Taku 2020 - 3: Tramping
  September 2 - 5

Taku Glacier

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It's almost 7:30. The wood I just put on the fire is flaming brightly, reflecting in the window pane to my right which is otherwise showing a foggy, rainy evening just beginning to dim on this early fall day. I am pretty comfortable, but my head is still reeling with the trip up here, and the sense of relief at being here, and being warm, is still powerful. It was not a pleasant ride, but at least it didn't start in the rain! The expedition began when I stopped by my parents' place to drop off some raven food and pick up a battery for the 4-wheeler. Thinking that I really needed a better way to get Cailey (and possibly my gear) on and off the boat, I asked about a 2x12 laying nearby and it was offered, but it was long and wet and dirty and I quickly accepted my mom's offer to take it to the harbor in the truck. Ezra was hung up with work, so I headed down alone and loaded two carts while my mom walked the board to the boathouse. Then we each pushed a cart down and nearly had the boat loaded when Ezra arrived to see me off. Although my departure was early enough in the day that I didn't have to work anxiously all day waiting for the tide, I was still extremely stressed out. Maybe it was concern about running the river, maybe it was thinking about dealing with unloading when I got there, I don't know, but I blew up at Cailey on the way down and was just barely keeping it together as I found a place for the board on the Ronquil and dealt with the pile of slipping, awkward metal fence posts I was taking along. But at least it was dry in the boat house! I do love boat house life. I was also really grateful that I'd done most of the prep work for this trip weeks ago before I headed down to Snettisham for a week, so all I had to do were the basics of food and clothes, raingear, etc. All the cameras, signage, propane fittings, tarps, staple gun, etc. were packed. At 10:00 I'd gotten gas and dropped it off at the boat to help ease pressure later while my mother kindly bought some supplies for me since Ezra and I are meant to be quarantining after I got sick last weekend (test results pending).

Anyway, off I went, about half an hour after my original hoped for departure, but still two and a half hours before the tide. There was a chop coming down the channel, a little bumpy but not enough to shake us up, slow us down, or cause Cailey to stand up. But at the end of the channel as I was angling toward Salisbury, the seas suddenly picked up, coming from Admiralty rather than straight up the channel. And quickly they built, steep, tight, 2-foot seas that slammed us mercilessly, over and over, with no escape. I had to turn and run into them and they beat us up no matter how slow we were going, dropping us into the trough over and over again after raising us up on jumbly, sharp peaks. Oh, it was awful, bone jarring stuff, and if I'd had to face it for much longer I'd have relented I think and turned around. But I knew it would change once we got around Salisbury, which we did eventually. There the seas widened a bit and we were able to pick up a little speed as we rode in the trough most of the time, sliding around on 2-3 footers coming all the way up Stephen's Passage at us. It was better, less slamming, but we were rolling around quite a bit. I looked with great longing at Bishop in the distance. As the seas continued to build, I eventually had to turn and face some of them, which took us wider around Bishop than usual, which was probably just as well. As we neared it and the seas turned to travel with us, it actually became rather fun, and the Ronquil was absolutely rocking those seas (i.e., taking them beautifully). Up and down and around, it was totally at ease, handling them with perfection. We paused briefly while I used the bucket and I moved the tarps that had fallen onto Cailey's bed, then took off again while the rolling two and increasingly three foot seas carried us toward Cooper. And, oh what a beautiful thing it is when you come around Cooper and the seas inexplicably die. We raced for Jaw Point on a leveling sea. It was flat calm beyond there, but the rain starting falling and the inlet was misted over and I had the dreaded river ahead of me. For years I never touched bottom, but I haven't had a trip recently without hitting at least once and I hate to do that at speed. So as I passed Davidson Creek and the flats beyond I started debating when to slow down, knowing I was still five or six miles from the cabin. I turned the fathometer on when we approached the Forest Service cabin and alternated going slow enough for it to read and picking up speed without quite getting on step. Most of the water there was 5-8 feet deep and I don't know if that was going over a sandbar or a channel. When I was safely past, the depth dropped to 13 feet and I got back up on step past Taku Point and around the corner. Then the next trial--where is the main river channel people are taking before turning over toward the slough? I tried the same spot I used last time, just past the big avalanche chute, but in what direction to point? When the river is miles wide, there are a lot of options. I wanted the depth sounder to show me the channel, but to go back and forth to find it would take too much time. It was mostly around eight or nine feet, which was great, but when should I turn to the slough? It was so misty I couldn't even make it out and had to guess by the mist-shrouded trees to the north of it. I think I may have missed the turn, as all of a sudden there were what appeared to be sandbars in the way. Indeed I touched bottom as I passed over them several times and moved at half speed until I got close to shore. Such a relief to turn upriver then with confidence!

