Baranof Island Solo Expedition, 2010

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August 5

Most of last night at the cabin I stared a mile across the bay at a huge waterfall pouring from the alpine onto the valley floor.  This morning, I gotta go there.  There's no other choice, really.

View across the valley.  A large waterfall tumbles hundreds of feet down a forested wall, draining massive glaciers thousands of feet above.  I figure a half-day will get me there and back.

I trim my pack down to day gear and raft across the lake toward the small river outlet feeding from the falls.  The valley floor is thick with head-high Devil's Club and Salmonberries, but I trace along the bottom of some rockfields and make my way toward the base of the waterfall a half-mile away.  I hear it long before I can see it.

The bottom of the falls are like standing in a hurricane... a rush of water-soaked air spills off the collision of a thousand full bathtubs smashing upon the rocks every second.  I hide behind a pile of shattered trees just to keep my balance.  It's a rush of adrenaline standing there, and I can only pull out the camera for brief moments to avoid it getting soaked.

A steep-as-snot-but-laughing-out-loud-fun-like-a-grown-man-in-a-jungle-gym scramble takes me all the way up (surprisingly!) to the top of the falls, where I inch as close as I can through the trees.  The magnificent power of it is thrilling.

View of the Upper Baranof River Valley, Heading up Toward the Waterfall.  Perhaps I'll explore there another trip.

I make it back to the lake by early afternoon, and enjoy catching another pair of trout for dinner.  While cooking them over the fire, I prepare a large batch of Devil's Club Tea (again, recipe here if you're interested) to enjoy for the rest of the trip.  Rain rolls in.  As I sit on the porch of the cabin eating dinner, staring at clouds swirling along the valley walls, I realize something.  I am no longer lonely.  Half a year out of a divorce, as of late I'd felt the pang of a hole in my life.  I dated around tenuously before the trip, trying to fill that hole for the past couple months, nothing really working out.  But now, sitting here on the shores of Baranof Lake (could be any lake, the location is irrelevant), I feel like a whole man.  I don't need another person; I am content.  I've known for many years the way wilderness can heal a man, but not until now did I realize the depth of that power.

I finish off my second trout with a fulfilled smile, and bring my things inside out of the rain.  I light a few small logs in the wood stove inside, and tuck myself into my sleeping bag on the top bunk, my last night here at Baranof Lake.  Maybe I'll start heading home tomorrow, maybe not, we'll see... I'll cross that bridge when it comes, for tonight it doesn't matter.

August 6
It's a wet dawn, and low clouds stick to the canyon walls like glue.  I make a late breakfast, and head across to the river outlet to catch two more trout for the day.  Bill & Ken might appreciate these, I figure.  It takes appreciably longer than it has the past two days (they just aren't biting as aggressively in the weather), but after a few hours I finally get a couple of keepers, clean them on the shore and stuff 'em into a plastic ziplock.  I pack my things at the cabin, and paddle slowly (still in no real rush) back to Warm Springs in early afternoon fog.

The Misty Mountains

Back in Warm Springs I say hi again to Bill & Ken (they had a running pool whether I was coming back today or not), and give 'em the fish.  Over a beer I comment to Bill how aggressively the Humpies (pink salmon) are jumping in the bay, and how it might be fun to catch one of those.

"I wondered what the heck you were waiting for,"  Bill grins at me.

I grab my pole, string a large spoon to it, and cast from the docks for a short while.  In about 20 minutes I get a bite to stick (surprised it took that long), and quickly find out these are way more fun to catch than the much-smaller trout.   Before long I'm back to the house with a moderate sized pink.  I fillet it in the kitchen and feed the scraps to Barry (Ken's 110-pound Great Pyrenees "puppy"), who instantly finds a new best friend in the world.  Both Ken and Bill are impressed by my Emmrod pole... they see the value in a tough little pack-sized rod for bushwhacking through these woods (where a large fly-pole on the pack's exterior would get demolished within a hundred yards), and each comment they might buy one themselves.

Caught my Humpy in Warm Springs.  It's been a great few days for fishing.

The evening light is beautiful in the intermittant clouds, casting iridescent hues onto the surrounding forests.  "Quite a front yard you've got here" I comment to both Ken and Bill... they just smile and nod in agreement while we eat dinner on the porch, getting ourselves drunk in the cool evening air.  I know today will be my last evening around Warm Springs (I've already overstayed my original plans), and tomorrow I'd better start heading back toward Sitka.  It may be my last time ever here, you never really know these things.  I relish my last hours in this place, soaking in the beauty for all I can.

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