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Packrafting the Kenai Fjords
from Seward to Seldovia - September 2004

Journal - Page 3

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9/11/04 - day 9

Fishing down the fjord

The sun returned today to bring us a lazy day of travel, punctuated by fishing. We've just now reached the end of our stint in McCarty fjord. Waves are breaking over the moraine that marks McCarty's 1905 extent just up bay of us. Here we leave ocean travel and ocean life for a spell to head up into the alpine.

Much of the ocean life we encountered today was flopping about on the end of a trouble hook. Our goal for today was to travel some and fish some, but it seems more like we happened to move down the coast between spells of fishing.

We got a late start this morning waiting for the warmth of the sun and the fire. Hig caught a greenling while I cooked our soggy granola into oatmeal. We counted through our meager-looking rations of traveling food (food which doesn’t need cooking), and sequestered away a couple days worth. And our motivation for fishing was redoubled.

We paddled down the fjord against a slight breeze, and under an array of picturesque puffy white clouds. As we traveled the slopes aged before us, going from new gravel with a carpet of alder to spruce forests and meadows. And as we traveled, we returned to the ocean.

This morning we left a milky cove with lifeless rocks, but a few harbor seals popping up around us. The milk slowly cleared from the water as the sea won out over the glacier, and the rocks came to life. We found seaweed, barnacles, mussels, pisaster and sun stars. Every protected side of a rock was piled with pisaster and dotted with sun stars. I've never seen so many sun stars in one spot. Harbor seals abounded from the glacier to the sea, but otters and cormorants appeared only later.

The second fish we caught was a beautiful and weird greenling, with bright orange markings and bright blue insides. Hig had been trying to troll with our pixee all day, but caught the fish jigging off a cliff, as usual. We cooked him up there at the beach while I tried fruitlessly to catch another. And we were off again.

By this time, we still wanted fish, but had figured it wasn't the most efficient to stop and cook each one as we got it. So we began the process of filling Hig's boat with fish. At each likely cliff with a lee (since the wind was against us) Hig would jig for a few minutes. And the Rockfish lived up to its name. Hig caught in total two small rockfish, three large greenling, and one little sculpin in that boat today. I tried jigging at one cliff, but I haven't got the touch or the luck. Or more likely, I just didn't try for long enough.

By the time we got here to the base of our ascent, it was late already, and we enjoyed our fish feast in the dark. Under a sky full of stars, by a brightly glowing campfire, and with a red LED shining into our pot of food. I feel like a rich woman when we have so much food we don't have to be careful about how we split it, and I was a rich woman tonight. We had greenling and rice, a steamed rockfish, roasted sculpin, hot cocoa, and ended up leaving our fish heads for the morning.

9/12/04 - day 10

An alpine route, with helicopters

We haven't got a whole lot of food left. We were on very tight rations all today after our fish head soup this morning. And I noticed the lack, not only from hunger. I felt wussier than usual, and not quite so well able to deal with things like heights and bushwhacks. But we had a good meal of corn chowder this evening, and my tummy is thankful.

After poking around the channel to James Lagoon, cooking breakfast, and some unsuccessful fishing, we finally got off the ocean this morning. We got up and away, cutting steeply through forest and a broken alder zone to get up into the alpine.

The alpine was picturesque under the drifting poofy clouds, which cast pools of light and shade over the landscape. A steady stiff breeze blew on the ridge and as soon as the wind and the shade hit, it was freezing. But climbing a sunny slope in the lee and we quickly got hot.

We had a lot of climbing to do today, skirting around peaks and gullies and over ridges to Palisade bowl. We were just descending into the bowl when we saw the helicopter. We'd been seeing a lot of helicopter traffic for the past couple of days, and had been puzzling over the possible reasons. This helicopter came buzzing right up our valley, circled us, and then landed on a knob up the cliff. Barely after the blades stopped turning, they took off again, and quickly landed on a knob on the other side of the bowl. People got out. They didn't seem to have anything to do with us, so we kept going. We heard them leave about an hour later as we crested the pass by Palisade Peak.

