North of Lituya Bay to Fourmile Creek
I wake about 7:00 AM, the weather hasn't arrived yet. The sky is partly cloudy for the first time in days, but still sunny for the moment. I'm relieved to have had a peaceful night, though am alarmed when I check the log with binoculars and don't see the food bags. Putting on rain pants to walk through the dewy grass, I'm greatly relieved to find them untouched. I'm tired this morning after yesterday's boulder hopping. |
I leave camp at 8:00 AM and by 9:30 I'm at Justice Creek. It's a rain-fed stream and has dried back 100 yards from where it was just 2 days ago. I go upstream to where the water ends and fill my bottles. A couple Stellers jays hop around on the rocks, apparently curious to see if I have any treats for them.
It's hot this morning and the surf is noticeably higher, suggesting that yesterday's high clouds have indeed signaled a coming low. By late morning increasing clouds begin to shroud the mountains.
Along the sand beach I come across a skate. It's wingspan is about 3 feet. It's been washed onto the beach by the surf and is upside down. With hiking poles and the toe of my shoe, I flip it over, head it toward the surf and wish it good luck. It will become a meal if a bear or wolf discovers it before it gets back to the water.
Shortly after noon I reach the outflow of the Fairweather Glacier. It's up significantly from what it was 2 days ago and gives me pause. I study the outflow carefully. The current is fast. Like really fast. I watch it, trying to estimate the speed, and don't think I could run as fast as it's flowing. With binoculars I glass the opposite bank, then spot a possible take-out a couple hundred feet downstream. It's a small eddy, maybe 6 feet across. After that, things go to hell in a hurry. The pandemonium below the takeout, where river meets surf, is impressively chaotic. Or would be if I didn't think it might be the last thing I ever see. There's a tongue of slick water above an area of larger waves where I might be able to launch. From there I'll need to ride the tongue out into the main current, keeping the raft aimed at the opposite shore and paddling hard to avoid the bigger waves. If I hit them sideways, I could go over. If I don't paddle fast enough, I could also miss the eddy. Either way, it's pretty much game over.
The surf roars and I feel queasy as I inflate the raft and prepare to launch. Everything critical is double-bagged. I study the flow again. The moves are all there. What's producing the anxiety is that there's no margin for error. The speed of the water and chunks of ice lining the rocky banks remind me that if I go over, I'll be lucky to reach shore and certainly won't have the raft or pack anymore. I decide to leave my shoes on. In that eventuality, I'd at least be able to walk to the next river.
Strapping the pack tightly to the deck of the raft, I lower the bundle of raft and pack into the icy water, holding it firmly so it doesn't get away. Sitting down into the raft, I swing my legs in, still holding onto rocks along the shore. I grab the paddle, aim the raft across the current and shove off, paddling hard, everything happening faster than the time it takes to tell. It's almost exhilarating, but I'm way too focused to enjoy it.
I just miss the rapid below the tongue, but paddle so hard that the raft hits the rocks on the opposite bank. I try to push off with the paddle but the bank is flying by so fast the paddle just bounces. Suddenly the eddy is just ahead and I stroke hard into it, quickly climb out, heave the paddle onto the bank and lift pack and raft out of the water. Then, adrenaline pumping and heart still pounding, I kneel down and kiss a rock, grateful to have gotten across. I lay the raft out to dry, pull out some food and have a slow lunch break, watching the chaos of current meeting surf and contemplating my good fortune. Given that this glacier-fed river isn't normally even mentioned as being difficult, I wonder what the 5 "tough" crossings south of Lituya Bay must be like now.
It's 2:00 PM by the time I've finished lunch and am ready to leave the outflow. Just before going, I decide to lighten the pack. Taking out two gallon-sized bags of buttery goodness, I lean out over the rushing water and, with mixed feelings of regret and relief, empty the contents into the icy water. They immediately disappear beneath the surface, the current no doubt hurrying them toward the surf.
My pack now 9 pounds lighter, I head north along the sandy beach, then onto boulders until I reach the first low point in the high sand cliffs above the beach. There I enter the forest and soon find the bear trail. By 6:00 PM I'm out of the forest north of Cape Fairweather. The wind has backed to the southwest. A half mile of cobble and boulder walking later I reach a small stream and have dinner as the first rain drops begin to fall. 200 yards down the beach I find a bench to camp on among chocolate lilies. It's a beautiful campsite.
Skate on beach.
Preparing to cross Fairweather Glacier outflow.
Icy water meeting 6 foot surf, Fairweather Glacier outflow.
Miss the takeout and it's game over.
Above sand cliff, on bear trail north of Cape Fairweather.
Bunchberry flowers in forest above Cape Fairweather.
Pond with lily pads along bear trail above Cape Fairweather.
Sometimes the bear trail is good.
Sometimes the bear trail isn't so good.
Either way, I'm not alone on the trail.
Miles of bear trails finally end on boulders north of Cape Fairweather.
Camped among chocolate lilies north of Cape Fairweather.
Home under the tarp.
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