Snettisham 2014 - 7: Crystal Mine
  August 22-24

On the beach about to head to the Crystal Mine (Rob's photo)

After ten days of relentless, record-breaking rains (rainy even for August), the weather broke on Wednesday and reminded everyone that we are surrounded by a staggering beautiful land, the dark rocks and evergreen trees of the mountaintops contrasted with the bright blue of the sky. By Thursday there was hardly anyone left at the office. Chris and I spent most of Friday running errands and getting ready for our next trip: a weekend of adventure at Snettisham with Katie and Rob. We left the harbor at 5:45 p.m. with a densely packed boat under an overcast sky; a calm ocean  took us all the way to Snettisham. In Taku Inlet Chris took over the controls so I could eat my half of the Roma pizza that Katie and Rob had brought along for dinner and he drove us all the way to Snettisham. As we passed Point Arden, Chris pointed ahead at what looked like a rain shower over Grand Island. A few minutes later it reached us—some of the densest and heaviest rain I’ve ever seen in Southeast Alaska. Torrential I think is the word. It felt hard, almost like hail, soaking anything exposed in minutes. We all hastened to put rain gear on. Rain streamed off my hat and I couldn’t keep my pants dry even though I was protected by the wind shield. The water was white with splashing drops. It was incredible! By the time we were passing Grand Island it had passed and we began to dry out a bit.

Several times between there and Snettisham the engine started to stop, only to rev up again, and drop down again. After a couple of looks back there, I finally saw that the red bucket (full of bait) had vibrated an edge onto the vent on the top of the gas tank cap and was creating a vacuum. Moving it solved the problem. It was a low tide landing and we wound up beached on the opposite side of a deep hole. Rob got into waders and I went over one of my boots, but we got everything to shore and packed up to the lodge. I anchored the boat and returned to find the lodge already warmed by a fire and swarmed by…..flies. I’d been warned by Chris and Rob, who’d passed me on the way up the path to the lodge on their way to check out a strange looking black rock downriver, that the lodge was full of flies, so the first thing I did was check the bucket under the sink drain (it was upright since I’d replaced the faucet on the previous trip and had a few drips). Sure enough, there was the obvious source: eight dead mice in various stages of decay. I took the bucket outside, which made the lodge smell a bit better, but we still had an impressive number of flies inside. Over the next hour or so, all of us pitched in and caught flies with cups and glasses against the windows or wherever they were (Chris caught one against my thigh) and released them outside. I think Katie caught the bulk of them, and we soon had a quiet lodge again. We chatted, drank rum and cokes that Rob made, and headed to bed in the dark, a sure sign of the impending fall.

Rob and Katie in the rain storm

The ocean is bombarded with raindrops

Chris catching flies

About ten minutes after we got into bed, the rain began, quickly becoming a torrential downpour that lasted through the night. So I was grateful to find the rain petering out when I headed to the lodge at 8:00 a.m., as we were slated to tromp through the forest that morning. We ate bagels for breakfast and I scurried about efficiently getting ready for our adventure, at which I nearly completely failed. The boat was beached at 8:00, so I moved the anchor up the beach in the hopes of not having to kayak out to it. When we were finally ready and heading down, I couldn’t find the anchor under the water and sent Rob and Chris (in waders) to bring it in, which is when I realized that I needed the kayak anyway to anchor out the boat later and had to slip and clamber my way all the way back to the lodge where my temper suggested that I might need food again sooner than I would have guessed and asked Katie to bring me a candy bar.

By the time I’d drug and paddled out to the boat I decided I didn’t need the food and tried to cheer up. It was only 9:00 and the clouds and mist were lifting and beginning to break up. It had the promise of a fine day and we were out on a crazy adventure: the Crystal Mine. After six reconnaissance trips/attempts to reach the mine over the last four years or so, we were finally going to make a concerted effort; no tide issues, no time issues, and GPS coordinates to help us find the way. We reached the beach where the corduroy road to the mine begins, I dropped everyone off, then anchored a little offshore and kayaked in. We tied the kayak to a log high in the intertidal zone and stashed the paddle and metal detector in the woods. Rob and I consulted our GPSs (mine was a new app on my iphone) and our bearings matched; 47 degrees, a little over a mile away. Chris was in charge of the compass, so he took a bearing and we headed up into the woods. We’d only gone a few feet, though, when Rob noticed a bright blue spot. We investigated and discovered a newish blue tarp covering the roof of a decaying building filled with stacks and cabinets of core samples. Rob told us that in the 1980s the whole area had been diamond drilled to asses it for iron deposits and that this must be the ore shack. The strips of samples, each about an inch and a half wide, were stored in rows of flat cardboard boxes which were stacked on top of each other or tucked into shelving. The roof had long been partially collapsed, so the boxes were decayed, the stacks collapsed, and the core strewn about. There must have been thousands of them, and there was little else inside but an old stove. Outside the entrance were the remains of a foundation that extended another 15 feet or so strewn with iron artifacts including what looked like an old stove and a door. I wondered if the foundation was older than the shack and perhaps some of it had been used to build the existing building. After all, we were near the start of the corduroy road and a flat area just next to the foundation was covered in small, closely spaced, dead spruces, a sure sign that it was cleared of trees at one time.

