The Crossing of Admiralty Island: Part 4

Lake Guerin Shelter to Salt Marsh Camp

I woke early to hot feet. The sun was beating down on everything beyond the shelter’s shadow. This far into the trip I didn’t need to sleep in. Finally, waking up was becoming easy. I could sleep right through a slowly deflating mat. By the time my body landed on the ground I was well into a deep sleep. I was happy to be coming into my own or maybe my sudden ability to wake up refreshed had something to do with our exhausted supply of alcohol. Either way, I woke with a smile. Not til I sat up and stretched did I feel the pains of portaging a kayak miles through the woods. It was all in the shoulders, a slight burn and phantom pain like the hint of a kayak waiting to rest on my neck. Even though the tension was present, I didn’t really mind it. There was some sort of satisfaction in the burn, looking on a map at the distance we covered while pushing my fingers into the muscle and bone, rounding out the knots. Especially when I looked at today’s route, very short and no portaging. I’d give my shoulders a rest. Brandon and I wouldn’t have to make extra trips, keeping our arrival at the next shelter the same as Inua and Bryan. Today would be a nice easy day.

Lounging and keeping cool in the sun – Inua Blevins

The sun shining down on us was becoming expected. We looked at our gear and decided we were not in a rush. Enjoying a slow morning was a top priority. With the night gone our worries about being on a bear highway faded. I really began to feel isolated here, completely removed from the world. Maybe most of the bears were near the mouths of the rivers catching fish or maybe the unruly smell of unwashed travelers kept everything at bay. It seemed to me we had the run of the island, our own island, and that demanded sitting back. However, I tried to retain some of the fear and consequences. We were in an Alaskan paradise but I did not want to start acting foolish and too carefree. No matter how nice it was, we were still in the heart of the Bear Fortress.

After a lazy breakfast of oatmeal and dino-facts we geared up and left the Guerin Shelter. The shallow lake caught the sun, flickering as we past our neighboring bear’s island. He was gone and soon we would be too.

.

In no hurry to leave Lake Guerin Shelter – Inua Blevins

Loons call across the water – Brandon Hauser

Zodiac life on the lake – Inua Blevins

A slight breeze kicked across the water keeping the heat of the sun down. We were now fully in our groove. Nothing mattered much, we were traveling along just happy to be in motion. Lake Guerin is part of a fragmented piece of Admiralty, with a couple small islands and run-offs into little ponds, there was plenty to look at and enjoy. Easily enough we found the small passage that connects Guerin to Davidson Lake. There would be no portaging today.

Entering the passage between lakes – Brandon Hauser

Within a few paddle strokes I felt like I was entering a different place entirely. The wide open lake view narrowed to a stream with tall grass on both sides. The water was very shallow here so we crept along trying not to bottom out our borrowed fiberglass kayaks while Bryan watched for rocks that might puncture the zodiac. Suddenly the mood changed. Our carefree morning had tensed. I felt like we were heading up some river in Vietnam waiting for something to jump out at us. Much like our 2nd day, I felt extremely vulnerable to bear attacks while inching along the shallow water. I’d ratchet my head when a blade of grass moved too much for my liking, peering through green to find eyes or fur, nothing but wind.

Protecting the Zodiac from rocks – Inua Blevins

Kayaker’s point of view, looking for bears – Brandon Hauser

Minus potential bears, winding through the stream was one of my favorite parts of the trip. It felt very exotic and not like what we’d been traveling through. Though, soon enough the water opened up and our quiet passage gave way to a narrow lake reaching far out beyond us with strong gusts of wind pushing us back towards the stream. Davidson Lake is about 3.5 miles longs and less than a half mile across at its widest, making for an effective wind tunnel. We ate a snack with our raincoats breaking the wind and quickly got back in our boats to make way to the shelter.

So much for an easy paddle. The waves lapped back at us making forward movement slow and steady. The one nice thing was the winds constant howl masked the whine of the zodiacs 2 horse. Waves breaking against my kayak threw spray against my face as I plotted across the lake. I spent a lot of my time with my head tilted down to keep the sting out of my eyes, looking up occasionally to correct my course. Davidson Lake is quite beautiful and I was able to enjoy myself once we passed behind a small island and for a wind reprieve. Along the south side of the lake there are a few islands, so we kept to the left as we made our way,ducking behind islands to block the weather.

Our last Forest Service shelter of the trip was in a strange spot. The south end of Davidson Lake is met immediately with a 1,500 foot mountain. There isn’t much flat land to stretch out, making a narrow path for shelter, fire pit and gear to be laid out. After getting everything on land I felt somewhat pinched. The only place to move was down the trail, everything else rose up the mountain or fell into the lake. We had plenty of time on our hands to explore but not a lot of room to navigate.

To get the wind’s chill off we built a fire first thing. We warmed up and ate food trying to figure out how to spend our day. Brandon was messing with his shoe when suddenly he kicked it off. On the ground was the biggest fattest leech I’d ever seen. We marveled at the blood filled sucker. Brandon said his foot felt weird for most of the time he was in his kayak so that thing must have had free reign for well over an hour. He stared down at it like a caught thief, put it on a small plank of wood and roasted the bloodsucker. We watched in disgust as the leach’s funeral pyre slowly began to smoke. I swear to god I heard a faint scream as it began to sizzle. We stopped eating and looked for other ways to occupy our time.

Stoking the windy fire – Inua Blevins

Snacking in the woods after a breezy paddle – Inua Blevins

Blood loaded leech about to get sacrificed – Brandon Hauser

I washed dishes and cleaned up. Bryan had forgot a spoon for the trip, he was tired of quickly fashioning a new one each day so he started whittling one out of a branch. Inua took a nap. Brandon went off in search of photographs.

Washing dishes in crystal clear Davidson Lake after the leech ended meal time – Inua Blevins

Working on a spoon to last – David Reed

Putting food in the fridge – Brandon Hauser

The shelter opened to the SW making for a smokey nap – David Reed

Catching fire in the woods – Brandon Hauser

It wasn’t long before we were all gathered around the fire. We’d only been traveling for a week but each day had long pointed work that needed to be done. The ability to just lounge for the bulk of a day left us wondering what to do. Our vacation hadn’t really been a vacation at all. It was an adventure that kept our minds and bodies busy trying to traverse an untamed landscape. Being able to just sit for hours on end made us all feel a bit lost, it was a strange lull in the trip. We joked, collected more wood, and let the day fade away. After a while we settled into settling in. Along time was spent throwing twigs on the fire and staring out at the lake. Finally someone spoke up to what we’d all been half-heartedly taking note of – there was a flurry of activity with moths around our fire. What looked like bugs buzzing around our fire was actually a pretty intense slaughter. Two dragonflies were racing back and forth murdering moths that had been attracted to the flames. Every few seconds a moth would flap its way near our camp, then a dragonfly would attack it and while in mid-air it would strike the body, rip off the wings, and fly away. In about one second the moth would go from bouncing through the air to nothing but a pair of wings drifting to the dirt. We watched this for easily a half hour. Who know how long it had been going on, but almost every 5 – 10 seconds this onslaught took place. I now had a new appreciation for dragonflies, however, they also seemed a bit creepier in their savage ability to lay waste upon others.

Dragonfly waiting to kill – Brandon Hauser

A moth with both its wings, must have died of fright – Brandon Hauser

Once the show was over we needed to keep the entertainment level high, shooting guns seemed like the obvious answer. We sent some 50. cal and shotgun rounds across the lake to get our blood pumping. Now we were ready to explore the dark woods. After a little bit of roaming in the woods we were ready to call it a night. The next morning would bring our biggest portage of the trip, somewhere around 3.5 miles each way. I wasn’t sure how to feel about it, our last portage. We’d be back on ocean water and only a day away from Angoon. We were close to the end but I didn’t feel the success you normally get with accomplishing a challenge. I felt more like I’d found something out here and now I was giving it up. Reluctantly I laid back on my slowly deflating mat and closed my eyes. I could console myself with the idea that we’d be exploring somewhere new and find out a little more about Admiralty Island.

Davidson Lake after nightfall – Inua Blevins

50. Cal in the dark – Inua Blevins

Scored chairs for dinner- David Reed

Blue sky night – Brandon Hauser

Fading into Admiralty – Brandon Hauser

Calm late night/early morning on Davidson Lake – Brandon Hauser

I think we all woke a little anxious. We were ready to start this long haul, doing 3.5 miles four times was going to take the whole day. The sun was missing today. Above the mountains a white haze left us a bit cool, which was nice for a long hike. No need to sweat any more than we had to. We packed up and ate breakfast away from camp on the one nice flat stretch nearby, a bridge.

