|Canadian Canoe Routes
|Lower Stikine River. Telegraph Creek to Ketchikan
|Page 1 of 1|
|Author:||Allan Jacobs [ January 26th, 2011, 3:02 pm ]|
|Post subject:||Lower Stikine River. Telegraph Creek to Ketchikan|
Report written and typed by Freda Mellenthin.
Report scanned and posted by Allan Jacobs. There's some editing to be done but I have to attend to pressing matters. Hope to get around to the job in a week or so.
Paddling the "Great River" into Alaska; Part 2
Monday, July 26, 2010.
Here we are on the Stikine River again, continuing last year's paddle. Although one year older and after a few more visits to specialists for various age-related ailments, we are feeling fit and ready for a new adventure.
In Prince Rupert we hired a nice young man who agreed to ride with us to Telegraph Creek, drop us off there and take our camper truck back to Prince Rupert. The 112 km ride from Dease Lake to Telegraph Creek is spectacular and scary, descending on a 18 % gradient parallel to the 80 km long Great Stikine Canyon which is not navigable for any halfway normal paddler or boater. It is one of the three most difficult whitewater courses in North America and has only been attempted by life-risking super-expert kayakers. Not even the salmon can make it up through the canyon. At the confluence of the Stikine and the Tahltan rivers we met a colourful looking Native, apparently guarding the summer fishing village. Fearing trouble of not being allowed to drive through, we gave him a bottle of Ted's home-made wine and were able to proceed without further problems.
Casting a quick glance at the Stikine, we found the rapids not too extreme any more, maybe even canoeable from here on. We had to hurry as it was getting darker and we still had some hairrraising serpentine curves ahead of us. At 11 pm we left the road that continues to Lenora, a once famous gold rush town, to follow the sign to Telegraph Creek. We passed some abandoned historic buildings, still looking for the town.
"Where is Telegraph Creek?" we asked a group of tourists who were playing frisby in front of their tents which they had squeezed between the road and the river.
"Right here", they said to our amazement. "The lodge is closed. The operator passed away this afternoon and we have to cancel our boat trip". That sounded terrible!
The place started looking more sombre by the minute. We felt tired and depressed. It was getting dark quickly now. We unloaded in a hurry, trying not to forget any of our gear, and sent our truck with our hired driver off into the dusk. Ted and I pitched our tent in the fast fading light close to the loading dock and tried to get some sleep on the slightly slanted surface of the shore.
The morning was gorgeous. We ate our porridge and sorted out our gear. Ted had hurt his back yesterday and was not in the best mood, by no means a perfect beginning. Was this the start of a hapless trip? No way, we won't allow that! - We heard more details about the owner/outfitter's, Dan Pakula's death. When unloading a gasoline barrel from his truck, he fell backwards and the full barrel dropped on his chest. Not too long ago he had corresponded with us, and now this! Before launching we did a bit of sightseeing on the lowest level of Telegraph Creek. It is an old Tahltan village and is now home to about. four hundred souls, Natives and white people. It was a Hudson Bay trading post which Dan and his partner converted into the Stikine River Song Lodge. In the winter of 1897 about five thousand gold seekers lived between here and Glenora. In those days an overland telegraph service trail of hundreds of kilometres extended from Telegraph Creek to the Yukon Territory. We admired the St. Aidan's historic Anglican church of 1924 and the site of the old telegraph office.
At noon we launched our canoe under a hot sun and into a strong head wind. Between here and Glenora there are several cabins close to the water. The river was fast and the few rifTIes and high waves did not cause much of a problem. We admired the view of Mount Glenora as we passed the Three Sister Islands consisting of three erect rocks standing out of the water like petrified giants.