It was 10:00 by the time we left the core shack behind and headed inland. The terrain was dense forest with brush undergrowth (blueberry bushes, false azalea) so it was tough to push through as we went up and down ravines, stopping periodically to pick up a GPS signal and get a new bearing on the mine. The land was heavily furrowed by little creeks, perhaps the ones that the 1890s panners followed up to the mine site. Among the spruces and hemlocks were large cedars including a huge one, the biggest cedar I’ve seen in northern Southeast by far, a king of trees. Chris was on the other side of a ravine from that tree, so Rob and I followed him over there, passing a huge spruce at the bottom with an enormous bole nearly as big around as the trunk itself. After about 45 minutes we came to a narrow sphagnum bog and trudged through, appreciating the easy walking, as brief as it was. Some creature had created paths through the low growing, dense wet grass, so I suspected something that dragged its belly on the ground like a porcupine or river otter, but I never resolved that. I was excited to see bog blueberries growing there with ripe berries attached, a plant I’ve never identified before.

On the other end of the bog we took a new heading before plunging back into the forest and saw that we were over half way there. Here we encountered more skunk cabbage and dense undergrowth and more creeks, though with fewer ravines. Chris was out ahead and called Rob and me over to see an iron mining claim nailed to a tree. It had data scraped into metal plates as well as a couple of film canisters attached. I left them to investigate and continued slowly on, pausing to consider a pair of trees with different bark. They were red alders! I looked to my left and saw more alders, high enough to compete for sun with the evergreens around them. But alders don’t grow in the middle of the forest—they are sun lovers. What were these large trees doing in the middle of a forest? The answer, of course, is that they grew in a clearing, the corduroy road. Sure enough, at that location, the road was quite clear for about 50 feet in either direction. In the meantime, Chris and Rob had opened the film canisters and discovered claim maps and other interesting tidbits inside. After carefully replacing them, they joined me on the road and we turned to follow it along the mountainside which began to rise steeply beside us.

We did see one clear patch of actual corduroy before we lost the road again and entered a jungle of devil’s club and windblown trees. We were gradually gaining elevation as we veered toward the south (having traveled mostly east to that point). On the right across another ravine we could see a large swath of Sitka alders suggestive of an avalanche chute. Rob’s GPS indicated we were within 500 feet of the mine, but the going only got worse as my GPS app suggested that we still had serious elevation to gain. We began scrambling up the steep slope to our left, first investigating a sheer rocky outcrop of the sort that Rob said would house the portal. Most of the mountainside was covered in jumbly rocks and vegetation and the portal would have to be on a bedrock outcrop.
And so we continued on, drenched in sweat as we climbed the steep slopes and maneuvered over fallen trees and rock piles covered treacherously in moss (though thankfully we’d left the dense vegetation and devil’s club behind). I don’t have a clear idea of how long we did that before I began to feel discouraged and our esprit de corps diminished. It was a big, wild mountainside and every time I got a signal for the GPS app it put me significantly above or below the mine when I couldn’t possibly have changed elevation that much between readings. But there were no good clearings in the woods up there, so I had to make do with what I had. At one point, Rob went up to explore an intriguing area and I went down and to the south according to my GPS reading at the time; Chris stayed closer to Rob and explored other outcrops.

