A Travellerspoint blog

June 2010

On the Trail to Beaver Lake

Highlighting This Trails Finer Features

semi-overcast 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.

Posted by Rhombus 10:53 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (2)

Wildlife and Fishing in Alaska

Three Days Spent Taking Photographs of my Ocean World.

semi-overcast 56 °F

I’ve been asked to take pictures for our lodge to use for advertising on our website, brochure, and other media. I am excited about this, because it allows me to take photographs of a variety of subjects that make up the Sitka experience. I am focusing on wildlife and fishing-- two subjects I love to photograph. For the last three days I’ve been on a boat following around the other boats in our fleet trying to get some action fishing shots. I’ve also been photographing the plethora of wildlife that flourishes here in Sitka Sound.
I was working along side of a professional photographer, the first I had ever met. I’m not sure of what he thought of an amateur like me shooting the same material, but we got along fine. I was excited by the prospect of focusing strictly on photography. As a deckhand, most of my time on the water is spent paying attention to my clients and taking care of our gear. I don’t have a lot of time to pull out my camera, and since my hands are usually full of fish slime, I wouldn’t want to anyway. So these three days were a very special treat for me.
St. Lazaria Island (known as Bird island to locals), is protected as Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. This small volcanic island is just 65 acres, but holds thousands of breeding pairs of tufted puffins, Fork Tailed Storm Petrels, Pigeon Guillemots, Common Murres, Rhinoceros Auklets, among many others. It is a bird watchers dream and an ornithologist’s heaven.
The island’s location is twenty miles west of Sitka and just south of Kruzoff Island and Mount Edgecumbe. Its geography is very rugged, almost inaccessible to humans, and only reachable by boat. The shoreline is jagged--with steep rocky cliffs, arches, and pillars. All of it is covered in green mosses, brush, ferns, and Sitka spruce. The western side is exposed to the Pacific ocean, which pummels the rocky shoreline with continual swells and ocean chop. The eastern side is more protected, and a great place to quietly watch the seabirds. The island has been carved up by several volcanic tubes and caves, the largest is on the north east side of the island. During a low tide, one can drive a boat directly into the cave and get a close up look at the various tidal life forms that cling to the bright orange and coral pink walls. It’s cool to see.

As an amateur bird watcher, I was enthralled with the island. It really is an amazing place, and the birds themselves are its greatest feature.
I watched two humpback whales “bubble feeding.” Bubble feeding is a cooperative behavior used by humpbacks to entrap a school of small fish or krill inside a “net” of bubbles. With the bait trapped inside the bubbles, the humpbacks quickly swim through the bait to the surface with their mouths agape. The whales I witnessed burst through the surface of the water as they ate showing off their speed and powerful swimming ability.

A humpback has a huge mouth, and it was impressive to see one with its mouth completely full, bulging with fish and water. The whale collects a huge amount of water during its feeding run, but it can strain the water and fish through its baleen. A baleen is a structure in upper jaw of most whales, used to filter seawater from small fish or krill. It looks like a long flexible comb that allows seawater to pass through but collects the fish for consumption. It was amazing to see these massive creatures working in tandem.
Another island teeming with wildlife is known as Sea Lion Island as is located off the north side of Kruzoff Island. As its name implies, sea lions have made this small rock island their home. The island has a lot going for it; at least as far as sea lions are concerned. It has low-lying rocks next to the ocean allowing the lion’s easy entry coming from or going to the ocean. The rocks also rise high above the high tide line, offering protection from the battering seas and a good place to lie around. The island is located near fertile fish habitat, so finding food is no problem. It’s perfect for a sea lion colony.
This island is also exposed to the open ocean. During heavy seas, the waves smash against the rock, and explode upward casting huge plumes of white water into the sky. It is impressive.
The sea lions are pretty much content to lie around much of the day. There are some big bull sea lions that can be seen patrolling their territory. Females are free to move about from harem to harem, but the males guard their territory against other males. I happened to be downwind from the lions, and quickly became aware of a horrible stench. A putrid mixture of rotten fish smell and excrement that comes from a hundred sea lions eating raw fish all day and lying around in their bathroom. What a stench!
The more time I spend here in this marine environment, the more I love being here. There is always something new to learn about, from seeing new birds and animals I haven’t seen before to witnessing interesting weather phenomenon. Last week, I saw a water spout for the first time. I also spied my first brown bear foraging on the shoreline of Olga Straight. You just never know what you’ll see, and that’s why I love living here. It’s kind of like an addiction, only this one is good for you.

Posted by Rhombus 21:40 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (0)

Sitka Vignettes

Short Observations of Life Around Sitka

sunny 59 °F

My favorite part of the day is when I finally finish the work of the day, and settle down for the evening. Winding down after a 14 hour work day is wonderful, a few minutes for myself before I get too tired and go to sleep. I’m in full work mode right now, I’ve started deck handing on the “Checkmate“, the 30 foot aluminum charter fishing vessel. The hours are long, the work isn’t necessarily hard, but it is busy work. Which means I might get to sit down 3 times day if I’m lucky. So at the end of the day, I’m tired. I don’t have a lot of ambition to take advantage of the recreational outlets Sitka has to offer, one of the downsides of this job. As I said, I like to relax, hanging out in the covered open air deck called “the roost” with some of my fellow staff members. It’s a laid back atmosphere, where we can vent about our day, talk about whatever, but mostly just chill and enjoy the evening.

