2006 Snettisham Adventure #1: Lessons
April 19-20

DouglasThe summer season is off and running, (though it hardly feels like spring around here)!  The icy rain, snow and freezing temperatures this April haven't inspired me much to wilderness adventures, but I got a jump start last Friday with an email from a Fish & Game biologist friend with an offer I couldn't refuse.  In charge of a marbled murrelet study in Port Snettisham, he had contracted a small landing craft to deliver supplies to their base camp at Point Amner and offered me some room to throw a few things on.  Though I wasn't prepared to order lumber just yet, I did have a couch in mind for transport, so I chatted with the barge owner and he agreed to swing by my place on the way back.  My spring was looking up.

Monday evening (in the cold, driving rain), Larry and I hauled a couch, two coffee tables, a desk, and a cabinet down to the landing craft and covered them with a brand new blue tarp.  The next day, after the Fish & Game folks filled the rest of the boat, I found out the barge was scheduled to leave at
4:30 am Wednesday for a 9:00 am arrival at my homestead.  This was the start of my worries.  High tide was at 5:30 pm, so this put the delivery in the middle of a falling tide.  For those of you unfamiliar with my property, the homestead sits on a river inlet about 200 yards from deep water so at low tide there are mostly sandbars in front.  High (rising) tides are crucial for this sort of thing.

When I balked, the barge owner offered to leave the items at the Fish & Game camp until he came back in the fall, take them back to
Juneau, or offload them on shore near deep water.  Having battled to get the couch on board (too big for any of the small boats that typically make the trip south) I saw no reasonable option but the last, and resigned myself to a good deal of hauling.  There are two overriding lessons I've learned during the construction process at Snettisham.  The first one?  Nothing is ever easy.  So Wednesday morning at 6:45 am I left Aurora harbor in my skiff under a surprisingly clear blue sky.  The fresh snow on all the mountains was stunning, and the water in the channel flat calm (see the photo of Mt. Jumbo).  I stopped by the Fish & Game float and was cajoled into taking along a few of their bags and an extra passenger--a biologist from Alabama.

We zipped down Gastineau Channel while I pointed out some historical sites and, reaching Marmion Island, I was pleased to encounter a young humpback whale.  The oily flat water, the whale, and the white peaks of Admiralty Island in the background were stunning.  Unfortunately, we soon lost the flat calm water and crashed our way through 3-4' seas all the way across Taku Inlet.  A little hairy.  As soon as we hit Taku Harbor, though, the water turned back to lionsflat calm and we met up with the Fish & Game boat.  At 8:45 I dropped the biologist and his gear off at Pt. Amner and took off to visit the sea lion haulout further inside Snettisham.  It was the usual raucous affair (see the photo of a bull bellowing at me, or at the world at large).

A few minutes later I rounded the corner into the Whiting River Inlet....back at the homestead at last!  The tarp was still flapping around the front of the lodge and no trees were laying on top of any of the cabins--in fact, everything was just about exactly as I'd left it last October.  Hallelujah.

Then the barge arrived...way down the beach.  Unloading on the shale was easy, but the lodge was out of sight.  Doug anchored the barge just offshore, jumped onto the rocks, and tore the cushions off the couch before throwing it heroically onto his back.  I was shocked and held my breath as he humped it down the beach.  He made it about half the distance himself, then we made it a little further between the two of us before Doug took off down the beach after his boat (which he thought was floating away).  After he made a few circles out in deep water I finally waved him off and told him to go home.  I'd manage one way or another.

Thank the gods for sunny weather!  The beach is typically a slimy, algae, slippery mess, but at least the sun had dried the uppermost rocks somewhat and the going was less hazardous and a lot more pleasant.  Despite the chill north wind I soon found myself working in a t-shirt.  I dug out a heavy duty dolly, tied the couch on in the middle, and started pulling.  The couch (a full length three-cushion affair), immediately plunged into the mud on the downward side.  So I compensated by moving the dolly two-thirds of the way down the couch to achieve better balance.  Then the other end of the couch plunged into the mud.  I moved the dolly back and forth a few times, tying it snugly after each adjustment.  I never got the balance just right (probably because the slope of the beach was inconsistent) and all the way to the lodge one corner or the other was getting familiar with the ground.  I drug that couch first over the loose, wet shale, then over the slimy, mucky section, across a few creeks, into the boggy grass, over the ruts, and finally into the black, muddy mess in front of the lodge.  It took me about 15 minutes to haul it those 100 yards, and
post couch moveanother half an hour to get it onto the porch.  With no staircase, the five-foot tall porch was a bit of a challenge, heightened by the goop at the bottom.  The other lesson I've learned?  There is nothing one can't accomplish with sufficient time and perseverance.  Okay, it's a bit corny I admit, but I'm always surprised at what I can do if I have all day (and no one to hassle me).  And if I want it badly enough.

 The rest of the hauling was somewhat less onerous.  By 2:00 pm everything was inside or under the porch.  I had a beer (see photo) and watched a northern harrier hawk fly back and forth over the grass.  At 3:30 it was clouding over, the boat was floating again, and I decided to head back to town.  On my way out the wind picked up and the ride across Gilbert Bay was rougher than usual.  By the time I hit the first section of Port Snettisham, I was encountering 2-3' seas in a section that is always flat calm no matter the weather.  I took it as a sign and turned around, calling my boss on the satellite phone while I anchored the boat for the night in the driving, sideways rain.

Back at the lodge I grabbed a sledge hammer and pounded out the plywood covering the windows (nice job with those, by the way, Andy and Melissa).  Then I rearranged the piles of lumber, tar paper, tools and furniture until I'd created a little living room in front of the (glass-less) picture window.  I spent the evening snuggled on the couch under some blankets watching the slush come down outside and joined by two enormous mosquitoes that (thankfully) didn't seem to quite remember what to do.  After supper I retired to Cottonwood Cabin, lit the oil lamp, and read about the history of human hygiene and outhouses (the only reading material available) until I fell asleep listening to the arrhythmic patter of rain on the metal roof, completely content.  To think I'd actually considered going home that day...

Next morning I rose at
5:30, buttoned everything up, and kayaked out to my boat.  The trip home was beautiful and uneventful, the water flat calm (see photo below) under a patchy sky (except for the irritating 3 footers again crossing Taku Inlet).  I couldn't imagine a better way to get to work in the morning, except that my feet were freezing by the time I hit town.  It was 35 degrees outside.  I tied up behind my parent's boat in Aurora Harbor, took a long, hot shower, and managed to beat my boss to work.  So, the adventures begin.  Here's to a summer full of them!


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