Day 5:
South of East River to North of Sea Otter Creek
6/21/2015
Solstice

I wake at 7:00 PM, then doze until 8.  It's 8:45 before I'm on the beach walking south.  The sky is mostly clear with a light northwest breeze blowing.  The breeze isn't much faster than I'm walking, so there's little apparent wind, which makes for hot walking.  Soon I come to Clear Creek, which is rain-fed and low.  It's an easy wade across.

Up ahead a point of land juts out where the outflow from Grand Plateau Glacier enters the ocean.  This is an area of great change along the Lost Coast.  It's the first place south of Yakutat where sand beach finally gives way to rocks and boulders.  Here the terrain becomes hilly and conifer trees rather than sand dunes extend down to just above the beach.  The feeling is much more like Southeast Alaska than the flatter and sandier coast to the north.    

This also marks the end of ATV tracks.  There's no way for them to get around the boulders and outflow.  It's also a designated wilderness south of here and motor vehicles are prohibited.  As if to further mark the delineation, a bear has piled a 12-foot diameter mound of sand over a meal.  Possibly a seal carcass or dead fish that has drifted ashore.  Fresh drag tracks in the sand indicate that the bear has been here earlier today to uncover part of its stash.      

It's 10:45 AM as I reach the first boulders.  1500 feet ahead, the outflow from Grand Plateau Lake thunders across the boulders and into the ocean.  The volume of the outflow is huge and crossing it is out of the question.  Fortunately, the glacial lake is just 1/3 mile inland and is known to be an easy crossing once you reach it.  Unfortunately, I spend 45 minutes looking for a major bear trail that, in an online description of the route I read prior to the trip, is critical to reaching the lake.  I walk the less-than-major bear trail that parallels the beach but don't find the one described.  Then I try bushwhacking, but am soon convinced otherwise by a combination of bogs, downed trees and acres of devil's club, that spiny nemesis of back country travel in Alaska.  Finally, I return to the bear trail above the beach, then follow it to the south and up a short grade.  There it comes out at the edge of the thundering outflow.  The volume of water rushing past is quite impressive.  The bear trail becomes sketchy, but continues to more or less follow the edge of the outflow and 15-20 minutes later I reach the lake.  Given the amount of water in the outflow, I'm surprised to see that it isn't even named on the map. 

A pair of varied thrushes call from a branch overhead. 
Through the trees I see the massive Grand Plateau glacier rising above the head of the lake.  Icebergs float on the lake, several of which are grounded near the outflow, dripping meltwater.  Chunks of ice occasionally break off the bergs with a splash, causing them to wobble.  Occasionally, a berg will suddenly turn over for no apparent reason.  I've seen it happen often enough while sea kayaking in Glacier Bay to know that being too close to a berg when it flips can spell serious trouble.   

The bear trail soon ends about 100 feet north of the outflow.  Here I find an adequate launching spot among rocks lining the lake shore.  Snapping off dead branches at the waters edge, I clear a spot to launch from.  Soon the raft is inflated, the pack strapped on and I float out onto the quiet surface of the lake.  Giving the outflow and icebergs a wide berth, I paddle in a wide arc around the outflow, then approach the shore about 200' south of the outflow and find an adequate takeout among rocks.  

Packing up again, I bushwhack up from the lake and through a stand of devil's club, then find a bear trail that I hope will lead me along the south side of the outflow.  Instead, it soon ends.  A hundred yards in the other direction it again fades away and I'm left bushwhacking through devils club, bogs and downed timber.  It rates a solid 10 on the thrashometer.  30-40 minutes later I can hear the surf over the roar of the creek and soon come out onto a bear trail above the boulder-strewn beach. 


I know from previous trips along the outer coast that bear trails through the forest can usually be counted on, usually within a couple hundred feet of the beach.  Although they're often a welcome route past bouldery beaches, they also have some downsides.  Occasionally they lead through stands of devils club or under blowdowns where a hiker is forced to crawl on hands and knees.  Sometimes they all but disappear.  When they come to areas of recently blown down trees, where there hasn't been time to establish new trails, it's everyone for themselves.  Another downside is that, preferring to avoid surprise encounters with bears, I bellow a loud "Hey bear" several times a minute all the while I'm traveling through the forest.

Downsides notwithstanding, there's an upside that outweighs them all.  F
ollowing bear trails around the rocky headlands is roughly twice as fast as clambering over boulders on the beach, and much safer.                        

I follow the trail for about an hour, then descend to the boulders on the beach about 1/4 mile before they give way to sand beach.  This is a mistake, as I'm quickly reminded that boulder hopping is way slower than staying on bear trails. 

Reaching the end of the rocks, it feels good to be back on sand beach.  About 5:00 PM I wade across a small stream and fill my water bottles, then continue on until 8:30 PM when I come to a sizeable stream that requires rafting across.  Amazingly, this is another one not named on the map.  It's glacial and the fastest flowing stream so far.  I head about 1/4 mile upstream along a high, grassy, sand bank which eventually leads to a wider part of the stream.  The current is still fast here, though less so than further down and it has the advantage of being far enough upstream that there's little danger of being washed into the surf.  Still, I want to avoid getting into the really fast current below here.  Spotting a take out eddy downstream, I inflate the raft and launch.  Halfway across I hit bottom just below a gravel bar.  Pushing off and back into the current, I'm soon at the take out and decide to camp just south of here along the river bank. 

Bear, moose and wolf tracks pepper the glacial silt around my campsite.  It's about 9:30 PM when I finish catching up on the journal, call it a day and settle into the bivy bag.   
         

Immature harbor seal on beach.


Grand Plateau point ahead.  Many changes occur here. 
To the south, trees rather than sand dunes come down to just above the beach. 
The terrain becomes hilly and the coast is wilder. 
There are no cabins or ATV tracks south of here.
Headlands are strewn with glacial boulders.


Grand Plateau Lake outflow 1500 feet ahead.  First rocks of trip.  ATV tracks end here.


Sand mound about 12 feet in diameter where brown bear has buried food. 
 


Thundering outflow of Grand Plateau Lake



Paddling across Grand Plateau Lake.  Ice bergs and Grand Plateau glacier in background.


Raft at takeout on Grand Plateau Lake


Boulders giving way to sand beach south of Grand Plateau outflow


River, unnamed on my topo map.  Cape Fairweather to right in background.

Across unnamed river and ready to set up camp for the night.

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