Alaska Adventure 2003
Thursday, July 17-DC to Windfall Island Flights
Flew from Washington, DC to Juneau via Seattle; purchased airplane bottles of booze in route; Steve's sleeping pad and rain tarp fell off his pack and was lost in route; walked to Outdoor Headquarters sporting goods store in light rain and purchased stove fuel, salmon lures and bear bells; took taxi to Fred Meyers and purchased replacement sleeping pad and rain tarp; took charter flight in Cessna from Juneau to Windfall Island and set up camp; paddled to Admiralty Island in search of water source; scuffed canoe hull on barnacles; paddled back to Windfall Island against strong headwind and whitecaps; patched canoe; weather was good.
Friday, July 18-Pack Creek Paddle and Hike
Beautiful sunny day; paddled to Pack Creek tidal flat; tied canoe to rope on pulley and pulled canoe 50 yards offshore; stored excess gear in bear-proof food cache; commenced hiking on mile-long trail to observation tower; trail was in perfect condition, wide and level with white crunchy gravel spread across it; lots of bear sign in route; heard bear off trail, but did not make sighting; encountered bear 15 to 20 feet in front of us just left of the trail when it stood up on all four, it's shoulders coming up to my ribs; remarkable experience; further up the trail, another bear, this one's shoulders coming up to my shoulders, stood up just left of the trail, again about 15 to 20 feet in front of us; each bear in the two face-to-face encounters didn't pay us much attention, but rather took a couple steps uphill, paused to eat skunk cabbage, took a couple more steps uphill, paused to eat again, and so on until eventually hidden in dense undergrowth;
during both encounters, I got off the trail to get better pictures, which didn't disturb the first bear, but caused the second bear to stop what it was doing and stare in my direction, causing me to back up slowly (later, a ranger would tell us that a single bear encounter like these usually only happens about three times a year, but lately it had become more common due to a light winter snow fall, resulting in shallower streams, less salmon and, hence, more eating of vegetation by the bears up the mountain); hiked to observation tower, eventually spotting one huge bear about 200 yards off through a small clearing in the trees; spent one hour at tower before hiking back and over to the tidal flat observation area known at "the spit," where we saw another eight or ten bears initially, one of which was a huge bear coming in from the tidal flat when we were approaching the observation area, causing us to wait while it crossed our intended path; bears we're basking in the sun for the most part; out of water again,
we paddled to a new water source near the mouth of Windfall Harbor, back to camp on Windfall Island for lunch, and back to Pack Creek to watch evening bear activities for a total four mile round-trip for water and food; during the "water-run," we spotted a school of salmon under the canoe that moved in such unison that on first glance, each of us thought we were over a whale or similarly huge sea animal; returning to the spit, we watched several bears catching and eating salmon, spotted a mother bear with three cubs and watched as two bears fought each other on their hind legs over a salmon (something the ranger had not seen before in his three years at this post); spotted lots of bald eagles throughout the day; paddled back to camp; fished a little with no luck; noticed that it never really seemed to get dark, even though sunset was at 9:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 19-Seymour Canal Paddle
Woke up at 4 a.m. and started 18-mile paddle to Mole Harbor at 5:30 a.m. in order to ride a 12.9-foot tidal change starting at 5:45 a.m.; spotted deer, salmon, kingfishers, jelly fish, coldwater reefs, seals, sea lions and a pod of Orcas along the way; the Orcas were about a quarter mile away and first became apparent to us via their water spouts and then we watched on as they came at least half-way out of the water; the paddle was long, very long; Buck Island, which was at the two-thirds-of-the-way mark, first appeared to us in the distance as a blue bump on the horizon (due to all the atmosphere between us and it), devoid of other color or detail; we took a few paddling breaks about a mile offshore, reclining in the canoe as best we could, getting sunburned in the process; just north of Mole Harbor, about a mile short of completing our 18-mile paddle, we finally pulled ashore for a "land break" on an inviting and dry black pebble beach, immediately collapsing onto our backs upon landfall; salmon jumped everywhere, somehow convincing Steve to get up and throw in a line, which I reluctantly followed; I could see a school of about 15 salmon circling tightly about six feet offshore, and after they rejected a lure, I put a marshmallow on the end of the lure hook and instantly one of them struck; after a few minute of fight with light tackle, and a little grabbing of line with my hand, I beached the 22 to 24-inch fish; we paddled the remaining one mile into Mole Harbor with the salmon on a stringer behind the canoe and a sea lion following us, arriving at low tide and exhausted after seven hours of mostly uninterrupted paddling;
we assembled the canoe caddy quickly while having to move our gear repeatedly to stay ahead of the incoming tide; Steve located the Mole Harbor Shelter just inside the trees with the aid of a GPS; we cleaned the salmon, built a fire and cooked it wrapped in foil for 15 minutes a side and ate it at the shore line, while watching the tree line at each other's backs for approaching bear; set up camp; walked over to Hasselborg Homestead, finding berry vineyards; practiced shooting with .357 Magnum; weather, which had been sunny all day, started to turn cold and windy.