I was soon out of sight and sound of the others—I think poor Cailey wore herself out running between us. I dropped in elevation a little and then worked my way along the steep mountain, looking for likely outcrops. It was beginning to seem a hopeless task and it was noon, so I gave in and ate the candy bar I’d been carrying around all morning. I was still tasting the caramel on my lips when I stumbled across a pair of rusting metal ropes about three feet apart running straight up the mountainside. They looked old enough to be artifacts, not only heavily rusted but disappearing under large tree roots and covered in moss in some places. At that point the mountain was practically vertical and the last thing I wanted to do was go up, but there was an outcrop of sorts up there and, as this was the first lead, I figured I’d better check it out. It seemed particularly unlikely to pan out (ha ha) because the corduroy road is supposed to lead right to the mine and I didn’t see how a road could exist anywhere in the area.

But I hand-over-handed it, climbing up the jumbled rocks and hanging onto tree roots to pull myself up the slope, keeping in sight of the metal rope where it appeared above ground. As I got closer I peered up at the outcrop as it slowly emerged as an intact cliff. There was only one section I couldn’t see that was hidden behind a fringe of berry bushes—the rest was solid rock. Could it be, could it be!? And then, about 30 feet away and still down slope, I walked into a lovely waft of cold air. I didn’t want to jinx it, but it had to have come out of the depths of the mountain. Sure enough, when about 15 feet away I could finally see through the bushes the mouth of the Crystal Mine, complete with its rusting rail car sitting at the entrance as it surely has for decades, perhaps since Barney Heins himself extracted his last ore in 1926 before passing away in his cabin below the mine.

So now all I had to do was find the others, which worried me a little. The portal opened toward the south (or, at any rate, facing along the slope of the mountain) so the whole outcrop was between me and where I’d last seen them. I scrambled up the slope to the right of the portal and onto the top of the outcropping where I yelled for the others as loud as I could. I tried to communicate that I’d found the mine, but for a while we couldn’t understand each other. After asking many times and getting answers I couldn’t understand, I was relieved to hear that they were both together and were on their way. I climbed down the other side of the escarpment and balanced myself on an almost vertical log to wait for them, then led them around the corner to the portal.

We are ready for adventure

Old core samples

Me and a giant yellow cedar

Chris points the way through the brush

The meadow is a welcome relief

Red alders on the road!

A road!

Remains of the corduroy road

The terrain we pushed through

The metal rop I followed

I perch on a near-vertical log to await the others

Rob and Cailey coming down to the portal

By that time we were weary from the hike and hungry, so we sat in the cool air of the mine and ate the amazing pack lunches that Katie and Rob brought. I took off my t-shirt, which was thoroughly soaked (I hoped more from the wet bushes than sweat, but the outside of my rain jacket was dry by that time) and put on my fleece for the trip inside. We all donned our head lamps, skirted the rail car, and walked inside as Rob tapped the walls and assured us that it was solid bedrock and quite stable. The walls were about four feet apart and the ceiling required us to crouch a little here and there toward the entrance. Most of the rails were still there, some of them still nailed to boards. A creek ran down the center and we could hear the roar of a waterfall in the distance. We passed under two weak points in the rock where it was crumbling before reaching a point in the tunnel where the floor dropped a couple of feet, creating a lake that was going to be over the tops of my xtratuffs. Rob and Chris wore waders, so I watched them slog through the lake, their voices echoing in the mine as they slowly disappeared. I lost sight of them, but could still hear them most of the time they were gone. Cailey and I crouched at the edge of deep water waiting to hear the report.

After a little while Chris returned with several rocks for me and I followed him out to change into his waders and go back in with Rob. Slogging through the lake was a little eerie as it had a deep layer of soft sediment beneath, but as it gently curved away from the light at the entrance the floor came up again and there were more pieces of track. Rob was studying the rocks as we went and started tapping something odd looking on the wall; as it turned out to be quite soft, he quickly stopped, as it looked to be in a hole that was meant for blasting. The walls weren’t very interesting in themselves except for the glittering silver sheen here and there that rubbed off and the occasional white lump among the iron oxide stains. About 150 yards in the tunnel opened into a small chamber; beyond that, water roared down a wicked staircase, steep as a ladder, with giant sized steps. We would not be going farther! But the floor of the chamber and the tunnel leading to it were covered in rocks that had washed down and Rob said I should grab anything white to look for crystals. At first I found only ordinary rocks and lumps of solid quartz and then here and there a stone with a vein of quartz and a few crystals showing at the edge. I found one large crystal the size of a big toe with three facets and the rest grown wild. I made a little stack of keepers which would come to include two pieces several inches long covered in small (1/2”) quartz crystals, one of them stained smoky.