Breakfast on the bridge – Brandon Hauser

Still packing the G.D.M.F.S.O.B. wheels I rented – David Reed

Inua’s nasty pack – Inua Blevins

Further into the trip, still going uphill – Inua Blevins

On the trail we started to climb. We twisted up through the woods with towering trees over us. Carrying everything but boats, we studied the terrain for when we started the portage party. Nothing really caught us off guard as the trail was much like all the others. We came across a downed tree, but it was easy enough to hop over. Not much later we had to cross over a few more. As we made our way past another fallen spruce we heard something off in the distance. Soon two ladies approached us, one with a rifle. This was our second meeting of people on the trail and as much as I enjoyed roaming the woods on our own, it was nice to meet new people.

Fallen trees making the trail a little more taxing – Inua Blevins

Forest Service meet up – Brandon Hauser

The two Forest Service workers were excited and surprised to see us. Their job was to survey the trails and the shelters, what condition everything was in and taking note of how many people used them, indicated by the shelter log books. Typically they found no more than 3 groups a year, sometimes zero and they hadn’t seen any for this year. Both were smiling and very happy to see people using such an old, remote trail.

I couldn’t help but be envious of their job. Their workday consisted of traveling out to Angoon, taking a skiff out to the trailheads, then spending the afternoon walking through the woods with a big rifle, for money. We had a good time chatting but soon we took off in opposite directions.

The woods kept winding as we swung up, down, and around hills. It wasn’t long before we came across another downed tree, then another and another. Things just got ridiculous from there – multiple trees would fall together or land in some type of juncture right on the trail making us have to acrobat our way to clear footing. It didn’t take long before we could easily see all the downed trees in front of us. This whole section of the forest looked to have suffered from high winds that fell trees all over the place. We feared having to come back for two kayaks, dubbing this area “the gauntlet.”

The Gauntlet’s Gate – Brandon Hauser

This is when the cussing started – Brandon Hauser

After navigating countless trees we began to head downhill. The forest began to open up, no longer cluttered with spruce and hemlock. The valley floor was home to staggering old growth trees. Massive trunks sprouted large twisted branches that were absolutely caked with moss. We walked through looking for bear sign or anything else indicating activity. We were getting near the ocean waters and a lot closer to potential salmon streams. Looking around we spotted a sign splitting the path. One trail led to Salt Lake, the other to Mitchell Bay. We pulled out our maps to size up the situation.  Salt Lake was a lot closer, making our portaging pretty much a done deal. However, the two guys we met hauling a canoe had told us there were falls if you hit the lake anytime out of high tide, so that was an obstacle we’d have to consider. Mitchell bay would continue our portaging but drop us right at the ocean’s edge.

Tangled woods beyond the trail – Inua Blevins

Dropping down from the Gauntlet – Inua Blevins

Crossroads Camp – Inua Blevins

Both paths had their positives. We looked around, thought about how much back and forth we had to do, and decided to set up camp here. The ground was nice and flat with a thick layer of moss. A small stream was nearby for water and we could scout Salt Lake once we were settled in. Happy with our choice, we hung our food packs and made our way back to Davidson Lake.

Packs up, headed back for boats – Brandon Hauser

Back through the Gauntlet, no bags – Brandon Hauser

Trying not to think about getting a kayak over this – Brandon Hauser

Brandon and I were now confident in our kayak portaging ways. With lifejackets under a shoulder we marched the first boat up the trail. We kept up somewhat with Bryan and Inua until we came to the downed trees. Both parties had to be careful. The zodiac was light and easy to lift but they had to be cautious not to puncture the boat on one of the twisted branches that rose up. The kayaks were just cumbersome. Trying to lift a 16’ kayak up and over a couple of trees required some finesse, especially when there was bends in the trail or any manner of objects blocking our way. Soon the Zodiac crew was way ahead of us again. Slow and steady we made our way through, constantly joking and hoping we’d meet more people just so we could see the look on their faces. We had sea kayaks in the middle of an old growth forest, miles away from the ocean, sweating, cursing, and all around having a hell of a time making progress. Then we arrived at the gauntlet. Our patience and teamwork was pushed to the limits. Sometimes we had to duck under one tree then tilt the kayak sharply up to make it over the next while slowly rotating the back end so we could make corners. I was getting mad enough to swear a vow. During those maddening hours I promised myself I would come back with a chainsaw to clear the countless barricades across the trail. Then I vowed I’d never come back at all. It was frustrating and tiring to no end. Then we saw bushes of monstrous blueberries and took a break.

The horror of the trip: Portaging through the Gauntlet – David Reed

A sea of fallen trees across the trail – David Reed

A good reason to stop in the Gauntlet – Blueberry Break – Brandon Hauser

The boats wait while we feast – Inua Blevins

Staining hands – Brandon Hauser

The Blueberry break was our calm in the eye of a portaging storm – Inua Blevins

We arrived at camp with purple stained hands. The tart, fresh blueberries put us back on a better path and we were stoked to see Bryan and Inua setting up camp. As always, with this continuous dry weather we had endless firewood. After resting a bit and sharing horror stories of surviving the gauntlet we headed back one last time.

One last hike back – Inua Blevins

Signs of the old growth forest – Inua Blevins

I won’t say the second kayak was easier, but we were more prepared for how damn bullshitty the trail was. With aching bones and tired backs we worked our way through the woods, stopped for some delicious blueberries, and arrived at camp with plenty of time to join our friends for dinner.

Flat ground made for great camping under huge old spruce trees – Inua Blevins

Massive moss covered trees gave shade from the sun  - Brandon Hauser

Now, most locations we camped at never really had a good spot to get clean. Sea water and soap doesn’t really seem to pair well and most of the lakes had real boggy mud shores to deal with. So minus a quick rinse in a small creak at mole harbor, the slightly larger creak at this crossroads was offering up my first real chance to get a “bath”. I stepped into the water knowing it would be cold, but somehow it was freezing. In between handfuls of ice cold water I was panned the woods looking for beers. Who knows how appetizing a naked man shivering in a creak might look to a brown bear. I washed with soap, keeping bear spray very close but trying not to grab the wrong one. As cold as that water was, I felt like a million bucks afterwards.

Always wash down stream from the water filters – Brandon Hauser

As the night began but with the sun still strong in the sky we headed out onto the salt marsh to see where the water began. Surprisingly, it took quite a walk for us to reach any water of consequence. We found a stream deep enough to hold our boats but we weren’t sure if it would take us all the way to Salt Lake. Further up the salt marsh looked to get thicker and thicker with tall grass giving no indication of a widening water way. Salt Lake is influenced by the tide but it looked to be almost a mile away through prime bear habitat. It didn’t take long before we decided to do one more day of portaging and skip the steps needed to navigate the marsh and the falls at the edge of the lake.

Investigating the marsh – Inua Blevins

A long portage through prime bear habitat – Inua Blevins

Returning to the woods, no salt marsh portage in our future – Inua Blevins

With a nice fire going we rested our sore muscles. Today had been our longest land route but I didn’t feel as absolutely drained as our first portage leaving mole harbor. The tricks we picked up along the way had certainly made the Gauntlet a little more bearable. One more day of carrying boats through the woods and we were done. Tomorrow we’d be back on the ocean. I didn’t want to think about it. One last night hike for water took the rest of my energy. From then on we sat quietly reading maps and watching wood burn.

Collecting water for breakfast – Brandon Hauser

Planning the last portage – David Reed

The Crossing of Admiralty Island: Part 3

Mole Harbor to Guerin Lake

 

I’d had dreams of waking up to an Admiralty brown bear sniffing on my feet, ready to chew. Luckily, when I woke all I saw was the missing fourth wall to our shelter and smoke from last night’s fire. Blowing up my slowly deflating sleeping pad, I stayed in bed just a little longer. Everyone was tired from our previous day’s trek and we all knew that we’d be hauling everything through the woods for most of the day. That kept us rolled up tight. It wasn’t until the pangs of hunger took over that we decided to welcome day five. We managed to bring the fire back to life with little effort and began the task of breaking down camp while getting our gear into a more consolidated, mobile walking set up. But before any of that, we needed a hearty breakfast to get us going.

Dropping Several Bound Food Bags – Inua Blevins

We were finally perfecting the art of hanging bags: quickly finding trees with big branches too high for bears, hoisting heavy bags up into the sky, and most importantly – bringing the bags down with ease and a little grace while not killing anyone. We’d also gotten a pretty good cooking routine down to get everyone fed at the same time: boiling water for everyone’s coffee at the same time in one stove and water for oatmeal/dehydrated meals in another, then get the second batch of coffee ready and so on. Breakfast entertainment was another new part of the trip, as I had grabbed some cheap oatmeal (the super sugary kind) with packaging covered with dino-facts, riddles, and clean jokes. These oatmeal packages quickly became the morning paper, stimulating our brains with fresh information on the outside world, very important stuff.

