24-30 May 2001: A Short Trip to Sitka, Alaska

Due to circumstances outside my previous experience, my annual summer trip to Sitka was much shorter than usual. Even so, it was worthwhile to see friends and get back to the place that I consider home.

My trip started with a Horizon Air flight from Boise to Seattle. The skies were as clear as I ever remember seeing them while making this one hour flight. It was interesting to look out the window and see the roads and fields down below. I had fun trying to figure out what parts of Washington and Oregon I was seeing as we flew over. Quite a few of the Washington and Oregon Cascade volcanos were in view, but Mt. Rainier was the dominant one.

Once in Sitka, I was met at the airport by Randy Nutting. He was kind enough to let me crash at his place for the first few days I was there while his wife and daughter were out of town. The first full day I was there, I drove around town and took care of some business I needed to do. I also took the opportunity to look at the eagles which are in great abundance this time of the year along the channel.

The Nuttings invited me to go on a boat trip with them up to Hoonah Sound to spend Memorial Day weekend. I was happy to tag along. Randy and I left in his boat with his parents and Uncle Royce to follow a little later in theirs. Randy and I stopped in at Fish Bay and did a little bear watching on the beach. There were a couple of different bears we saw, though they were too far away to get a good picture. Once his parents were getting closer, we rode out and met them in Deep Bay, where we anchored for the night.

The next day our plan was to leisurely make our way up into Hoonah sound and spend the night anchored somewhere in the south arm. Again Randy and I headed out in his boat with plans to meet up with his parents for lunch. We went up into Ushk Bay to look around before heading out towards Rogers Point. With some time to kill, Randy decided to drop in a line to see if he could hook anything. While he was fishing, we noticed a rock that was covered in seals. There were probably at least 20 of them all hauled up and sunning themselves. As the tide rose, they found themselves in the water and then dispersed.

We had a picnic lunch on the beach in Ushk Bay. It was the same beach where, a week or two earlier, Randy had been with Chuck Haskins when he shot a good sized bear. All that remained of the carcass was a skeleton which had been picked clean. The front leg bones were a distance down the beach. They were probably dragged there by birds fighting over the remains. This did not keep us from enjoying a nice lunch consisting primarily of watermelon and steak.

Our goal for the afternoon was to find a place in one of the protected coves in the South Arm of Hoonah Sound to anchor for the night. We ended up in Douglas Bay, a small cove near the mouth of Patterson Bay. While getting ready for dinner, a bear wandered out on the beach not too far from where we had anchored. Rod, Royce, Randy, and I got into Randy's boat and ran on the kicker to get a closer look. Randy got some video with his camera, but all I got was a picture of four legs showing under some branches.

After dinner, we all piled in to Randy's boat to head back towards Roger's Point and see if there were any bears out feeding on the beaches. We saw a couple of bears which ran back into the woods at the sound of our motor. As we got nearer to Roger's Point we saw a single bear and not too far down the beach, a sow with two cubs. We stopped to watch them for awhile, but they were too far away for me to get a good picture. We watched with binoculars as the single bear started wandering down the beach towards the sow and cubs. The cubs were probably at least a year old, fairly large, but definitely not full size. As the single bear got near to the sow and cubs, she would move them further away again. A couple of times the single bear even ran towards the sow and cubs and they would run away. I don't know what exactly was going on. Perhaps the single bear was an adult male who did not like the cubs.

The next morning after a filling breakfast of fresh crab omelets, Randy and I got ready to head back into town. On the way back, we went through a channel known as Sergius Narrows. This short stretch of water is the source of a fair amount of scheduling inconvenience for vessels the size of a ferry or barge. Due to the strong tidal currents and whirlpools these larger vessels can only pass through at slack tide (that is, when the tide is at its peak or low and is not moving) without the high risk of being run aground by the shifting waters. A smaller boat, such as Randy's, can easily skim over the surface without worrying too much about the currents. I had never been to Sergius Narrows when the tide was running before, and it was interesting to see the partially submerged buoy.

The only actual hiking I did while I was in town was on Memorial Day and it consisted of wandering up along Indian River from the Sawmill Creek Road to the trailhead and then hiking up the trail a short distance before cutting through the woods to some muskegs and up to the road above the old gravel pond. The weather was pleasant, and I did not really have any motivation to get very far. Instead I was more interested in taking my time and enjoying the setting in a relaxed way.

From Sawmill Creek I hiked up along a large pipe which carries water diverted from the river for the Sheldon Jackson fish hatchery. In order to create a deep section in the river to allow enough water to be diverted, a dam of large boulders was placed across the river. This dam (of a sort; water can pass through it, but it slows things down enough to create a small deeper section of the river) has been in place for as long as I can remember. In the past, I have been able to hope from boulder to boulder and make my way to the other side of the river. However, the flow of the water through these boulders was different this summer and I did not feel comfortable with a couple of the hops I would have had to make in order to cross. There was one other time I remember the dam being different than I had remembered and that was when it looked like a couple of boulders had been pushed out from the rest. I assume these changes happen in the fall during the heavy rains which typically occur then.

Somewhat further upstream, I paused for awhile to lay down on a gravel bed and drift. While laying there, I was able to get a picture of a woodpecker. I have seen these a couple of times over the years, but I would not say they are the most common of birds in the area. As I continued up the gravel beds along the river bank, I noticed some white flowers which I did not recognize. They seemed to be fairly abundant, though I did not recall having seen them before. Perhaps this is because I have not been in Sitka this early in the year since I became interested in photographing and identifying flowers. While I was taking pictures of flowers, a couple with a dog came walking down the river. She had a handful of what looked like roots and he was carrying a bow that I think might have been homemade. I do not know what they were doing, but their dog was a little friendlier than I might have prefered, given the fact that I was trying to take pictures of flowers.

The section of the trail I hiked was as I remembered and so was the path through the woods to the muskeg. In the muskeg I noticed some flowers I did not remember seeing before in the muskeg even though I recognized them from other places. Alpine Azalea (Loiseleuria procumbens) is one that I had seen a number of times in the alpine and I had read that it occured in the muskeg as well. Bog Rosemary (Andromeda polifolia) is a flower I recognized from my books.

At the upper edge of the muskeg, near where the road above the gravel pond ends, I noticed that it looked like a number of trees had been cut down. As I got closer, I saw that someone had been active in clearing out the land at the end of the road. There was some machinery, but no one seemed to be around and so I just walked down the road like I had intended to. Further down the road, I saw a sign which indicated that no one was supposed to go up there without permission from the contractor. I guess they did not expect anyone to be coming from the other direction. I suppose I was lucky it was a holiday so I did not have to turn around and go back the way I had come.