Highlighting This Trails Finer Features
06/26/2010 57 °F
The Herring Cove to Beaver Lake trail is among my favorite hikes in Sitka. It follows a beautiful gushing creek through a heavily wooded spruce forest. It meanders near several waterfalls, including one that falls well over a hundred feet. After the falls, the trail continues through the forest, leaving the creek and descending a ridge down to Beaver Lake.
That is a good general description of the trail, but it doesn’t give mention to this trail’s most alluring traits. I must commend the trail builders who conceived, planned, and constructed this route. They did a marvelous job balancing the ruggedness of the terrain to the scenic charms along the way. Even though the first mile climbs up a steep hill, you hardly notice it because of the strategic switchbacks that reward your labor with sounds and sights of the next waterfall. Well done!
Like most of the creeks in Sitka, this one abounds in greenery. Bright green, thick mosses cover most of the gray boulders and fallen trees around the creek. Green shrubs and plants provide thick undergrowth on the forest floor. Their dominance is only overshadowed by the looming Sitka spruce that darken the forest with their massive growth and dense populations.
I was lucky enough to witness an American Dipper forage for food in the creek. The Dipper is commonly found along fast rushing streams along the west coast. It’s commonly seen from the timberline all the way down to sea level. To get food, the dipper will dive completely into the icy water or bob along the surface. This unique behavior makes it a very fascinating bird to watch. The Dipper’s name has double meaning for me. Not only does it “dip” into the water, this bird also dips its whole body while on land. It’s constantly bobbing up and down seemingly dancing to some off kilter beat.
Devil’s club is one of the more interesting plants that grow abundantly here in moist coastal forests of southeast Alaska. The plant grows roughly 3 to 5 feet tall, but it can grow much higher in the steep ravines. The stem is thickly covered with sharp yellow spines, which are quite painful to the touch. The leaves of the devil club are its most interesting feature--a broad flat leaf growing 10 to 20 inches across. Most plants produce on average 10 to 15 of these massive leaves in a bunch.
When viewing these gigantic leaves from their underside they seem to glow. They glow exceptionally well when looking toward the sun, and against the dark backdrop of the spruce canopy. It was a startling contrast, and a beautiful one.
One of the coolest parts about hiking to any lake in the Sitka area is the fact that they often have a rowboat or canoe stashed along the shore to paddle around the lake with. Beaver lake is no exception. After pausing to enjoy the high waterfall tumbling down from the shoulder of Bear Mountain, My hiking partner and I continued on the trail to Beaver Lake. We followed the Beaver lake trail around the western side of the lake to where the rowboat is usually tied to the dock. We were in luck, the boat was still there.
We found the boat in good shape, but it needed to be bailed out. There was about 12 gallons of water in the bottom of it. Luckily, there were two quart sized bailing jugs to use for that purpose and we set to work. Once cleared of water, we plugged the drain holes with a stick that we wrapped some old cloth around. It wasn’t a perfect solution, but it stemmed the flow back into the boat considerably.
We set sail. The oars were all in various states of disrepair. We had one of full length, and three that were broken in half. We tried using the oarlocks, but all we managed to do was go around in circles, so we gave up and used the paddles freely. I had noticed a stout spruce stump sticking up out of the water on a roughly 45-degree angle. It had plenty of stumps of old branches that had broken off, which I figured would allow me to climb aboard so I could set up some cool photos. One of my best qualities is my ability to spontaneously challenge myself with what nature has provided. In other words, I like to play.
In this case, I wanted to climb up on the stump and balance myself without falling in. My friend knew what I had planned as soon as I mentioned I wanted to go over to the stump, and she guided the boat while I got ready to climb onto the tree. As the boat neared the log, I put my left hand on the edge of the boat and grabbed the log with my right. Unfortunately, I didn’t think of stopping the boats momentum, and I squashed one of my fingers between the sharp edge of the boat and the stump. OUCH! Man, did that hurt! My finger went numb, and I dealt with the pain in my usual way, casually mentioning how much pain I felt. Then I climbed aboard the tree, and shinnied up near the top.
Meanwhile, my friend paddled the boat into various positions taking photos of me standing on the log and hamming it up for the camera. Then she passed me the camera, and I took photos of her, hamming it up as she paddled around standing up in the boat. It was fun, and I’m very glad we did it.
Once I got back on the boat, we paddled near the shore to inspect some of the flowers that grew there. I really like rowboats for this purpose; it allows access to many parts of a body of water that are inaccessible by land. We got close to several different kinds of flowers and we took time to photograph them in the beautifully soft overcast light. I saw some yellow water lily’s, bright purple shooting stars, and a gorgeous flock of white flowers, that I haven’t been able to identify.
After rowing back to shore, I tied up our yacht, and proceeded back towards herring cove. We began passing other groups of hikers out enjoying the day. The lighting was magnificent on the hike back to the trailhead. The strong sunlight was diffused through some high clouds, which softened it just enough to make the subtle greens of the forest pop. When looking at the forest from above the undergrowth, the lighting hardly made a difference. When viewing the plants from underneath, especially the broad leaves of the devil club, they glowed beautifully under the perfect light. I walked in silence, basking in the forest splendor. I was quite satisfied with the hike.