Day 2:
Dangerous River to South of Awke River 
6/18/2015


I wake often during the night, but sleep well overall.  By 7:30 AM I wake for the last time.  As always when I come to Alaska in early summer, the long days and lack of darkness at any time of day takes some getting used to.  The sky is mostly cloudy this morning and a light south breeze is blowing. 

By 9:00AM I've broken camp and walk down to the north bank of the Dangerous River, which is glacier-fed and very cold.  Here I begin a routine I'll repeat many times during the trip.  First I study the river, looking for an area where a back eddy slows the water, providing a place suitable for launching.  Then I try to locate a similar pullout on the other side, far enough downstream that hopefully the current won't carry me past it.  Setting the pack down, I pull out the packraft, a 3 lb. inflatable watercraft that makes this trip possible.  Using its stuff sack as a pump, I inflate the boat in about 5 minutes.  Then, putting camera, binoculars, maps, sleeping bag, dry clothing and other critical items into double waterproof bags in the pack, I strap the pack to the foredeck of the raft.  By now I'm stripped down to rain pants, rain jacket and hat.  This way, if I capsize but manage to hang onto the raft, I'll still have warm, dry gear and a chance of beating the hypothermia that would quickly follow a dunking in the icy water. 

Despite the ominous name and current flowing toward the surf just downstream of the takeout, the river crossing is quick and easy.  On the south bank I reverse the process and note that an hour and a quarter has gone by since I reached the river.  This will become a fairly average time to cross each river, except the Alsek, which is far larger than all the other rivers I'll cross combined.  

Soon I come to a smaller stream which I'm able to wade across in knee deep water. 

Rain spits occasionally as I walk south along the beach.  Yesterday's elation has faded and I walk along missing Pearl's company.  Most of my adventures during the 25 years we've been together have been in her company and now I miss it. 

Like yesterday, the lower flanks of the Fairweather mountains appear through broken clouds.  Also like yesterday, many testy terns fly overhead objecting to my presence, probably because they're nesting nearby.  Bush planes occasionally drone overhead, heading between Yakutat and the Alsek River.  I feel fine physically, though at 55 pounds, the pack is considerably heavier than I typically carry.  

I stop for lunch on a beached log about 1:00 PM and half an hour later reach the Italio River.  Bill has given me a welcome tip.  If I go inland a few hundred yards, the river is braided and can be waded across at low tide.  A forest service cabin is tucked into the edge of the forest just above the tide flat.  A bush plane is parked about 1/4 mile south of the cabin.  There's no sign of activity though.  I go another hundred yards up river looking for fresh water, but everything I taste is brackish. 

Putting my shoes back on and continuing south, I reach the next river, the Awke, about 3:00 PM.  ATV tracks line the beach from near the Italio River to the Awke, as do the first bear and wolf tracks of the trip.  The ATV tracks end on the north bank of the river and here I inflate the raft.  The tide is high and there's some surf action in the river, but it's not bad and and hour later I'm across and walking the beach again.  I'm surprised to find more ATV tracks on the south side.  I need drinking water, but it's brackish here, being so close to the ocean and at high tide.       
A couple miles later there's a low spot in the dunes and I cross them to find the Awke River on the other side, paralleling the beach.  Stopping for water, which is sweet here, I'm surprised to see two people slowly floating down the calm river in an Alpaca packraft.  The raft looks a bit top heavy with two people in it.  Oblivious to my presence, they beach on a point of land on the opposite shore of the river, then disappear up a small tributary leading into the forest.  I get the water purification drops going and fill my two water bottles.   

Fresh bear tracks indent the sand around me, the first I've seen so far.  I'm always conscientious about hanging food in bear country, especially country like this, which is heavily populated by grizzlies.  (Coastal Alaskan brown bears and grizzlies are considered the same species.  The former tend to be much larger though, because of the ample salmon they're able to harvest during summer.)  There are no trees anywhere near close enough though and I've opted to do what most travelers here do.  I store it in supposedly odor-proof bags called OPSAKs.  Despite having watched a YouTube video in which a bear sniffs an OPSAK filled with food, then walks on, I'm still uncomfortable with this practice and look forward to getting further south to where trees are closer to the beach and hanging food is possible. 

Looking inland as I walk, the Fairweather mountains are becoming more visible.  Seaward, several humpback whales spout offshore.  Crabs shells, knots of seaweed and an occasional sea shell line the beach just above the tideline.  Further up the beach, driftwood logs await the winter storms.   

Among my companions on the beach are small hopping crustaceans we've seen on previous outer coast trips.  They're known as beach hoppers.  There appear to be two species here.  One is smaller, perhaps 1/8- 3/16" long and the larger ones closer to 1/2" long.  They're most active right at the high point of surf wash on the beach.  This is also where I most often walk, as the wet sand is firmest here.  Although their hopping appears random in both direction and distance, they somehow manage to congregate around crab shells and bits of seaweed, which appear to be their favorite foods.  Many tiny holes pepper the sand, which I believe are their burrows.  They prove to be almost impossible to photograph as they're sand-colored and essentially disappear unless they're hopping.     

The surf noise is constant, but the surf itself is surprisingly small.  Already, I'm thinking about the crux of the trip, which comes more than 100 miles down the coast.  Part of that crux may require launching through the surf to get around the 2 mile wide La Perouse glacier that calves into the sea.  Having surf launched numerous times through higher surf on the Oregon coast, this looks quite doable.  

At 8:30 PM I call it a day about 8-10 miles north of the Alsek River and set up camp on top of a dune among beach wildrye grass and blooming beach peas.  The evening light is golden, with a clearing sky and blue ocean below.  Like last evening, bugs aren't an issue until evening and by then I'm in the bivy bag.  I take a couple ibuprophen to relieve aching thigh muscles and soon fall asleep.  A toe on my left foot isn't happy either, but I'll check it in the morning. 



Ready to cross Dangerous River



Dangerous River tide flat, Fairweather mountains in background



Typical detritus on beach



Seaweed, a beach hopper favorite. 
There are dozens of beach hoppers in this photo, but they blend into the sand too well to be seen. 
I suspect the holes in the sand are made by them.




Italio River, showing easy wading at braided channels.  Forest Service cabin in background.



Awke River



Day 2 camp south of Awke River.  Fairweather mountains in background


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