Enjoying Breakfast Before the Portage – David Reed

We hadn’t really tested out our means of land travel so all four of us were trouble shooting just how to make the ~2 mile portage from Mole Harbor to Lake Alexander. Bryan and Inua had their zodiac, 15 gallons of gas, and a motor to worry about. Meanwhile Brandon and I were coming to terms with the best way to bring our kayaks and dry bags while making the least amount of trips. We watched as Inua strapped the motor to his bag and felt mighty glad that wasn’t either of us. Then Bryan walked by with several gas jugs trapped to his back. Looking at all that weight, Brandon and I were more than a little happy not to be in their situation. So we started our portage trying to carry both kayaks at once and found that we would die if kept that idea going. It wasn’t a possibility. Then we tried putting a little bit of gear into my kayak and strapped on the kayak wheels. Finally. The wheels had been a burning question in my mind and I wanted to see them in action. However, previous attempts had shown that they were not working properly and were slightly broken, in that they didn’t quite sit right underneath the kayak. We rigged them up with some extra rope (always bring extra rope) and began pulling the kayak down the trail. It worked semi-not-shitty for about twelve seconds, but with the first bend in the trail the wheels and our rigging fell apart, and the view beyond it became apparent that these wheels were the stupidest fucking idea. Anyone with half a brain wouldn’t have taken them and anyone with a sliver of good in their heart wouldn’t have rented them out. We ripped the wheels off and I threw them on my pack for later. We were getting anxious now as Bryan and Inua had already left. To pump ourselves up, Brandon and I slammed some Gatorade packets with water, a swig of Old Grand Dad whiskey, and a Cliff Bar. We were ready. One kayak, lift it and go. Hoisting up the kayak we started shuffling with it near thigh high. After about twenty steps we both agreed, fuck that, and dropped the kayak. Gatorade, whiskey, and a Cliff Bar had sent my heart racing while my brain was about to explode. We took a brain break and assessed our portaging choices. Our kayak was still too heavy, so we took out even more gear. I wanted to sling the kayaks onto our shoulders but Brandon had reservations about that. As they were borrowed fiberglass kayaks, if we dropped one on the root infested trail or smashed one up against a tree, not only would we owe someone a kayak but we’d be stranded deep in the wilderness. So we continued on with the hip shuffle. We’d make our way down the trail a bit then one of us would yell “switch,” and we’d change to the other hand. A little bit further we’d switch again, this time the person in front would move to the back so that the kayak would aggravate the body from a slightly different angle. Periodically we gave a Woot! to the woods, letting any bears near-by know we were there.

Inuas Pack, Primed to Portage with a Kicker – David Reed

Our First Attempt at Loading a Kayak for Portaging – Inua Blevins

The Reality of Portaging Starting to Set In – Inua Blevins

Trail Conditions at the Beginning, No Good for Kayak Wheels – Inua Blevins

The Zodiac Team Charges Ahead – Inua Blevins

Sea Kayak in an Old Growth Forest – Brandon Hauser

Slowly we made our way through the woods – sweating, cursing, using team work to get us through the old growth trail. Under the blazing sun our plan wasn’t working very well. Brandon had the remedy. He’d stashed the Old Grand Dad 100 proof Whiskey in the kayak for emergencies. With sweat pouring off our faces we took a break and he produced the bottle. Now, I always think people should drink responsibly and sure enough we needed to treat this situation with respect. However, we quickly created a proper strategy for administering the medicine. Our technique became to gulp down a swig every so often when our muscles began to burn and we could feel bones grinding. After a few minutes of rest and rehydration we were singing, laughing, and waddling with a kayak in the middle of the forest.

Taking a Break From the Heat and Weight – Inua Blevins

The area was beautiful and untouched. Every now and then we came across mud patches and bogs but found that someone had actually put logs down at some point. There was some human maintenance on this old path and trail was in excellent shape considering we were in the middle of nowhere. There didn’t seem to be much overgrowth, the trail was easy to follow, and the views offered were amazing. However, we finally saw Inua and Bryan as they walked back to get the rest of their gear. We asked how far til the end and they seemed optimistic that we were half way. We decided to take a break and swig about it. The terrain wasn’t getting any easier, in fact we had an eroded rut to get through. We were both sore and tired, holding onto one end of the kayak like a bag of heavy groceries. The only thing to do was throw the kayak onto our shoulders and try to maneuver through the trench. We took off our shirts and folded them onto our shoulders for padding. Once the kayak was above my waist and resting next to my head the world seemed to be a much happier place. This felt right. The kayak seemed so much lighter and we could move with it so much easier. We happily made our way through the woods without braking in despair every few hundred yards.

Seeing Lake Alexander for the first time was a beautiful thing. We dropped the kayak into the tall grass and laid in the shade of the old growth. Shouldering the boats was going to be a lot easier and faster so we sprawled out taking our time to relax. Soon Bryan and Inua found us. The zodiac was a lot lighter and made for a quick portage but it was awkward to hold so they balanced it on their heads. Sitting down they kept rubbing their skulls searching for bald spots. Now they had their boat and were basically ready to go. Brandon and I still had another kayak and more gear to bring over, definitely two more trips. We ate relatively quick and enjoyed some Old Grand Dad with our friends, hung our food bags, then watched the zodiac putt off towards the cabin while wishing we were them.

Food Bags Hanging at Lake Alexander – Brandon Hauser

The Walk Back – David Reed

The trip back to our remaining gear was a lot more claustrophobic. Our friends were on the water while we still had a lot to do, just walking back was close to 2 miles. Towards midday the area really started to quiet down, the birds weren’t singing and everything seemed more still. It all gave me the impression that we were somehow even more alone than before, except for bears, it always seemed like they could be anywhere in the dense brush right off the trail. Lots of Woots! were thrown into the woods. Back at Mole Harbor we looked at the second kayak and decided to grab all the gear instead. Hauling dry bags would hopefully give our arms just enough of a break to portage another kayak through the woods. Towards the end of our gear trip we realized that the day wasn’t going to get any brighter, so we started jogging. We dropped the bags at the edge of Lake Alexander and were about to run back, when off in the distance the familiar whine of the 2 horse engine buzzed louder and louder. Bryan and Inua were charging back towards us. With an empty boat and high spirits they made their way to shore. They were testing the boats speed without gear by using the GPS, 3.4 mph (with a tail wind). We had a good laugh then ran back for our final ass-whooping of the day. As tired as we were, shouldering the kayak was the best/smartest thing we could have done. Any fears we had of damaging the kayak were wiped out by the knowledge of carry the boat the right way. So we stared at the kayak for a moment, got a little pep from Old Grand Dad and made our way to Lake Alexander for the third time.

Carrying the Zodiac on their Heads Felt Like it Was Making Them Go Bald – Inua Blevins

A Break From Portaging – Inua Blevins

Quality Structures are Made Throughout the Trail – Inua Blevins

Resting Before the Final Portage – Brandon Hauser

Checking for Missed Gear with a Final Look at Mole Shelter – David Reed

Portaging still sucked but we were shocked by how much faster and easier our last trip went. With both kayaks in the grass we watched the sun begin to drop behind the mountains. We should have started hauling ass but aching bones and the evening quiet lent a careless quality to the night. We learned a lot, hiked even more, and this felt like part of our reward. Then the bugs came out. They were so intense that I couldn’t open my eyes. I covered my face with one arm while dragging my fully loaded boat off the grass and into the water. This was a muddy lake and tried not to get stuck. Any sense of peace and tranquility we left on the beach as we paddled to escape swarms of bugs and use the remaining light to find a cabin and our friends.

A Moment of Peace Before Racing Against Nightfall – David Reed

Our night adventure to the Lake Alexander cabin was bittersweet. The water was calm and pitch black without the sun. The air had cooled to a perfect temperature. It was amazing to be still and take in the beauty of this completely remote lake on an uncivilized island. If you love Alaska and are looking for paradise, this is it. Yet, I couldn’t hold on to that feeling for long because my lower back was screaming from carrying the kayak wrong, and as the sun was fading we were searching for a cabin on a lake we had never been to. Our previous days search for the Mole Harbor Shelter told us we needed to get close while we still had enough daylight to see. We paddled on through the dark water watching the forest around us become black as well. After getting around the point, our map showed a one mile straight path to the cabin. Thirteen hours after waking up, we were almost there.