When I’d had enough rock hunting and the roar of the waterfall was beginning to grate on me, I walked back out with about a dozen rocks—one for breaking open and the rest with various quartz crystals exposed. Cailey met me at the edge of the deep pool and we emerged into the suddenly quite warm air. I didn’t have much luck breaking open my rock, but Chris found pyrite cubes and flakes inside of his.

By this time it was after 1:00, so we decided to head back down, first following the tracks that continued to the south along the mountainside outside the portal. There was a sardine type can that said “Denmark” on it and a couple of other metal artifacts nearby. Right outside the portal I found an unusual brown bottle, but could not determine its antiquity. We soon found more track (some, puzzlingly, going straight up the mountain) as well as a pile of stacked tracks and, below us, some pipe. We headed down in that direction and wound up tumbling our way from one pile of rusting equipment to the next. Pipes led to huge axels and wheels and a lot of equipment I don’t have the expertise to name. On the downhill side of a box-like structure (it was unclear what it was made out of because of the moss cover—maybe concrete—was what appeared to be a valve set in a wooden wall, square nails holding the 115 year old wood in place. At best there were narrow shelves in the nearly vertical mountainside to house the equipment and it seemed a tremendously awkward and unwelcoming place to build a processing plant. There was nowhere nearby that seemed to be roadlike in any way. My favorite artifact was a tiny cart with four wheels and a huge hook on the top of it.

We saw the last of the equipment on the flat top of an outcropping that faced more to the north and seemed to be natural end to the gradual uphill slope we’d begun to follow when we’d encountered the road, and which we’d left to scramble up the mountain as we neared the mine. A tiny waterfall trickled over a rock face at the top. We made our way down it on a game trail and then started the descent down the valley along the edge of a creek that separated us from the avalanche chute on the other side. The slope was reasonable, but the way was crisscrossed with deadfall and thick with devil’s club in places. Along the way we saw the corduroy road across another stream, the parallel logs (now sagging) an obvious, if subtle, clue. We crossed the stream there but there was no evidence of the road on the other side.

Somewhere down the slope I recognized a huge, flat, mossy stump with two twisted stalk growing out of it—a stump I remembered from the trip up. Amazingly, we were back on our trail and soon saw our footprints in the mud below an upturned root wad. Beyond that I recognized the double alders that had revealed the road just as the slope leveled out into flat ground. I hadn’t noticed it on the way up, but that area was dense with young spruces, many dead, and there was little undergrowth (see photo to right). It was obviously cleared at one time and I wondered if this was where Barney Heins’s cabin “below the Crystal Mine” had been located. We turned toward the water and walked through it, finding only a historic bucket as evidence of human use. I was charging along on instinct and soon saw that there was an opening in the distance which I suspected was the meadow. I headed in that direction and noticed that I was stepping through some crushed skunk cabbage—our own tracks again.

The meadow was another welcome break, as we were well and truly weary of bush whacking by that time and thoroughly exhausted. I doubted I’d be able to retrace our route through the rugged ravines between the meadow on the beach, since we’d been changing bearings as we went and one ravine looks very much like another, nor did I particularly want to crash my way back through that route anyway. So I deliberately did not descend to the creek bottom through the wash of skunk cabbage at the bottom of the meadow the way I’d remembered coming up; I stayed on the side of the ravine where I thought the going was easier. It didn’t seem very easy, though, pushing through interlaced shrubs and over and under logs, all on uneven terrain. After some time I told the guys I was thinking of heading to the top of the ridge to our right and they agreed. At the top, I saw the spruce with the huge bole and realized that I was back on our trail, mentioning to the others that we were near the huge cedar. Rob later said he was dubious about that claim, but we passed the cedar a few minutes later. From there we could see the opening of the beach and headed straight there, popping up on the ridge overlooking the water precisely at the top of the corduroy road where it descends to the beach. Although I had to climb over one last dead fall to do it, I made a point to walk down the road to get to the fringe of alders on the edge of the beach.

Rob looks down the tunnel

Chris in the mine (Rob's photo)

The chamber below the stairs

The staircase waterfall inside the mine

Some of my crystals

Pelton wheel

Believe it or not, I am in the heart of the ruins (Rob's photo)

My favorite artifact

Chris and Rob descening

Amazing mushrooms!

