"I'm going to speak my mind because I have nothing to lose."--S.I. Hayakawa

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Yakutat Journals, Chapter Eight

(Remember to click on the photos to enlarge them. My computer lets me click a second time to get them full screen.)

Chapter Eight: In which we bump into more history.

This was our last morning at the Esker Stream cabin on Yakutat Bay. JJ and I got up early, packed the rest of our gear, and started toting things down to the beach where Hans from Yakutat Coastal air service would land.

Hans taxiing the Beaver on the beach.

I swept the floor and double-checked to see that we had everything. I took another look at a foam pad that I thought a bear had taken a chunk out of, but decided that what I thought we five claw marks were actually teeth marks from something much, much smaller. Some rodent somewhere has a very cozy nest while I was seeing bear sign everywhere. I had an uncomfortable night on this foam until I turned it over and saw the hole that was right where my hip had been.

The "bear-bit" foam sleeping pad. I'm now sure a rodent did the damage.

This went much faster than when we’d packed it all in three nights ago. Now we knew the trail.

The morning was warm and sunny, without much wind. I took photos and then sat on a pile of driftwood.

I found a piece of driftwood that spoke to me and put it in my pocket as a souvenir.

This piece of driftwood looks to me like a a person in a kayak.

JJ donned her wetsuit and went wading in the bay. My feet hurt just watching her in that cold water.

JJ wading in Yakutat Bay.

When Hans landed, JJ asked him if he’d fly us towards Malaspina Glacier, over the country she had wanted to explore while we were here, but had been blocked by high water and my little phobia about bushwhacking in bear country.

A couple hundred feet into the air, we could see how close we’d come to open drainages inland. Then we flew towards Mt. St. Elias and the incredible Malaspina Glacier, over the Grand Wash with dozens of streams flowing from the ice.

Yakutat Bay. The cabin was located about half way between the point that juts across the picture to the mountains. If you enlarge the picture, you'll see a smaller point, which is where the plane landed. The cabin is inland from there.

Mt. St. Elias and the Malaspina, the largest piedmont glacier in North America. Even the dark areas in front are glacier, but covered with soil and crushed rock, and some vegetation.

The Grand Wash, dozens of streams from the melting snow and glacier.

After landing in Yakutat, JJ and I had two missions: a) Find out where we could camp, and b) ice cream. We loaded the truck and headed towards town. I will admit I felt much more relaxed, knowing that those huge bears were left behind on the other side of the bay, and I figured any bears around here would be shy of people and disappear. A hundred yards from the airport, a huge pile of bear scat lay on the pavement—the first of many we would see.

Part of Yakutat.

Coming in for a landing.

The people we talked with said we could camp anywhere as long as it wasn’t on private property, but that a lot of campers went to Cannon Beach. I wondered about the name, but didn’t ask.

We drove around, asking at various places about the price of a room two nights hence, the night before we had to be at the ferry at 7 a.m. We were thinking about showers before re-entering close-quarter civilization on the ferry and dry gear, in case it rained. We found the city dump and disposed of the bag of litter I’d picked up around the cabin. And we found ice cream.

JJ walking towards a beach on the Gulf of Alaska.

Eighteen-thousand foot Mt. St. Elias in the background.

A small pond in Yakutat.

Then we drove into the rainforest, the northern edge of the Tongass National Forest, that rimmed the coastline.

"This is the forest primeval. The murmuring spruce and the hemlocks, bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight, stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic, stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms. Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighboring oceans speaks, and in accents disconsolate, answers the wail of the forest." To paraphrase Longfellow, that is.

Me, very carefully posing in some very thorny Devil's Club. I'd never before seen any this tall.

We circled back into town and stopped at a local store, where JJ found a treat.

Pizza, and it wasn't freeze dried.

Then we decided to get serious about finding a place to set up our tents, and found the road to Cannon Beach.

We stopped to watch a Yellowlegs Sandpiper, and parked so I could take a picture of a lily pad pond.

And then, in one of those serendipitous moments of being in the right place at the right time, we saw two kayakers paddling through the yellow flowers with their faithful companion not far behind them.

Farther off in the meadow, two deer were staring at the whole bunch of us.

We drove back into the dark forest. We had been told there were several camping sites with raised platforms and tables, but we couldn’t find them. We did, however, find out why it’s called Cannon Beach.

Rusted barrel from one cannon.

And then all these lovely shaded, moss-covered trails made sense. These were coastal armaments from WWII and the trails were old military roads. Once again we were face to face with a major part of Alaska’s history.

The old, moss-covered military roads, dream-like in the rainforest.

And this is where we decided to camp after fruitless exploring for the Forest Service campsites. JJ chose an open area at the entrance to one of the many moss-covered roads in the area, back in the trees where the mosquitoes hang out. She could do that—they don’t bother her.

JJ's tent, pitched in a flash.

I chose a space out in the open, where the ocean breezes would keep the little vampires blown away from my site.

I’ve only had this tent a year. I’ve only set it up once—in my living room. I got out the tent part and staked down the four corners.

My super light-weight REI Quarter Dome one person tent weighs less than three pounds.

Then I got the poles out of their little bag, and started fastening them into long poles.

All the poles are fastened together in one big tangle with bungee cords and plastic connectors. Two lengths of poles seem to be poles to nowhere.

Now what?

I thought about that for a while and then had a light bulb moment. The things are color-coded, and the orange sections do indeed end in outer space. While I was busy doing all this, a pick up drove past and parked nearby. I heard kids yelling. Oh, boy. I wondered if we’d chosen a favorite party place and if we would get any sleep at all.


Eventually I got the tent up, my air pad and sleeping bag inside.

Le tent.

The screaming had stopped but the truck was still there. I walked out into the open and saw three kids boogie-boarding in the surf of the Gulf of Alaska.

Yakutat is known for three things:

1) It’s the only safe harbor from storms while crossing the Gulf.

2) The Situk river has some of the most fabulous salmon fishing in the whole state.

3) It's the surfing capital of Alaska.

The kids, supervised by dad, played in the surf until 10 p.m. The sun was still shining. Later I found out from a local that the water is “pretty warm”—lower fifties, he said. Alaskans, I thought as I recalled the kids in Moose Pass swimming in Trail Lake, a glacial fed lake with temps in the forties.

Note the cruise ship heading north on the horizon.

The mosquitoes quickly found their way under the tent fly. I lay awake, watching them crawl all over the mesh that protected me, gloating that the little bugs knew I was there but couldn't reach me. Ummmm.... I think I even laughed out loud.

And then I lay me down to sleep.

(to be continued)


  1. Thanks for taking me on vacation with you. I hope my snoring didn't bother you too much.

    I especially love the "A Small Pond in Yakutat" photo. I melt as I look at it.

    I give you a lot of credit for making sense and even a tent out of all those pole sections and tent fabric. It's been years since Lon and I used our similar tent.

  2. Shaddy,

    Wait until you see what's at that small pond!