By then I was quite cold and Cailey had been shivering for some time. I'd tucked her in under a blanket when it started raining but, despite the calm seas, she wouldn't settle down but wanted to be sniffing or sitting on the back bench or alert to what I was up to, since I was very alert and sometime standing up myself. I started to turn into the landing I've been using this year and nosed in between the two logs as usual, but the water was so high there was much too much distance between the inner log and the shore which was held off by a submerged log. Instead, I surveyed the possibilities farther downriver and the best place I found was the old landing site which had a layer of roots and moss laying over a more gradual slope than most places which had sheer sand cliffs. On the upriver side, the bottoms of a couple of leaning trees (one cut off) made a convenient place to step off and scramble up; the downriver side also had steps, but was steeper and required me to step off the boat almost at water level, while the other side was a step up off the bow. Cailey gracefully got off first. I tied the bow to a tree and unloaded everything; it was work, but so much easier than it has been the last two times. At the very least, I wasn't fighting alders batting at my head the entire time! Then I tied the stern line off and anchored, which worked beautifully after I gave it just a little more line so the stern came into the little bite below the trees close enough that I could climb off. I did have to reposition the board (which we didn't use) so it didn't get caught in the alders downriver and hold me off. Cailey danced with joy when I finally came ashore and I was doing a little dance myself. I'd made it!!

And I found the cabin in perfect condition, also a relief. I made two trips up with gear, leaving some things down there under a tarp temporarily. It didn't look like anyone had been inside. Still seriously frazzled by the seas and the river and the cold, I unpacked everything, started a fire (or tried to) and sat down at 4:00 with thanks and a glass of wine. I sat there for about half an hour before I decided to see what I might have for dinner. I'd brought very little for food, remembering that there were quite a few dinners left here and not wanting to carry any extra weight. The mac and cheese sounded good, but boiling pasta on the fireplace seemed unlikely, so I decided to try for propane before dinner. Weeks ago I'd bought fittings to reconnect the copper tubing once I cut off the leaky area (thanks Harri's Plumbing!) and borrowed the flare and cutting tools from my parents. I hoped it would be a simple task, but encountered a familiar issue I'd encountered most recently when installing the same tubing for my diesel heater at Snettisham: the old tubing was bent and not very flexible. You have to put the flare nuts on the tube before you flare the end of it, as the nut then slides over the trumpet-shaped tube, which fits nicely inside and screws into a fitting. This requires the nut to slide a few inches down the tubing and, because the nut just barely fits over the tubing, it has to be straight for those two inches. Any curve in the tubing, any kink to the opening, and the nut won't go on. It slid right onto the end where the propane tank was, but the other was a battle. I think I cut three sections off, several inches at a time, and a few shorter pieces, before I finally landed on a section that was straight enough. Through a few trials and errors, I figured out how to use the flaring tool again and got both ends flared nicely. I wrapped the threads of the connector in hose tape and screwed in the tank end nut. I'd cut enough tubing off the other end that it was sticking straight into the air, so I had to very carefully bend it until it met the connector straight on, which worked once I scooted the tank back a little bit. I tightened them up with the wrench, turned the gas on, and dumped soapy water over it that I'd made in a plastic salt shaker I found inside. No leaks. In fact, it looked quite tidy. Would it work?

I stopped by the outhouse and put all the tools away before I tried it. With only a little hesitation, the pilots on the stove top lit up and the oven pilot lit enthusiastically. I had propane again! Hallelujah. That is civilized living! I washed up and put some soup on to heat (not pasta after all) during which I temporarily adopted the comforter I used last time and formally covered it in my comforter cover, making the bed. It's too long, so the bottom of the comforter is doubled up inside the cover. And at last I sat in the quiet of the warming cabin and ate my soup and roll, chasing that with some stale oreos and chocolate, a little reading, and an episode of The 100. I think a good night's sleep will dissipate the shellshock of the afternoon; I can start the day with tea and hot oatmeal and decide what of the many activities I might do, looking at two and a half days ahead.


