South of Awke River to Alsek River
|A brief shower falls in the night. I sleep well and by 8:20
AM I'm up. The sky is cloudy with a light south wind. My legs feel better this morning. My toe does too, although it looks a bit grim. Sparrows chirp cheerily in the wild rye grass nearby. |
I break camp and am nearly down to the beach when I see an ATV heading south. In tow behind the ATV is an aluminum john boat on wheels. The driver pulls over to me and stops. We introduce ourselves. His name is Pat Robbins. He runs a sport fishing camp on the Italio River. I mention the bush plane I saw there yesterday and he says it's his father's. He was dropping off a couple of forest service researchers, who were the folks I saw in the packraft yesterday.
I mention that I saw ATV tracks on both banks of the Awke River and ask about that. He jams a thumb back at the john boat and says he launches it into the river, then drives the ATV onto it using planks, then crosses the river, reverses the process, hooks up the boat and goes on his way. While his fishing camp on the Italio River is for sport fishing, he also commercial fishes on the lower Alsek River and runs a small-scale fish packing operation on the north side of the Alsek. "This is my commute" he says smiling.
I note that I just broke camp up on the dunes. He says that in a month there will be 20 or more bears between here and the Alsek eating wild strawberries growing on the dunes.
I ask whether he's heard a weather report. He replies that he's pretty much quit listening to forecasts. "It's all good." he says. It strikes me as a pretty good life philosophy.
A laid-back fellow, Pat turns out to be a fount of knowledge about the lower Alsek River. The tidewater part of the river near where it enters the Gulf of Alaska is known as Dry Bay. During high tide, this tidewater area extends several miles upstream. Pat commercial fishes this part of the river and probably knows it better than anyone else. I ask what sort of boat he uses. He describes it, then adds, "It's the perfect boat for the Alsek. It has a very clean cockpit. I can work the nets from either side without catching them on anything." I'd learn the importance of that detail the next day.
The Alsek is an intimidating body of water where it meets Dry Bay, being about 2 miles across at high tide. I've been considering walking down the mile long spit to the mouth and crossing there, so ask his opinion. He shakes his head and says, "No," then pauses for emphasis, "That's a big N.O." Then he continues with advice I listen to carefully. "Even during a high tide, the current is flowing out the mouth at 4 knots. Unless you want to chance getting carried out into the surf, there's a much better way. When you come to the north end of the spit, turn left over the dunes and cross the tide flat. You'll see hundreds of logs about a mile ahead. They were carried down by Muddy Creek during a big flood a few years ago. Launch from Muddy Creek. That way you'll have a little over a mile to get across before you hit the surf. Try to do it with a west wind and during high tide. I'd guess that little raft blows pretty easily in a breeze and the wind will help keep you away from the mouth. High tide will help slow the current, but it will still be running strong. It's big water out there, and cold. Be careful."
I thank him and he drives on south, boat in tow.
I walk along drinking half a liter water bottle of cold instant coffee, a morning routine on this trip that I actually look forward to.
At 12:40 PM I stop for lunch, which is a few spoonfuls of the buttery goodness mix, a few more spoonfuls of crushed Fritos and a few bites of cheese. It isn't great, but isn't bad either. It doesn't have much fiber, so I'm supplementing with handfuls of raw beach greens each day. A pod of humpback whales spout offshore as I eat.
It's sunny and around 70F. I'm running low on water again and walk inland over the dunes to search for some. Reaching thick stunted trees at the edge of the forest, I frequently call "Hey bear." There's no bear though, or water either.
By 3:00 PM Pat's tracks head up and over a low spot in the dunes. I follow them and see Dry Bay stretching out before me. I'm nearly out of water and very thirsty. Following the ATV tracks I soon come to a shallow freshwater creek where I stop to refill my water bottles and myself. It's a striking setting, with large stands of blue lupines in full bloom and the mountains slowly emerging from the clouds.
Continuing on, I follow Pat's track into the forest, curious to see where it goes. About a mile later I come to a cabin built of massive logs which I imagine is the fish processing facility. The boat and ATV are there, but not Pat.
Backtracking back to the tide flat I continue toward the mass of stranded logs until I come to a stream which turns out to be a minor outflow from Muddy Creek. Bear and moose tracks are everywhere. I set up camp there, then bathe and do some laundry. A northwest breeze is picking up. This is good news, as north winds typically accompany good weather on this coast.
The evening scene is sublime, with occasional views of Mt. Fairweather above a thinning layer of clouds. I miss Pearl and wish she could be here. She'd love this setting.
I go to sleep around 9:30 PM but am awakened an hour later by loud splashing and quickly get up, wondering whether this will be a confrontation with a bear or a moose. It turns out to be neither. A group of 3 river otters are cavorting in the stream, apparently chasing fish. I watch them for 10 minutes until they move on. The last pale sunlight disappears from the summit of Mt. Fairweather. I snap a photo and head back to bed.
Doesn't hurt as bad as it looks.
Pat and his companion Charlie
(Thanks for the Alsek River crossing tips, Pat!)
Lupines on north side of Dry Bay
Day 3 camp on channel of Muddy Creek. Fairweather mountains in background.
Brown bear tracks are everywhere
Wolf tracks are less frequent, but also common.
Moose are the least frequent large animal tracks, but not uncommon.
Beach greens, an edible plant with a peppery aftertaste. I eat hand
fulls of it raw each day.
Last rays of sun on Mt. Fairweather (left) about 10:30 PM.
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