Thursday, June 12, 2014

Day 4: Midnight Assault aka the Portage and Tenakee Inlet

 The GPS alarm sounded at 12:30 am and we emerged from a six hour slumber to hurriedly pack up our gear. When we hit the water at 1:20 am I was shocked to see the explosion of light and color in the inky water. We had enough light to make out the mountains, rocks and shoreline, but plenty of dark to appreciate the bioluminescence glittering off our paddles and the wakes of our boats. Suddenly a midnight assault seemed like the only way to do the trip.

We had five miles to go to the portage and wanted to hit the high tide at about 3:30 am. Fortunately, this area is shallow and the water was glassy. The reflections in the water were amazing.

We had a little trouble finding the last pond, simply because 1) we didn't choose to go right enough and 2) with only a 14 foot tide, the portage looked like the shore instead of a marsh. If you stay far to the right, you'll be able to see the break in the trees and find the route to the final pond. We meandered back and forth a little before we found where we needed to go.

Fortunately, we were able to guide or "line" our boats through most of the route, walking beside them. We carried them the last 50 feet and then with packs on our backs paddled across the last pond.

In the middle of the pond I heard a distinct, "Woof, woof". I asked Mr. X if he had heard it. As we landed Mr. X heard a "Woof, oof" and asked me what I thought it was and I said, "A bear, I'm gonna grab the bear spray. HEY BEAR!" But first I had to extricate myself from the ankle deep mud and make sure I still had my shoes. Meanwhile Mr. X is checking his back as he stands on shoreline lavishly spread with bear scat. "YIP-UP" hollered Mr. X and then we shouldered our packs and held our boats by their tube as we traversed the 300 foot portage to Tenakee Inlet, HEY BEAR-ing and YIP-UP-ing every once in a while to give the bear plenty of notice of where we were.

We were at the head of Tenakee Inlet by 4:01 am and finally were looking directly at the mountain Mr. X had dubbed "sugar loaf" that we had admired for the past two days. We also pulled out our no-see-um nets 'cause the midges were biting.

Mr. X then made friends with a group of sea lions who followed us for the next 17 miles.

The going was good and we were enjoying the flat water and falling tide. We followed the shoreline and quickly passed the island on which we planned to eat breakfast. I spotted sea stars that appeared to be more than two feet long. I also watched the languid swimming of jelly fish.  We paddled out to the middle of the inlet, catching the best currents, but finally at about 9 am, we needed to stop for breakfast and I heard water running - always a good idea to get water when you can. As we approached the shore, however, I spotted two rocks that weren't rocks, but instead a sow and 2nd year cub eating greens on the beach. I voted for not going ashore.

Eventually we found another beach on which to eat our blueberry oatmeal.

After another two hours of paddling, it had started to rain and I was getting a little cold. We stopped on a sandy spit and I was wishing and wishing that there was a remote cabin perched just around the corner. We had a lunch of sweet and sour pork and then filtered some water from a stream. A loon landed on the beach and shouted its haunting call across the water. 

By now the tide had turned and was rising. Along with the rain came a bit of wind and the waves were growing. I was starting to get frustrated with how challenging the travel was becoming, and a little scared of the waves. Mr. X took the lead and got me through some white caps. Eventually, I landed on a beach and suggested that we either camp or continue on foot. By now we'd been in "go" mode for more than14 hours and so Mr. X recommended that we skip dinner, and pitch the tent where we were. I agreed and we set to work.

Tenakee inlet has more wildlife than Port Frederick and although we were on the north side which is not known for lots of bears, it still is Chichagof island. We have heard of bears gnawing on packrafts so we dissembled the boats and used them as ground cloth under the tent. Mr. X stashed the bear canister with all food and scented items down the beach and then he climbed a tree and stashed our packs with the rest of our gear including dry suits. And then I turned around and realized that there was a bear trail on the beach and deer scat in the fragrant and soft pea plant around the tent.

By 5:30 we were bedded down and shortly later asleep. I got a nice nap and then the rest of the evening, I heard animal footsteps and crashing waves. At one point I was certain there were at least three deer outside, but later the snuffing and stomping on the beach I convinced myself were bears.

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