It's dark, 8:30, and I'm reeling from a different kind of exhaustion! I managed to sleep past 8:00, but didn't get up right away, allowing myself a leisurely morning. After a hot (civilized!) breakfast of peanut butter, oatmeal, and Russian tea, I suited up and headed down to the fallen tree at the landing. After fueling and lubricating my chainsaw, I limbed and bucked as much of the top of the tree as I could before it got too high. It didn't yield as much as I'd hoped to get--most of the wood is still on the tree--but hopefully it'll come down this winter. To help with that, I made a partial cut in three of the four branches that look most to be supporting its weight. Then I moved to Fox Hole and started digging the sand away from the edge of the siding, grateful to see that the ground hadn't reached it on the front side. I heated up enough for that task to work in a t-shirt, but paused in the middle to take Cailey back to the cabin so she didn't have to sit around in the chill, during which I grabbed the staple gun and staples to replace the tarp. I finished the excavation, digging out 4-6" from the two sides except where confronted with large roots. Then I raised up the tarp and stapled it as high as it wanted to go, wrapping it around the sides and placing plywood against it and boards along the bottom to help keep it in place. On the way back I excavated around the outhouse as much as I could as well. After that I opened up Alder and took the plywood off the 4-wheeler section, fetching screws for the propane tank and, later, the two-wheel cart kit. I'd found a metal strap screwed by one end to the wall at the propane tank, which must have one supported a 100 pound tank at one time, so I unscrewed that and screwed one end to a new place to fit the 20 pound tanks. I left that task unfinished, needing a hammer.

By that time it was noon, so I broke for a hot quesadilla before suiting up--this time in waders--to head to the canoe. In my backpack I had cameras, extra batteries, extra SD cards, my leatherman, SPOT, a hammer, some scraps of plywood, and the no hunting signs. In my arms I carried all the green metal fence posts. The meadow was quiet, the slough still and beautiful. It had rained hard on and off all night, but had stopped in the morning and held off, mercifully, for most of this trip. Before I launched the canoe, I attached four no hunting signs to sign posts to get ready, immediately walking to the nearby property line to post the first just next to the slough, then moving to the other side of the island via canoe to post the second. As I paddled away, several birds were tittering along the shore and I caught a flash of yellow; in binoculars I had wonderful looks at a couple of yellowthroats! Better looks than I had of the males during breeding season. I could see from a distance that the beaver lodge at the entrance to the slough that drains the avalanche had seen a lot of activity. We pulled in and encountered a dam a short distance up. Since there just happened to be a bare patch on the bank across the side slough from the lodge, I set up a camera there on a fence post. I don't know if it will pick up movement that far away, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. We then paddled to the opposite end of the property, made a conservative guess based on the location of the corner marker at the mountain, and posted a sign there facing upstream. A group of teal paddled out of the beaver lodge slough but disappeared as soon as I started pounding. I used a couple scraps of plywood to help spread the weight and protect the zip ties holding the sign in place while I pounded the post in, but it still thwacked pretty good. From there we went for a longer paddle on the absolutely still water, passing another obviously active beaver lodge just shy of the entrance to the slough that leads to the lodge under the willows. Yellowthroat Island was home to more accommodating yellowthroats. Around Big Bend, three goldeneyes paddled in the foreground, the teal group in the distance, all of which soon disappeared.

We'd been underway for about an hour and a half then, so I decided to do a bit more exploring. It was, as always, tough walking through the sweet gale and ferns, more flooded than usual, and I was starting to wear out, but decided to stop by the property line on the way back to put up more signs there since we were passing right by. We headed in at the sign I'd already planted. I was about to place one in the meadow just inside of the fringe of brush along the main slough, but could then get a better look at the trees along the river and thought I was well inside the line. I walked north to the edge of a tributary slough where I could see the mountain and cottonwood both and placed a sign at my best guess of the boundary in a place where people across the slough would have a clear view. No sense in them crossing that slough for no reason anyway. I then walked up the slough a ways, which was partially bordered by meadow and partially by willow clumps, and stumbled onto a Forest Service boundary marker right at the edge. Bingo, my guess was correct. I left another sign there, then continued down the slough, skirting around a dense clump of willows. In the meadow on the other side I could see another boundary marker on the opposite side of the slough, the one that I'd stumbled onto during the last trip. I pounded in my last fence post there (the signs were back in the boat) to revisit the next day.

