Saturday, May 31, 2014

Memorial Saturday: Mt. Juneau

After eight years of living in Juneau, we finally hiked Mt. Juneau. We wondered why we hadn't done it sooner, the views throughout the hike are stupendous - rather than a hard slog through trees and it's really a quick jaunt - not a 10 hour ordeal like some other alpine hikes I know. 

We drove to the Perseverance trail head and started with only one other car in the lot.

 We had wonderful views of Mt. Roberts and downtown almost the whole way. 

Of course then dark clouds rolled in and I remembered that every other time we've planned or attempted this trail, the weather didn't cooperate. That's the trouble for us; if the weather looks good in the valley, it's not necessarily good downtown.

I've heard that the trail is so much better now that Trail Mix put in switchbacks, reducing the tough scramble up the steep slope. 

This was our first real hike of the season and I just plum didn't trust myself or my shoes. The trail crosses a couple of waterfalls and during spring melt this was enough to set my teeth a-chattering. Mr. X walked straight through. I did more of a scramble.

Despite the hot temperatures and sun we had throughout May, several snow sheets were still in place. I don't mind the one below in which there is a bit of grass at the end. Those other sheets that end in a sheer drop-off were not my favorite.

A nice view of Gastineau Channel to Stephen's Passage.

For most of the hike it also felt like we were on our own, hiking by ourselves. We did leapfrog some Portuguese hikers a couple times, but they ended up skipping this snow sheet and heading up the old trail - straight up the mountain. I was was wishing we had tried that route on the way down.

Once on top we explored the old wreckage left from a proposed Mt. Juneau tram (pre-Mt Roberts). The building was full of four feet of blown snow.

We sat down in some mostly dry heather to chicken salad pita sandwiches and chocolate and almonds overlooking the mountains of the Juneau icefield.

The wind gusted and it was cold. Another hiker had warned us on his way down that it was cold and he was having trouble warming up. I was glad that we had packed layers since I had been removing all the clothes I could on the way up, but when my thumbs went numb, I was happy to pile on my hat and neck gator and jacket.

On the way down we greeted a number of hikers on the way up. Several asked if they were almost there or how many snow sheets there were. One wanted to hike the ridge line to Granite Creek Basin, but I mentioned that there was a cornice on the ridge since they were worried about the snow sheets. Apparently some hikers in town wouldn't be dissuaded by that, but if you're worried about snow sheets, you probably would worry about a cornice, at least that's my logic.

It seemed like Mr. X knew everyone out for the hike. A number of people stopped did a double take and said, "Hey, that's [Mr. X]". When we got back to the parking lot it was overflowing. A popular day to be out and about.

I was glad that on the way down I had regained my hiking confidence and I hope this season will be a stellar one.

Ebner falls as seen from Perseverance Trail

After returning from our trip to Hoonah and Tenakee, I learned that a woman went missing that weekend on the neighboring Mt. Roberts and major search occurred through the holiday weekend and beyond. The loss is startling and distressing. It's made me wring my memory in the hopes that I remember something or someone on the mountain, but we didn't see anyone matching her description and in reality, we were probably a day late. It's a reminder of how precious life is and the risks of going in the back country even if it's less than a mile from downtown.

Monday, May 19, 2014

North Island

Last May when we paddled back to Boulder beach from Benjamin Island, we met a group of women headed out to paddle and camp at North Island. In preparation for a longer paddling trip, we knew we needed a shake-down over-nighter and picked North Island as the spot. With all the fine weather we've been having I expected the island have occupants other than us, but we had the whole place to ourselves.

After work on Friday we loaded up and drove to Boulder beach then paddled along the shore for three miles. Every so often we would meet a sea lions trolling for herring. Once we'd paddled until we were perpendicular with the island, we made a 90 degree left turn and paddled due west to North island.

Setting up camp Mr. X used a tree limb to remove pine cones and other debris. While setting up the tent I managed to get  a pollen shower as the spruce trees are releasing pollen like smoke bombs.

We then went for a walk along the beach. I wanted to see the anchorage on the north side of the island. Mr. x wanted to get the best evening lighting which meant we tromped back and forth through ferns and trees and devil's club until we emerged on the boulder beach on the northwest corner.

 Though it was still light and the sea lions at the Benjamin island haul out were barking we decided to head for bed. Mr. X checked the time 10:30 pm. When the neon orange moon rose over the mountains at 11:00, I realized it was never getting dark. Throughout the night we heard sea lions and the rising tide.

At one point I heard footsteps outside the tent. I couldn't tell what they were and remembering Mr. X telling me about a co-worker who was sniffed and sniffed by a bear in a tent on Admiralty Island, I held very still. We hadn't seen any bear or moose sign, but we know they can swim to the islands in the channel park. We had seen some scat near the beach, but Mr. X didn't identify it except to say that it was strange looking and it was larger than a marten or marmot.When breaking camp I found fresh scat less than 10 feet from the tent.

In the morning, I felt like I was in an aviary. The eagles and ravens, pigeon guillemots, black oyster catchers, varied thrush and scoters, all make a racket. One of them, I swear, sounded like a hyena. Eventually, I got up to read on the sun warmed beach, watching the sea lions work their way back to the haul out, huffing as they went.