Glenora only has a few homesteads now, a B.C. Forest Service recreational site and not far away the Glenora Guest Ranch. Originally the Hudson Bay trading post was established close to this village, but was moved to Telegraph Creek to become the Stikine River Song Lodge. Unfortunately our fun ride on waves and boils was a bit spoiled by the strong head wind blowing upriver. Therefore we quit at 3 :30 for the day and built our camp on a high sandbank, criss-crossed with many bear tracks, which did not deter us from opening a bottle of wine to celebrate the happy ending of our first paddling day.
We left at 8 am today, hoping to avoid the midday head winds. It was sunny and cold as we paddled across irregular waves and large boils, staying away from the ever shifting eddy line. Far in the west the top of a snow-covered peak was visible. The wind picked up after two hours of paddling, and increased steadily. The river started forming several channels between large islands, and we had to make sure to stay in the main one to avoid log jams. On the right side the three mountain peaks of the Missusjay, Cinema and Cirque mountains came into sight, and on the left Devil's Elbow and Phacops mountain showed their majestic tops. Where the Stikine was wide and straight it was more and more difficult to fight the wind. After paddling over some tricky water and large boils we turned left around a high sand bar, called Devil's Elbow into a protected slough. Here we had a well-deserved lunch while an otter came swimming out of her twig lodge to inspect what was going on in front of her abode. The sand around us was covered with wolf, bear and moose tracks. As soon as we left the sheltered water we were confronted with the full force of the wind again.. I was not feeling great because of some stomach trouble that seems to hit me as soon as I am on our usual river diet. But this time I had taken along a good supply of Imodium that helped me. Due to the wind we decided to quit for the day and set our camp among the young willow shrubs above the sand bar. Many other campers must have stayed here recently according to the numerous patterns of all sizes of runners in the sand. Tomorrow we want to leave at 6 am.
When we left at 6:15 am the wind was already blowing quite strong. But the morning was sunny and exquisitely fresh. The Stikine is a very picturesque river, as it flows past verdant alpine slopes topped with high snow-covered mountain peaks. Every turn in the river offers a new, unsurpassed vista of yet another glacier from which a silver-clear creek cascades down into the valley until it reaches the silty cold water of this big river. Soon we would enter the allegedly trickiest water on the lower Stikine, the Little Canyon. It used to pose a serious problem for the riverboats of the olden days. We did not find it difficult, just so fast that we missed seeing the ring in the rock wall that used to winch the boats up through the current. There were no rapids, just rifTIes and huge boils, and the speed of the current measured 12kmlh. The landscape below the canyon is awe-inspiring, opening the view of the coastal mountains with forested slopes, alpine meadows, snowfields and peaks of threeethousand meters.
Soon the river started braiding, leaving large gravel bars in the middle. The smaller channels were often plugged up with big log jams. Huge trees, ripped by the spring flood from the undercut embankments were floating or piled up on top of each other to form tricky currents. Our eighteen foot home-made kevelar canoe behaved well under Ted's expert steering. We just soared, making 55 km in six hours, and therefore decided to stop already at 2pm. Our camping spot was not ideal, quite damp and loaded with mosquitoes, but at least protected from the wind.
We left at 7: 15 paddling under low, grey clouds. It seems to be the typical weather of the coastal mountains which we were rapidly approaching. The shores resemble more and more our familiar western rainforest with old growth hemlock and branches thickly covered with moss as well as heavy dew in the morning. We ate our sandwiches already at 10 a.m., leaning against a giant, ancient alder that the forces of water and ice had deposited on a sandbar. A group of boys paddled past us under the watchful eye of a young woman in charge. All morning we paddled through a much meandering, spread out part of the Stikine. The shores of the channels are littered with huge log jams. Big spruces, hemlocks and alders are piled up, demonstrating the violence the spring floods are causing every year. The mountains high above in their majestic beauty seem to be untouched by the periodical devastation happening down below. Before the river turned sharply we discovered a cabin on the high embankment and stopped to investigate. Nobody was there, but a canoe and two plastic bins with fresh food lay under a bush. Whose cache could that be?