Enjoying the Lake Alexander Paddle – David Reed

We began to see smoke as we drew near, hearing a Woot! Woooot! we confirmed it was our cabin. We arrived to find Bryan and Inua in high spirits. When they weren’t speed testing the zodiac they relaxed in front of the cabin’s amazing Admiralty view. In contrast to our sporadic medicinal use of Old Grand Dad, they waited until they were in full rest to nurse their portaged bones. Both were in the throes of a good laugh when we arrived sleepy and exhausted. However, the fire was blazing and inviting, giving us the desire to haul our gear inside quickly so we could lounge and eat before calling it a night. I slumped into a vegetable state as my stove boiled water. Eating seemed less about satisfying hunger and more about replacing the fuel I’d used. The usual chatter around the fire faded fast as we all silently agreed today was over. I pulled myself up to my bunk, grateful for the cabin – no hanging food bags, no storing gear, no worrying about bears; just a flat bunk, four walls and a door. Covered by my sleeping bag, I gave one last stretch to try and release the day’s pains. Someone’s headlamp swooped across a wooden beam and noticed big black writing, Ricky Lee Willard Lives & Rules Over All Women!! That broke the spell. We had a good laugh and called it a night.

Resting by the Fire after a Long Day of Portaging – Inua Blevins

Cooking Dinner in the Dark – Inua Blevins

Tired and Ready to Call it – Inua Blevins

We All Strove to be Ricky With Our New Mantra – David Reed

We were half way through our trip across Admiralty and now heading towards the heart of the Island. In a strange way I was getting more nervous about bears because we hadn’t seen one since our first 45 minutes on the island, the anticipation was starting to build. Yet, we were all getting more and more comfortable with living in the woods. Late in the morning we woke to another sun filled sky, hoping the extra sleep would help us on our second day of portaging. It worked. We got up and cruised through our morning routine. Breakfast finished, extra coffee in hand, boats semi-packed, it was time to survey today’s route. Luckily we didn’t have to start out portaging so everyone seemed to have some pep. Our day would be checkered with kayaking and portaging, making us extra happy.

Lake Alexander Cabin in the Morning Sun, Shotgun Nearby – Brandon Hauser

Breakfast View – Inua Blevins

Packed and ready, we stopped for the scenery around us. The cabin on Lake Alexander is placed in one of the more perfect locations I’ve ever seen. It sits at the end of the lake on a small mass of land that separates Alexander from Beaver Lake. To the west a seemingly endless sprawl of valley wilderness stretches off and disappears. The eastern view is cut short by towering mountains that look out at Seymour Canal. It’s an amazing place and I promised myself I’d return, dedicating more time to this cabin then a single night.

Spray Skirt Time – Inua Blevins

We had several miles to travel but we left in good spirits. Kayaking/zodiac-ing through lakes was a very pleasant and new experience for all of us. There were no tides, no real waves, and the water wasn’t near as deep as parts of the ocean floor we crossed. This was where the trip seemed to really sing. As we made distance from the cabin we really kept up on our maps and the terrain. Only a small break admits traffic between lakes, and with several small little coves ahead, we tried to pick which opening would lead us through. It was actually really fun. The water was no more than a few feet deep. This created a water field of lily pads for us to check out as we meandered through to Beaver Lake. In kayaks it wasn’t an issue but the zodiac’s motor was different. Fearing the propeller would wrap some underwater vines, Bryan and Inua broke out the zodiac paddles.  Yet, once through, it was still tricky navigating towards the trail to the next lake. As with several times before, the realization of just how large the area was compared to our maps made us scrutinize every piece of shoreline as we got close. Along the western shore there were a few little inlets. I tried one but it was a bust. I could hear a waterfall nearby, which was most likely the connection to our next lake. However, we treaded lightly, not wanting to hit the falls in a sea kayak. After a bit of frustration, I hopped out of my kayak and onto the shore. Scanning around I couldn’t see anything that looked remotely like the start of a trail, just dense trees everywhere. Finally someone picked what looked like a game trail on the opposite shore. That was it.

Finding the Narrow Opening Between Alexander and Beaver Lake – David Reed

Killing the Zodiac Kicker to Pass Through Lilly Field – Brandon Hauser

Finally Finding the Path to Lake Hasselborg – Inua Blevins

Making Use of the Trash Bag Covered Backpack – Inua Blevins

The path between Beaver Lake and Hasselborg Lake is short, less than a half mile. It follows next to a waterfall creek into a marsh with big, twisted dead trees. Our new approach to portaging was to gather our food and other supplies and all walk together. This way we stayed as a group and scouted the trail for any hazards before bringing a boat through. On the other side we hung our food and stored gear. Traveling such a short distance made hiking with a sea kayak through the woods almost seem fun, then we had to go back and get the other.

Walking the Short Portage to Hasselborg Lake – Inua Blevins

Portaging the Kayak – David Reed

Hasselborg Lake is huge, width wise, it only ever gets to about a half mile. But it stretches north to south about 8.5 miles. Starting between to mountains, the lake can get some pretty strong winds. As soon as we pushed past the little marsh point, we came into some of the biggest waves of the trip, nothing crazy but completely different than putting through Beaver Lake. The zodiac might have disagreed. With strong headwinds, Bryan and Inua started taking water over the bow. Luckily it was a short trip. We made our way up around the first of two islands. The next trailhead started at a little cabin on the shore, spotting would be easier.

View North on Lake Hasselborg – Brandon Hauser

Hasselborg Creek cabin is smaller and more unique than the forest service cabins we had seen so far, and made for a nice piece of shade. While checking out the cabin Inua found a nice pair of sunglasses, quite a score since we’d lost three pairs in the first couple days. We hung out and fueled up, preparing for a proper portage. Although, this was going to be a shorter portage than yesterday, Brandon and I would still have to hike ~1.3 miles five times, off and on with heavy gear. We were ready. With bags, gasoline, a kicker, and kayak wheels we headed towards Lake Guerin.

Spotting Kayakers from Hasselborg Creek Cabin – Inua Blevins

The Small Hasselborg Creek Cabin – Brandon Hauser

 

Loving the Shade, Refeuling for the Portage – Inua Blevins

Trippin’ gear to Lake Guerin – Brandon Hauser

The trail was a bit more up and down than the Mole Harbor leg, but there seemed to be more manmade maintenance with steps and bridges along the way. Still shocking was how damn hot the days where getting. With the sun straight above us we took breaks to wipe our brows and stay hydrated. Hiking as a full group seemed to cheer up everyone, as we could all suffer the heat and crack jokes together. Seeing the end of the trail was a welcome sight. Another beautiful lake trailed off in front of us. We had lunch near the water and prepared for the return trip.

Trail from a Previous Era – Brandon Hauser

Taking a break from the Heat – Brandon Hauser

Back at it With Gas & Guns – David Reed

First Sight of Lake Guerin – Inua Blevins

Lunch with Guns – David Reed

With Food Hung, Time for Gear – Inua Blevins

The Best Part of Portaging is the Empty Walk Back – Inua Blevins

Back at our kayaks we were learning more and more about portaging. This time we stuffed part of our life jackets between our shoulders and the end of the boat. The other guys put t-shirts under their heads to keep from going bald. The extra padding made it that much more enjoyable than our first day’s fiasco. We all realized that Bryan and Inua were going to be much faster since they didn’t have to make an extra trip. We walked with them as much as we could but soon they were off, leaving us to maneuver a kayak through the old growth forest. We wouldn’t see them again until we made it to the Lake Guerin shelter. Things were running infinitely more smooth for Brandon and I compared to the previous day, little Grand Dad was needed to get us through our trip. With the first kayak down we rested, staring out at the lake. One more back and forth and we’d be with friends again. I gave a Woot! just to see if the echo would carry out across the lake. We laughed and didn’t hear a response. Gathering up the will to head back we stopped when a gunshot ripped through the valley, then two more. We gave another Woot Woooot! but didn’t hear a return. Not sure what was going on, the only thing we could do was grab the other kayak and make our way to the shelter for an investigation.

Keeping Hair on Your Head, The Evolution of Zodiac Portaging – Inua Blevins

Portaging a Zodiac – Inua Blevins

Our life in the woods was getting more and more comfortable. Putting in a long day of hard work was the new norm. We didn’t need to talk much, we just lifted the last kayak and made our way through the woods. Nothing was really on my mind, navigating the boat was beginning to be automatic, so I wandering off mentally as I enjoyed how remote we’d finally gotten ourselves. Everything we saw seemed to be bigger and more prehistoric. The fern stems were thicker than a thumb, the skunk cabbage was as tall as me, and the blue berries were the size of grapes, we had to stop and eat a few handfuls. It was starting to feel less like an adventure and more like home. I considered not going back at the end of all this.