Second growth at the base of the mountain

Worn out and back at the beach

I kayaked out to the boat, anchored beautifully in the cove, and picked up the others. It was 3:00 and time for a break! I zoomed back to the lodge, dropped everyone off, and anchored, leaving the kayak at the water’s edge with the falling tide. I was desperately thirsty and went straight to the sink for water. For the next hour, Chris, Rob, and I hung out on the porch rehydrating and regaining energy (I had a diet coke and a summer shandy) and putting together personal use halibut lines. Rob had two buoys and we busied ourselves making up lines with clips, line, leaders, and hooks. When we were all ready it was after 4:00 and we began talking about Sweetheart Creek, our second adventure of the day. We all agreed we wanted to do it, and earn a leisurely Sunday morning, so we got our gear together and headed out at 5:00. On the way over we set our halibut lines, Rob’s in deep water in the middle of the bay and mine in shallow water (since I had less line) closer to the creek mouth. Unfortunately, my fathometer was malfunctioning after being bent up when the boat went dry, so weren’t confident about the depths.

By the time they were set and everyone was on shore it was after 6:00. The only other boat there was heading back to town, so we were alone on the creek. Talking loudly at the bears, we made our way up to our usual point; Katie stayed on top to watch for bruins while I set up shop at the bottom and began casting. After a few casts with no fish inside, I began to suspect that all the fish were at either end of the creek—we’d passed many pinks in the spawning grounds in shallow water at the bottom, and we could see sockeyes leaping the falls at the top, some of them crashing against the rocks. But on my fourth of fifth cast I brought in three fish, and two of them were sockeyes. It was a great start! Rob was borrowing a net that turned out to have a 10’ radius and was difficult to manage (I didn’t even try) and he was practicing below the little falls there. I cast some more, then Chris cast, and then we decided to head to the upper pool to try our luck there. I’d seen people fishing up there, but had never been up that far myself.

It turned out to be a bit of a slog. The first point upriver was easy enough to reach, but offered no place to fish even if one was willing to descend a sheer cliff face to reach the water. We could see that the next point upriver was flat and overlooked deep water; though it was about 15 feet up, we decided to head in that direction. The cove between the points was deep, so we walked back into the woods to skirt it. There was no discernable trail and the other side of the ravine required a steep, dense bushwhack to reach the top and then descend again to the point. I was not enjoying that bonus trek. The reward was two large shelves of rock that offered a commanding view of the large upper pool, the barrier falls with its leaping salmon, and the creek all the way to tidewater. In the clear water just below the rocky protrusions we stoop upon, we could see half a dozen sockeyes swimming in and out of the white water. I’d never cast from the top of a cliff before, but decided to give it a try after tying myself off with a convenient rope someone had left behind, obviously for that very purpose. After a couple of empty casts, I dropped the net right below me on the top of the fish. The net came up with one male sockeye inside, which I hoisted to the top of the cliff. It was a good moment!

Unfortunately, the fish never came back to that spot. I continued to cast from that bluff, snagging the net twice in the same place. The second time we could not make it budge until Rob climbed down the steep cliff into the cove below us and managed to pull it free at the expense of several of the lines that purse the bottom together. I tied a couple of them back up, but the net was never the same.

Meanwhile, Rob was having more success with the other net and discovered that he could wade quite far into the pool from the cove. I joined him down there for a few casts and saw that it was an ideal place, if only we could cast effectively while standing in the water. Rob got better and better, but I knew my limits and that I could not cast far enough from the water to reach fish. I left Rob to it and retreated to the top of the bluff to rest and enjoy the evening. On the far side of the pool we could see sockeyes rising continuously in a swarm of activity; Rob was able to get his net into that area a few times, but we caught no more fish that day. Around 7:45 we packed our gear and headed out, our three fish occupying the net bucket. We yelled for bears all the way down but saw little sign and no actual bears until we’d left the cliffs behind and turned around to see a bear swimming across the bottom pool. We were saddened to see several lengths of yellow plastic tape trailing out of its behind for maybe ten feet behind it. It looked like pale police tape without the markings and none of us could figure out what it was or why he might have eaten it. The bear seemed unhindered by its burden and we hoped everything would pass through him with no harm. Katie spotted another bear in the distance at the very mouth of the creek romping after fish.