Paddling around the bend a torrential creek of ice-blue melt water crossed our channel causing some turbulence and a dripping gravel ridge in the middle by the two conflicting currents. But why would some white plastic bags the size of footballs flow down the creek? Looking closer they turned out to be pieces of ice tumbling through the glacier meltwater. We had to paddle through some very tricky fast water towards an island, not realizing that on river-right the forestry campsite we were looking for was hiding behind a curtain of trees on the high embankment. We camped on the opposite side on the island. Only after studying our maps we recognized that the wild creek we crossed carries the melt-water of the Great Stikine Glacier. The melt-water lake can be reached on a trail twenty minutes away from the forestry campsite. I had read about it and did not want to miss that sight. Ted said however that he found it too dangerous to ferry across the strong current. I was very disappointed since this is one of the absolute highlights of the lower Stikine.
At 8:00 a.m. we ferried to the other side, staying west, away from the cross-currents below the forestry camp site and ready to continue when Ted said suddenly:
"Do you still want to go to the Great Glacier Lake?" "Yes, I would love to if we could still make it".
So we landed one km downstream of the forestry campsite on a dried-out slough. From here we set out to walk through the bush, hoping to find the official trail that leads to the lake. Easier said than done! We bush-whacked for an hour, first through swamp, then through dense western rainforest, consisting of alder shrubs and ancient stands of hemlock. Worst of all, the undergrowth was nothing but devil's club higher than six feet. While searching for the trail, I thought of all the stories of people getting lost in the wilderness, walking in circles.
After an hour we hit a treed ridge and climbed up. Maybe this would lead us towards the trail!?
It would have, as we found out later, but I was afraid that the descent on the other side was too rugged. Tired and frustrated we decided to go back towards the Stikine River. Lucky for us, this way we hit the campsite, and here we found the group of boys we had met yesterday on the river. They were native boys sponsored by the Alaska Social Service Program with their leader Keri whose mandate it was to help improve their lives through a six-week wilderness program of backpacking and canoeing. From here we followed the trail to the Great Glacier Lake. What a spectacular sight! Huge icebergs were floating in the large melt-water lake, calving from the Great Stikine Glacier on the opposite shore.
To see this was one of the highlights of our trip. Some canoeists even portage their canoes to this lake to paddle around the icebergs.
Walking back the trail to the campsite was no trouble, but returning from there to our canoe was as gruelling as at the beginning. This time we stayed parallel to the river, but the bush was as unpenetrable as before and the devil's club under the old-growth forest was as mean as ever. When we reached our canoe at 1 :00 p.m we first had to free our fingers from the thorns of the devilish plants.
The sun was shining and the mountains around us were as scenic as ever. After an hour's paddle we passed the fish cannery which is still active to this day. A large flock of seagulls lingered in the water, and a man waved to us from the front steps of a cosy house. Was that an invitation to stop for a coffee? Not sure about it we continued, since we had lost so much time already this morning. Shortly after we passed Boundary House, once the custom building between Canada and the U. S, but now a private home. The actual border between the two countries is not far behind and only recognizable by a thirty meter wide swath cut into the bush on both sides of the river. Here the coastal Tlingits have passed for centuries to trade and to fight with the Tahltans of the inland.
Officially we were in Alaska now. We paddled on to find Hot Springs Slough, also known as Ketili River. It is a side channel of the Stikine which eventually leads back to the main river. At the turn into the slough we set our camp on the high right gravel bar at 5:30 p.m, I was happy to camp here and leave the worry of how to find the hidden hot springs for tomorrow, although I suspect Ted was disappointed that we did not continue today. Little frogs were hopping about in the sand, a sign of high humidity.