Kayak Portaging Terrain, Epicly Technical – Brandon Hauser

Looking Back, Just a Day Away From Mount Distik – Brandon Hauser

With both kayaks on the shore, we dropped our food from the trees and began loading up the boats. Now the gunshots were making me anxious. Were they celebrating their arrival at the shelter? Did they see a bear and did that end well? Were we going to see a dead bear or dead friends? I began stuffing gear more hurriedly into the hatches. Brandon may have been in a similar mindset. As we drew our boats into deep enough water to launch I was being careful not drop my foot deep down into the mud. I looked for grass with wide roots to support my path. I looked back to see Brandon push out and drop a leg thigh deep in mud. He slowly pulled himself out trying not to lose his extra tuff in the murk. He poured brown water and bits of mud back into the lake. With his boot emptied, we paddled down Lake Guerin.

Ready to Paddle Lake Guerin – David Reed

Lake Guerin runs east to west in the lowlands of Admiralty Island. Unlike the wind tunnel of Hasselborg Lake, Guerin was smooth and calm. A similar ride to Lake Alexander streched before us. However, we weren’t racing to save daylight so we enjoyed it a little more while still thinking about the gunshots. The shelter was on the opposite end of the lake which made for a little over two miles of paddling. The area, as usual, was beautiful. We could look back and see Mount Distik far off in the distance. It felt more than just a day away. All the mountains were far away. We had carried our sea kayaks to the middle of the island and were now gliding through the warm waters of a remote Alaskan lake. Everything seemed perfect and in its right place. Up ahead a very small island near the size of a few football fields looked incredibly inviting. I called out to Brandon telling him that would be a pretty cool place to set up camp. I was fully into the idea of experiencing as much of Admiralty as I could. This was our island to explore and I was happy not to use the shelter. As we swung closer the shelter and zodiac came into view, we pressed on.

Coming Up On the Lake Guering Shelter – Brandon Hauser

We landed to the sight of Bryan and Inua holding massive ferns. Apparently someone had buried trash in the dirt of the shelter and bears had dug huge pits into the ground. They were almost done filling-in the holes so I had little to be mad about but I’m still shocked at why someone would be dumb enough to burry garbage where people sleep. Please don’t ever do that. The floor worked out pretty good with ferns, now we wanted to hear about the gunshots.

Ferns Used to Fill Holes Dug by Bears Looking for Buried Trash – Inua Blevins

As they were motoring over they came across the small island. Thinking it would be a nice place away from bear traffic they head over to check it out. As they neared, they saw something strange in the water. From faraway Bryan thought it was a loon. Getting closer, Inua thought a moose was swimming. Finally, the head of a bear greeted them. They swerved away immediately, heading towards the shelter. The watched as the bear swam to the shore of the little piece of land. A huge body immerged from the water and powerfully shook the lake from its fur. Hearing the engine, the bear galloped, looked back, galloped again, looked back, then hide in the trees. A few seconds later they could see its head poking through the thicket staring at them. Nope, that little piece of paradise was too small to share. Now on the shore they saw bears had dugout the area. Having just witnessed a big brown bear swim from camp A to camp B, a few gunshots were deemed necessary to let everything know humans had arrived.

Off in the Distance Camp B is Occupied by a Brown Bear, Time for Gun Shots – Inua Blevins

With the lake island out of the question we began making the shelter our home for the night. The first step was to collect enough wood to have a roaring fire. As we gathered wood I noticed several large game trails. Looking at a map, Lake Guerin was surrounded by other lakes. Our shelter, on its little sand spit was the crossroads of a major animal highway. We decided to build our fire big and bright to match the rising half-moon that broke across the water. We’d come to a strange part of our trip. Our worry of bears was becoming an exciting but normal part of life. There had been sight of a bear, but it wanted little to do with us. We shot guns and made fires as was tradition.

Getting the Fire Going to Make Our Presence Known – Inua Blevins

A Half Moon Rising Over Lake Guerin – Brandon Hauser

Scouting the Next Day’s Route – David Reed

Tending to Swollen Ankle – David Reed

Admiralty Social by the Fire – Inua Blevins

Bears Point of View – Brandon Hauser

Our Admiralty life was beginning to take control. Jobs had to be done to make things run smooth and that was that. At some point in the night Bryan spilt the last of the alcohol. For a second it seemed like a tragedy but we couldn’t dwell on it, things had to get done. We tended the fire, studied the next day’s route, tended to bruises, and kept going. More wood was required to fuel our blazing fire. We went off looking for dead trees small enough to push over. Nearby several trees hung tall in the dark, grey and weathered, they stood above the sand. We hung our food in one and pushed over others. This was a strange place. It didn’t feel quite right but we didn’t fight it. We were in the heart of the island, halfway to anywhere. I was having a hard time imaging it would end. I wanted to always be here, traveling like nomads through Admiralty’s 1000 year old forest. With the comfort of guns beneath pillows, the guys drifted off.

Soon-to-be Firewood, Breaking Dead Trees – David Reed

Wild Faces of Admiralty – David Reed

Sleeping Sound – Inua Blevins

We were getting closer to understanding Hasselborg’s love of the island, his desire to be here and nowhere else. Admiralty has a way of taking you over.

The Admiralty Effect – Brandon Hauser

 

Slow Boatin’ to Your Favorite Music Festival

On the Southeastern outer coast of Alaska a  few small fishing towns meets the Gulf. One particular town happens to be Sitka and is home to a very unique music event named Homeskillet Festival. One of the few festivals in Alaska that promotes more than just bluegrass, Homeskillet has become an exciting experience for people spending their summer in The Last Fontier while still looking for new and innovative music. However, the small town is located on the edge of a brown bear occupied island. Baranoff isn’t cheap or easy to arrive on. To show people just how removed from the rest of the World Sitka actually is, Brandon Hauser and I kayaked from Hoonah, Alaska to Sitka. This is a small glimpse at the 200 mile adventure that brought us to wild ride of Homeskillet Festival.

The Crossing of Admiralty Island: Part 2

Swan Island to Mole Harbor

Very close to 3am the Sun began to heat up the beach.  A scorching hot day was upon us and we hadn’t slept more than a few hours. Open to the unobstructed sun, I now regretted sleeping under a clear sky. We all tried to hide from the light but it did little good, as now the ravens and various birds started socializing. These are good problems to have considering where we were. After hours of trying to sleep in paradise, I finally got up. Looking down Seymour Canal, our day was going to be pretty incredible. The sun was shining and the water looked calm. I searched my tent for my camera, minutes later conveniently finding it in the back pocket of my pants. I had spent the night tossing and turning to the point I had smashed the LCD screen on my point-and-shoot. We were getting into the thick of our Admiralty adventure and my camera was busted. Somehow I managed to blindly navigate the menu and get the camera’s settings back to automatic. I had turned my several hundred dollar camera into an instamatic. I took a shot down the canal and shoved it back in my pocket.

Exploring during low tide walk – Inua Blevins

As with the previous days the tide was completely against us. Our kayaks were high and dry and we decided to let the next couple hours pass until the current was going with us. The sweltering 70+ degree weather helped us retreat into the shady woods of Swan Island. Mid-morning and early afternoon were spent wasting the batteries on our ipods as no one wanted to paddle for hours with the sun directly above us. So we moved real slow, exploring the woods, filling nalgenes, packing up and preparing for a scorching day on the water. (Side note: Brandon had been using a UV pen to filter his water, up until that point it had worked without incident. However, after using it for well over a year the batteries went dead on day two of the trip. We all agreed that having a water purifier that didn’t require batteries was essential to any multi day trip into the Wilderness.) We’d already spent loads of time trying to figure out the best way to pack our kayaks but now we had time to really dial it in. Brandon and I both had different approaches, so no real help can be solicited from us. Except, maybe have snacks and water with you while maintaining quick access to bear spray or gun.

Finding shade to hide from the Sun and wait for high tide – Inua Blevins

Refilling water bottles, grabbing guns just incase – Inua Blevins

Exiting woods to check on tide and pack gear – Inua Blevins

After lounging in the shade everyone starts packing up - Inua Blevins

The day was a breeze. When we put ourselves to task our kayaks could outrun the hum of a 2 HP kicker on the zodiac, from time to time we pushed ourselves ahead to make things a little more quiet. However, this is where Seymour Canal really starts to impress with several large Islands shaping our path. So we found ourselves stopping to enjoy fading layers of mountains down the Canal while falling behind the buzzing motor. Passed Swan on our way behind Windfall, Tiedeman Island rose out of the water. Our destination was somewhere halfway down the Island. Unfortunately we had some distance to cover and couldn’t drop into Pack Creek, located directly next to Windfall Island. Decades earlier it had been home to Stan Price and his wife. They lived on a houseboat shored up on the beach and it is believed that their contact with the bears helped condition them to the presence of man, making them a rare sight in the world of brown bears.