Sunday, July 20-Mole Harbor to Lake Alexander Portage
Started steep (700-foot elevation gain) and long (2.5 miles) portage to Lake Alexander at 10:30 a.m., with canoe on caddy and camera gear in canoe; getting around the first corner convinced us that the canoe would have to be empty; portaged two grueling hours with the caddy attached and wearing the camera bag, progressing only a half mile and spending more time picking up the canoe and caddy then rolling it; trail was in horrible condition, full of ditches and badly overgrown; abandoned caddy on side of trail and continued portage carrying canoe at arm's length for another two hours, before becoming so exhausted that we could not continue; still short of the "summit," we dropped everything and returned to Mole Harbor Shelter for our backpacks, finally arriving at Lake Alexander Shelter around 7 p.m.; soaking wet from sweat and rain, we returned for the canoe and camera bag, this time carrying the canoe on our shoulders instead of at our sides, which worked quite a bit better, arriving again at Lake Alexander Shelter around 9 p.m.; filed up water bottles in steam and paddled one mile across the lake to the Lake Alexander Cabin (whose wood burning stove had provided much needed incentive for several hours to push on through what turned out to be the most grueling day of the trip), arriving via GPS in the dark at 10:30 p.m., after a total of 7.5 miles of portaging and twelve hours after we had started; started fire and heated the cabin to 85 degrees or so, hung up our wet gear, took bird baths and passed out; Lake Alexander Cabin was heaven on earth at the moment and provided a much needed boost to what otherwise would have surely been our rock bottom morale.
Monday, July 21-Lake Alexander Cabin to Big Shaheen Cabin Paddle
Woke up at Lake Alexander Cabin dry, warm and happy, but with cramped muscles from the previous day's workout; cabin was quaint, cozy, clean, bright, easy to heat, and would be ideal for a couple flying in for the weekend; spent some quality time doing nothing, other than sitting on the gravel shore line in front of the cabin; weather was scattered clouds with moments of light rain; started paddle to Big Shaheen Cabin at 4 p.m. through the remaining portion of Lake Alexander and through a narrow cut to Beaver Lake filled with lily pads; Beaver Lake was the smallest and most beautiful lake we would see the entire trip; at one point while paddling in a gentle rain through lily pads and thinking of my Maxine, I picked the three prettiest lily pad flowers I could find; we paddled into a narrow would-be cut, and up against a small man-made dam which created the backup in the cut through which we had been paddling (the damn was actually on a small river feeding water from Beaver Lake and Lake Alexander into Lake Hasselborg); we climbed out of the canoe, donned our packs and started the portage to Lake Hasselborg; the rain forest was outstandingly lush and beautiful; almost as soon as we thought we had just started the portage, we arrived at Lake Hasselborg, just three-quarters of a mile from where we started and mostly all down hill; delighted, we returned for the canoe and carried it on our shoulders through the portage, stopping only once for a break; paddled four additional miles on Hasselborg to Big Shaheen Cabin, arriving well rested and relaxed at 8 p.m., having paddled about 5.5 miles and hiked about 2.25 miles; the cabin was large with three rooms (two