The clouds hung low this morning, a typical west coast weather, but it was not raining. This was our first resting day, and we hoped to spend it at the Chief Shakes Hot Springs. It was almost a detective's job to find them. We knew that we had to paddle 9.5 km before turning right into a smaller slough shortly before an island. Twice we resisted the temptation to follow a creek coming in from river-right. Close to the island we turned into the last possible little creek which split into a left and a right arm after a few hundred meters. Which was the one we needed to follow? The left one became quite narrow after a while and the terrain, low and swampy, did not look as if it could generate hot springs. So we paddled out again and followed the right arm. After a while we spotted the first human trace of civilization, a beer can. Then Ted, with his keen, observing eye, noticed a heavily pruned shrub on the high left cut bank and an old paper cup in the sand. No sign of the springs though. Suspicious about these clues he climbed up beside the trimmed bush and, 10 and behold, there was a wide clear-cut, well-tread trail through the forest. After tying our canoe we followed the trail and found the hot springs. The hot water, flowing from a rock wall, is channelled through two hoses into two huge cedar vats, one inside a cedar building, and one outside, complete with changing rooms and outhouses. The hoses keep the tubs overflowing, allowing the bather to adjust the temperature by turning one or the other hose away. From the outside tub a boardwalk leads through the swamp and to
the creek, but ends before it reaches it. Therefore it can not be seen from the water.
Nobody was there and we soaked and skinny-dipped to our hearts content, enjoying the view in the sunshine. We were overlooking a large, lush meadow, and further on the broad Stikine valley with the distant mountains beyond.
This was a real Sunday treat! When we finally had enough, we only paddled ten km, first back to the main channel of the Stikine, and then upstream into Alpine Creek where we found an excellent, grassy campsite. When we were settled a wilderness-sightseeing tour boat from Wrangell buzzed by while the tourists snapped some shots of us, in absence of wilder and more furry creatures.
The day was cloudy and grey when we woke up. Despite of the many bear tracks near the water we had not received any furry visitor during the night.
"Let's take it easy today", said Ted. - Well, it turned out to be the hardest working day yet!. Good thing we did not know it when we left. Paddling back to the Hotspring Slough and then into the mainstream of the Stikine River was easy and fast. We found the three National Forest Recreation cabins that can be rented. We passed some houseboats sitting on cedar floats, most likely cabins used during hunting season. Then we reached Shakes Slough, which carries the glacier melt waters of Shakes Lake. With some lining it is possible to paddle to the lake and camp there in view of the floating icebergs and of Castle Mountain above the lake. Last night Ted had planned to camp here, but in the gloomy weather this morning he did not feel like it anymore.
Pretty soon the main channel started splitting up forming the huge delta of the mighty Stikine River. First the north arm branches off and should only be paddled if the goal is LeConte Bay or Mitkof Island. We took the south arm, then turned off into lesser channels, hoping to see some wildlife and to find drinking water from a clear mountain creek. Log jams were everywhere. Some ancient hemlocks were leaning over the water at such a precarious angle that we were afraid they might fall over while we were passmg.
When we returned to the main south channel we noticed the extend of mud flats ahead of us that seemed to become larger by the minute. The small deep channels had made us oblivious of the tidal problems. We also had no tide table with us. It was three o'clock when we got stranded on a sand bank, not knowing, if the tide was going in or out. Pushing and pulling we got buoyant, but stuck again in the mud minutes later. More and more brown sand flats were shimmering through the shallow water. Ted got out of the canoe and started walking, pulling the canoe frantically, exhausting himself, but not getting anywhere. We both had the vision of being stranded in the mud for the next six hours. Ted's idea was to pull through to supposedly deeper water ahead of us, while I wanted to take the shortest way back to the shore and wait there. After much pushing, pulling, sweating, screaming and shouting we made it to Gerard Point, a rocky shore covered in seaweed, swamp grass and puddles. We sat down to calm our nerves, - at least the ground was fairly solid. Ted stuck a stick vertically down at the water line to observe the progress of the tide. Look! The water was not going out, but coming in. We were at the beginning of the high, not the low tide! What a relief! We rested a bit, had a snack and waited to make sure that the water was rising.