Brandon paddling in the late day sun – Inua Blevins

David paddling near Pack Creek (Stan Price’s former homestead) – Inua Blevins

As Brandon and I took in the scenery we were oblivious to obstacles Bryan and Inua were facing. The cool breeze that was keeping us from overheating was developing small swells for their zodiac, on top of that, they ran out of gas in the largest stretch of open water we had come across. We hadn’t noticed that the peace and quiet we were experiencing was them immobilized in choppy water. By the time they caught up to us the sun was nearing the mountain tops.

Bryan and Inua experiencing trouble with the zodiac’s kicker – David Reed

There were a few trade-offs with our late departure: the weather is generally better earlier in the day (winds are calmer on the seas and temperatures are cooler) making for an easier time on the water. Leaving later let us sleep in and pack-up at a more relaxed pace. We endured slightly bumpy seas but what we gained was a killer sunset while out in the canal. The forest fires were still smoking, leaving a haze that helped give a golden wash to the mountains around us.

Incredible weather and sun while paddling down Seymour Canal – Inua Blevins

We didn’t have a particular spot to camp, just a general distance we wanted to cover. As our boats traveled down Tiedeman Island everyone noted that the shoreline was mostly jagged rock. Cruising on, camp need to be a decent beach with a fresh water creek near-by. As we came to the mid-section of the island we neared an acceptable beach. However, this created a thought provoking situation: the beach was in the deep shade of a cove and offered no view and Brandon, always looking for the best shot, wanted to camp on the point with a view back up the canal. The point was a bit rockier and further from freshwater but would give us more light and an incredible bluff to camp on.  I hemmed and hawed for a minute, but the semi rocky bluff seemed too good to pass up.

Reaching shore half way down Tiedeman Island just before sunset – David Reed

Our campsite couldn’t have come soon enough, as we were happy to be getting out of the water the sun seemed to be dipping below the mountains fast. We unloaded our gear under another fiery orange sky. Once we made our way up the bluff and had camp situated I couldn’t have been happier. Our tents were about 12 feet up a small rock cliff while below was a flat rocky area comfortable enough to have a fire and enjoy what was left of the setting sun’s light. As my ipod neared the end of its juice, I introduced Brandon to Radiohead’s In Rainbows. We all enjoyed the mellow album while cooking up dinner and relaxing after a mild day of paddling.

Scouting route up bluff for epic camping spot – David Reed

Brandon’s view north at his well chosen campsite – Brandon Hauser

Bryan keeping the fire blazing – Inua Blevins

Sitting on the rocks, we realized all our water bottles were now empty and everyone was thirsty after enduring the heat. Here is where our trade off came into play. We grabbed all the guns, bear spray, nalgenes, headlamps, and manual water filters for our excursion into the dark. It was a bit of a trek around the cove but it wasn’t until we reached the stream that we all got a bit antsy. The water was too shallow and mixed with the ocean until up the creek a ways where it escaped the reach of salt water. Getting their seemed sketchy as the banks were steep and any flat area was lined with grass taller than use. From what we could make out in the dark, the creek made a bend off into a dark tunnel in the woods. This looked like a premium bear mauling site. Without hesitation Bryan’s 50. Cal lit up the night with two loud KA-BOOMS! Even with my hands clasped on my ears the roar of the high caliber hand gun was incredible. My only fear now was that we might have scared a bear into running straight at us. Luckily we saw no bear and were able to filter water in peace along a crooked bank on the dark creek. We made the long trek back and sipped our cold water by the fire, watching the sky warm into the next day.

With no water left, we head across the cove insearch of the creek – Inua Blevins

Early morning view on Tiedemen Island looking north – Brandon Hauser

During the early hours of the day we were constantly woken by the strange breathing of a humpback whale. I’d begin to drift off and hear a, “grog! pshh!” I’d laugh, get irritated then cover my head and try to fall asleep. However, once the early morning sun made its way through the trees to the side of my face, I got up. We made our breakfast trying to stay in the shade while waiting for the tide to cover our rocky beach. However, our efforts to lounge were interrupted by a loud crash off on the water. We rounded the point looking south down the canal only to see calm seas. As the minutes ticked by and heat began to push us back to the shade the strange breathing whale burst out of the water breaching almost fully into the air. Shocked by how close it was, we waiting for more. The humpback broke the surface again, this time with a powerful breath combined with a loud squealing kazoo/trumpet sound. Soon it made a steep dive throwing its tail in the air and disappearing under the water. Again it breached, twisted, and smashed back into the ocean. For about half an hour the whale gave us a show, slapping the water and getting airborne, so we sat in the sand leaving our cameras at camp not daring to miss out on a whale breaching right off the beach.

Tents on the bluff with early morning sun – David Reed

Breakfast on the rocky beach – Inua Blevins

As the tide began to lift our packed kayaks, we scanned the view to the south. Soon we would pass the protection of Tiedeman Island and be open to the potentially bigger seas of Seymour Canal. Day three had started off with a surprise whale encounter, after looking at the map we hoped for a mellow paddle into Mole Harbor. This leg of the trip would be our longest paddle, coming in around 16 miles so we stuffed cliff bars and trail mix behind our seats and shoved off. Luckily the ocean seemed to be fairly tame. We did get a bit of wind blowing in from the mouth of Seymour Canal but for the most part we cruised. Along the way we stopped at Buck Island and had lunch. The island was barely off shore with a land bridge revealing itself at low tide. We stretched our legs while exploring the shade. The zodiac, Bryan and Inua had discovered, was leaking slowly. The leak seemed slow enough that as long as they stayed on top of it the boat should stay afloat. After we investigated the small island they pumped the boat back up and we were back on the water heading south.

Brandon kayaking down Seymour Canal – Inua Blevins

The wave action began to get interesting as we made our way around the point into Mole Harbor. Two different directions of water came together giving us our most turbulent seas so far but once we cut through we were given an amazing sight – a huge cove surrounded by mountains. Towering behind everything was a broad shouldered peak still white with snow. The top thinned to a fin-like rise with a flat top, a very distinct mountain. All around were spruce and hemlock covered hills. I could see how someone would want to spend their whole life here.

Brandon and David entering Mole Harbour with Mt Distik towering behind Hasselborg’s old homestead – Inua Blevins

Allen Hasselborg had hunted and trapped across Admiralty Island and picked Mole Harbor to be his home for almost 40 years. From this location he would guide scientists up into the mountains to study and collect species of plants and animals thought unknown to the rest of world. He also led several hunts with big wigs coming from Washington D.C. around the island. Ultimately, Hasselborg’s legacy would be to show influential people the amazing untouched landscape of Admiralty Island, which (combined with Stan Prices raising bear awareness at Pack Creek) would later move Washington to create the Admiralty Island National Monument. This declared monument would protect the vast majority of Admiralty Island from ever being developed, keeping it totally wild and untamed. Now we were entering Hasselborg’s stomping grounds.

If timed improperly it is actually a strenuous task getting to the back of Mole Harbor. The entire area is a huge tidal flat that can stretch for over a mile. We had maps of the area, but not true nautical charts so we were caught off guard when we saw huge expanses of seaweed creating a massive yellow field. Brandon and I paddled slowly trying to get as far inland as possible while Inua and Bryan tensely navigated the shallow waters trying not to puncture their zodiac on the blue mussel covered rocks. Yet, we eventually went as far as the water could take us and had to get out, still far from dry shore. We scanned the area with binoculars in search of the Mole Harbor Shelter. We hadn’t seen a shelter yet and wondered how it would compare to the first night’s cabin. After several minutes of looking at maps and guessing, we picked a spot and started to walk towards it with minimal gear. We didn’t want to be wrong after packing in a bunch all our bags.

As close as we could get, low tide in Mole Harbor – Inua Blevins

 

Inua and Bryan carry gear across the low tide garden of seaweed – Brandon Hauser

We found the cabin tucked away in the trees, this was another lesson in realizing the scale of the map versus the actual landscape making it hard to pinpoint something as small as a trail or a single building. The structure looked old, the wood was weathered to a light grey and had only three sides. We knew it would leave us exposed but I still found it a little disheartening. This was our first actual night on Admiralty proper without four walls. We dropped off what little gear we’d brought and walked back to our kayaks. Before this point most of our travels had been on water, now it was time for me to put my collection of leg braces to the test and hoist kayaks through tidal mud. Teaming up on one kayak, Brandon and I made our way around the tide pools and jagged rocks. My leg seemed to feel better loaded with more weight so we plowed up to shore, getting our kayaks and gear to the shelter in preparation for dinner.

