Archive for the ‘Ketchikan to Wrangell’ Category
Posted on July 4, 2012 - by Nadia
If the ferry comes in at 7, the garnet stand is open. If another’s right behind the first, the garnet gang delays breakfast. Competition for ferry business is tough at the crossroads at the ferry ramp. Since most people walk off, sales opportunities are plenty, predictable but brief. In Wrangle this morning, there are two things for sale: Coffee, and coffee only. And garnets.
Garnet gathering is a family hobby for some Wrangle families. There are rocky fields near the mouth of the Stikine River rich in the angled marbles, which come, I am told, in all colors but blue.
This morning, it was boys versus girls at the corner. There’s are a little nicer, one girl admitted. But, she countered, mine all have price tags.
Warriors used to wear garnets for strength, so I got a little one for myself, and one to replace the holstein rock that traveled with me from Port Townsend to Alaska, where it mysteriously jumped ship. Sorry, Mark. I got you a nice garnet from the sweet, smart alec salesman.
Posted on July 2, 2012 - by Nadia
Saturday, July 1
Zimovia Islets to Wrangell, Alaska
I mentioned earlier that self-perception takes two forms out here. One has to do with scale and where I am on the landscape. The other, which I pondered earlier, has to do with internal references and where the landscape settles in my brain.
The former has to do with maps. Choosing what scale map to use on this trip is an interesting exercise for life. It asks a pretty deep question: How much detail do you need to know about what your future holds?
Most people in boats use charts, which show buoys, lights and water depth. They tend to use the 1:40,000-foot scale, which fold up to the size of a checkers board and cover one or two days’ progress. At that scale, carrying the 40-plus large maps required for this trip becomes a logistical challenge. They don’t all fit at once, so people send them ahead in resupply boxes. That obligates the paddler to stopping in a given town during post office hours. It also means you change maps in the map case more often and have more clunky maps to lug around when you’re done with that part of the trip. Clearly, knowing my future in greater detail is not my style.
After talking to people who have done this trip, I chose to use maps, not charts. These have less detail about the sea, but more about places I might camp – such as topography, which shows flat spots for tents, and streams for water. I use the quarter million scale, or 1:250,000. They fold up to the size of an Uno game and it takes 16 of them to cover my trip. I chose not to send resupply boxes. I have all my maps with me, and am free to stop as I want. But I sacrifice a fair amount of detail in the maps. Which is to say, I may be more surprised by what my future holds than a chart user, but I’m more nimble getting there. Or, as I joke to myself during moments of hyper vigilance brought on by steep anxiety of what’s to come: Ignorance is the backbone of adventure.
This compromise of detail has not been much of a problem. By and large I can see what lies before me. If I can’t, it’s too foggy and I stay put. But there have been a couple of days when I’ve been just baffled, threading my way through divergent passages, each decorated with their own archipelago of islands. In short, there are days I am totally surrounded by islands that don’t show up on my maps.
The lead in to Wrangell Island was that way. I leapt across a series of big crossings – two, three, then four mile wide bays and passages. By happy accident, I was on the water at 5:15 (I forgot to change my second watch back an hour for Alaskan time.) This gave me a full, very calm morning with a rising tide to carry me to my destination. When the wind did come up, it was at my back and gently helped me along. So I took the bays close to their wide mouths rather than paddling in deep for protection, and I took a running tangent skimming the broad southeastern edge of the X formed where Ernest Sound and Zimovia Straight intersect. And it was that flying leap that left me in the middle of I knew not where. The wind came up and I beelined it with some intensity to the nearest sheltering island.
I thought I was headed for Deer Island, and I got there in time for a totally unprecedented burst of sunshine, complete with the lowest rainbow I’ve ever seen. It kept raining, don’t worry. I ate lunch and pondered the map. The north western half of Deer Island filled the lower right corner of my map. Its south east edge, what came before that, or what led up to that flank, was not on that map but on a map I did not own. I really couldn’t tell where I was on Deer Island, or even if I was on Deer Island. Assuming I was, my next step was to find an island called Found Island, which my map showed was a couple of miles across the afore mentioned intersection of straight and sound. But where, exactly, had that intersection gone?
I compared the map with what I saw. I looked down and up. Map, reality, map, reality. Things did not jibe. I saw only one big body of water. Which was it? Ernest or Zimovia? It seemed clear during my crossing, but now I was not so sure. I checked the compass and contemplated the always fascination question of magnetic declination. (If magnetic declination, the difference between where a compass points north and where a map points north, was 29 degrees in 1960, what is it now, and does that mean true north, 360T, map north, is more east or less east than the 360M that the compass reads? I have this conversation when I run out of other things to talk to myself about.)
