Oh wow….

On June 10, 2014, I had a catastrophic accident at Bear Glacier, near Kenai Fjords National Park, Alaska.

This particular glacier is in the process of forming a very deep fjord. As it recedes, it is leaving a deep body of water in front of it (over 600’ deep near the face of the glacier), and the fjord is being formed with very steep underwater walls.

At 12:45 am on June 10th, there was a major underwater avalanche near my campsite.

The resulting tsunami waves swept over my campsite, causing severe damage, and sweeping lots of my gear out to sea. Much of this gear was not recovered. The waves ran up the hillside as much as 100 yards or more.

I was caught completely by surprise, while still asleep in my tent. I was violently propelled forward into rocks and boulders, and then sucked back out to sea — several times. I was fortunate to escape from the tent before potentially drowning.

My entire campsite was swept out to sea.

I had to swim to retrieve the kayak, which by now was about 25 years from the shore. The water was near-freezing, with enormous icebergs floating in it. Still swimming, I hauled the kayak back to shore. It was full of water, which I poured onto the beach. Then I retrieved my spare paddle, and began the process of trying to recover some of my gear. I was wearing only long underwear. It was raining hard, and it was only 38 degrees.

After an hour or so, I could no longer see anything floating on the water. I returned to the beach, and began building a shelter out of my demolished tent.

I shivered throughout the night. All of the gear that I was able to recover was thoroughly wet, including my sleeping bag. But I deployed my emergency space blanket, which helped mitigate my circumstances. By mid-morning the rain finally stopped, and I began to arrange a rescue.

I was able to contact a commercial fishing boat, which relayed my circumstances to the appropriate people in Seward, Alaska. Due to the tides and storm conditions on Resurrection Bay, a rescue boat could not pick me up until 11:00 pm that evening, on the outer coast. I had to paddle my kayak several miles to reach the pickup location.

I checked out my kayak that morning, and realized it had sustained some major damage. The port side (aft) gunnel was broken. I was afraid it might puncture the sponson. So I did a field repair (using cable ties and the small deck board), and I created a splint. It worked. The deck had also been slightly punctured, but this was not a critical concern.

I was able to paddle my kayak, towing my Baylee Raft to the pickup point, still suffering from mild hypothermia and exhaustion. My feet were also badly swollen. My boots had been swept out to sea, and so I was in my stocking feet for 24 hours.

After returning to town, I became hypothermic again. It took 2-3 hours to warm up.

The following day, I was interviewed by:
  • a reporter
  • the National Park Service
  • the owner of the local kayaking company
The newspapers in Alaska are running the story this weekend, in several publications.
The kayaking company owner was particularly interested in my experience and training. He has determined that several of his guides need additional training ~ including cold water rescue and wilderness skills training.
I have U.S. Coast Guard Cold Water Rescue training, Wilderness Skills training from the National Outdoor Leadership School, Advanced First Aid training from Red Cross, and a Wilderness First Responder Certification from the Wilderness Medicine Institute. Plus I have over 1,000 days of kayaking in Alaska.
I needed all of the training and experience.

EPILOGUE

I have had to abandon the trip, and I am in the process of returning to Denver.

My Feathercraft Baylee Raft survived unscathed. It washed ashore, and was easy to retrieve. But the packing bag and repair kit were washed out to sea.

Thanks,

John

 

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