1 August is the first day of the deer and goat hunting season around Sitka. It is bucks only for the first month and a half of the seaqson, and this early in the fall, they tend to be up pretty high on the mountains. My brother Jonathan and I do not particularly care about hunting, but we do like to get out and hike. My friend Randy Nutting was wanting to get out hunting on opening day since it fell on a weekend and he would not have to miss work to do it. So we planned to head up to Camp Lake on Saturday to camp and then get up early Sunday morning to head up toward Bear Lake.

We left town on Saturday morning in a 13 foot Boston Whaler and headed over to Bear Cove in Silver Bay where we would leave the boat to hike up Medvejie Valley to get to Camp Lake. There were some clouds hanging around the peaks, but overall, the weather was looking excellent. After mooring the boat, and gathering our stuff together, we started to make our way up the trail to Medvejie Lake. It is probably between 3 and 4 miles from Bear Cove to Camp Lake with the first half mile being along the trail to Medvejie Lake, then another mile or so up to the head of Medvejie Lake, and finally another 1.5-2 miles from the head of Medvejie Lake up the valley and to the saddle where Camp Lake lies.

A couple of weeks earlier Randy and I had hiked up to Camp Lake to check things out. At that time we had hiked around Medvejie Lake. We learned our lesson from that experience and this time we decided it would be far faster (and much less effort) to canoe across the lake. There were two canoes there at the time, one of them was in pretty good condition and the other one was pretty leaky (despite much evidence of old repairs). Since we did not want to deprive others of the ability to canoe on the lake by leaving the canoe at the other end over night, I brought along plenty of duck tape and we did a fresh repair job on the canoe so that it would not sink when we were in the middle of the lake (a leaky canoe can really put a damper on one's camping trip).

From the head of Medvejie Lake, there are a number of colors of flagging which you can follow (at your own risk) to get up the valley. At first the valley is fairly broad and flat. There are some large trees and relatively frequent flooding to keep the brush from being too heavy. It is pretty easy going (except for cold-on-the-feet river crossings which are much more easily done if you have carried sandals up with you) to begin with. If you ever go up here, you should not let this easy start fool you because things change in a hurry. It is pretty much imperative that you find the (sometimes difficult to see) trail which will lead to where someone cleared a trail through some especially heavy brush. (This was actually made a little easier this summer after the passing of a fairly large group of people from Ohio who had tried to make the hike across the island. They had not found the soft spot in the brush and ended up carving a new trail by sheer force of numbers. In their defense, it was pretty hard to see due to the fact that it had been a couple of years since the trail had last been cleared. The path they carved through the brush was relatively easy to see and follow.) If you manage to make it through the brush and still have the will to continue, the trail is a bit more noticable (though there are a couple of variations in places) as it once again heads through more open timber. Our small group had the experience and fortitude to make it through that initial brush patch with no ill effects and we continued on our way, taking an easy pace up through the trees as the the trail followed alongside the stream up into the valley.

The valley gradually gets narrower and steeper up to a point near the treeline. It was clear that this past winter, an avalanche had come from the upper part of the valley and been funneled by the narrow spot as it hit the treeline before cutting a swath down the middle of the valley for a distance. The trail we were following took us through some of the fallen trees left from that event, but they were not too difficult to navigate. It looked like there was two or three feet less snow in the upper reaches of the valley then there had been a couple of weeks before when Randy and I had hiked up to Camp Lake, but there was still enough to enable us to proceed on without having to fight through any brush.

It was a nice sunny day and that made things seem pretty warm on the snow. Randy had been doing less hiking recently and was carrying an exceptionally large load of water for some reason. (I found this particularly amusing since he had suggested that we carry empty bottles to fill up with the melting snow.) As a result, his pace slowed noticably as we made our way up the last steep section that leads to the saddle above Camp Lake. Jonathan and I waited for him at the saddle and then we all proceeded down closer to the lake to set up camp. Even after we had had a good break and gotten the tent all set up, it was still pretty early in the day. I was interested in doing a little exploring in the valley below Camp Lake which eventually lead to Blue Lake. We left most of our stuff with the tent and headed down.