My legs were getting pretty worn out pushing through the wet brush, so I was looking forward to reaching the canoe again, only to remember that I'd left my SPOT on the boundary marker to mark it. Oops, back we went, and then back to the slough. I emerged closer to the side slough than I'd come in and was pleased to see the 2x2 that held the original no hunting sign at an angle, flooded with water. It was a bit north of where I'd put the new one and was clearly closer to the actual border, so I pulled up the other sign and replaced it in that area. Back on the water, Cailey curled up on the wet carpet in the bow and licked her wet fur as we closed the distance to the haul out. I had two posts left and attached two signs to them when we got back to the landing, placing one in the large meadow between the slough and the fringe of willow and the other in the smaller meadow between the willows and the timber. I was relieved to be free of fence posts and heading home, and Cailey echoed my enthusiasm, ecstatically running ahead to the cabin. It was 5:30, so we'd been wandering around and paddling for five hours. A good afternoon after a good morning's work! I hastily dried Cailey, lit a fire, and made chili for dinner, finding it hard to fill my hungry stomach.
During the tramp, I'd seen a falcon or the like fly over, a number of sparrows darting away, a couple of snipe which I startled, jays, ravens, eagles, and thrushes.


I'm now two days ahead, half an hour before I'm thinking about departing. Last night I was a mix of exhausted and upset and so allowed myself to get lost in entertainment rather than type a trip report. It was another good day of work in the morning and tramping adventure in the afternoon. Despite restlessness and getting to sleep late (close to midnight), I woke up early and, while I was making a half-hearted effort to drift back to sleep, Cailey and I both heard a scampering sound on the cabin somewhere and she leaped up. I was already awake, so I got up too, surprised to find it was only 6:45. The day was young and I decided to work before breakfast, heading down to Fox Hole with a pair of clippers to finishing excavating around the siding. Clipping the roots that had headed under the building (and the outhouse) and then scraping out more sand was laborious work and I was soon overheating, but it was quickly done. Cailey was anxious for us to return to the cabin and not at all pleased when I started clipping the trail along the river where it was overgrown with alders and devil's club--the one area around the cabin I had neglected this summer. But my boat was down there and I'd been repeatedly irritated at the clinging vegetation I had to push through, so I set to work. Only a little more, I kept telling Cailey, but I am unstoppable when I start clipping. I have no self control. Cut a few branches there, pull some young alders there, what about that cranberry, that devil's club, where did that alder come from? But, the results are good and once again I am pleased at what little effort it is taking to get the trails back into shape around here; frequent maintenance is the key.

I eventually did have breakfast and gave in and lit a fire to stave off the chill and perhaps clear the fog off the windows. And (why not!) perhaps try to put together the 2-wheel cart kit that I'd drug up the path from Alder, taunting me on the porch. I'd made the same attempt a couple of years ago, only to find that the board for the bottom of the cart was curled up on the sides and couldn't be used. I'd brought it back to town thinking that my mother could use it to make a replacement, which she did, even putting a coat of preservative on it that made it beautiful. The main complication was that the instructions had at one point apparently gotten very wet and were in tatters. When I first carefully unfolded them it wasn't even clear that they were all there, though I eventually found my way through all the directions. Some words and portions of pictures were torn away or otherwise unreadable, and I was surprised to be able to understand them with a bit of careful study and filling in the blanks. And it appeared that all the parts were there, the hardware inventory perfectly matching the contents.

