Taku 2017 - 4: Dzeit (Dock)
  September 30 - October 2

Dawn over the glacier (view from the cabin)

Photo album

We met at Tempsco at 11:00 and apparently surprised some of the crew there, who had not realized they were flying us today. Thankfully they were around, as they had the very last tour of the season going out that afternoon. The day was dry and pleasant and everyone was kind and we eventually got all loaded up, me in front of the 500 as usual. We were hardly in the air before Cailey collapsed into a ball at my feet where she remained for the duration of the flight. When we'd walked up to the avalanche area that morning, I'd noted the low, solid ceiling and the mist whisping around the mountainside and wondered about our prospects. They did not look as promising as I'd have liked as we headed up the channel and I wondered what the ceiling actually was as we cruised over Douglas. It didn't improve as we turned into Taku Inlet, crossed over the top of Cooper Point, and headed into increasingly murky prospects. Our pilot, Wade, said that he was going to go along the right of the inlet in case the river was fogged in, and we headed along that shore beyond Jaw. But the mountainside in front of us disappeared and so he turned instead toward Flat Point, with the bottom of Taku Glacier shining in the distance. Then it, too, disappeared. I was getting increasing uncertain. But, we made it to Jaw and suddenly the glacier reappeared in front of us; we passed along the toe of it, then faced across the river to the cabin, which was also socked in. But it, too, cleared as we approached and we were soon stirring up a wild updraft of dead leaves as we descended onto the meadow of burgundy strawberry leaves. It was just about noon and we invited Wade to return in case he got socked in on the way home.

We unloaded and opened up efficiently except that we were unable to get propane to run through the system. I'd noticed a small click in the valve when I'd opened it and, when we could find no other issues, suggested that we try another tank in case this one had a problem; it had been changed shortly before we left but I don't think we'd lit the pilots, so it may have been untested. In any event, the new tank worked and I soon finished making quesadillas for lunch which I'd started cooking on the wood stove. We'd noted that it was chilly in town and it was chilly in the helicopter and even chillier inside the cabin, so we had a nice fire going to warm it up. To my surprise, my parents were eager to start work that afternoon, so we were soon trucking gear to the landing in anticipation of taking the floats out of the water, the main objective of this trip. I carried plywood down to make a ramp of the stairs and my parents followed shortly after with the 4-wheeler and tools. It felt fairly unorganized to begin with as everyone tried to contribute. My mom was screwing the plywood on, I went to Foxhole to fetch Big Charlie (the large wooden staff) and a hammer, and my dad was trying to cut the end of the rope that my mom had pulled down to the floats to pull them with. Several trips were made for the tool to remove the pins holding the floats together, the right bit for the drill to remove the screws on the railing, chainsaw, etc. I messed up and slowed us down by rotating the float pins an extra eighth of a turn, too far to pull them out. The first ones we worked with were on the walkway, too, which was propped up on some logs that had floated under them and so were putting more tension on the pin then they should have. In any event, we eventually separated the walkway into two sections, each two squares wide, and my dad pulled them up with the 4-wheeler.

Unfortunately, it got more complicated then, though probably for the best. The width between the railing on the stairs and the tree on the other side where we were sliding up the floats was just a couple of inches more than we needed for two rows of floats together; thus, we intended to split the main float into sections two floats wide. However, the downriver section has shorter floats designed to bring the riverboat up and we were unable to break those off as a two-width section because of the special connections they have. So, we had to take it three-wide, which meant removing the railing. I'd begun unscrewing it earlier, but ran out of batteries for the cordless drill. So my mother fearlessly went to the chainsaw, which was out of gas, so that required another trip. Soon it was down and then she also cut two of the protruding root wads roots off the log that was just at the bottom of the ramp so we didn't have to lift the floats an extra foot in that area to get over it. Once those were gone, which looked like double killer whale fins, the log actually acted like a ramp onto the bottom of the stairs. With these improvements made, that first section of three went up without a hitch and were soon in the woods. By then it was nearly time for cocktails and we weren't going to finish that afternoon anyway, so we turned in for a drink and dinner. I was fighting off a cold that had come on earlier this week, so was pretty worn out from several hours of physical labor, running errands, pulling floats, pushing floats, dragging floats, tying knots, balancing on the slippery riverbank. After dinner I couldn't keep my eyes open and napped while my dad did dishes. I woke to a very serene scene, everyone relaxing in their chairs. I'd originally intended to take a walk upriver after dinner, but it was getting dark by the time I woke up around 7:00! My mom had started the generator, so we had a cozy lamp going, but about 40 minutes later it ran out of gas. We took that as a sign to turn in, so everyone retired to their beds and read. Having struggled lately with my sciatica when sleeping, I forsook my normal hammock bed and slept on the couch, which had the added advantage of being just beneath a propane light. I read until about 9:30 very peacefully.