bedrooms with bunk beds, and a large kitchen/stove/dining/living area, with a picnic table, picnic benches, a large "picture window" overlooking the southern half of the lake, lawn chairs and a table outside and a nice beach area and outdoor fire pit; weather for the day was scattered clouds with occasional light rain, until 9 p.m., when it changed to steady rain, which we didn't mind from within our warm and dry cabin; darkness finally set in at 11:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 22-Big Shaheen Rest and Relaxation
Mostly steady rain dominated the morning; set up a tarp outside over the lawn chairs next to the shoreline from which we fished; I hooked two and landed one trout-both were small; by noon the rain stopped and the sky cleared; went fishing for several hours in one of two heavy skiffs provided with the cabin; it was nice to be able to stand up while on the water for a change; Steve hooked two and landed one trout from the skiff-both were small; picked and ate berries on the shore and skipped stones for a couple hours; enjoyed reading outdated magazines in the cabin by sun and candle light and reading carvings on the cabin walls, some dating back to the late 1950's; chopped wood with maul; watched float plane land and take off a mile a way for practice; dried lily pad flowers for Maxine.
Wednesday, July 23-Big Shaheen Cabin to Lake Davidson Shelter Paddle and Portage
Packed up two days worth of the "gear expands to fill the space" principle; started paddling three miles south on Lake Hasselborg at 10:45 a.m. to Lake Hasselborg Shelter; two black tail deer walked along the shoreline also heading south much of the way; discussed at length our distaste of freeze-dried honey lime chicken and the characteristics of "good" beer; arrived at Hasselborg Shelter and disassembled canoe for "new" portage technique; portage to Lake Guerin (two mile trail with 400-foot elevation gain) was mostly on white planks elevated above the moist rain forest floor, with lots and lots of steps up; it was like a white boardwalk and staircase up and through a lush rain forest, with six-foot skunk cabbage, 18-foot devils club and several hundred-foot trees with open spaces and a surprising amount of sunlight providing accents; it was a beautiful trail in superb condition; arrived at Lake Guerin approximately an hour after starting the portage, emptied packs and returned with pack frames to Lake Hasselborg Shelter arriving 45 minutes later (most of the uphill stair climb was from Hasselborg to Guerin); divided disassembled canoe between us, strapping it to our packs and returned to Lake Guerin, arriving a mere 50 minutes after leaving Lake Hasselborg Shelter; we finally got it right!; repacked backpacks in the tree line and reassembled the canoe in the marsh beside Lake Guerin amidst swarms of bugs; paddled one mile to other (west) end of Lake Guerin to a small and narrow cut over to Lake Davidson; paddled cut, which was made up of several small and sometimes shallow ponds filled with lily pads and at one point had to get out of canoe and drag it (fully loaded) through a shallow stream; paddled three miles to west end of Davidson Lake against semi-strong headwind to Lake Davidson Shelter, arriving at 9:20 p.m.; Lake Davidson Shelter was small, damp and had a dirt floor filled with boulders; we were tired after a good day of traveling with too little food and too little water; cut down six-inch diameter dead tree for firewood.