And so I turned the living room into a little workshop and put the cart fully together in about an hour and 40 minutes using a screwdriver, a wrench, some WD-40, and my cordless drill to drill the required holes in the new plywood bottom. Other than some confusion over how to attach the metal tube stand, which may or may not have been more intelligible with untattered instructions, it went very smoothly. Quite pleased, I wheeled it out the door, cleaned out the living room, and had a quesadilla for lunch. At ten to 1:00, Cailey and I headed out on another adventure, this time on foot. The day had been mostly overcast with little rain, so I was in rain gear and xtratufs this time, with three cameras, one no hunting sign, and zip ties in my pack. My goal was to attach the sign to the fence post I'd left empty the day before on the northern end of the property line and then seek out a glacial erratic for a possible camera location. The first was easily accomplished, after which I made a detour to the next sign in line thinking that I'd move the sign on that post to the USFS boundary marker post just next to it to free up the fence for a camera. Unfortunately, I cut the zip ties holding the sign on before I realized that the shorter post and its lower holes would make the sign too low to see clearly through the sweet gale, so I moved it back.

When I had first approached the property line slough, I keyed in on a flurry of bird activity on the other side. A thrush-sized bird was aggressively chasing other birds that approached its shrub. It was solid brown on the back with a pale yellow, heavily streaked breast and a yellow eye line. It was very striking and unfamiliar. It chased off both Lincoln's sparrows and the first of the white-crowned/golden-crowned sparrows of the day. It looked like neither, but was not having them around. As one point I think I saw a second individual. I've since looked for them and they are spitting images of northern waterthrushes. They match perfectly. Wow, a new species!

Overall, I think Cailey was enjoying this trek much more. Everything was considerably drier, we were walking through more open country (including the trail) more slowly, and it wasn't raining, the sun even peeking out through the clouds every now and again and threatening to overheat me in my rain gear. I stumbled across an area I called "pretty meadow" for its brilliant patches of yellow goldenrod and purple asters and burgundy fireweed leaves that were, together, achingly beautiful. The bit of sunshine was warming us up and the delectable scents of a Taku fall were on the air, for some reason heightened in the stand of trees despite there being little vegetation beneath. I inhaled deeply--hints of nagoonberries and sweet gale, and whatever else is in that heady mix of Taku scents. I was thoroughly enjoying the walk.

But as much as I wanted to explore more, my other mission was to find an erratic and we were clearly running out of areas with low vegetation, so we turned back to the boundary and crossed the slough. I quickly found my first erratic on the other side, a few paces away from widely spaced spruces. There were some bird droppings and maybe those of a mammal on it and the vegetation wasn't too high. It was a strong contender, although I'd have preferred a more isolated rock without the trees that might look to be better perches. This area is quite beautiful--a strawberry/nagoonberry/iris patch of high ground with widely spaced spruces isolated by a band of trees and brush. There were a surprising number of ripe nagoonberries and even a few delicious little strawberries. Among them were more sparrows--none in breeding colors, so I couldn't quite decide if they were golden-crowned or white-crowned, but there were at least a dozen of them migrating through. One had a bright red berry in its mouth.

I walked on until a wide, deep slough forced me back to the road where I checked out the state of the typical nagoonberry patches as I walked. I was surprised to find so many, most of them more or less ripe, and thought I might try to pick some on the way back. I headed out into the meadow again a little farther on but was again cut off by a deep slough. I retreated to the road, then left it to cross a shallow slough down toward the cottonwood grove and plunged into dense timber and alders just on the other side up a steep slope. When we emerged, we were north of the rock I had in mind and overlooking a low, brushy meadow with a very black head in the middle of it. A black bear was in the bushes, with just his head above them, looking and sniffing in our direction. I've never seen a bear like that, "swimming" in the brush! I watched him for quite a while and, realizing that he couldn't see us, hunched down and tried to sneak around the corner and out of sight without bothering him. We nearly made it, but he eventually stood up to look in our direction and when we made the inevitable sound of pushing through brush, he ran to the cover the woods, though not in a panic.

For ourselves, we were once again separated from our goal by a deep, wide slough, on the other side of which was a stand of cottonwoods. Somewhere over the meadow I heard a red-tailed hawk call twice. We retreated the way we'd come and headed back, picking a few nagoons as we walked.