I work for a lodge/fishing charter operation called Alaska Premiere Charters/Wild Strawberry Lodge. I was asked to write a blog for the company website, and I post twice a week on Wednesdays and Sundays. It will give you an insiders look at what goes on at a charter fishing lodge, focusing more on the fishing, Alaskan landscapes, and natural phenomenon in the Sitka area.
You can read more at:http://blog.wildstrawberrylodge.com/

Since I’m posting twice a week for the lodge blog, I don’t have a lot of time to update my own travel blog. It’s hard to find time for it, which is another downside of this job. The following photos and paragraphs are vignettes of my life in May. I think this is the best way for me to share, to keep it simple yet hopefully effective.

I went on a wildlife tour of Sitka Sound, and one of the first things we witnessed was a “raft” of male sea otters. A raft is a large group of sea otters at rest, normally segregated by gender—the males raft with males, and the females with other females and their pups. I estimated that there were over 100 sea otters in this particular group. It was amazing. We coasted up to the raft and got up to about 100 feet away from them. Some of them splashed and dove at first sight of us, but most were content to float on their backs, bobbing in the ocean chop, or spy on us, raising their heads as high as they could out of the water. You can’t help but smile at their antics, so playful and cute.
Sea otters spend much of their time grooming. They are constantly combing themselves, removing excess hair, untangling knots, and cleaning. The coat of a sea otter is incredibly dense. In fact, otters have the most dense fur of any animal with nearly one million hairs per square inch. Sea otters don’t have blubber to protect them from the cold. You’ll often see an otter spinning in the water; this is to help aerate its fur to improve buoyancy and provide insulation against the cold water.
I was awed, by the experience. To see wild animals en masse, in their element, was fantastic.

The small bay just north of the lodge and adjacent to the cabin is probably one of the best spots to watch bald eagles in Sitka. After processing is done, I like to sit by the shore and see what the eagles are up to. Almost every day they gather around the bay, perching in the tall trees, on rocks, and even on rooftops. I’ve counted as many as twenty at one time around the bay, with eight in one tree alone.
Eagles have excellent vision, easily spying the schools of herring and small perch that swim into the shallow bay to feed. They launch from the tree, swooping down with their talons outstretched and ready to grab the fish. They looks like jet fighters coming into land on an aircraft carrier, making slight adjustments to their flight pattern before they arc their bodies and stab into the water with their sharp talons, more often than not successfully nabbing the fish. Some of the eagles then fly off with their catch in their talons to their favorite roost to eat, while others make a mid-flight transition, taking the fish into their beaks before continuing on to the roost. It seems like they take turns on their “bombing runs,” but occasionally several eagles dive at the same time.

I like to sit quietly, nestled into some of the large boulders along the beach and watch the eagles. My goal is to take a good photograph of an eagle snatching a herring from the water. So far, I haven’t gotten it yet, but I’m hoping my patience will eventually pay off. Even if I don’t get my photo, it doesn’t really matter; I’m still able to witness these beautiful birds showcasing off their amazing aerobatic talent, and that is enough for me.

What is it that goes into an extraordinary sunset? It must be just the perfect combination of atmospheric conditions, paired with strong, low angled sunlight meshing together to form a stunning and lasting crescendo of beauty at days end. Some of the best sunsets I’ve ever seen seem to last forever, changing from a more intense gold at the beginning to the softest shades of orange/pink away from the focal point of the sun by the end. This rare combination of elements is made even more special to me, when I’m in the right place to witness it. What are the chances that I happen to be in the right place at the right time to observe this beautiful phenomenon?
Watching a sunset, invokes deeper thoughts at times. Questioning myself about my own existence seems appropriate, a time to recollect, and ponder. I sit quietly on a throne of stone, while mystic impressions pass through my head. I’m witnessing nature at its purest; a golden sky contrasted by dark gray bands of clouds with the lightest of pink highlights. This is all reflected in a near mirror image by the waving seaside bay, nearly calm, but broken by small parallel waves of the incoming tide. This adds an ethereal element to the scene, a wavering mirror. True magic for susceptible wizards such as myself.
The tide pools of John Brown’s Beach are vibrant and full of life. On my first visit, I reconnected to these wonderful life holding areas. Tide pools are like a mini-ecosystem, and the ones at JBB are very healthy. The most prominent member of the community would have to be the sea star. They are everywhere, in multiple colors, clinging to the rocks, jammed into impossible nooks and crannies. I like coming to JBB in the evening to gaze out west toward Mount Edgecumbe and listen to the waves break over the rocky shore.

Posted by Rhombus 23:45 Archived in USA Tagged photography Comments (0)

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