The weather was nice, the water of the eight km crossing to Wrangell ahead was a bit choppy, but deep enough, and the prospect of a nice hot meal instead of Knorr soup mix was enticing, also Gerard Point did not offer a comfortable campsite either. Let's go! With the incoming tide the wind increased and was not all that pleasant. We had to work hard, and it took us one and a quarter hours to do the crossing to Wrangell Island. We passed tiny Simonof Island which is offering a campsite, but we preferred to make it into town today. It is on the west side of Wrangell Island, and it took forever to paddle around Pt. Highfield and the airport and down the other side to reach the centre of the community.
Where could we camp, and how would we find the American customs office where one is supposed to report immediately? Finally we reached the ferry dock. By this time my body was swaying in the rhythm of the waves and I was dizzy. A big sign displayed the telephone number of the customs, and up on the street level there was also a public phone. The customs officer Todd found us right away, looked at our passport and filled out a questionnaire for us. He was very nice and did not even inspect our canoe. Otherwise he would have confiscated our salami and our cheese. Todd even told us that we would be allowed to stay in the city park for two nights. But first we pigged out on a large quantity of fish and chips.
With full stomachs we paddled out of the town for two miles and through the breakwater wall that protects the small boats. Since it has no exit on the other side we had to paddle back out again, then past the wall, - big detour - , past more houses, past the town's sewer plant, and finally along the shore of the park. By this time it was getting dark. The tide was going out again and we had to carry all our gear over the tidal beach and the breakwater rocks into the park. To speed things up, Ted dumped everything on the beach to carry the empty canoe on his shoulders, but he could not lift it alone. As I tried to help I felt the canoe lifted behind. Of all people a sheriff had got out of his police car to help us. What a rare angel in his category! We erected the tent in total darkness and had a wonderful, undisturbed sleep.
After hiding all our belongings in the canoe and the tent, we walked the three kilometres around the harbour to the centre of Wrangell. It was founded in 1834 by the Russian fur traders as Fort Dionysius. The surrounding islands all have Russian names to this day, e.g. Woronofski Island, Zarembo, Mitkof. When Alaska was sold to the United States in 1867, it was named Fort Wrangell after a Baltic-German general serving the Russian tsar. The present town of Wrangell has a population of two thousand plus.
On the way we passed the industrial section, the container harbour and the boat shops. It was hot again. The people, many of Scandinavian origin were very friendly. Everybody said "hi" and stopped for a chat. We had lunch in a typical workman's eatery and then walked three km to see the petroglyphs on the beach. Some are ten thousand years old and date from the beginning of the Tlingit history. After taking a break from the heat in the ice cream parlour we walked to the First Bank to get a free tide table booklet. For supper we ordered a pizza in the Stikine River Hotel where a night's accommodation costs $140. Back in our camp everything was untouched.
Next morning the town people walked or jogged by while we packed and prepared for the second half of our trip, the paddle down the coast of Alaska. When we were ready to launch the tide had already receded for two hours and we had to carry the empty canoe, the two food barrels, the two portage bags and many smaller things across the slippery barnacle beach to load it close to the water. We also installed our sail and departed under a nice sailing wind that changed from light to too gusty several times and was not always comfortable. During the first three hours of travelling down the Narrows of Zimovia Strait there were still many houses, old and new where the Tlingit nation had once lived. All day it was a bit hazy, and the ice-capped mountain tops of Prince of Wales Island were shimmering behind a misty veil. When the time for camping came it was hard to find a good site. The high tide would be fourteen feet at 8 p.m, so we had to find a level spot above that mark. From far away it always looked so good, but close by there was no flat surface or no reasonable access. Finally
we paddled across to a small island and tidied a place above the barnacle beach under some ancient cedars. Across form us was a little floating cabin close to the next island. Everything we needed for the night had to be carried over the rough beach, food barrel, tent, stove, pots, propane bottles, water and personal bags. After supper we walked through the old-growth forest behind us to the other end of the island. It was a good first day on the saltwater!