Our ridge was nice, except for when it was a knife edge of burly krumholz, and we took the steep scramble down the gully rather than try to climb over it. The meadow system down below was nice, except for when we got stuck atop a long long 30 foot cliff, and had to climb back up to the ridge to get around it. After that, we had a nice meadow chain which was squishy and wet. The forest here is pretty, with big trees, and we hit a nice waterfall in the forest on our way down. We're camped on the beach at Quartz Bay, and I am very sleepy.

9/13/04 - day 11

Dark and fish

It's almost 1:30 in the morning, and very dark. It seems we do more and more in the dark every day, most of it cooking. I've eaten more food after sunset than before it lately. It's a new moon, and nothing breaks the darkness but the stars. The stars are beautiful, and I try to take a few minutes to stare at them, in between blinding myself with firelight and with our red and white LEDs.

We caught 12 fish today. Twelve fish, and I don't know if we'll ever catch another, since Hig mysteriously lost our fishing setup when returning to shore for the last time today. Will greenling and rockfish bite something other than a pixee lure? Probably. We're planning on trying bait tomorrow.

We woke up today to a strong gust of wind, flipping the roof right off our shelter in the not quite morning. As the gusts blew, I hunkered down and slept longer, figuring we'd be stuck in our cove. Hig took a walk on the beach.

But our beach at Quartz Bay must have been part of a large eddy and the wind in general was lessening. Out in the main channel, it was even going our direction. The wind was cold, but the sun was shining. We fished our way along again today, trading off the fishing setup with each fish caught and checking out every likely lee. It worked. Even I could catch fish. While we were traveling I caught three rockfish and Hig caught three greenling.

Our fishing technology of the day consisted of a sort of fishing bow made of alder which we could quickly wrap line around, wrapped with a wire to hook the fish hook into, and a couple of rocks to brain the fish with. All of which is now gone. It is sad for the work Hig did on the bow, and also for the loss of the pixee lure.

The last rockfish I caught almost did me in. As I caught him, I was drifting towards the rocky shore, moving up and down with the swell. He was a little guy, and I was trying to decide whether he was big enough to keep, and trying to keep my fishing line from tangling, all the while drifting towards shore. I was right by the rocks now, but the water was only bumping them lightly. I had decided to keep it, and I wanted to get my braining rocks out and kill the fish quickly before it suffered too much.

I was facing away from shore, dealing with my fish, when my raft suddenly took a great leap backwards. I had been swept into a chute between a couple of rocks. One galoosh of a wave and I was in a narrow cave lined with sharp barnacles and mussels, with a sharp and flopping rockfish on my lap, desperately trying to back paddle out of there as the waves kept crashing me back in and dashing me on the rocks. I eventually got out, but not without a vicious scratch that sent my boat leaking. That along with the fact that the wind had switched to be fairly hard against us led us to stop on this beach.

But we kept fishing. Hig went out twice, and I went out once in his raft, anchoring it to a bull kelp with a string and jigging for greenling. Together we caught six more. And dealing with the great pile of fish (along with patching my raft, setting up the shelter, and fruitlessly hunting for the pixee) took us the rest of the night.

I moved fish, I gutted fish, I filleted fish, I cooked fish, I ate fish, and I slashed up fish fillets. I have never been so fishy, despite my efforts. Of course we couldn't eat twelve fish at once, and we'd planned to preserve them like we had preserved our small pieces of sculpin (coated in sugar and smoked by the fire). But we ran out of time, so our cut fillets are sitting in boiled-down salt in a Ziploc bag in our stream, waiting for preservation tomorrow. The stream is actually right in our shelter, which is wedged up against the cliff to avoid high tide. So we're definitely in defend our food mode tonight.

We're slowly making our way to Gore Point, and we're already back in territory we've been through before, though not by sea. I hope the wind is with us tomorrow. I've listened to the tide put out the last of our fire with a crash and a sizzle. Now the tide is dropping, and it's time for sleep.

9/14/04 - day 12

By ocean past familiar ground

We've never been here before, on this beach by Brown Mountain near Tonsina Bay. But we have covered this ground in a different way, walking over from Seldovia four years ago. And where before we walked, today we paddled. We paddled past Yalik Glacier Valley, past Petrof Glacier Valley, and past beaches we had looked down on from high on the ridges between. The one real repetition was the section of cliffy coast just before Yalik valley, where Hig took a picture of me paddling in front of the same waterfall 4 years ago. At the time, it was the longest stretch we'd ever paddled, and we were desperately worried the Sevylors would pop or deflate along the way (and not without good reason). Today, the paddle was merely pleasant, and merely a small stretch of a much longer paddling day.

