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Packrafting the Kenai Fjords
from Seward to Seldovia - September 2004

Journal - Page 4
At Gore Point

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9/16/04 - day 14

No fish, but some huckleberry crisp

Our brief fishing efforts were unsuccessful today. We thought we might spear flounders and catch Dungeness on the sand flats. But we couldn't see far enough through the wind rippled water, and couldn't paddle very close to shore without getting caught up in the surf. So it was back to bait fishing, which Hig tried while I paddled back to shore. The breeze and the surf combined to push the boat around too fast for the shallow water, and Hig caught and lost a hook on the bottom without getting any fish. Three hooks left. His journey at the evening low tide went much the same way though this time he tried it with an anchor. Two hooks left. I think we need to go back to trolling for rockfish and stay out of such shallow hook-catching water.

We need more fish soon, but are fine for now. We ate some of our first batch of smoked fish for breakfast, had some limpets, some fish-head broth with dock and wild celery, and until I started mixing sugar and oats with our huckleberries we hadn't eaten any non-gathered food all day. We made it all the way to evening that way.

I spent a long time in the woods today, wandering about in search of huckleberries. I like the woods here, and I came back with my curiosity about this place still not sated, but with a good bag of a huckleberries, and a tiredness brought on by a too-small and all-fish breakfast. I've been craving starches. I've been craving desserts, mostly, which is the opposite of our normal pattern hiking. So I had to make one. Huckleberry crisp is what I wanted, with oats and sugar and oil. The first one I tried making was a whole pot full, with a thin layer of oats on top and bottom and not quite enough sugar. And I cooked it with too much fire under the pot, and burnt it to the bottom.. It was still good. But I had a few berries left, and after the long involved process of cleaning the carbonized chunks off the bottom of the pot, I tried it again. This time I was generous with both the sugar and the crisp layer, cooked it only from the top, and left it to cool. It was excellent, and I was able to give Hig a good pick-me-up after the unsuccessful fishing trip. My efforts to brine and smoke fish had a similarly mixed pattern of success and I hope they don't get dropped in sand or ashes too many more times before they're dry. Tomorrow we really need to catch some fish.

9/17/04 - day 15

Mussels are small, and whelks are difficult

I feel like I spent most of the day pulling tiny gobs of meat out of small mussel shells, and pounding whelks with rocks. Not to mention trying not to put too much sand, gravel, or bits of fractured shell into my pot. It wasn't all day, really, but the pile of shells by the fire attests to my efforts. We'd tasted a bit of the meat yesterday, to try and avoid any potential problems with PSP, so I thought I'd go gathering more today. And my conclusion, after one razor clam, one shrimp, and a pile of whelks and mussels, is that low tide is nice, but fish are much more useful.

And we got some fish! Hig went out at high tide, and came back with at pile of rockfish. There were eight rockfish in this particular pile, including five small ones, but it is still a lot of food. One rock fish ate our fly lure, so we're down to two hooks, one of which is currently on a set line in the ocean. We slowly learn fishing gear as we learn how to use it, and soon may be trying to make our own fishing hooks out of nails.

Everything takes a long time here, somehow. The days are not long in mid-September, and we are always working into the dark. Living here, we have a lot to do. Most of it is food related. Today I spent a lot of time gathering and dealing with shellfish, refining salt, drying the rockfish we started drying yesterday, and poking at the fire. Hig spent most of his day gathering and fishing.

The weather has been kind to us still, with only the wind to cause us trouble. The wind makes it a bit harder to fish, but otherwise only adds to the drying weather. Here we have sun and cold and wind and surf. I go between wearing my fleece and raingear by themselves and adding the magic hat. A little past three in the afternoon, the shadow of the mountain reaches our fire spot, and the warm fire is appreciated that much more for the rest of the evening. We've had the same fire burning for two days now, and it seems there's just as much driftwood next to it as there was at the beginning.

At 9PM the sun sets and we watch the stars slowly appear as we work. Tonight there was also a parade of boats, which passed as small lights on the horizon, far out in the ocean. We'll get light here a bit past 7, but the sun won't hit our beach until well after 8.

We're not using thermarests tonight. Not that Hig ever has a thermarest, really. On or our thermarests is cursed, despite the many times we've tried to patch it. And Hig almost always ends up on it, despite the fact that they're always randomly arranged in the bed. Now it is midnight, and Hig claims the bed is more comfortable than last night's thermarest-inclusive bed. We shall see.

9/18/04 - day 16

Salt fish

For once, I have not spent my whole day gathering and processing food. And I may regret it later. Our drying fish are dried, and the rockfish from yesterday spent the day in a bucket of cold seawater, being processed as we ate them. It's been cold these last few days, and though the rockfish are not as fresh as they were yesterday, they're still very good. Today Hig tried to fish a little, but lost the hook. I gathered nothing.

The weather has been calm and overcast all day, with a light sprinkling of rain in the afternoon. It's a change in the weather, and we'll see what it will bring. I hope it doesn't bring weather that prevents raft launching. Our plan to stay here two more days will be a more difficult one if we can't get any more fish.