Today it was sunny and hot with almost no wind, and we had a good time all day. In the morning at low tide we carried our gear from the camp over rocks, barnacles and slimy seaweed to the water's edge where our canoe was floating on a very long line. Leaving the Zimovia Narrows, we reached the tip of Wrangell Island and entered the north end of Ernest Sound. There we crossed over to the east side of Deer Island. The island seems to be a rugged mountain with steep cliffs reaching into the water. We had lunch on some flat boulders in the hot sun. Almost at the south end of Deer Island a creek, running down the rock wall offered us fresh drinking water. As always it was my job to climb up the rocks on precarious footing to fill our water containers. Slipping would have meant a dive into the deep clear pool below, but I am sure that Ted would have rescued me. The only wildlife were one seal and one big jumping fish. Travelling down Seward Passage through the quiet wilderness, and admiring the panorama of the pristine mountainous coastline was an unforgettable treat and a great privilege.
From the southern tip of Deer Island at Point Peters we had a one-and-a-half hour paddle across Seward Passage to reach the mainland.. It was time to camp, and we found a good spot below Sunny Bay, on a narrow peninsula. Ted wanted to camp at the end of the ridge at the forest edge under a big, overhanging cedar, a protection against rain, just in case. Close to us dozens of seagulls were resting on two small and one big rock island. We went swimming in warmer water than the glacier melt water of the Stikine River had to offer. During supper time the canoe got loose from its long line and was floating freely in the incoming tide. We retrieved it on time before we were left stranded without a phone or transportation. Late in the evening it clouded over and a few raindrops lulled us into sleep.
During the night it started raining heavily and continued all day. The old cedar branches offered Ted enough protection to cook our porridge in dry comfort. We decided to stay here for the day, instead of packing the wet tent and paddling in the rain. Some days ago Ted had made up his mind not to paddle the last stretch from Ketchikan to Prince Rupert. At home I had already tried to convince him that there was too much open Pacific (for our age). That gave us more time and we could take it easy.
Ted built a tarp roof over our tent entrance, and we spent a pleasant day inside, reading, eating, playing checkers and talking. It rained and rained. Isn't it amazing how fast the day goes by when you do nothing? Late at night the rain stopped. I had a restless sleep because it was too hot in the tent.
It did not rain this morning, but from time to time a gust swept through our camp. Black clouds hung so deep that we kept the tent up a bit longer, suspicious of what might still come. Since it did not look too bad, we packed up and left at 10 o'clock. However as soon as leaving the protection of our bay, we were subject to a light north-westerly. It was choppy and a few of the white caps coming from Clarence Bay in the west ventured closer to our boat.
The Cleveland Peninsula of the mainland coast consists of high precIpItous rock walls, inaccessible for landing. Year in, year out the high tide creeps up this wall fifteen to eighteen feet, leaving a mark of yellowish sea vegetation. Travelling down Ernest Sound we had to make several crossings of more than an hour over deep bays. It rained lightly from time to time, but the wind never increased too much. Once or twice it even looked as if the sun wanted to show its face. Two seals enjoyed themselves among the many jumping pink salmon. We passed Watkins and Eatons Points, Emerald Bay and Vixen Inlet. In the afternoon we spotted a kayaker on a distant shore of a bay who had already found a campsite at 4 o'clock close to the forest edge. Around five we started looking for a camping spot ourselves. It was low tide and the high stone waIls were occasionaIly interrupted by flat rocky tidal beds, up to ten meters wide, looking like steep driveways and showing a patch of grass on top. From a distance it looked like a good place to camp, but when you walked up, the nice grassy area revealed itself as a maze of puddles with sharp pebbles in between. We paddled endlessly in search of a suitable campsite until we reached Union Bay, a very deep and wide inlet between Union and Lemesurier Points. Surely, in this large misty bay some flat spot must be available somewhere! Alas, the whole north west coast of the bay was nothing but steep rock walls with no access! Deep down in an inlet off the bay three cabins were built on stilts high above the rock wall. A vertical set of stairs led up to the house. Nobody was home and we could have used their small yard, but the steep ladder was a major impediment. It was already seven o'clock. The fog was denser now, covering the other side of the bay. Are we not going to find anything for the night today? I had a vision of spending the night in the canoe like a voyageur.
