Karlie Lake
July 3-5, 2015

Looking out over
the Berner's Bay watershed

Katie, Rob, Chris, and I decided to splurge for 4th of July weekend and fly to a remote site to camp. After lot of brainstorming and a planning meeting on the beach at Sheep Creek, we decided on an alpine lake in the Berner's Bay watershed that had caught Rob's eye on a flight to Skagway; it looked like it was called Karlie Lake, and Ward Air was willing to fly us there. We left about four hours later than expected due to weather delays, then took off on a rapidly clearing July 3rd afternoon. It was a short flight, but when we flew toward the entrance to the lake, nearly 3,000 feet up, we saw only a pool of fog. Our pilot, obviously more familiar with the spot than we, flew right into the bowl and, to our relief, we could soon discern some of the cliffs around us and then the deep blue of the alpine lake. After a hair raising (for me anyway) tight turn alarmingly close to the tall cliffs on the inside of the lake, we landed easily and taxied to the only obvious non-rocky section of the shoreline, a long sandy stretch at the base of the boulder strewn slope leading up to a saddle. It was a bit tricky getting Cailey down, especially as the pilot was grumpy about her being on the seat, but Chris managed to get her on it anyway so I could grab her, as there was no way to reach her in the few inches between the back seat and the front seat. Before long we had all our gear on shore and were alone on the lake.

And feeling pretty jubilant that we'd made it! The scenery, even clouded by fog banks, was spectacular, the deep blue of the lake surrounded by rock, sometimes vertical, sometimes rounded, and sparse alpine vegetation. We immediately left our gear on shore and started exploring the peninsula nearby in search of the perfect campsite. Wide patches of soft snow separated brutal boulder fields, beyond which the landscape softened and we encountered mosses, lichens, and many flowering alpine plants. We found one small beach in the next cove over where we probably could have brought the plane in, but a snow field inched right up to the narrow beach, so it was discarded as a camp site. Although we found other favorable spots with stunning views on the peninsula, in the end the impracticality of hauling all our gear (including a bag full of firewood!) across the snow and boulder fields to a camp site high above the lake outweighed their allure.

When we got back to the wide expanse of sand, we set up out tents at the back edge of it in relatively dry areas, Rob and Katie right next to the creek that drained the boulder slope and us more in the middle. Then we set up chairs at the edge of the lake and ate chips and salsa and other appetizers before enjoying Rob and Katie's halibut tacos for dinner. We burned about half the wood they'd brought in a cheery fire that did not entirely dispel the chill of an alpine evening. At times patches of blue sky appeared, but then the fog would roll in, sometimes nearly obscuring the tents from our view. Before we retreated to our tents, Chris inflated the Bob Fossil, our latest inflatable raft, and we set up a pulley system to leave it in the lake overnight just in case any bears came wandering through camp. Katie had a bear canister for some of the food, but we had a bit more than it could hold. Chris and I dropped an anchor beyond the shallow shelf of sand and attached a float and carabiner through which we drew a line attached to the boat. Other than a knot in the line catching in the carabiner, it worked amazingly well, and stored our food safely overnight.

It was a cold night, and I struggled to keep Cailey warm with spare clothes and parts of my sleeping bag. The morning was cloudless and beautiful. We had hash (pre-made) and scrambled eggs for breakfast, then set off up the boulder and snow slope toward the saddle with the idea of circumnavigating the lake. The boulders were enormous, and sometimes tricky to traverse, but we mostly stuck to them on the way up. Near the top we four joined hands and won the pass, rewarded with a jaw-droppingly stunning view of the adjacent valley, almost straight down. It was suddenly more understandable why moose thrive in the Berner's watershed, as this relatively short stretch of river alone was obviously good habitat.

At the Ward Air office waiting for our flight

Loading the beaver

Alpine plants

Karlie Lake

Karlie Lake

Karlie Lake

Exploring around the lake

Katie and Rob

Alpine plants

Misty alpine

A ledge with a few spruces

More awesome alpine plants

Looking down on our camp site


Our camp site

Mist rolls in over our tents

Our cache of food on Karlie Lake

The five of us enjoy the fire

After a few minutes, we climbed the ridge to the east and reached the first big outcropping where we paused to enjoy the even more stunning view from a large flat, mossy section, and had snacks. Clumps of white goat hair were found nearby to join the scat and tracks we'd been seeing (none particularly fresh). Rob explored in both directions on his own, beginning to scale the steep cliffs on the other side of the saddle, then Chris and I continued on up our side of the ridge, skirting precipitous drops and skipping across platforms of mossy rock. It was such easy going that we found it hard to stop, and the view got incrementally better as we moved farther down the valley. We finally came to a very steep section of enormous boulders and I let Chris go on without me as Cailey was suddenly at a disadvantage. Soon Rob showed up and the two of them reached the highest point of the ridge. As I headed back down with Cailey, I looked up to see a raptor soaring high above me, surely an eagle, but something seemed not quite right about it. Just then a piercing, all-too-familiar scream broke out'red-tailed hawk! He or she screamed three times. It was the only wildlife we'd seen save for an eagle, a couple of ravens and gulls, and a couple of swans at the bottom of the valley.

When we all grouped up again we descended from the saddle, mostly skiing down the snowy slope beside the boulder falls we'd clung to on the way up. Hot and sunburned and reeling from the views, we relaxed in camp until dinner, salmon, pasta and veggies, cooked more over the fire than the stove as it was struggling to put out enough heat. In the late afternoon, a plane came and in and landed, to our surprise, apparently coming ashore at the beach we'd seen earlier. I can only imagine they were as surprised and probably unhappy to see us as we were to see them! In the end we decided that the best strategy was to invite them over for drinks, but they never gave us the chance, disappearing up the rocks and never approaching our beach. Before they took off, Chris told us urgently to look at what they were doing, which I was doing (seeing nothing) when a champagne cork shot out from behind me and landed at the edge of the lake. It was the 4th of July and Chris has smuggled in a bottle of champagne, chilled in the nearby snow field!

As the sun slipped below the horizon, casting an orange glow on some of the scattered clouds, Chris and Rob headed down the beach a little ways to set off a box of Saturn missiles. I stayed behind with Cailey, shivering in the mountain chill. The fireworks were festive, but terrified Cailey, possibly for the safety of Rob and Chris, as she calmed down as soon as they returned! That night, I woke early to Cailey's violent shivering which, as I piled more cloths and blankets under and over her, seemed to be more a matter of illness than cold. I held her all morning (there was no sleeping with that shaking) and woke up weary. We mostly hung around the lake the next morning, enjoying Rob's flapjacks, cooked more over his water heating stove than our camp stove which was still struggling to produce heat. Chris paddled around in the Howard Moon for a few minutes, discovering a hole that doused him with icy mountain water when he sat down. Rob hiked down the peninsula and up the ridge beyond, winning a different view of the area with apparently little effort. When the plane came to fetch us, Cailey wetly crashed on Katie and Rob's lap all the way back.

Heading up the snow fields to the pass

Looking down the pass

Alpine flowers

Mountain goat scat

Chris on the saddle

Looking down on Karlie Lake

View from the ridge

The ridge

Over the saddle

Mountain Goat Cailey

Too steep for even Mountain Goat Cailey

Chris and Rob on the highest knob

View down a steep mossy slope

We ski home

Afternoon snacks at the lake

Cailey is cold

Sunset, 4th of July

Morning on the 5th

Rob making flapjacks


A last spectacular photo of the cliffs near camp

Katie and Rob on the ridge