Taku 2017 - 2: Chaash (Spruce Boughs)
  July 28-30

Taku Glacier

Photo album

4:30 on a Friday is a tough time to leave Juneau, especially when the day has not been spent at work. Thankfully, a Taku trip is very easy to prepare for and I had to go the store for magpie food anyway and grabbed the few things I needed for the weekend while I was there. I said goodbye to Katie and Rob in the morning, cleaned the two mews used by the (now released) crows and moved the magpie in, ran errands, cleaned house, and rested a little bit before it was time to go. The forecast, at least, was pretty enticing, and the day was unusually dry. With one load of gear, Cailey and I rolled down to the boat and were underway at 4:39, with beer in hand perhaps for the first time all summer. There was a tiny bit of chop in the channel but it all but collapsed by the time we reached Taku Inlet. It was still and wonderful, a high summer ride on flat calm water, low overcast, and reasonably warm. We made it to the cabin in a little over an hour and a half, even with the extra run time out of Aurora Harbor. Especially with the floats in place for a landing, the ride was so pleasant and easy it made me remember that the Taku cabin is not always such a hurdle. In can, in fact, be very easy. I was cautious along the lower meadows where I've run aground the last couple of summers, but never hit bottom and there's no root wad stuck there this year. There was a ripple in the water, but nothing came of it. Since I had almost nothing to refrigerate, I decided not to run the fridge to save propane, so once I had the boat secure and unloaded, I put two beers and a soda in the mesh bag I carry in my adventure pack and hung it over the side of the float to chill. With the pack on my back and a bag in each hand, plus my camera, I trekked to the cabin and opened up. I did little but have a snack and read for the rest of the night. For her part, Cailey could not settle down, watching avidly out the windows, even climbing the stairs to look from that vantage (or so it seemed). By nine I managed to get her on the couch but she never closed her eyes. I finally took us to bed in my room, sleeping on the hammock for the first time in over a year and heard Cailey fall asleep on the dog bed.

Today I did not venture far from the cabin. I surprised myself by rising relatively early--it was but 8:08 when I got up after lounging around in the ridiculously comfortable hammock and listening to the rain on the roof. I had a cup of hot chocolate and some bread, picked up the memory card from the back trail cam, pulled out the clippers from Alder, and began slowly clipping my way along the trail to the boat. Ostensibly I was going to check on the boat, but couldn't resist clipping back the alders and devil's club and salmonberries that were overhanging the path on the way. I intensely dislike branches reaching for me on trails, let alone soaking my pant legs. When the trail opened a little, baby alders grew an inch apart in a solid two-foot high mass on the mountain side. These were seeded alders, not growing off existing roots, so the best strategy (I thought) was to uproot them so others would not spring from the roots if I cut them. I pulled them up to about two feet from the path; if we keep that clear, perhaps we'll have a better chance to maintain it. Eventually I did reach the boat and it was just fine. I clipped the other side of the path on the way back and a little farther before deciding for a break. I'd only been working an hour, but was a little tired and sweaty. Inside I had a quick snack and then laid down on the couch to read. I was surprised to hear a plane pass close overhead from upriver, but it did not return, and I went back to reading. A few minutes later I heard an engine quit and, although I hadn't noticed the engine noise in the first place, I was very aware of it stopping, and stopping in a way that sounded a lot like a plane engine stopping. Surely someone didn't just land? I resisted the urge to get up and check, but I did keep an eye on Cailey who soon perked her head up and looked out the window. So I got up and found my mother walking up the path to me, smiling! My SPOT message had not reached them, and my father is more consumed with worry these days, so my mom came up in a Ward Air 185 to make sure everything was okay. I really wished she was there to stay. Instead she grabbed the laundry she'd left the last time and I walked her back to the plane. She told me about the third motion sensor camera upriver, which I'm glad she did, as when I retrieved the SD card to check on it, it was full, and unfortunately full of winter videos we've already seen. I've deleted all the photos and will be able to reset it for next time. The weather had lightened up, so I took that chance to check out the view from the two porches upstairs with an eye toward the satellite for internet. I couldn't see the mountain out the back porch, but the trees are close and dense and tall, so I went to the front porch. Idly remembering that I needed to make sure the doors were locked when I was done, I locked the door behind me...and closed it. Which I realized immediately. I was on the second story porch, locked out! Too bad I hadn't done that when my mother arrived. I put my phone down and eyed the vertical post in the middle of the front for shimmying potential. It seemed a much better option than jumping. I climbed over, balanced on the projecting log holding up the upper floor, and swung down with my arms wrapped around that vertical pole. It turned out to be unnecessary as, when I hung all the way down, my toes could reach the railing of the lower deck and I was soon down!