We paddled on. After an hour, arriving at the bottom of Union Bay we saw a large sand bar, formed by the delta of the fair-sized Black Bear Creek. Part of the delta was exposed now, but the high tide would keep coming in for another five hours. How high would the water go? The creek had ground the rocks of the beach into smaller size gravel, and it was easy to carry our camping equipment over it to the treeline. Even up here the long line of tree droppings revealed that some tides must have reached that high. In semi-darkness Ted put up our tent while I prepared some food after a long, hard day.
Before retiring, we carried all the gear we did not need during the night up into the trees. There we also prepared an emergency spot for the tent, in case that we had to escape from the water. Quite exhausted we finally settled into our slightly sloping tent. I felt like I did as a child during the war when we prepared every night for a possible bomb attack, - in this case a wave of cold water.
Luckily we did not have to evacuate, but in the morning we noticed that the water had touched the tent slightly.
Tired from the nine hours of paddling, we slept till nine when the water was far out again.
While Ted inspected the remnants of the cannery that once had existed here, I packed. At 11 :30 the water had come up high enough, so that we did not have to carry everything too far to the boat. It was raining lightly most of the day. We paddled over some swells and through fog that only allowed us to see a vague outline of the shore and the little islands in the wide bay. Paddling around Lemesurier Point, past Lemly Rock and Misery Island, we entered Meyers Chuck, a small harbour. It once boasted a population of over a hundred with a post office, a general store, a bakery, a restaurant, an art gallery and a school. Now there are only around twenty permanent residents who live in modest houses on stilts. In front of a deserted house we had lunch at somebody's private beach under the shelter of a hemlock tree. We left the community through a narrow passage, travelling with the outgoing tide at a good speed. A very high class motorboat stopped beside our canoe to talk to us and give us a fresh zucchini, a welcome gift in our monotonous diet.
Today we wanted to camp earlier and were lucky to find a great spot already at 5 :30 p.m.
Leaving the canoe on a long line in the low tide, we carried our equipment up the tidal "driveway" to the treeline and prepared a level site by cleaning up the scattered large driftwood. Perched high above the rock wall we had a splendid view over Clarence Strait and watched the cruise ships going by. For supper we had fried zucchini with my last mashed potatoes and melted gouda cheese on top.
We left at 10 o'clock. As soon as we were out of our little protective bay a cold wind hit us.
We only lasted for eighty minutes before the current of the incoming tide and the head wind chased us back to shore, since we would waste too much energy and made too little progress. Sitting on the beach we watched the fishing boats, a coast guard vessel and some super-yachts passing by. In the distance a school of killer whales were frolicking, blowing out of their spouts and showing off their magnificent tails. Hoping for better conditions we left again after some time, but had to pull in again after half an hour. We did this "exercise" two more times with the same results. Frustrated, Ted did not want to move anymore and camp, but the beach was slanted and we were not sure if there was a dry spot above the high tide mark. Let's continue! However, would we even find another access to the beach further down? If not, we were really up for trouble!
We paddled on, this time with the wind in our favour but a lot stronger than before! There were whitecaps in the middle of Clarence Strait and the waves were high even close to shore. Paddling near the many cliffs bore the danger of hitting some underwater boulders or being sucked into the sharp rocks. Ahead of us, past the solid rock wall a protruding jut seemed to promise a sheltered bay behind it. Yes!There was a gravel beach where we could pull in, the last refuge as far as we could see. This time we are staying until the weather has calmed down!