We had not made it too far when we heard a rumbling which sounded like a jet. It seemed strange to hear a jet so loud in this valley, and a little looking around revealed the source of the noise to be caused by a large patch of snow which had just released from a fairly steep slope in the afternoon sun. Fortunately, it was a good distance away and we were in no danger of having trouble because of it. The only other adventure of note occured a little bit further down the valley. I was hiking in running shoes and so I had to pay pretty close attention to where I was stepping at one particularly flat spot which was fairly marshy. As I was doing this, I heard Randy say something to me. I was not sure what it was, so I stopped and looked back to see him pointing in front of us. Up about 50 or 100 yards there was a large bear walking perpendicular to our path, where it disappeared behind a snow bank and some trees. We waited a for a minute or two and did not see it again. I was tempted to go up and look, but instead we headed back to camp. We were going to be getting up early in the morning, so we went to bed pretty early after playing a game of hearts.

We woke up in the morning to clear blue skies, though the sun had not yet made it high enough to be seen in the valley where we were. We also noticed that some other people had come up and camped nearby after we had gone to sleep. They were still in bed when we started hiking up towards Bear Lake. It was fairly steep going but there was little brush so it was not too bad. Randy was still pretty tired from the hike up the previous day, and I could feel the knee which had been bothering me off and on since a hike up Verstovia a month earlier. We probably made it up about a 1000 feet above Camp Lake when I noticed a sow and a cub browsing on the slopes below us. When I pointed them out to Randy and Jonathan, Randy suggested that we go back down in case the bears decided to get into our stuff. That seemed a little strange to me but I did not put up much of an argument. I suspect the main reason he wanted to go back down was because he was afraid that he would shoot a deer further up and then be faced with packing it down (and he was already a bit tired and sore as it was).

When we got back down near the lake, we saw that the bears were much further up the hill than it had looked from above. One of the other campers who had come up the previous evening was up and came over to talk to us for a while. It turned out they had spent 7 hours getting up the day before. They had hauled their own canoe up to the lake and then spent another few hours getting from the head of Medvejie Lake to Camp Lake. I guess that the other two that were in the group were brothers who had made this trip a few years back and decided to do it again. It sounded like they were not in the best of shape and had made it even more difficult by packing large loads. They were up looking for goat and had brought enough for 3 or 4 days. (I found out later that they had probably gotten a goat, based upon a report filed at the fish and game. They also ended up leaving quite a bit of stuff up there, perhaps with the intention of getting it the following day. Someone I know collected a pretty nice sleeping pad a couple of weeks later.)

We were not in any hurry to get back to town, but did not really see much point in sticking around up there either so we packed up and started back down. The sun was high enough to shine in the valleys by the time we hit the snow field at the upper end of Medvejie Valley, so that made things pretty warm for us. It was a lot more fun boot-skiing down than it was kicking steps up. Near the bottom of the snow field I found a rock to sit on and took a break. I was wearing my red vest which seems to serve as a great humming bird attractor. Today was no different. A couple of different times a humming bird would fly up close and hover for a second or two before flying off. One of these days I would like to have a camera ready with a remote release and take a picture of me with a humming bird. It would take a little luck for it to turn out though, I think.

When we neared the head of the lake, I put on the sandals which I had carried with me and walked across the creek to take the most direct route back. Neither Jonathan nor Randy wanted to wade in the cold water with bare feet, so they decided to go a different direction. I ended up waiting about 10 minutes at the canoe for them to get there. Around here, sandals can be a real nice thing to have along, especially considering how little they weigh.

By the time we made it back to the lower end of Medvejie Lake, the sun was high in the sky and it actually felt pretty hot. It seemed like a good place to relax before making the last part of the trip back to the boat and then into town. A hot day, cold water, and some guys sitting around was almost a sure fire guarantee that someone would end up getting wet. I encouraged Randy to dip his head in the water, but he was pretty reluctant to do it until I demonstrated that it was not that bad. Finally, after trying to convince others to get all the way in the water, I was the one to go in. For a mere $25 in cash and merchandise, I took a dip in the chilly waters of the lake. The first few moments are the worst. After you get over the initial shock of the cold, it's not so bad. After I had dried off and gotten a little bit warmed up in the sun, we walked back down to Bear Cove and were back in town by early afternoon.

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