Down at the beach on the other side of the peninsula, I left the others to clean fish while I fetched the boat. Once again Gilbert Bay was utterly calm and breathtakingly beautiful in the evening. After weighing anchor I loosened up the ice in my cooler with a screwdriver and transferred most of it to a bucket, so icing the fish only took a few moments once I pulled up on the beach, as the others had cleaned the fish. We quickly loaded up and went to pull my halibut line in the fading light. Someone had eaten out some of the head and all but a flap of skin from the belly meat; I replaced the latter and we sped out to Rob’s buoy. We decided it must have been floating that whole time, but the fathometer was still out of order, so we didn’t’ know exactly how far in to set it. We moved in a little and Rob began to drop it again, but looking around I thought we might still be too far out, so I headed farther back toward Sweetheart despite the dusk. This time when Rob dropped it, the anchor hit the bottom well before he was out of line. I sped back toward the lodge. The pale sky and dark mountains were reflected in the water and I was grateful that the surface just in front of me was sky reflection and allowed me to see at least the 15 feet in front of the boat. Beyond that was blackness and I ran on the hopes that I would encounter no logs. Half way across the river, Chris pointed out that there were stars appearing above us—I was running the boat under the stars!

I dropped everyone off and anchored in the dark, meeting Cailey on shore after Chris released her from her forced rest in Hermit Thrush. Katie cooked marinated halibut, quinoa, and roasted vegetables for dinner which we ate in bowls with avocado, salsa, and tortilla chips. It was an ideal meal for the end of a very intense day. After dinner I forced everyone to join me in champagne and orange san pellegrino to celebrate the day. We retired around midnight after enjoying the view of the Milky Way from the porch.

We are ready to fish!

A sockeye leaps against the barrier falls (Katie's photo)

Poor, poor bear (Katie's photo)

Gilbert Bay, serene as always

The Ronquil at anchor in Gilbert Bay

Rob hauling his halibut line

Given the strenuous Saturday and late night, I was surprised when I was awake and more or less ready to get up around 8:30. I had a few things to do before we left, so I thought I might be able to knock some of them out before I relaxed into a leisurely morning. The first thing I did after feeding Cailey and putting some hot water on in case others showed up soon was pull out my bilge pump system. I had plans to spend the second week of September at Snettisham alone and, in order to use the boat, it would have to be closer to the water so it would float at high tide; that meant the bilge pump system would have to work. This time I’d brought 5200 to secure it, a battery charger to charge the battery, distilled water to fill the battery, and nuts for the battery poles. I refilled the battery with water and hooked up the system to the battery just to satisfy myself that it worked, but it didn’t turn on so I could only hope that the battery was dead. At the boat I put my new AK stickers on, making me legal to boat around the wilderness for another three years, then emptied most of the tube of 5200 in the same place I’d installed the bilge pump before. This was actually an annoying and unpleasant task, as 5200 is dense stuff (I finally gave up on using the nozzle it came with and just emptied it out of the tube) but before long I’d smushed the plastic cutting board that the system is mounted to onto the skiff and left it to set.

By that time it was 9:20 and I headed out with Cailey for my COASST walk, stopping by the Ronquil to apply its new AK stickers. As I walked downriver to start the survey I was surprised that Cailey kept putting her front feet on the side of the boat like she was anxious to get on board. I thought perhaps she figured we were leaving and didn’t want to be left behind. When I turned around just past the eagle tree (looking unsuccessfully for the new nest they’ve built), I found Cailey inside the boat hastily eating the last piece of pizza we’d left on Friday. Mystery solved! The tide had come in and surrounded the boat so I waded out to encourage her to disembark before she became stranded.

The morning was overcast and pleasant. On the upriver side of the point I saw some tracks emerging from the water; where they passed over soft, wet sand they looked large and canine-like! Just beyond were three more pairs of tracks. At first I thought a pack of wolves had gone through, but the tracks on the harder mud were smaller and….they had five toes--otters. I backtracked one of the otter tracks back to the deep tracks in the wet sand, so definitely not canine! Still, a family of otters had romped through, which is also pretty neat.