Mole Harbor Shelter, tucked in the trees keeping it barely visible from the long tidal flat – Brandon Hauser

With no rain for such a long stretch of time the old growth forest provided all the wood we would need to have a blazing fire through the night. We finished setting up camp just in time to see another red moon rise up over Glass Peninsula. This had been our longest day yet and it felt good to relax. As I was stretching out on my sleeping pad I watched embers from the fire trail up into night, the three sided shelter was getting more and more comfortable as I warmed up. Moments later I sunk down to the uncomfortable ground. Sure enough, our blazing fire had dropped a hot cinder onto the foot of my sleeping pad. Luckily we always bring duct tape on any long trip. I was able to turn the burnt hole into a super slow leak and continue to enjoy the night.

Haze from Canadian forest fire makes the moon glow red – Inua Blevins

 

exhausted from a 16 mile paddle and a 1 mile gear haul across tidal flats, we relax by a roaring fire – Brandon Hauser

 

enjoying the fire from inside the Mole Harbor Shelter – Inua Blevins

The next morning was a struggle to get up. We all new that this was where the hard work was going to start – from here we would be spending as much time hauling gear over land as we would paddling on lakes, maybe more. The thought of carrying a kayak through the deep woods of Admiralty during the height of salmon spawning sent me back to sleep. For several days we’d been protected by the ocean waters, now it was time to enter the fortress of the bear.

Preparing to enter the fortress of the bear – Brandon Hauser

 

The Crossing of Admiralty Island: Part One

Oliver’s Inlet to Angoon – 70 Miles Across Admiralty

Sometimes a trip into the wilderness sounds so good that I don’t question the reality of what it will take to actually survive the expedition. The idea of spending ten days traveling through the protected waters of Seymour Canal and crossing from lake to lake, one side of Admiralty Island to the other seemed like one of the greatest trips a person could do in Alaska. Hauling a sea kayak through old growth forest remained a small side note until I was face to face with the challenge.

I’d read about Allen Hasselborg and Stan Price, two heroes of mine that had spent the bulk of their life within the untamed landscape of Admiralty Island. Living off the land in the midst of the densest brown bear population on Earth was a concept my close friends and I had often talked about. During the winter a coworker had told us about a route from Juneau through Oliver’s Inlet, down Seymour Canal, into Mole Harbor (this route passes Price and Hasselborg’s homesteads), small hikes then connect several beautiful lakes in a chain across Admiralty leading to the small fishing village of Angoon. From there the Alaska Marine Highway travels back to Juneau. This was the perfect summer trip.

Two weeks before the trip I stepped off a tree root and twisted my ankle in the uneven moss below. All our planning and logistics seemed to wither away as I hobbled slowly, in severe pain, along a mild trail. I spent the next two weeks with my foot elevated, collecting various leg braces determined not to be left behind. However, after looking at my swollen ankle, the consensus was that I should stay home. Everything had seemed to come together for this trip and one 2 foot step had canceled it. Screw that. I practiced with the leg braces and made myself believe that the swelling was reducing.

The night before we were to leave I sat with all my food and supplies, pushing at my leg with marsh mellow shaped toes. This was a stupid idea. I was being stubborn, putting myself and my friends in danger by staying on the team with a twisted/swollen ankle. It felt somewhat alright walking around my apartment but what if something happened halfway through? Admiralty is huge, over 1,600 square miles of mostly untouched Alaskan wilderness. It was declared a national monument creating a healthy environment for the brown bear population to grow. This has led to statistics showing 1-3 brown bears per square mile, by the numbers that is over 2,000 Alaskan brown bears roaming on one island. Admiralty’s nickname is “The Fortress of the Bear.” Anything could go wrong on this trip and I was the weak link. I couldn’t say no, I’d wait until morning to say yes.

Boo hoo, poor me, I decided to go. Also, Bryan, Inua, and Brandon decided to risk having me along, knowing my condition.

Leg Brace with the Jordan Air Pump for Maximum Stability – Inua Blevins

You can paddle from the southern end of Juneau, at Sheep Creek around Douglas Island to Oliver’s Inlet. In decent weather it takes a little more than two hours to kayak. However, Inua had worked out a deal with his boss for boating us to the entrance of Oliver’s Inlet. So we spent the afternoon enjoying the rare summer sunshine. Although having too much extra time on my hands led me to one of the most annoying and B.S. decisions of the trip. I talked with a guide/owner of a local kayak shop trying to get more details on our route. As our send-off time neared I began to fully realize how little I knew about what the hell we were getting ourselves into. The kayak guide and I chatted for a while and, seeing as I had a bad leg he sold me on the idea of getting a little help from some kayak support wheels AND since the pair he had with him were in need of some small repairs he’d give me a discount on them. He had little useful information about the route but gave me a sweet deal on the wheels. Those fucking wheels became my ten day enemy. The reason for me to stay alive was to bring the goddamn kayak wheels back with a Molotov cocktail and burn the place down. My biggest lesson: Don’t ever bring kayak wheels into the forest. Anyone who says otherwise is a lying bastard.

The weather was incredible and it kept getting better. The seas were calm and our trip to Oliver’s Inlet was so nice I had a hard time motivating myself to leave the boat and begin paddling to an uncivilized coastline. Then I dropped into my kayak and the full truth of what we were doing started to wrap around me. Did I have enough food? Did I have all the right gear? Was there something I forgot? Is the trail even marked? I was the only one without a gun, thinking bear spray was enough. SHIT! The island seemed to come towards me more than I was paddling towards it. The sound of the boat speeding off cemented the fact that we were alone and this was it. The only way out was to travel 70 miles across mountains, lakes, and ocean.

Brandon, off the boat, into the kayak – Inua Blevins

One of the most important lessons I learned about the ocean for multiday trips is that you’ve got to live by the tides. If the tide is working against you, then it is time to slow down and try to enjoy the situation. Southeast Alaskan tides can often swing 14-19 feet in six hours, revealing or covering up all types of landscape. If the ocean is working against you, the best bet is to stop and wait for the tide to be in your favor. That lesson came to us real quick as the tide was going out by the time we reached Oliver’s Inlet, creating a river-like current keeping us from entering the inlet. We tested the flow but even at maximum paddle we were only able to stay static in the water. It was time to go ashore, set up a fire, enjoy the scenery, and wait for the tides to change.

Bryan in the Zodiac leaving the boat behind – Inua Blevins

Brandon fighting Oliver’s outgoing current – Inua Blevins

We landed with a loud WHOOT! WHOOOOOOT! echoing off the mountains around us. I can only imagine what Brandon thought at hearing our patented bear call. We let everything within earshot know that we had arrived, hoping they’d all stay away. Yet, after 45 minutes  we came across our first brown bear. We were gathering wood for the fire when Brandon, laughing, called out, “bear”. As he backed up a young 300 pound bear strolled out of the woods. Bryan pulled out his .50 caliber, Inua had a .45, and Brandon leveled his shotgun while I unclipped my bear spray. I can pinpoint this as one of the most unsatisfying/unmanly moments in my life. What in the fucking-goddamn-hell was I doing on Admiralty “The Fortress of the Brown Bear” Island without a giant gun? At the time, I was a hiking guide and had been spouting the statistic that bear spray was proven vastly more effective then guns at deterring bear attacks. I figured I’d use this trip as an experiment to back-up all my talk. I’ve never felt more naked and dumb then that first bear encounter.

This young bear got within 30 feet of us, never showing signs of hesitation. We shouted and grouped together but he didn’t really seem to care. He slowly turned, showing us his back as he sauntered down the beach. I think we all felt a little adrenaline dump as we exhaled and came to grips with what just happened. This was actually a good thing. We began to formulate an understanding of what to do next time we saw a bear, that way we were all on the same page.

Never go anywhere, no matter how short the distance, without a gun or bear spray

Don’t even say the word bear unless you see one

If it gets any closer than 30 feet, shoot

 

Waiting on the tide, relaxing after first bear encounter

70 Alaskan forest fires helped create a uniquely colored sunset – Brandon Hauser

It took a while to fully calm down. Sitting on the rocky shore, we tried to take in the scenery and enjoy the fire. In early July of 2009 there had been a total of 70 active fires across Alaska; this led to an amazing purple and gold haze filling the sky. We watched the current slow and begin to push the other way as the tide changed. Lucky for us, summer was in full tilt, at 10pm we still had enough sunlight to pack up our gear and leave shore. We paddled by headlamp up the inlet. Bryan and Inua were not able to gain access to kayaks so they opted for the use of a Zodiac and a small kicker. While Brandon and I made our way they were tasked with dodging shallow barnacle-covered rocks that could puncture their boat. Up ahead, we had a quiet and peaceful paddle through the inlet. Nearing midnight the light finally gave way and the mountains to either side of us turned black. As we continued through the dark the moon slowly came into view. The forest fires effect could be seen as the moon took on a strange burnt orange glow.