Finally, I dug out the GPS and turned it on. Plugging waypoints into the GPS prior to my departure almost cost me my sanity, and I owe it to the guys at Montana Hunting GPS out on Russell for nudging me ahead. Go see them if you want the pros to program your next hunt into a GPS. Anyhow, I’ve only used the GPS a few times, usually to confirm my precise location at the end of the day. But a few times it has confirmed that I was off base. Once before, in the Gulf Islands, it helped me weave through a similar labyrinth of tiny islands. When I need the GPS, I’m sure glad to have it.
Searching for Found Island was the first time I’ve had to use the Go To function and just follow the purple line. I was not on Deer Island but was two tiny islands removed from my target. Ignorance: Gateway to ah-ha moments. I put my faith in the purple line although it seemed a bit counterintuitive until I could see the two parting waters and my destination. I crossed to Found Island and in doing so, more completely onto my map.
At Found Island I ran into Bill Sr., Bill Jr. and Caroline out fishing with the kids and Dogzilla, who, like all dogs, found the half-woman, half-boat figure of a kayaker very disturbing. Bill Sr. worked on fishing boats in these waters for years and harbors an unfulfilled dream of paddling the Inside Passage himself. These days, he scratches that itch by inviting kayakers in for dinner and so he gave me directions for weaving into the secret tidewater sanctuary that shelters cabins off Zimovia Straight.
I wound around tiny islands, up shallow notches where the end of the ebb tide created a rushing current, and found Bill’s getaway cabin. The tidewater pockets dry almost completely at low tide, leaving a basin of mud colorfully ringed with uniformly yellow pop weed, a sliver of sharp, slate grey rock, then bright grass, then trees. It was pouring rain and the mud underscored everything in a way it hasn’t elsewhere.
Maria was cooking inside and dashing outside to enjoy her new deck whenever the rain cleared. We talked kayaking and rightly so – with these backwaters and the broader Zimovia, this place makes for terrific exploration by kayak or canoe. Maria is a retired teacher from Monterey. That she married Bill and moved to Wrangell shows the depths of Bill’s charm. The cabin in the popweed was a long way from Monterey.
Bill and the fishing boat had punched their way through the narrows and returned. My presence in the little cabin meant it was packed full, making it lively and warm. We feasted on roast chicken and quinoa and – the greatest luxury of all to me – a crisp salad. Then I was off to bunk down on the couch at a neighboring vacant cabin. Maria and Bill slept on the bigger boat, which made room for Bill, Caroline, the girls and Dogzilla in the cabin.
Wrangle Island is bear central and Bill helped me attach my kayak to the dragline and pulley it, like the laundry, out to the middle of the lagoon. I had been wrestling with the bear question since entering these lagoons. It was too rainy, too muddy, too far, too late for me to willingly unload the food from the boat, too obviously a bear haven not to. I mean, the cabin next to me belongs to one of the Craigheads, bear researchers known throughout beardom, including Montana and Wyoming.
No sooner had a snuggled into my sleeping bag and turned to look out the cabin window then a roly-poly black bear sow appeared, slowly grazing the far bank of the lagoon as her three cubs of the year followed behind. They ran and tripped over each other and every wrinkle in the ground as they scrambled to keep up with her and still explore the wide banks. My kayak floated, secure, 20 yards from every bank.
Dawn was at about 3, low tide at about 5. I woke up and things were as I had secretly known they would be: My kayak, alone on an expanse of mud. Further now from water than it had been from shore. Luckily, these bears had better things to eat than Pateel’s curried lentils, or they just don’t like the feeling of mud between their toes.
I got up, slid into slick and smell neoprene and slid the boat to water to make a silent exit. I didn’t need a marine chart to find water deeper than this to paddle.
Posted on July 2, 2012 - by Nadia
Friday, June 29
Niblock Hollow to Vixen Harbor, off Earnest Passage
The logs and twisted stumps become ancient, contorted skeletons lunging from the bank. They become Sasquatch and innumerable seals and whales tails that never move. A kelp ribbon is an otter. A new fangled high rise boat is coming at me fast (Oh, no, that’s the current, picking up and carrying me fast straight at that … buoy).