We dipped into our Ursack of traveling food today and exchanged some salt fish for a couple of Powerbars. They tasted so sweet. I guess Powerbars are always sweet, but with our diet so low in starches and sugars, I both notice and appreciate it more. Same goes for our last bit of cocoa. We needed the energy. The Atkins diet by accident is not a good idea when you're already skinny and working hard.

9/19/04 - day 17

Shelter from the storm

When bad weather comes in town, it's an event to remark upon and to share with the neighbors. When bad weather comes in the wilderness, it seems like nature has decided to take personal revenge upon us. The ocean is a cold and lonely place when the wind is blowing and the waves come crashing in. And it is an impressive place, large and grey-white, roaring and crashing. We went out to watch the high tide come in with the storm. The waves crested the burm, sloshing water almost back to the driftwood piles and almost killing our old beach fire. There was no fishing today. Even had we been fool enough to try that angry ocean, the surf would never have let us off the shore.

It was a cold, wet and windy day, and the most popular activity of the day by far was hugging the fire. We fed the fire through the night and all today, using it to keep warm between ventures away, and to cook all our food for the day. I cooked the last of our fish as the hard rain poured down on the beach.

I gathered more huckleberries today. It was neither a very pleasant nor a very efficient task. Huckleberry picking can't be done with gloves on, and the coordination required to put those small round objects in a bag is almost too much for very cold fingers. I wouldn't have done it at all if we hadn't both really been looking forward to another huckleberry crisp for dessert. We'd saved out the rest of the oats and the last of the sugar for it, plus some of our almost everlasting oil bottle. It was an interesting challenge cooking it on the fire, particularly trying to fish out coalsand getting them up on top of the pot without dropping them. It was an excellent dessert though.

We had planned to stay here through tomorrow, but with no fish today that possibility seems much harder. There are a few routes to leave here, and the one by water seems faster than the one by land if it's possible. We'll see what the weather does tomorrow.

Despite its chill, the storm is an impressive beast to watch. The waves are still large, but the rain has gone down, and the stars are out tonight.

One other thing of note is that I found a small green glass ball at the base of the slope. I've always wanted to find one of these famous old Japanese fishing buoys. It was a little pick me up on a cold wet gathering mission, and a reminder that being out here is awesome despite the vagaries of weather.

9/20/04 - day 18

Foraging for Granny Bunt's Complete Bakery Mix

Today the weather was less angry. The winds slowed, the rain was only intermittent, and the surf on our beach relented a little. We decided to stay for the day, despite our meager bag of rice, and the impossibility of launching to go fishing.

We decided to explore over to Gore Point beach, to scout our potential route out along Port Dick. The surf was too big to paddle there, so after a labor-intensive lunch of little snails on rice, we set out over the ridge.

It was a beautiful misty forest, and a network of goat trails provided paths through it. We followed them until they went too close to the cliff's edge for our comfort. We gathered a few mushrooms, and peered down through the fog at the barely visible surf beneath us. But the weather was clearing as we walked.

Climbing is hard, and as I was propelling my body up the mountain I thought longingly of food, and how much easier it would be to do this with some more food in me.

We followed the steep goat trail down to the spit by Gore Point beach. On one side there's the beach around the point from ours, and across a long open meadow is the beach on Port Dick. On the open side driftwood piled in great stacks, and the beach was being scraped of it by the crashing surf. The trees shrunk to krumholz behind the middle of the spit where the wind howls through. The Port Dick side was calmer and mellower, and the only drift of note was one big shipwreck.

The Ranger was her name, and she looked in pretty good shape, though the ocean side walls had been sheared off by the waves. So of course we scrambled up and started poking around. It was obvious we weren't the first visitors, given the ransacking of the boat and the climbing steps someone kindly left to get up onto it. It was abandoned in a hurry, with clothes and gear strewn everywhere, and a snack still open on the table. A manual told me it was a tender, and a newspaper told me it happened around the end of August 2002.

Of course we went for the two-year-old food we found in the galley. And we scored. All the snacks we found were open and sketchy, but we hit gold on their baking shelf, with undamaged containers of flour, Granny Bunt's complete bakery mix, grits, cornmeal, graham cracker crumbs, carrot bread mix, bread machine mix, etc... And we found a few packages of Top Ramen to boot. It was way more food than we could eat now, and certainly vastly more food than we would have thought possible to find on this day hike. We had been hoping to forage for a few chocolate lily bulbs.

After such a successful gathering mission we hurried to check out the other side of Gore Point beach and then headed home for our feast. The weather kept clearing, and a rainbow appeared over the ocean as we wandered on the driftwood. The only thing we had that could be eaten uncooked was the graham cracker crumbs, and we devoured the beautifully sweet starchy crumbs, sticking our mouths together, before heading back up over.

Tonight I'm up late and sleepy, because I've spent much time cooking, and now I am both full and warm. We ate ramen, and biscuits, and grits, and even baked a carrot bread which we were actually too full to finish eating. All were excellent, though baking on the fire requires a bit of experimenting.

Tomorrow we leave, by land or by sea, and we'll try to make it home to Seldovia as soon as we can. But at least now we can bring extra rations to help us out on our journey.

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Last modified: 10/08/2004