordeal lasting 12 hours and was not my only 12-hour paddle.) Without my Hilleberg tent, I doubt I could have completed it. Thanks again to John Abercrombie for tipping me to the Staika. One night, exhausted after a long paddle, I went to bed without even bothering with dinner, in a quiet, dripping fog, to awake the next morning as the only thing keeping my tent from blowing into the sea. To resolve the situation, I had to disassemble the tent while still largely inside it.

Seizing a break in the weather, I was lucky to get across the Shelikof Strait without delay, but I didn’t have time to see much of Kodiak. Having crossed so early on, I had the confidence to take a couple of layover days at Russian Anchorage and then spend a day touring Geographic Harbor. After that I became conscious of the need for insurance against missing the boat back to Kodiak and had to limit my layovers to days that were too windy to paddle. As it turns out, I could have missed the ferry if I had not arrived in Chignik’s back yard with four days to spare, because the last two days of my planned 33-day trip couldn’t have been paddled, owing to 27-knot winds forecast. I spent those in the comfort of the Chignik Biltmore ( rooms with shared kitchen and bath for rent right in Chignik city hall) eating camp food, there being no cafes in Chignik. I ended up with too much food and donated several meals to the local food bank. (Maybe that’s why I lost 20 pounds on this trip— a personal record.) Chignik’s having a rough time of it now that the cannery’s closed for lack of salmon.

I’ve finally gotten with the program and attached snapshots of some of my campsites. There were 22 different campsites, so I had little opportunity to savor the best ones. Almost every site, however, was a garden of its own, especially after an evening “cocktail.” A “lesson learned” was not to camp on glacial flour beaches. I made that mistake in Imuya Bay. An eerily beautiful place, but there was just no avoiding a perpetual sandstorm that destroyed a dry suit zipper and jammed up almost every other moving part of my gear. And this was a strictly dry-suit trip. I tried to use my neoprene shorts and a rash guard for paddling on one particularly warm day, but ended up having to land and change after a few miles. I was never able to use my spirit sail successfully either, although traveling in the opposite direction I might have.

I suppose the biggest draw to this paddle is vast, empty, spectacular wilderness. After crossing the strait, I saw exactly two trawlers and two sailboats before arriving in Chignik Bay. I saw nothing else in the way of human presence except two cabins, 200 miles apart. I’m convinced one cabin, on Aniakchak Bay just before rounding Cape Kumlik, actually had an occupant, because I saw footprints in the sand after I arrived very late in falling darkness. I had landed in the wrong place and, before realizing it, shouted out my bear greeting. When I landed at the right place, a quarter mile down the beach, my intended tent site had recent fresh waffle-sole prints all over it. I figure the cabin occupant had walked out to the highest part of the beach to see what all the shouting was about. Theirs would be a life without electricity or significant contact with the outside world.

Russian Anchorage:

Cape Ilktugitak:

Alinchak Bay:

Cape Kekurnoi:

Wide Bay, north inlet:

Imuya Bay north (don’t camp here):

Imuya Bay south:

Port Wrangell:

Chiginagak Bay:


Nakalilok Bay (south of):
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Cape Kumlik:

Cape Kumlian:

Hook Bay:

From Chignik Biltmore’s observation deck:
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