We all slept reasonably well. In the middle of the night I was once awakened by about five squeaks or squawls or squeals from an animal outside--my best guess would be marten--but it was dark and I didn't get up to pursue them. When I'd taken Cailey out before bed at 9:00 there were a few scattered stars in between the scattered cloud cover, and early in the night I saw a waxing gibbous moon low over the horizon to the south. I expected it to rise, but instead it seemed to skim over the horizon behind the hills and disappear; of course, I was half asleep every time I looked, so perhaps I misinterpreted its movements. Another time, a single sound caught my attention, which sounded like a bird vocalization, bold and in the dark, and I wondered if there was an owl out there hunting. It wasn't a call I recognized.

I was up a little after 8:00 and lit a fire and got the water heating for hot drinks. My parents rose a little later and we had a relaxing morning; my lingering illness allowed me to enjoy it rather than feeling an urge to get outside and get working. I finally had a cup of Russian tea and, at 10:30, we mustered at the landing to finish taking in the floats. The first two batches went up quickly, though the second set got its tow line caught a couple of times on the edge of the stairs when it started up a little catawampus. The last section included the boat winch and was heavier than the others and took more effort to get it up the stairs and into position. My dad kept stopping the 4-wheeler as he thought it was hitting a tree behind him, but I think it was just that the floats were heavier and put up more of a resistance. In just under an hour they were all out of the water and neatly stacked in the woods nearby, all the tools were puttering back to Alder, the lines were stowed, and the beach cleaned up. Ultimately, we probably put more time into prepping the area than in actually moving the floats. We schemed on and off all day as to how to create stairs that would function better as a ramp as well. Although it was a bit chaotic yesterday with all the various trips back for tools, dead batteries, etc., it wasn't a very time intensive project in the end.

Yet I was also glad that we hadn't decided to fly back today, as we might have. I was pretty hungry by the time I got back to the cabin and started lunch while my mother primed the water pump and changed the air filter and filled the water tank. Her quesadillas were just about ready when she got in, uncertain whether the pump was working as well as intended or had even filled the tank. By then the sun had reached the cabin, which we'd seen creeping across the river in our direction as the sun rose behind the mountains. I had more of a sore throat during the night and felt a little worse over the course of the morning, but was still more or less eager to head outside for a walk in this first-day-of-October sun. At about 1:00, my mom and I headed upriver, first stopping by the riverboat which needed to be flipped upsidedown for the winter. We'd left it facing the river at the edge of the bank where we'd intended to put it in last spring. Since I'd last seen it a month ago, the bow had filled with water and it had tipped over the bank and was balancing at a precarious angle. Since it had previously been draining out the back, it may be that the bank had continued its calamitous erosion and sloughed out underneath it enough to tip the bow down so the water collected in the front, further tipping it down. We couldn't get the stern down far enough to drain it through the back, so we walked back to the cabin and grabbed a couple of buckets to bail it out. When we had most of it out, we pulled it back a little, pivoted it until it was free of a tree it was hung up on, and then flipped it where it was. We did it in one strenuous lift and it fell in place perfectly, the center of the boat supported by a little hillock there. We put supports under the rest of it and continued upriver for our walk. I broke from the trail earlier than usual above the property to see if I could run into my birch tree, but didn't see it and we wound up wandering our way over to the eagle nest cottonwood and from there onto the big moraine at Big Bend. On the way down to the slough from there, we came across a very well-worn trail which could only be human and followed it to a recent campsite on the top of my special hill which I was sad to see had been trampled and the trees trimmed around a campfire. Based on some skewers and logs and twine nearby, we expect they will return. To their credit, there was not a speck of trash around, and that's impressive. We followed the trail back to the slough and then checked in on the beaver house we found a few years ago on a tributary, surprised to find that they've added to its height, the new sticks covered in fresh mud. We followed it upstream a little ways and, on an exploratory mission to see how wide it was (for we needed to cross) happened to approach it where a brand new little dam had been built, backing up the water maybe two feet. We crossed there and continued along the fringe of spruces following a game trail back to our trail to the cabin. The whole meadow was quiet. I saw one wren just upriver from the lodge and we heard one bird chirping in the distance. No ducks, no hawks, no sparrows, just about nobody was out there. My mom saw one rodent hustle by and Cailey saw or heard or smelled more, but it was very tan and burgundy and dry and quiet.