We put our tent up to rest out of the wind. When Ted woke up from his snooze it was already 5:30 p.m. and still windy, although not quite as strong. We moved the tent further up under an overhanging tree behind a big boulder, out of the wind and away from the curious looks of tourists from the cruise ships and fishing boats who might watch us through their binoculars.
We are hoping to get far tomorrow, since we only have pumpernickel bread left for one more day. There are still some soups, crackers, peanut butter, rice, noodles and pancake mix plus oats for our porridge.
We left at 7 a.m. (6 a.m. Alaska time) to make up for the short distance we travelled yesterday.
The water was absolutely calm, smooth like a mirror. It was cloudy and the distant shores of the islands west of Clarence Strait were shrouded in fog. The tide was at its lowest and the many little sea critters were clinging to the dark grey rock walls that formed the shoreline. Pink salmon were jumping, almost dancing everywhere, often a whole foot out of the water. Swiftly our canoe glided over the clear water, permitting to admire the manifold undersea plants and creatures. After three-and-a-half hours we rounded the bottom of the Cleveland Peninsula arriving at Caamano Point. Here we found the first opening in the rock wall allowing access to a gravel beach still exposed above the incoming tide. There we had our lunch which was becoming more meagre every day, no more chocolate bars, no more sesame crackers, no salami, just a last cheese sandwich, some dry fruit and four caramel candies. We ate in silence, thinking of the eleven kilometres crossing where Clarence Strait and the Belun Canal come together. A big crossing is always dicey. Will the weather last and spare us from sudden strong wind and waves? We did not have a satellite phone with us for any emergency.
We launched at 11 o'clock. under a cloudy sky. During the two-and-a-half hour crossing the water and the wind changed several times from slightly rough to smooth. Sometimes we could use our sail for a while. Fishing boats were scattered here and there, and the fish were still jumping. Would one of these boaters notice if we were in trouble? At last we reached Higgins Point, the northwest comer of Revillagigedo Island. OfT course Ted wanted to continue to Ketchikan right after a comfort stop, but I insisted to take a break and have a snack. Higgins Point consists of a small community with public beach and a narrow park of old-growth forest behind it. A modem highway from Ketchikan allows its residents to commute into town. I would have liked to stay here and find a camping site in the undergrowth of an old tree, hidden from the view of the residents. Then we could paddle the twenty kilometres into Ketchikan tomorrow. I was outvoted, but was able to negotiate for a hotel room in town. So, on we went!
It was clearing up when we entered the Tongass Narrows which flows between Gravina and Revillagigedo Islands. On the east side a long line of waterfront houses fills the shore, each one competing for the best place in the sun. We past the marina in Refuge Cove and the Ketchikan pulp mill in Ward Cove, then Mud Bay and Totem Bight Historic Park, marked by two tall totems. The shore of Gravina Island has some industry, but is not much inhabited otherwise. As we passed the airport and arrived at the ferry terminal we were excited and not tired anymore. We walked to the door of the ferry building, but it was after five and everything was closed already. The gangways were locked and there was no dock where we could tie the canoe. Where could it be stored overnight? It was best to continue.
Finally we arrived at the cruise docks downtown. The manager of the visitor centre was just locking the office door to go home. He advised us to leave our canoe at the local marina. After having supper in a "greasy spoon" restaurant we found one last hotel room at the Super-8 hotel for $139 US. Before it got dark we paddled out of town to the marina and found an empty platfonn to park our canoe. It was somebody's private spot, but a man, familiar with the local boaters' spaces here phoned the owner who did not mind. In semi-darkness we grabbed the few things necessary for a night in a hotel and walked to our room.
Another paddling summer was over and we could celebrate the safe completion of our trip. We felt healthy and vigorous, maybe even younger and stronger than our age, after having spent the last two weeks on the mighty Stikine River and in the fresh sea breeze of the Alaska coast.
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