The world was kind today to bring us sun, but it was both very windy and quite cold. When the sun shone on us we paddled in almost all of our clothing. When the sun crept behind a peak or we stopped to rest, the chill seeped in immediately, and all our hoods and hats and gloves came on.

We had wind against us irrelevantly in the early morning, with us in the late morning, and dead hard against us in the afternoon. Wind drag affects me more than Hig, as water drag does less, so I was struggling to keep up with him even in his lee. We pushed hard against the wind around the cliffs to the mouth of the Petrof river, where we landed slightly in the river mouth to avoid the surf on the beach. We walked the beach awhile to avoid the wind, studying tracks of river otters, boats, and ATVs. People come here.

At the end of the beach was a salmon stream, complete with a hundred screaming gulls and a convention of seals at its mouth. I wanted salmon, but we didn't want to take the time to set the net properly, so off we went around the sheer cliffs of Brown mountain.

And Hig proved that even without a lure or a net, fish can be caught. The trick seemed to be to cut the fish head chunk small enough that it could be swallowed by the fish we were catching. We had one excellent reddish rockfish and a greenling for dinner, very fresh. I got to try my hand at filleting again. Now we're taking our brined fillets from yesterday and smoking them over a fire overnight with sugar and pepper. We don't know what we're doing. We'll see if it works.

The ocean has become more diverse along the rocks here, with chitons, anemones, bat stars and other mysterious things. I'm excited to get to Gore Point and hope the wind is friendly to us tomorrow.

9/15/04 - day 13


We have arrived at Gore Point, and should not have to leave for several days, presuming we remain able to catch fish. Though we will eventually end up in Seldovia, this is the true destination of our trip. Hig has been here, to Profit Beach, once before, and thought it would be a great spot to hang out for awhile and work on survival skills and gathering food.

We're camped on a rock in the woods where a shelter will later be set up over us. We're probably only 100 feet from the beach, which is long and sandy and absolutely piled with driftwood, drift nets, drift buoys, drift shoes, and a variety of other things. Below the beach is a long sand flat that appears at low tide, and razor clam and crab shells drift onto the beach to tell us of its denizens. We're almost at the end of the beach, where rocky cliffs may provide fishing spots, and rocky shores may let us launch more easily than into the surf. On the cliff by our beach is a spatter fall of fresh water for drinking. At the far end of the beach is a lake that may be good for freshwater fishing. In the woods are a few angelwings, wineberries, dock, and huckleberries. It is a good spot.

The ocean was kind to us today and let us get here with no trouble. We had a cold cold night last night in the thick wet valley breeze, particularly when we had to scurry out of the shelter to stoke the fire and turn our smoked fish. But the continually clear sunny skies warmed up the day. We paddled today along a rugged coast of rocks and cliffs, populated by a gamely clinging array of intertidal life. About them were cormorants, and high on the cliffy slopes we saw bands of spruce forest and one very fat mountain goat. He was grazing on grass on a slope that I'm not sure how even a mountain goat gets to.

We landed only once or twice today, and only briefly, to relieve ourselves. We were eager to reach our goal, and eager to avoid excess landings and takeoffs in the rocky surf. By letting the boat spin and the ocean be our brains for a minute, we could rest and appreciate the views. We even saw a porpoise in Tonsina Bay, along with the usual crew of seals and otters.

And we fished. Along the cliffs we dropped a baited hook into the water and pulled rockfish out of the water. It least it was close to that easy. I dropped the bait right into a school of rockfish, and quickly caught one. Hig caught another, and then switched to a shallow trolling, stopping to jig only when something nibbled. We caught three more fish that way before the last one broke the line. We're down one swivel out of two, and one hook out of six.

I got to practice filleting in the dark again, as we ate a couple fish and set the rest in brine to prepare them for drying. Hig made us more cook pots out of aluminum buoys, melting chunks off the end in our fire. I'm excited to be here.

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Last modified: 10/08/2004