Thursday, July 5, 2007

July 5, Berg Bay, Day 64

Since the last entry, it's been pretty rainy up here. In fact, I was looking back at my journal entries and the last day I recorded no rain was the day Cass, Barry and Hipper left. It's rained some or all of 11 days since then, and recently the rain has been heavier and longer lasting.

Yesterday I stopped at the Anan Bear Sanctuary and Observatory. Luckily their permit season didn't start until today so I had no problem getting in to watch the bears. It's a half mile hike on a boardwalk along Anan Creek to get up to the falls where the bears tend to congregate and where a viewing platform has been constructed. It feels like you're running a gauntlet as you're walking the trail because of all the bear trails that come down from the hill to the left, cross the boardwalk and continue down to the creek. Seeing any one of those trails somewhere up here would give me pause, but to see a dozen of them in half a mile gets my attention.

And so does meeting a bear on the boardwalk, which I happened to do. It was a black bear coming my way about 100 feet away. I yelled and got its attention, but it still came towards me a few more steps before turning down toward the creek. Clearly one needs to pay attention on this walk.

There were about 10 of us at the platform and a young ranger who is about to start his senior year at Highlands University at Las Vegas, NM, just up the road from Santa Fe. The rest of the folks were off a motor yacht that pulled in about the same time as me.

We saw 7 or 8 bears, one of which was a brown bear who showed up, but almost immediately turned tail and scampered away. One sow had 2 cubs with her and they were being pestered by another female black bear. So most of the time the cubs were up a tree, and mom was trying to lead the pestering bear away from them. The other bears seemed to be wandering around aimlessly.

The salmon had just started arriving a week ago so I don't think they were that plentiful yet. I didn't see any bear catch a fish though a couple were scanning the fishing holes.

It was raining pretty heavily while I was t the observatory, and I was getting chilled standing around with goretex over thin, damp capilene, so I started back. No bears on the trail this time, but you can be sure I was honking my vocal horn at every curve in the trail.

At the trail head, I had to retrieve all my food bags and canisters from a storage room because no food was allowed to be left in boats. I guess they've had trouble in the past with bears climbing on inflated dinghies and puncturing them in search of food or something. In fact, when I first showed up the ranger at the trail head said I had to unload all food and plastic from the boat! Helloo! Just about everything in that boat ad everything I'm wearing is plastic. She relented and said the plastic in my hatches should be all right. Anyway, it meant reloading in the rain was kind of a pain.

I was hopeful for a good camp because it was already close to 4pm and it was still raining and my not-so-trusty guidebook said there is "an excellent" spot right across from Anan on the SE corner of Wrangell Island. Well, maybe in good weather when the ground isn't so saturated that it pools in every footprint. If I camped there, I'd be counting on my sleeping pad to keep me out of the water.

I looked around the adjoining bay to be sure I wasn't missing something, but there wasn't anything else. I decided to try the next spot about a mile or so further up Blake Channel. I figured if that one wasn't workable, I would keep going another 11 miles to where I knew there was a Forest Service cabin. If it's anything like the Winstanley place, there should be some flat spots in the area. The problem was the distance, the time of day already, and the tide which had just turned against me and was reputed to be substantial.

The second location was terrible. Both places look good from a distance with 2-3 foot high green grasses looking soft and inviting. But usually, these grasses are growing in rocky areas with poor drainage, and this second spot was the perfect example.

So screw it, I'm off to Berg Bay where I'm sure heaven awaits in a flat needle-covered nest under a huge cedar tree.

So now I'm wondering how long it's going to take me. How strong is the counter current going to be? How long will my strength and will hold up this late in the day? Veddy good questions...

I turn the GPS on and start paddling. Surprisingly, I am doing better than 5 mph. I don't think I've ever done that without a current or strong wind behind me. I think, OK, the tide hasn't changed here yet, but it will at any moment, and when it does, I will have to head to shore and crawl along for possibly 4 hours, but hopefully just 3.

In fact, it was a gorgeous paddle, and my speed almost never dipped below 5 mph and I got to the cabin in 2 hours. I do not know what that strong current gibberish was about.

But that's not the amazing part of the evening. When I got to the cabin, it was unoccupied! It was mine for the night. What unbelievable luck. I knew that was a possibility, but I didn't dare let myself consider it.

I pulled up to the little A-frame and thought, what a little piece of heaven. I moved in with a vengeance, but a grateful vengeance. I had wet gear hanging everywhere in that cabin. It has an oil stove that I got started, and the place heated up nicely. I cranked up the heat til I was down to my skivvies and loving my little sauna. I cooked up a warm meal and hit the sack.

And that was my 4th of July. And today is the 5th, and I'm still at the cabin. I decided if no one showed up, I would layover here for a day. It's a beautiful spot, and having a day to myself in a cozy cabin sounded great. If someone showed up, I would pack up and paddle the 21 miles into Wrangell.

No one showed up, though the cabin hasn't been as cozy since the oil for the stove ran out during the night. Cabin users are supposed to bring their own and I guess I was using someones leftovers. But, even though it's been raining all day, it's not that cold and once in a while, I'll fire up my stove and let it burn for a while to take the chill off. I have lots of camp fuel so it's OK for me to waste some of it.

So tomorrow I should be in Wrangell if all my stars line up right. I'm looking forward to the paddle.

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