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August 2, 2018

30 Years in Alaska - A Photo Essay by Philip Tschersich

Adventure Stories, Photo Gallery

A Photo Essay of Kodiak & Other Parts of Alaska

Photos & captions by Philip Tschersich

Philip Tschersich has called Kodiak, Alaska home for almost 30 years. He has traveled extensively throughout the Kodiak Archipelago on foot and by sea kayak during that time. About five years ago a friend introduced him to packrafts as a possible way to access new parts of the archipelago that require a boat, but are most easily accessed by small float or wheeled plane.

“Since that time I have logged hundreds of backcountry miles both in Kodiak and on the Alaskan mainland, happily using a packraft to get to places that would be essentially otherwise inaccessible,” Tschersich says. “Kodiak has numerous remote villages and settlements serviced by a mail plane that offers inexpensive seat fares. This is a far more economical way to get out into the bush compared with chartering aircraft. From there spectacular wilds of coastal Alaska are just a short walk and paddle away.”

As a dedicated sea kayaker for many years, Tschersich was initially skeptical of packrafts which he considered to be bathtub toys. However, these small boats totally won him over. He explains, “The versatility and durability of packrafts open whole new categories of adventure travel!”

Paddling across a small lake that bisects the south end of Long Island, off the coast of Kodiak Island, Alaska. When the devil’s club gets thick and you find a nice lake that offers a way around it, blow up your raft. ;^)

Paddling down the Akwe River on Alaska’s Lost Coast on the way from Lituya Bay to Yakutat. Many rivers along this section of coast flow north, paralleling the coastline for miles, before terminating in the ocean. These floats provided us a pleasant respite from the long beach walk that characterized much of the trip. The rafts were essential for crossing the many deep and sometimes wide rivers that bisect the coastal plain that are the outwashes from innumerable glaciers throughout the Fairweather Range of mountains. Mount Fairweather 15,325 ft (4,671 m) dominates the backdrop. This trip followed an approximately 100-mile section of Bretwood Higman (aka Hig) and Erin McKittrick’s amazing expedition from Seattle, WA to Unimak Island, AK.

Leaving the town of Kodiak behind and island hopping out across Chiniak Bay on the way to Long Island for a weekend of camping. I’m paddling past Icehouse Point on Woody Island where lake ice was cut for distribution all down the west coast of America in the pre-refrigeration days.

Portaging from Dead Bird Beach along the Shelikof Strait into Big Bay on Shuyak Island, Alaska. Dead Bird Beach is so-named after hundreds of oiled sea birds washed up following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, over 250 miles away. Oil from the disaster flowed out into the Gulf of Alaska and followed the coast westward past the Kodiak Archipelago. Today, almost 30 years later, many of the oiled areas have recovered and Shuyak provides one of the most perfect packrafting destinations imaginable. The island is characterized by an incredibly lush and mossy spruce forest interwoven with a myriad of convoluted bays, inlets, sloughs, and waterways. Short portages are all that separates many different inlet systems and it is possible to cross the entire 47,000 acer island from southwest to northeast doing just 3 short portages linking 4 different inlet systems (Neketa Bay, Big Bay, Carry Inlet, and Shangin Bay). Outer capes offer flower meadows, rolling tundra, and sweeping panoramic views of the snow-capped volcanos of the Alaskan mainland.

Paddling across the melt lake at the foot of the Grand Plateau Glacier on the way from Lituya Bay to Yakutat, Alaska. The coastline near the glacial terminus is characterized by huge boulders and a violent, cascading outflow. To avoid these obstacles we bushwhacked inland to the glacial lake and spent a few idyllic miles weaving through the calved icebergs before picking up the sandy beach again farther up the coast. The brush bashing along this section of coast was among the most heinous I have ever experienced in 30 years of Alaskan coastal adventuring, but the background of the spectacular Fairweather Range a short distance inland offset some of the pain.