Thursday, July 24-Davidson Lake to Salt Lake Portage
This was the longest stretch, although mostly downhill, portage of the trip; we slept in and got moving a little late, starting the portage at 2 p.m.; the trail was in poor condition and largely overgrown in places; we finally arrived three miles down the trail at the Salt Lake/Davidson Lake/Mitchell Bay trail intersection, one mile from Mitchell Bay, emptied our packs and returned to Davidson Lake Shelter to retrieve the canoe and camera bag; at 8:30 p.m., we finally made it back to the trail intersection and decided, despite being pretty exhausted to continue on to Mitchell Bay Shelter with the canoe and camera bag; unfortunately, someone had knocked down a trail marker and due to the overgrown condition of the Mitchell Bay trail, we missed the trail head and hiked an entire half mile in the wrong direction towards Thayer Lake over many fallen trees; not certain of our mistake but sure that we weren't going to make it due to the encroaching darkness, we unloaded the canoe and returned with empty pack frames to the trail intersection where we had left the remainder of our gear; too late and too dark to do anything else we pitched our tents in the trail intersection (against the advise of everything we had read with respect to avoiding trouble with bears) and sat under a tree in the forest-canopy-induced blackness at 11:30 p.m. and drank our little airplane bottle of booze and enjoyed the precariousness of our situation; neither of us got much sleep that night, sleeping with one eye open, so to speak, but we did enjoy the adventure of it all.
Friday, July 25-Salt Lake to Mitchell Bay to Angoon Portage and Paddle
In order to ensure that we caught the outgoing tide in Mitchell Bay just right, especially in a dangerous passage named "The Narrows," we woke up at 4 a.m., packed up, filled a couple of our water bottles and started the portage for Mitchell Bay at 5:30 a.m.; we mistakenly thought that the trail would be downhill and easy, but instead it was steep uphill and downhill, overgrown, and riddled with hazards ranging from a washed out bridge to holes in the trail a couple feet deep which were completely obscured due to overgrown vegetation; we did manage to find the Mitchell Bay trail head we had walked passed the previous night, which Steve initially characterized as an old abandon trail upon first spotting it; we arrived at Mitchell Bay Shelter as sweaty as ever and returned up the trail to find the canoe and camera bag which we had abandoned up the wrong trail the night before;
upon finally arriving with all our gear at the Mitchell Bay Shelter (which was the nicest shelter we saw) at 10:30 a.m., after four hours of constant hiking, we felt euphoric and took 30 minutes to rest and cool off; we packed up our packs, assembled the canoe and started our paddle to Angoon at 11:30 a.m. against an incoming tide (high tide was at 1:30 p.m.) and strong headwind; we stopped twice in coves along the way for a break, watching hermit crabs and without getting out of the canoe, and finally arrived at "The Narrows" at 2:30 p.m., which was just about right; The Narrows was a confluence of currents going in every conceivable direction, resembling ribbons on the water or jumbled freeways of traffic, which would push and pull the canoe in any given direction depending on which current we were in; having finally positioned ourselves on the right current, the canoe moved along at four mile per hour without being paddled, and reached seven miles per hours while paddling; finally seeing Angoon in the distance was exciting to be sure; we paddled over a huge coldwater reef just outside of Angoon and over to the float plane dock, exchanged high-fives, before paddling a little further to the Favorite Bay Inn, where we took some very overdue showers; we cleaned up and in fresh street clothes delivered by Wings of Alaska from Juneau to Angoon, we walked up to the general store one freaking mile away and back to the Inn; I called Maxine and then headed off to Whaler's Cove Lodge for steak and crab dinner.
Saturday, July 26, and Sunday, July 27-Angoon to Seattle Flights and Seattle to DC Flight
On Saturday, we caught our charter float plane flight from Angoon to Juneau, had our first beers and burgers in ten days, and then few to Seattle, where Hans picked us up and took us to his and Cindi's new house; we enjoyed an evening of socializing with Hans and Cindi, Dave and Alison, Erich and Foy.
On Sunday, Hans took us to the airport, where we waited in line after line for hours, boarded our flights to DC, where three John R. Miller's were assigned to my seat, 17C, which I sat in first; we slept on the flight home; I ran into a colleague at the airport who asked if I was returning from an endurance vacation; the most beautiful sight of the whole trip was Maxine waiting for me at the airport. What a trip.
Total Hiking: In excess of 40 miles.
Total Paddling: In excess of 50 miles.
Bear Sightings: In excess of a dozen
Weight Loss: In excess of 10 pounds
Beer Consumed in Juneau: Lost track