Back at the boat the cutting board had slid toward the stern because of the gentle slope beneath the boat, so I used the hand pump and a piece of wood to hold it in place. Rob and Katie were up, so I joined them in the lodge after starting Joanie (my little red generator) and hooking the battery up to the battery charger. What followed was a lovely hour in the lodge drinking a mocha and eating Rob’s fabulous flapjacks and chatting. It was over all too soon. Our goal was to leave at 12:30, so I started closing up. Katie and Rob were a huge help doing the dishes and cleaning their cabin. I closed up Hermit Thrush after Chris packed up, hooked up the battery to the bilge pump system (which worked brilliantly), swept out the lodge, closed up the shed, and so on. By the time I went to fetch the boat at around noon, a light sprinkle had turned into a downpour and everyone donned rain gear. Once we had the boat loaded (it was a delightfully high rising tide), I asked everyone for one more favor: moving the boat back down the meadow so I’d have a chance at floating it on a 15’ or 16’ tide. I untied the line from the chain around the tree in the woods and we swung the boat to face the water, then easily slid it down the grass. Well, easily for about five feet. Then Katie pointed out that the line was quite taut—clearly it was snagged. I hastened back into the woods, but I needed more slack to undo the tangle (the line had wrapped itself around the crank handle) so I ran back out and they swung the boat back to give me a few feet. I freed the line and we soon had the boat at the edge of the gradual meadow slope just up from the log on the upriver side, where the slope gets steeper. Then we swiveled the boat to face the woods again and I retied the line and the anchor while the others got settled in the boat.

It was a long and rainy ride back. We picked up the halibut lines on the way out—all nibbled but with no fish on the ends of them. The water was fairly calm, the rain coming along with a gentle southeasterly. Outside of Limestone Inlet the engine stopped like it was out of gas, so I changed tanks, surprised that we were out so soon as I’d put a full five gallons in before leaving and that was on top of a few gallons that were in there already. In fact, it was rather troubling. We’d dumped all our extra ice and were traveling pretty light (no liquids, no linens, less food, less gas, etc.). As we headed north I pondered the fuel situation. Even with the extra trips to the mine and into Gilbert Bay for halibut lines and the creek, I should have had plenty of gas. Since the boat was so full on the way down, I’d sent Rob back to the truck with one of the full jerry jugs—gas that I’d meant to leave behind at Snettisham, but gas that I was beginning to wonder if I’d need. I was less than half way to town, and sometimes it takes nearly ten gallons one way. I had five, plus the gallon in the small jerry jug I keep for the kicker.

Well, long story short, the small tank ran out of gas just past Lucky Me. We’d been running on that tank for fifty minutes, which meant that we were burning a gallon every ten minutes. It’s 20 minutes down the channel, and we weren’t half way there yet. I dumped the gallon into the small tank, pretending like I just didn’t want to bother with a bigger one, and kept the engine at a lower RPM in the hopes that we’d at least make it to Sandy Beach where everyone could easily walk. I put a lot of will into it, but we ran out of gas just past the shallow point south of the Cave In. I confessed that we’d run out of gas (for real) and was talking about options (taking people to shore with the kicker, depending on how much gas was in it and calling for a rescue from my parents) while dumping the dredges of the jerry jugs into a mostly empty kicker tank (that will teach me to always keep it full). Chris asked if we should be flagging people down for gas, which was a great idea, and a skiff happened to be just south of us and heading in. We all waved to him and I held up a jerry jug and he came right over, offering us some of the 2.5 gallons he had on board. I poured about half in my tank and gave it back to him with a $20 bill from Chris; the guy said it was too much and, when we insisted, he insisted that we take all the gas if we gave him that much. I think he’d warmed up to us by then. We chatted a little about what we’d been up to (he’d caught a handful of cohos around the back side of Douglas, then got a line tangled around his kicker while fishing for kings) and I’d mentioned that we’d been at Snettisham and had burned more fuel than usual. He asked if I had a cabin down there….I said yes…..he said “Do you have a web site?” Ha! He’d stumbled onto it while researching the Taku.

Our savior waited until we’d started the engine before headed off back to town. That’s when I told everyone the lesson I’d learned: I need to check the tank before just assuming I’m out of gas if it doesn’t make sense. For some reason I’d decided to pour his gas into the large fuel tank and discovered when I opened it that there were several gallons yet inside. Something had stopped the flow of gas, but we were not out and had ample (if not a whole lot to spare) to get back to the harbor. So, lesson learned at least that fellow got to be a Good Samaritan for the day. We didn’t lose anything except a little body heat (we’d gotten chilly to various degrees on the wet ride home) and, in my case, quite a bit of pride.

Bear hair caught on the bridge

Otter tracks

It was an exhasting weekend!

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