Today, a log bobbed up ahead of me and I thought: log. Then it rolled on its back, gave a hissing bark and bared its teeth. I braced and turned abruptly. Geez! Stellar sea lion. Then it did it again, alongside me: rose up, rolled over to show its long snout, its little dog ears and all of its teeth. And it snorted. Yikes! That’s a drowning bear! I took off and didn’t look back for a while. Probably, it was a sea lion. But it had such a long, dog-like snout and seemed to be struggling so. But no, a drowning bear would be a very strange thing. Still, clearly, I’ve got bear on the mind. This landscape, huge, long drawn and cluttered, puts the psyche on stage.
There are two sorts of dizzying self-perception that go on out here. One has to do with scale and where I am on the landscape. The other has to do with internal references and where the landscape settles in my brain. I’ll tackle the issue of scale later. Today, the question is what things are and what they seem and what maybe a question of the energy they emit.
On the water, floating logs assume all sorts of disguises. Most often they seem to be benign sea mammals: seals, otters, whale parts, or, just once, a real sea lion seems to be a drowning bear. Then they go back to being logs, or the sea lion and seals slip beneath the surface. On shore, however, the dark, moss draped woods are so clearly inhabited by spirits that it is impossible that they should not manifest themselves visibly.
The shoreline has opened up north of Ketchikan. Although there are still miles of the impenetrable shoal-cliff-tree combination, now there are landable beachs every couple of miles. The forest rims the beach, and appears to offer refuge. Step behind the drift logs and up, into the spongy muskeg, and it takes the mind time to adjust. Refuge is not always the first thing that comes to mind.
My eyes refocus, from the long reaches of water to the looming, present woods. What seems solid, is not. A mossy log gives way to a spongy gap, a branch twists silently into moist crumbs. Shapes loom. As I evaluate a campsite I look for bears. They leap out of the trees: mossy bears, dancing bears, corpulent bears. I haven’t seen an actual bear at a campsite since I left the Vancouver Island end of BC, but I see bear shapes everywhere.
Yesterday, winds and surf booming on offshore shoals in Clarence Straight eventually encouraged me to stop at noon, after a blissfully calm, early crossing of Behm Canal. At this spot, the woods were dense and unforgiving, filled not only with ghost bears but with evidence that the real thing call this home: Piles of shell-fragment filled poo.
A well-worn trail connected two coves of slurring surf and low tide pools that are fast food stops for hungry bears. That trail went steeply up and over a cedar-filled hump connecting the coves and the only clear spot for a tent was just along the poop path, next to, I swear, a bear den. I spent the better part of and hour heaving my bear line high above the trail, getting it tangled in the mess of branches overhead, and pulling it back down on my head.
Done with that, I went to check on the boat and realized the winds had dropped and the sea was calm. I reloaded the boat in a flurry and squeezed around another point and cove before the winds came back up.
My second site of the day had absolutely no sign of bear. But it was full of spirits. A fire-scarred, soaring ancient cedar protected a clearing big enough for my tent. The fire scar was deep enough to give shelter from the never ending rain while I ate, and was a locker for my padding gear. But clearly, this cedar was at the center of a sacred space as well. Around it, the forest seemed especially still and free of specific specters – no skeletons, mossy bear or Sasquatch. Instead, the specific spirit of this tree and two others beyond the reach of each other’s branches, created a still space in the usual chaos of the woods. At the foot of the tree was an abalone shell. I have only seen abalone shells in the forest in one other place on this trip – the midden camp just before Port Hardy. It, too, was clearly a special place.
Here, behind the grand cedar, was a pile of fish ivories. I’ve asked around and it seems maybe the Yellow Rockfish has ivories like these – butterfly shaped, the size of joined twonies, the big Canadian two dollar coin. These ivories are not bone but harder and stronger ivory. They have to be carefully located, removed and kept while cleaning fish. Their proper name is otelisk, though I don’t know how to spell that and neither do any of the fishermen sitting around me as I write. Halibut and other deep diving fish have them in their ears, I understand. Many people collect them.
These were not a casual offering, like the inland crab shells left by eagles or the urchin shells bears drag ashore. These were left for this cedar.
The cedar’s broad reach protected the only space large enough for a tent. For some reason, although I was only a few miles north of the earlier camp, the bears left this area alone. I asked the cedar to keep it that way for one more night. It had rained all day, I had made two camps, I was cold and tired and I slept soundly through a night of hard rain, protected by a tremendous tree, and the spirits inside it.