Mr. X wasn't far behind me and we sat on the pebble beach enjoying the sun, view and our breakfast.

We then paddled the 1/3 mile to Benjamin island where Mr. X was looking forward to more bushwhacking
in the hope we could reach the sea lion haul out from the north side of the island. We found some deer trails but no trail to the haul out and after climbing a small peak and then tripping through a drainage, I put an end to his enjoyment. At least we were able to conclude that the animal who's footsteps in the night had me stressed out were a Sitka deer enjoying a moist spring diet and not a wolverine or anything else.

We paddled along the eastern shore of the island and decided to skip the sea lion haul out this time around in favor of lunch at home. The glassy waters made for an enjoyable afternoon paddle. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Berner's Bay

Saturday we took a long awaited rafting trip.We saw whales, sea lions, seals, an otter, eagles, moose scat, and then we put the boats in the water.

Berner's Bay is billed as one of the most bio-diverse areas of Southeast. There are goats, bears, moose, wolves, sea lions, whales, porpoises, etc., etc.. At the head of the bay is the estuary of three glacier fed rivers - Antler, Lace and Berner - which dump vast quantities of glacial silt and also support the wildlife and spawning grounds for eulichan, a herring-like fish that animals of all kinds love to eat.

We paddled our way up Berner's bay from Echo cove, watching the hundreds of scoters take flight in front of us. I celebrated the bonaparte gulls, Mr. X thought the tiny marbled murrelets were adorable. I was astounded by the cormorant flying by, Mr. X asked if that was a "fraggle bird", yep. A horned grebe. We both were sorry that the seal back-floating peacefully next to us decided we were a threat.

At the half way point we pulled out to take a water break and a sea lion crossed in front of us, then a humpback whale. We then headed back out, clinging to the eastern shore of the bay. Nearly to the mud flats, we saw some rushing waterfalls and stopped to get the breeze thrown off. Mr. X's boat spun around and he said, "Hey, there's the cabin". Sure enough, the Berner's Bay forest service cabin hugs a hill not too far south the mudflats.

We paddled to the flats and hauled out. Finding a dry spot on the white sand we sat down on our own deserted isle for a relaxed lunch in the sun. While we waited for lunch to cook, the outgoing tide lapped gentle waves on the sand, a humpback whale trolled and arctic terns bathed in the sun warmed puddles dissolving into the sand. 

Knowing tide waits for no man, we packed back up, and paddled south to the Berner's Bay cabin for a quick peek. There are some good tenting sites in the trees behind the cabin.

By now the wind had picked up and the tide wasn't really helping us make headway. At the 3.5 mile mark the previously glassy seas grew to 1 - 2 feet and we were bobbing around like rubber duckies. Mr. X's progress reports were depressing and I wondered if we were going to have to take cover on a beach. It was particularly distressing when kayaks in the opposite direction glided by effortlessly (kayak envy anyone?). Then it started raining, which I assure was not in the forecast.

Finally we rounded the last point and pulled out of the water, packed up and hiked to the car, so glad for the two mile extension of the road which saved us another hour of paddling.

Friday, May 9, 2014


Mr. X has been dreaming of bears.

We've seen a few.

Our first of the season were on a walk to Nugget Falls a couple weeks ago. Two second year cubs had climbed a large cottonwood and were snapping branches to eat the fluffy catkins at their tips. We sat on a rock watching as one of the bears decided they were too far up the tree and slid down the trunk to a more secure perch. The fearless bear stayed high in the tree, balancing on tiny, wobbly limbs, dropping broken branches down to the other cub. I'm not sure whether he was being helpful or irritating.

On Sunday, we went to our friend's house for dinner and afterward our friend escorted us out the back, carefully avoiding the new paint in the 5-car parking lot. We just about reached the car when a young tween walking with a parent says, "Bear. Ooh a bear". Not knowing where, my instincts were to get in the car. Once seated we then turned around and saw a bear in the parking lot we had just walked through. "He's big!" Mr. X said. "Yeah," I said, "I can't believe we didn't see him. Hope Brad doesn't try taking his trash out now".

Somehow, I don't think the bears out of their dens until I see, I guess the bears are out now.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Spuhn Island

Another night, another island.

Mr. X wanted to get a decent picture on the GPS camera. Which means we tied our boats together, Mr. X leaped out of his raft and took pictures in chest deep water. Should I mention that the current was pulling me 5 knots/hr and he wanted me to hold perfectly still? Apparently, whenever I would paddle, I would block the view of the mountains.

When we got around to the outside of the island the waves picked up to two feet and we struggled to make headway. A challenging paddle for only our second time out this season. At one point I set my sights on a flash of color on the beach ahead of us, only to realize that the color was a small aluminum fishing boat that had been turned inside out. Nice.

At one point an eagle flew by with a silver fish in its talons. He apparently lost the fish when accosted by two other eagles fighting right above us. Mr. X asked if I had seen what they were fighting over. My response through gritted teeth, not really.

We finally slid back to Smuggler's cove and saw a seal, his mottled head glistening in the late evening light. His eyebrows snowy white. 

As we packed up some ladies out for a walk asked us if we were glad we made it back..."uh, yeah", we said. They then told us someone had rolled a kayak and without drysuit or life jacket, they're lucky someone rushed out in a skiff to rescue them.