|Thursday, May 23, 2013 - our float plane departs from Juneau|
|La Perouse Glacier - a view from the float plane|
|The plane departed at 11:15 a.m. on Thursday|
|Trimline left by 1958 tsunami wave|
For some background on Lituya Bay, I read "Wildest Alaska" by Philip Fradkin in the days prior to the trip. The book details the Tlingets occupation of the area and the subsequent arrivals of the Russians, French and Americans, along with a complete recounting of the area's now defunct gold mining history.
Fradkin's book also relays the story of numerous ship wrecks, including two men in the 1890's whose vessel sank at the mouth of the bay. The men decided to hike the 100 miles to Yakutat and carried supplies for six days (hhhmmm....just like us). Fradkin wrote that the trip "actually took eighteen days, and the men would have starved to death except for the fact that they were aided by Tlingits, from whom they stole a canoe for the last leg of their journey." This passage along with my friends' warnings gave me a healthy dose of apprehension. But, as we flew towards our drop-off point, I reminded myself that at least we wouldn't have to steal a canoe; we had our own pack rafts.
|Night one - our first bear visit|
On Thursday, day one, we hiked along the black sand beach where a little over a century ago miners mined the placer deposits of gold. Now there were only bear tracks. We came across two federal surveyors, their puppy, and their fixed wing plane. They were heading back to Juneau. The six of us hiked on and set up camp by 6:30 p.m. While I was imagining the surveyors back in Juneau eating pizza and drinking beer at the local pub, we were greeted by our first, large brown bear. Delightful. This also proved to be the one and only night we tented by trees large enough to hang our food.
|The omnipresent bear highway|
|Day two - 5 hours of rocks|
|One of several inland journeys in search of bear trails|
|Days two and three prior to Dry Bay - boulders and more boulders|
Despite all of the rocks, we made fairly good time and the clouds rolled in for our second evening. Here we camped near an easy crossing and spent time drying out our clothes.
|Night two - yes, it's a sock not a marshmellow|
While we dried out, we watched a moose easily cross the shallow outflow we had just maneuvered in our pack rafts. The next morning, Saturday, was overcast. Soon after we emerged from our two tents a brown bear ambled towards our camp, but it ran away after we shouted at it. By this time, after walking on large bear prints for hours along the bear highway, we began to expect a few large visitors.
Saturday turned out to be a treat. Once again, we left the beach and trekked inland through dense, rolling forest replete with Devil's Club. This time we were following, in reverse, the route taken by another party, Roman Dial and his crew, a few years earlier. Following the GPS, we headed several miles inland and upwards hoping to find the lake in front of Grand Plateau Glacier.
|Pack raft crossing - day three|
|Crossing the lake beneath Grand Plateau Glacier was magical|
|Julie rafts through numerous icebergs|
Once across the lake, on the north side, there was a clear trail. We exited our rafts as we entered the small western bay and heard the waterfall we had been warned of by my friends. We headed down the trail and back to the beach. We exited the forest ideally near the end of another long boulder field and were pleased to soon find dark sand.
|Days four and five - lovely landscape with the St. Elias Mountains|
|Thousands of birds migrating through|
The terrain changed north of Grand Plateau Glacier from the typical wet Southeast Alaska landscape with an abundance of Sitka Spruce and Western Hemlock, Devil's Club and giant Skunk Cabbage to a drier, sandier terrain with pine and grass.
|Monday morning bears|
|The views from Dry Bay to Yakutat were incredible|
The views began to open up once we crossed Dry Bay, the outflow of the Alsek River, on Sunday just before noon. At this point we were behind schedule. We also knew we were facing an increasing number of crossings. Because of our time limitations, we made no attempt to time any of our crossings with slack tide.
|Crossing the Alsek - we were greeted by Sea Lions|
|The endless beach was ours|
|Hours of beach walking - notice the continuous bear trail|
But, instead we found ourselves sitting two miles out from land on a narrow sand-spit that was quickly disappearing with the incoming tide. The wind was blowing about 30 miles per hour (note to self: not good for contact lens wearer - me) and, oh yeah, we were rapidly running out fresh water which was somewhat paradoxical given that we were now surrounded on all sides by water.
|Crossing Dangerous River - several times in a sandstorm|
|Long days and short nights in late May|
On our final day, Tuesday, we broke camp by 7:30 a.m. on a mission to make our 6:00 p.m. flight. Personally, after the windy, rough crossings the day before, I was on a mission to time at least one of our raft crossings with slack tide. From the tide schedule I had scribbled on the back of my map a week earlier, it looked like slack tide for the Situk River (our last crossing) would be around 10:30 a.m.
|Day 5 - 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. (let's make that plane tomorrow!)|
|No need for pack rafts here|
Well, there you have it. Despite the nay-sayers in Juneau, we made our six day trek from Lituya Bay to Yakutat. It was an invigorating adventure and we had almost three full hours to spare before our Alaska Air flight departed for home. Having worn the same clothes continuously and not having showered for six days, I was thrilled to see Kari at the Juneau airport. Wow, my girlfriend sure did look clean! Postmortem: I will say that the group dynamics on this trip were terrific given some of our challenges, and we were also fortunate that we experienced no major setbacks. In retrospect, if I made the sojourn again, I would take at least two more days, bring my own back-up lithium batteries and a back-up compass, time the larger crossings with slack tides, and maybe bring a sack of food to sell to my companions at a usurious rate should our luck ever run out.
|Google Map - orange markers are past earthquakes|