And shortly thereafter I was back at the clipping, this time working the trees between the cabin and Alder, down along the water line path, and back toward the river and the trail to the landing. I recarved two small meadows on the side of the trail that were getting overgrown with both overhanging alders and young alders growing away from the fringe. It was also satisfying to cut a lot of young spruces just behind the alders, alive enough to send out branches seeking the sun. I took no joy in killing them, but doing so now will save a lot of work later, and they are, ultimately, doomed. The rain held off and the sun even came out, warming me up enough to doff my fleece and work in short sleeves as I reached the river. It was satisfying to meet up with the work I'd done earlier. When it was time for a rest, I fetched a beer from the river--not as cold as I expected-- and sat on the front porch to drink it and read with the scent of a mosquito coil around me and Cailey on a dog bed next to me. When I was inside, a hummingbird had come searching for nectar in the downriver feeder, so I'd hastily filled the other one; a hummer came by to check it out twice but was apparently too shy to stay. And  then I was back at it again for the fourth shift. This time I headed for the river, cutting some alders in the middle of the meadow and then working my way along the river fringe to the little gap that leads to the river there, then following the other side downriver until I reached the work I'd done earlier, then doubling back and following the fringe on the other side all the way to my work toward Alder. Finally I took a break for lunch--I'm not sure how I made it to 3:00 on such little sustenance. That was followed by some more reading while the rain came down heavily. I was ready to start again as it cleared up, but Cailey was sleeping next to me so sweetly I decided to close my eyes instead. But not for long, as Cailey was soon distracted by something outside and I decided for one more push. I went back to the river and finished working in that area, first cutting the half a dozen healthy trees growing at the downriver edge of the clump in front of the cabin, the largest of them well over my head. I think the only thing left downriver of the cabin requires a chainsaw. There are three or four easy spruces, three clumps of alders too big for clippers, and then I also want to cut back the alder fringe along the river where we could have a view. They are trimmed and not reaching so much now, but I'd like to cut them back and keep them there. Before I came inside I walked back to the meadow behind the cabin, resetting the motion sensor camera there, moving it to a nearby tree, and resetting it to take videos instead of stills. The other tree might be a rubbing tree, and the camera had been turned backwards again; perhaps this new view will prove that to be the case. In any event, I think it'll get creatures coming and going from the same place, just a little down the trail. Now I'm inside getting caught up and the rain is pouring again. Even so, there is brightness across the river--the weather is really off and on again. The first thing I did this morning was fix the inverted umbrella catchment on my mother's rain barrel (which was overturned when I arrived) so it was relatively flat again instead of bent up on one half. I think I am a little sore...tomorrow I should probably collect all the branches and remove them before I do anything else--I'm sure I'll find more to do beneath them. And maybe try to find the chain saw in the little cabin and work on some of the larger trees. I am pleased to have pushed back the growth a little more forcefully and long-term than I've been able to in the past.

In the morning I continued my pattern of working for an hour or so until I needed a break and then reading for a while. As is often the case, I found the tank out of water when I got up, so the first thing I did was fill it. Since I was already outside, I started work without breakfast, focusing on transporting the masses of cut branches and trees off the trails. At first I carried them to the main point, but soon took to throwing them over the bank in the little pocket of erosion just downriver of the alders we can see from the cabin on the riverbank. There had been so much clipping in that area that I wound up filling it up. Over the next couple of sessions I carried the rest into piles in the trees. Later in the morning I indulged in a cup of tea on the swing. The day was overcast but fairly dry and, though I still had to work in rain pants for the wet vegetation, it seemed to be drying out a little. After most of the cuttings had been transported, I started going around the area again and cutting all the clumps of alders and little spruce trees that I'd missed, often because they'd been covered in cuttings. Near the river, I "weeded" a large area of young alders two to eight inches high, hundreds and hundreds of them, and not very thoroughly so it'll need to be done again soon. I was more or less happy with the space on the trails, though when they were thus defined I realized that taking out a few of the large trees would really open the area up. It's hard to believe that I've gone from refusing to consider cutting any trees, to considering cutting the larger trees at the bottom of the meadow to make it feel like a meadow again.

I had intended to cut about four spruces and a few clumps of large alders with a chain saw when everything else was done, and did go and retrieve it from the little cabin, getting my firsts look at the nice work my parents had done on it. In the shop, however, I found about four small jerry jugs of gas, none marked, and decided I didn't want to take the risk of damaging the chain saw for choosing the wrong one. I went so far as to look at the color of the gas in one to see if it was mixed, but ultimately decided it was a task I could do next time. I set up the other motion sensor camera, cleaned the cabin, and lounged around on the boat long enough to finish my book. Dressed in a hoody, I was alternately chilled enough to put up the hood and almost too warm when the sun came out for a couple of minutes at a time.

The tide was at an inconvenient 7:26, so I decided to leave very early, pushing off the dock at 4:49 p.m., taking as baggage my mom's little Johnson kicker for the canoe which had been dunked in the water during the family trip in June. I always love leaving the cabin, as the river is usually perfectly calm and I enjoy putting down along the riverbank, usually standing up until I get beyond Taku Point. This day was no different, and I idled most of the way down since it was still the middle of the tide. I did touch bottom briefly toward the lower end of the bare cliffs along the cirque waterfall, so that was good to know. The river was perhaps a foot lower than it had been on the way up, and raising my engine a little allowed us to glide over that patch. I then got up to speed until we were along Hut Point, then slowed down a little and crept up on the rocky point that I believe has a Tlingit monument on it, if it's the one I can see clearly from the river. I made a few attempts to gently reach the rocks at a spot where I could hop off, but eventually left it for another day. The outside of the point is right against the river, but there's an eddy below it off a muddy grass beach, and even bolts in the rocks above that I could tie the boat to. It'll be easy next time, especially if I have someone to help hold the boat off as we drift in.

Back in the current I spotted a black bear on the mountain and watched him for a minute while a gull screamed in circles overhead. And then I started puttering down into the danger zone where I could imagine I saw the signs of sandbars ahead. I was slowly following what looked like a strong current when two river rats came by at speed on either side of me and started weaving around. They both followed a similar pattern and did it with confidence, so I bucked up and followed them as they rapidly gained on me and disappeared toward Flat Point. How faithful I was to their path, and how much room for error there was I don't know, but I made it to deep water and enjoyed a perfectly serene ride home, weaving through drift nets off Jaw Point and more densely beyond Bishop. Once again, I was amazed at how much energy I had following such a pleasant boat ride!

Alder clippings