The sun crests early over the rocky eastern horizon, filling my camp with a crisp, luminous aura. It's beautiful, and my mood is amazing today. True adventure--the kind where outcomes are tenuous and nerves are deeply tested--amplifies both fear and joy to indescribable levels. A life well lived is brimming with both. Yesterday I was awash with fear; this morning an inexplicable sense of joy surges over me. I frequently jump and scream aloud at the sights around me, arms pumping the clear air with revelry. I haven't felt this alive in years.
Camp above the ice-field.
I pull out my wood stove for breakfast (realizing I may be the only person in history to use one of these here, lol), and cook with a baggie full of sticks I'd collected a couple days before. The day dawns crisp and clear... the weather's sense of timing is priceless.
Wood Stove Above an Icefield. Only the Eastern side of the field is seen here... the Western 2/3 is still covered in dense fog, out of sight.
Morning sun over the ridge.
I let my damp gear dry into the mid-morning, and I finally pack and scramble down through a series of basins and side-hills. The map indicates these slopes are all entirely forested... I laugh at the cartographer who colored this quad.
Day 10 Map. Notice how everything is labeled green here. Ha!
First basin of the day, still frozen solid and bracketed on three sides by 800-foot cliffs. Most the lakes up here are just now melting in early August.
Looking South. My route heads over the shoulder to the left side, side-hilling toward grassy alpine slopes on the other side.
First views of Baranof Lake, several thousand feet below.
Outlet of Baranof Lake, into Warm Springs Bay. Note the classic glacial origins here: A huge moraine (swath of rocky debris pushed out in front of the glacier's face) now serves as the natural levee, centuries later. My route takes me down to the next ridge, and then a steep bushwhack down the hill into the terminus of the lake.
Don't be distracted by the "Day 5" comment here... I was referring to the second leg, and I'm not even sure I got that right. Day numbers started blurring together and becoming irrelevant at this point in the trip.
For the first time all trip, I don sunscreen (a welcome change of pace), and by early afternoon I sidehill uncomfortably across the final ridge overlooking Warm Springs Bay. There's no route here, and at an "opportune" moment (when the terrain looks navigable) I cut downhill, following steep gullies and brushy thickets a half-mile straight downhill onto the lake's surface. It rips me up worse than expected, and takes considerable time. By early evening I'm at the lake's edge, where I packraft amiably to the trail leading to Warm Springs.
Warm Springs used to be an actual town at the dawn of the 20th century... these days it harbors a tiny smattering of vacation cabins and a couple semi-permanent residents who've called this home. The big attraction is a free dock with boardwalk access to a series of natural warm springs up the hill. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to that. On the boardwalk in town I pass a man heading toward the dock.
"Hi there, you know a good place to camp around here? I just need a spot to string up a tarp." I ask with a smile.
The man looks me up and down, caught momentarily off-guard by my appearance and demeanor. I don't look like a typical "yachtie" or a fisherman parked at the dock to soak in the springs. Then he quickly smiles, as if from sudden recognition. "How did you get here?" he asks.
"I walked from Sitka, 'bout four days ago."
He smiles, as if he already knew my answer. "You'll have to meet Bill, he'll probably give you a spot in his place. My name's Ken, by the way." A firm handshake and I'm off down the boardwalk following Ken to a two-story home.
Ken--a wildlife biologist working around Warm Springs and the upper Baranof Valley--introduces me to Bill, a retired surgeon from Colorado who summers here in Warm Springs. We exchange greetings again, and within minutes I'm sitting on the porch, petting their dogs and feeling a bit surreal as I sit back with a beer, eating honey-roasted peanuts and watching burgers on the charcoal grill.
I tell Bill he doesn't need to offer all this... I was just expecting a place to camp. Bill smiles. "If you walked here from Sitka, you've already earned your admission to this house" is his only explanation of the kindness. I do the dishes and end the night with a long soak in a hot tub behind the house, fed by water piped directly from a warm spring uphill. I chuckle as I crawl under the covers in Bill's spare bedroom, wondering how I ended up here all of a sudden.
Layover day at Warm Springs. Bill cooks breakfast for the whole gang, and I spend my morning exploring the bay and the huge waterfall pouring from Baranof Lake, just a stone's throw from the house.
Baranof Falls. I hand my camera to a boater at the docks while I explore the base of the falls in my raft.
Playing in the rapids. It's a ton of fun entering the turbid rapids in my raft to get washed out to the bay in the current.
I spend part of the afternoon with my fishing pole, hooking small trout at the lake outlet, and later jigging off the dock and from my packraft in the middle of the bay, looking for bottom-feeding rockfish. Bill gives me an old frozen herring to use as bait, and the fish start biting. After a few diminutive halibut (just babies, toss 'em back) and small rockfish, I finally hook a keeper rockfish, maybe 1-2 pounds, fillet and cook it with dinner, a huge batch of home-made spicy chili Bill has been brewing all afternoon. Another half-dozen beers, great company with the fellas, and another evening in the spare bedroom. A guy can't complain.
Evening in Warm Springs, from the porch
I was told in Sitka (and locally by Ken) that there's some fabulous old-growth at the other end of Baranof Lake.
Day 12 Map:
There's a tiny Forest Service cabin at the far end of the lake. Most of my day is summarized by the entry I leave in the logbook at the cabin that evening:
Mike M stayed here, a wonderful evening alone in the woods. Paddled from Warm Spring in my little packraft, fully prepared to camp in the woods, but the cabin is vacant so I made myself at home. At the river outlet a stone's throw away the trout are biting my spinner every other cast; it took only 20 minutes to score two large keepers, which cleaned right there on the rocks and brought the meat back to the cabin to wrap in some foil. I filled most a pot with fresh salmonberries and blueberries blooming all along the shore near the cabin. I even skinned a few Devil's Club branches to brew some tea. After splitting a few logs I started a nice little fire by the cabin, cooking my bounty from the rainforest. Delicious! Not a cloud in the sky today, I couldn't ask for a better day anywhere, much less here in the Tongass.
Tomorrow I'll pack up and go explore some, maybe meander over to that huge glacial waterfall pounding hundreds of feet over the cliffs across the canyon, or maybe just walk upriver a ways to see the forests there. Who knows. I look forward to the night in the cabin, although on a cloudless star-filled evening I may just head out on the beach in my sleeping bag and enjoy the view. Days like this don't come often in these woods, and I want to enjoy it while it lasts!
The outhouse behind the cabin... room with a view!
View Across the Lake, at the Baranof River outlet.
Catch of the Day
From the Land! Fish, local berries, some extra rice, and Devil's Club Tea. For directions on preparing the tea, read this thread in the Backpacker Cooking Forum.
Cooking Dinner. Yum.
It's a cloudless night, so I accept my own invitation to sleep under the stars, falling asleep as the Milky Way appears, with a broad smile across my face. Words don't really describe the contentedness I feel with life right now.