Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Adventure Series Part 2: Discovering Northwestern

Pick your paradise. 

The first time your eyes fell on it, your breath choked backwards in your throat. It was one of those places so effortlessly sublime it felt surreal. It seemed proof of the divine. Picture this place.

Now, let me tell you about one of mine.

In a remote corner of the Southern Alaska coast. In a bedrock gash between hacksaw granite ridges iced with decadent glacier frosting, lies Northwestern Fjord. 

Leaping from sea to the summit of McCarty Peak (6,500') in about three miles, Northwestern boasts topographical relief on par with the classic American destinations: Yosemite, the Tetons, the Grand Canyon. This nest of  natural splendor hosts myriad waterfalls showering brilliant jewels down stern rock faces, innumerable glaciers spilling over serrated ridgelines, and wildlife by the thousand: harbor seals and seabirds, otters and crustaceans. Even the occasional transient orca pod has been spotted braving icy seas in search of fresh prey. 

And look, at the bottom, tiny and insignificant, a group of sea kayakers, cute in their colorful little toys. One of them happens to be me.

As a sea kayak guide in Kenai Fjords National Park, I got to visit Northwestern more times in one summer than most locals get to in their whole lifetime. I witnessed its many moods: bright and glorious, dark and temperamental. I saw it slashing down rain, I saw it darken with heavy smoke from a massive wildfire. I saw it choke with ice and roar with catabatic williwaws. I saw my two largest glacial calving events of the summer here, one of which scared me.

Every day a different shade.


This place called to me. Rugged and unforgiving yet graceful and serene, something about Northwestern Fjord rooted deep. Of all the incredible places I got to see through my job as a kayak guide, none seemed to fit in this same way. Yes, when it's my time and I'm back to being dust like the old words say, I hope a few of my ashes scatter here so they can swirl around in the ocean eddies and sink to the bottom.

I understand ocean life better now and, since the sea is such an integral part of life in coastal Alaska, my picture of this wild area I call home is a little clearer. My love of and time in Northwestern Fjord helped me to commune with Alaska, and hopefully helped it commune with me.

This was part 2 in my "Adventure Series" of blog posts. To visit/re-visit part 1, please click this link. To read part 3, click here.

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