Cruising Oliver’s after nightfall – Inua Blevins

Bryan lighting the way with his headlamp – Inua Blevins

We were enjoying our moonlight cruise and getting close to the end of Oliver’s Inlet. Somewhere in the dark there was a trail that led to a tramway off the beach. This tramway is like a small train track in which a kayaker or anyone with gear can bring their supplies from Oliver’s Inlet to the Cabin at the top of Seymour Canal. However, it became painfully obvious that the location of the X on our map and the trams actual location in the real world was very vague and could be anywhere along a half mile of shoreline. So there we were, after midnight gliding along looking for a sign in the dark. We pointed our headlamps towards the shore looking for any trace of reflection off the forest service sign, hoping not to catch the glimmer of eyes in the woods.

Bryan and Inua aboard zodiac watching for shallow rocks/ checking kicker – Brandon Hauser

This is where I learned an important gear lesson. When traveling by dark you can have all kinds of backup headlamps and little lights, but nothing will replace a high powered searchlight. Luckily Brandon had already known this and began raking his 800 lumen light across the base of the trees. Found it. Once on shore I strapped on my huge leg brace and brought my kayak up to the boardwalk trail. This looked like the perfect spot to test out my kayak wheels… After 30 feet of bullshit I was pissed. They scissored apart like a lawn chair yielding to a fat man. With Brandon’s help I peg-legged my kayak up to the tram car. We loaded our gear up and by early morning we made our way along the dark tracks.

David gimping up boardwalk – Brandon Hauser

Rules of the tram, number 6 seems to be the most important – Brandon Hauser

Tram cart packed with gear – Inua Blevins

Heeding the advice of the posted tram directions, we made our way into the forest trying not to lose control of our loaded-down-no-brakes cart. Brandon was in front pulling with rope; I was in back as the hobbling brake man. Everything was going good until we neared a slope, then we started to pick up speed. Since our kayaks stuck way over the front and back of the tram cart, my only position of contact with the cart itself was from the side. This meant I was walking the tram rail ties, galloping along with a big plastic boot. This became exceeding difficult with more speed. My fear of bears lurking in the woods quickly faded as I tried to slow our runaway kayak train, not fall of the tram bridge, and keep the kayaks secured as well. Brandon had to let go and jump to the side. Somewhere out ahead of us Bryan and Inua were dealing with their own cart’s velocity. If we didn’t slow down soon… I missed one of the ties and my foot found deep muskeg, my entire boot was submerged in muddy grass. Taking matters into his own hands, Brandon caught up with the cart and slowed it to a stop. I pulled on my leg trying to free it from the sludge. The murky muskeg slowly released its grip. I sat for a minute taking in the whole situation. Since I could hear the cart not screaming down the track, I swept the woods with my headlamp looking for bears while I caught my breath. My leg had begun to stink before, now it was just nasty. In the distance someone was excited about a cabin. I met up with Brandon, he laughed at my boot and we continued on to our last night indoors.

21st century cart pulling technology – Inua Blevins

Our rail view – Inua Blevins

Our first day had been fun but draining and all we really wanted to do was go to sleep. However, four people with ten days worth of food motivated us to properly deal with the situation. We moved everything edible inside and left our kayaks, zodiac, and other gear on the carts. Looking down at the mess of a brace strapped to my leg. I decided right then to retire the monstrous boot; it would not leave the kayak until I was back in Juneau.

Amazing late night cabin view of Seymour Canal – Brandon Hauser

Inside and safe from bears at the plush Oliver’s Inlet cabin – Inua Blevins

I woke to the calling of “5 o’clock!” I didn’t even open my eyes. “5:30!” Nobody was moving. “6 o’clock!” What the fuck was going on? “Hey 7:15!” I began to think this was an alarm clock in hell. I was so tired, there was little I could do but tilt my head, look around, then pass out again.

We had planned our trip by the tides, trying to take advantage of the waters ebb and flow. We’d missed our shot up Oliver’s on day one. Brandon was trying not to make the same mistake twice but our late night tram adventure had made a new schedule for the day. His attempts to wake us for high tide were met with a refusal to move. Sometime later we woke to another sunny day and an extremely low tide. Stepping out on the cabin deck we knew we’d be enjoying it right here for a while. Seymour Canal ends in a giant mud flat that is almost a mile long when the tide is completely out. Not wanting to carry our gear and boats to the water’s edge, we decided to relax and get more accustomed to living by the tides. Admiralty Island is absolutely beautiful, especially on a sunny day. We grabbed guns, bear spray, and cameras then went off to check out the tram in the daylight.

Oliver’s Inlet Cabin by daylight (our bear sanctuary) – Brandon Hauser

Bryan with strapped with .50 cal retracing our steps across the tram – Inua Blevins

Upon our arrival back at the cabin we picked up a few visitors. A motley crew of British folk were lugging their kayaks up the shallow incoming tide. They claimed to be shooting a documentary on their travels through Southeast. We packed up our gear and freed the carts up for their use. As the tide reached our little inlet we headed off watching the most talkative Brit make faces and lament into his camera as he drug his kayak across the ground to the tramway.

Brandon gearing up for Seymour Canal – David Reed

The water was extremely shallow at the top of the bay and the whole situation gave me the creeps. We were sitting in kayaks floating on two feet of water with 4’-5’ of grass hiding the woods beyond. Nothing could be seen and I felt helpless were a bear to come stomping at us. We survived our shallow path as the creek opened up into Seymour Canal, an amazing body of ocean water protected for over forty miles. The sun was out, the day looked beautiful, and we began our paddle. Every once in a while we would see a fishing boat chugging along far off in the distance, other than that, we seemed to be completely alone out on the water.

Almost a half mile off shore and the water is only knee deep at high tide – David Reed

Paddling into Seymour Canal – Inua Blevins

After paddling for an hour or so we broke out beyond the inlet and the spectacle of Seymour Canal was ahead – islands divide the canal with large rolling mountains reaching up from Glass Peninsula. However, the mainland held the most incredible view. As we looked back west, Swan Cove seemed to offer limitless towering jagged mountains that became more and more pale as they hid behind the burning forest haze.

 

Seymour Canal opening up to show the islands and mountains ahead – Brandon Hauser

There’s those damn wheels! – Inua Blevins

 

Brandon checking out the view of swan cove – David Reed

We paddled 13 miles, leaving by the tides had started our day late. So we found a nice sandy beach off Swan Island and made camp for the night. The unusually dry and warm weather had left the old growth forest with an unending supply of firewood. We set up a fire on the beach to watch the sun dip low on the horizon as we ate dinner. This was our first night away from everything, no cabins, trams, or anything, only the supplies we’d brought with us. It was truly amazing to be alone on an island surround by the vast wilderness of Admiralty. The good weather seemed to amplify our feeling of being completely content. We sat for quite a while enjoying the fire and the fading sun.

Beaching zodiac on Swan Island and hauling gear to campsite – Inua Blevins

Gathering water from inside the forest – Brandon Hauser

Fireweed campground with a view of the fire haze sunset – David Reed

Once the night came, we realized all our gear was strewn about camp, not good during the height of bear season. Our first attempt at hanging food bags in the dark became a lengthy spectacle of fools. Tired minds and hands fumbled through devils club as we found the right alder tree to sling our bags up. After breaking a few branches and dropping a couple bags our gear dangled from the poor alder like an uneven meat locker. It wasn’t pretty but it served a purpose. We stopped admiring our work when Inua noticed his .45 was missing. We pawed through the flattened devils club and grass slowly as to not end the trip premature.

In the trees grasping for rope – David Reed

 

Tired and silly, hanging bags becomes a carnival of mistakes – David Reed

Once back at the fire the night eased into the serene. By now the sand around us was warm, the dark of night was already turning blue, and day three was coming. So far so good, my leg was holding up, the seas were good, the weather was amazing, Admiralty was being very generous with us. We still had 8 days until Angoon and I just wanted this feeling to last.

Early morning with fire’s glow on the beach – Brandon Hauser

Admiralty Crew enjoying fire, night two – Brandon Hauser