Baranof Island Solo Expedition, 2010

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Disclaimer:  As you will see in the following pages, I made several egregious and preventable mistakes during my trip, some with serious consequences for myself and others.  I did a lot of things right and a few things wrong, which may be openly subject to criticism.  I don't intend to defend my mistakes here, nor to warn about them; I am simply here to tell the story as it happened.  l learned a lot this trip, and if someone finds my stories educational, that's great, but it's not necessarily my intent.  In the meantime, back to the trip report...

July 25

"Day 2" Map, Rodman Creek Valley

I sleep in late as the morning dawns wet, and take my time in camp cooking breakfast over my wood stove, writing in my journal and eventually breaking camp by mid-morning.  The old roadway up Rodman Creek quickly gives way to old washouts and thick brush, so rather than fighting the grain that way, I travel upriver as I'd intended this trip.  I have always found it beneficial to learn from the native wildlife, and here, rivers are the primary mode of transportation.  Donning un-lined shoes (no Gore-Tex here), I quickly take to the river, splashing from sandbar to sandbar where it's shallow, and scrambling through clear game trails around deep pools and logjams, making as good of time as I can expect in a bushwhack up the rainforest.  The soft duff of the valley floor welcomes my feet.

Old Nurse Log.  One of the things often missing in a second growth forest are the existence of large downed nurse logs that nurture new trees for up to a hundred years after they've fallen.  Here along the creek one old nurse log remains exposed in the riverbank, supporting a battery of 20-year new growth atop it and helping route the river.  Some year a storm may wash this log downriver with all its progeny, creating a logjam with large pools and vital salmon habitat within the river.  The web of life, it's all connected here.

Passing around a bend in the river, I hear a loud "snuff", and instantly stop in my tracks, knowing exactly what it is.  A large male brown bear is perched on the opposite shoreline, probably 100 feet distant, not acting aggressive but letting me know of his presence.  I calmly amble into the bushes away from him, and he climbs further up the hill... it seems we're both content to avoid a close encounter today.  Within minutes I'm safely past him, and we each amble back to our day's plans.

Mid-afternoon (an hour or two later) I spot a beautiful, deep clear pool beneath some logs, with a handful of salmon and large trout hanging out in the turbid waters below.  I pull out my pole and spend the next couple hours trying my spoons and flies, casting, jigging and trying to fool one of them into a bite.  To no avail, I eventually give up and pack my things to make some more progress upriver, toward an unnamed pass.

It's difficult to know my "exact" position on the map at times, but I know which direction to head (upriver!), and occasional clearings allow me enough visibility through the woods to triangulate my position every hour or so from surrounding peaks.  By late afternoon on the river, I determine it's time to head Southwest, toward an unnamed side creek, offering the only passable route out of steep-walled Rodman Creek, toward the next drainage.  Between here and there lies a half-mile swath of thick Salmonberry bushes (the foliage of choice on this valley floor), so I quickly follow game trails through the woods, toward the valley walls.

The great thing about game trails is:  they offer passable routes through the woods, even in tricky terrain.  Learn where the animals go, and you can find your way just about anywhere.  The bad thing?  Most game (both deer & grizzly bear) walk through thick brush while standing only 3 feet high.  My torso takes a beating as I swim through one thicket after another, dodging thorny bushes as best I can with my hiking staff (a kayak paddle with furniture tips attached on the ends of the staff).  I make my way slowly to the valley wall, where I find a passable game-trail zigging up the steep wet slope.

Salmonberries.  These thorny plants make for tasty snacks, and I fed often on the berries as I made my way up Rodman Creek on Day 2 of the trip.

500' up the valley wall, I pull off my pack for a quick snack, and gasp.  My SPOT unit is normally attached to the top of my pack, strapped there tightly with a quick-release buckle where it has a "clear" view of the sky for transmissions.  It's gone.  I scour the ground beneath me, don my pack again and retrace every step down the hill, back to the edge of the salmonberry thicket.  I try to retrace my path back through the brush, but quickly realize it's a fool's errand.  There is just no way in hell.  Within the hour I realize the inevitable:  my SPOT unit (relaying my position to family and friends at home) is gone, a relic of the rainforest.  It's of little consequence to me right now, but this is going to cause trouble, I just know it.  In the meantime, there's nowhere to go but back up toward the pass.

Salmonberry Thicket.  It was a thicket just like this in which I lost my SPOT unit, stripped right off the pack.

Once I reluctantly accept that issue, I make my way back up the valley, passing a gorgeous (unmapped) 100' waterfall on my way up the valley wall.  Eventually the creek flattens out a bit, and I make my way down to the river's edge to find a tolerable camp for the night.  Persistent rain keeps the valley vibrant and damp, and the creeks running high.

Unnamed, Unmapped Waterfall.  I stumbled upon this little gem while bushwhacking up game trails out of the Rodman Creek Valley.  At least 100' high, I probably could have spent years here and never seen another soul.  I love these woods.

July 25

Day 3 Map:

The morning dawns clear and cold next to the river, and after packing up I quickly reach the alpine without incident.  For the first time all trip, the clouds break and the sun presents itself, clear and bright.

Reaching the far side of the pass, I cross the invisible boundary between East- and West-flowing water, where a magnificent side drainage (donning an unmapped creek and several unnamed peaks) presents itself, giving me my first breathtaking distant views of the trip.  I nearly jump for joy at the sights around me.

The terrain (on the map) looks like it might be tricky canyons this afternoon, but the game trails make quick work of it, and within a couple hours I've reached a shallow saddle on an opposite hill, where there "supposedly" exists a "Hot Springs".

Taking a quick break on a large old-growth log over the river.

Reaching the "Springs," all I see here is a tepid stagnant pool, no sign of hot springs, so I make my way via a *steep* bushwhack straight down the hill to the valley floor, now in the drainage of Fish Bay Creek.  The creek is bigger than expected when I reach it, and I take the opportunity to re-inflate the raft and float!

It's a joyous thing to run a wild river out to sea, I can't quite explain it.  Fish Bay Creek is plenty big enough to float, although frequent logjams take their time to traverse.

Logjams and Sweepers.  These blockages are frequent along the river, and require frequent portage, which slows progress considerably.  Still though, it's a beautiful day on the river, heading all the way out to Fish Bay.

By early evening I reach the shores of Fish Bay, and notice my raft is slightly under-inflated.  "Hmm, must have a puncture somewhere, I'll have to repair that."  Topping it off every half-hour seems to work fine, and as seals and otters play in the bay, I make my way to the NE shore of the fjord where (according to my 30-year-old map) a FS cabin supposedly sits.  C'est la vie though, no cabin is found... whatever was there has long-since been destroyed and abandoned.  I pass another bear far off in the woods (4 now in 3 days!), and make my way to the outlet of an unnamed freshwater creek, where I enjoy a wonderful dinner on the river bar.

Tired and fulfilled after a long and gorgeous (but strenuous) day, I clean up dinner and walk up the creek a ways, well past the shoreline bear trails, and make camp by the river bed on a sandy gravel bar.  No fish are running in this small creek, and bear activity at this spot seems almost non-existent.  Perfect.  My pace so far this trip has been outstanding, and it eases my soul to know I should (if I keep it up) be able to reach Sitka by the end of Day 5, a full day earlier than even my best-case projection!  I'm in a great mood, and fall asleep with a smile on my face, the river gurgling softly over a bed of smooth stones nearby.

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