We were back at the cabin at 4:10. I took a picture of my soaking wet pants, wondering what my rain pants were for! After I changed I decided to try out the 2-wheel cart before I got too comfortable, hauling the rounds I'd cut downriver in two loads, a tarp on the bottom to protect the plywood. It worked beautifully. I had a large glass of wine on the porch with a book and binoculars in the sunshine coming from across the glacier. Oh, what a pleasure to sit in a t-shirt in the sun! And the birds clearly felt it too. Thrushes chirruped and darted in the trees, chickadees and golden-crowned kinglets and ruby-crowned kinglets passed by, an explosion of life that had been largely silent in the rain and mist and wet, wet world. Squirrels were harvesting spruce cones, filling the air with the clattering of the fallen. In the evening, I took the cover off the water barrel and filled three and a half white jugs full of water as well as adding some to the wash water jug. I dumped the rest of the water and stashed the whole system in the downstairs bedroom.

At some point that evening I was reminded of Bruno II, and glanced over to look at him on the wall. And he wasn't there. My mind scrambled for an explanation. Did my parents take it to town to refurbish? Impossible. No, Bruno II, the roughly 45 year old bear rug, had been stolen. I later checked and found that the lynx rug and the wolf skin were also gone. So much for the thieves not taking anything of real value. This was what so upset me that I permitted myself to drown my heartache in entertainment that night, though I did manage to work on a few other tasks after dinner. I got back to the 4-wheeler, removing the rest of the bolts holding the rack on using a socket wrench (1/2"). I swapped out the batteries and the dash lights turned on when I turned the key! Success! Well, partially. It was in first gear, which is often how it's left, but it needed to be in neutral to start. I pushed the down shift button and nothing happened. Nothing happened for either shifter button or anything else I tried. I later looked up the trouble shooting section of the manual which mostly suggested turning the engine off and then on again. But at the bottom was a note about trying to shift with a dead or low battery (the solution is to charge the battery...) which suggested that there was just enough of a charge to turn the lights on, but not enough to do anything else. But at least we know that the battery was indeed dead. I took both back to town to charge.


This morning I was again up early. After a quick glance outside, I curled up back in bed a few minutes before facing the chilly morning. It looked misty over toward the glacier, but with what might have been blue sky above, but it was cold, the sun hours from peeking over the mountain at us, and everything was covered with heavy dew. Following yesterday's pattern, I headed straight out to do some chores before breakfast, starting with hauling the rounds I'd cut upriver back to the porch. The cart is wonderful, if hard going over roots. I'd hoped to make it in two trips, but on the second trip, the final round (a huge piece I'd cut from the remainder of the log Rich and I had bucked up last summer) fell off pretty quickly and I tossed three other rounds off as well. It made both final trips easier, but I was breathing pretty hard throughout. The whole thing took about 30 minutes I think, maybe less. From there I headed down to Alder and picked up and swept up all the glass I could find outside and in on the floor and left it there in a cigar box. I cleaned up the back porch, and then bopped around cleaning and packing inside while a cheery fire took the chill off. The windows were fogged over, which I'm not sure is normal. Perhaps it has to do with the water on the floor upstairs, or maybe the dampness of the summer has crept in here as well. Finally, around 9:30, I had a breakfast of oatmeal and toast from one of my buns and sipped a delectable cup of Russian tea (then another half a cup!) while I finished a book and caught the cabin log up to date. At 11:00 I was getting hungry, but had one last expedition to do upriver before lunch and final packing. The sun was by then shining from a broad blue sky and I enjoyed the cool of the forest and the dew on the blueberry leaves as relief from the heat (still wearing a hoody). In the forest just north of the cabin I heard a somewhat tentative song that took me a moment to recognize: fox sparrow. He sang sweetly a couple of times as I walked by.

Back at the cabin I cleaned and packed more and then had a hot quesadilla and a cool beer on the porch in the sun while a flock of cheery chickadees and golden-crowned kinglets flew by. I kept seeing a chickadee poking around in a blueberry bush and wondered if he was after berries or insects. When I focused in on him with binoculars it looked like he was after neither: it appeared that the berry bush was a jumping off point to pick at geranium seeds, or something in them. In the spruces, another chickadee found a big brown moth. Cailey was contentedly sprawled out on her boat blanket in the sunshine and I left her there while I went inside to wash the dishes and sweep the floor. Then I took most of my gear down to the landing in the 2-wheel cart (yay!). And now here I am, sitting on the couch in the quiet, not hating the idea of puttering down the river with the blue sky and sunshine to brighten the prospects. I wouldn't hate it if it wasn't windy, either, but we'll see when we're out there! Everything seems more manageable in the sun.