While my mom started prepping dinner, I read on the porch for a little while, then came in when I heard her putting ice in a glass for my dad's scotch; it was cocktail hour and I had a special treat. Thinking that we might want to celebrate the end of summer (I certainly did), I'd brought up a bottle of prosecco that had been chilling nicely in the fridge. We chatted and enjoyed the whole bottle, then had a delicious pasta primavera dinner and a terrible cheesecake for dessert. It turns out that maybe two years is too long for a box cheesecake to survive at a cabin? We're not sure exactly what was wrong with it, but it was terrible. We ate some cookies instead which have been in a metal canister for an unknown amount of time. Still, they were better. With what looked like a clear night ahead and knowing that aurora had been forecast a few days before, my mother and I made plans to get up a couple of times during the night to check. I took midnight, she took 2:00. My midnight expedition revealed a waxing gibbous moon low over the southern sky, mostly behind trees, bright enough to outshine most of the stars. My mother had a starry sky at 2:00 but nothing to rouse me for. I got up again at 4:00 and was rewarded with the clearest, most spectacular night sky I've seen in years; just as I looked up, a bright shooting star streaked across the sky right above me. It was worth getting up and standing in the cold to see. I was barefoot and wondered whether the damp cold under my feet was the result of dew or frost.

Unfortunately, those were not the only interruptions that night, as I was prone to several periods of coughing. I got up shortly after 8:00, very sleepy, put the couch back in order, lit a fire, put the water on, and collapsed again on the couch. Out the window I saw that most of the strawberries were white with frost. It was October, after all. I was no more inspired when my parents headed out to work on winterizing their various engines and agreed to stay in the area in case they needed my help with the water pump, but I was soon vertical and doing a preliminary sweep of the cabin which had accumulated a lot of debris from walking in and out over the past couple of days. When my mom stopped by and told me they didn't need me, I took Cailey upriver to pick up the bailing buckets we'd left behind and change the batteries/get the motion sensor camera set up for the winter. On the way back I walked to the other camera and got that set up as well. Then I filled three five gallon water jugs with water from the olive barrel, dipping a pitcher in from the top to make the filling go faster, then dumped the barrel and carried the catchment upstairs in the cabin. While my parents worked at other tasks, I cleaned the bathroom, took the porch swing down, brought a ladder to the porch, carried up the twin bed mattress and box spring from Alder, and did a handful of other little chores. We ate a final round of quesadillas for lunch, drank the last two beers, and finished winterizing shortly before the helicopter showed up at 2:00. The day had dawned overcast, but we had ample clearance to go over the top on the flight home. As we climbed out of Norris's dead branch to reach the ridge, my mom and I both spotted a small flock of white birds flying near a barren, alpine lake. Behind them another 40 or 50 flew. They seemed smaller than gulls and more compact, but neither of us know what they are. Something like snow buntings on migration?

The birds were soon swept from my mind as we crested the ridge, crossed to Blackerby, and then began the harrowing decent to the airport. Dropping off Blackerby is never a pleasant experience for me--something about the downward trajectory in a helicopter is unnerving, passing over one sheer dropoff to the next--but this was exacerbated by strong winds bouncing us around. Suddenly the stable bubble of the helicopter turned into a ridiculously tiny death compartment that seemed destined to career out of control and crash horribly into any one of the nearby ridges. The wind battered us back and forth, up and down while I tried to pay it cool. Cailey, who had for the first time resisted being picked up and placed in the helicopter, didn't appear perturbed by the movement as she laid down with her face in the bubble that allowed her to see directly below us, which I appreciated. Of course we landed safely and I drove home to the first drops of rain. Happy Fall!

October frost over the strawberries