Baranof Island Solo Expedition, 2010

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July 29

After a day resupplying and replacing lost gear, I sit in Don's office, staring at maps and pondering my trip.  The past few days have tempered my ego (a healthy thing), and I'm not so confident of my plan for the Southern half of Baranof Island.  The terrain there is far more severe ("Like something out of Mordor" one local described to me), much more remote, and several of the passes I hope to scale, no one knows whether they're even passable (I suspect they are, but who knows).  Several of the bays and water crossings could require several days' layover if bad weather blows in from the Gulf of Alaska, a likely scenario.  I have approximately 19-21 days to spare at most, and to do it safely I determine I'd want 21-24 to account for unplanned layovers.  My gut tells me to let it go.  With a reluctant sigh, biting my lip, I stash the Southernmost two maps into my duffel, and prepare for a much shorter journey... about 10 days (packing for 12) across the island & back on a W-E overland route.  The terrain still looks spectacular along the way, and I'd wanted to visit a particular spot on the other side of this island anyway.  An old adage gives me solace:  "The planning is priceless, but the plans are worthless."  Southern Baranof Island will be a project for another summer.

I talk on the phone with a staff reporter from the local Sitka Daily Sentinel;  she heard the tidbits of my "rescue" on the radio bands last night, and a photographer stops by to snap the photos.  Whoo-boy, not exactly what I wanna be famous for.  C'est la vie, life goes on.

Don lends me a spare SPOT unit (he has one for educational purposes, but never uses it), and a VHF radio.  He insists I take backup communication this time, I gladly comply.  By late afternoon he's dropped me off at the gate at the Green Lake Road (thanks Don!), and I begin the 3-mile road walk out toward Medvejie [med-veggie] Valley.

Day 6 Map:

My pack's heavier this time... the extra food and snow & ice gear beat my feet on the gravel road walk... I prefer the varied ground of the rainforest.  Salmonberries grow profuse along the road's shoulder, offering tasty treats.  I'm not the only one enjoying the bloom;  seed-filled bear poop scatters the road in various segments.

Green Lake Road, with Medvejie valley to the left

By early evening I reach the Western Shore of Medvejie Lake.  The woods here are pure old-growth (never seen the bite of an axe or saw) and the lake is among the most pure I've ever known.  From the seat of my raft I peer straight into 50 feet of crystal water, rocks and logs resting clearly on the bottom.  Cliffs feed frothing waterfalls from high alpine snowfields into the lakeside.  By late evening I've set up camp in a stand of massive wet old-growth on the opposite shore, cooking dinner in the waning light and smiling deeply at the surreal beauty around me.  I shall definitely have to visit this place again.

Medvejie Lake, from its Western shore

High-Water Marks along the shore tell tales of monumental winter storms that flood the valleys and raise lake waters a foot or more at a time.

A close-up of the multi-textured base of an old tree, the moss intermixed with the half-rotten bright-orange bark.

Once I'd gotten the hang again of starting small fires with semi-wet wood (kind of a forgotten skill), I had a great time with my Ti-Tri Caldera stove.

July 30

I make a late start in intermittent rain showers, and spend a bit of time photographing the landscape before packing my bags and heading up the valley.

The Wet Woods.  I love places like this, near camp by Medvejie Lake.

Day 7 Map

An old "route" (not really a "trail") is occasionally flagged through the dense forests and brush here.  I find such poorly-marked "trails" almost worse to follow than no trail at all, and I waste a lot of time searching around for flags that have inevitably been torn off by animals or demolished by deadfall or rockslides over the years.

Crystal-clear water cascading down the valley gets filtered organically by the gravel and roots here left undisturbed for millennia.

Blueberries!  Perhaps the fattest and most abundant I'd seen, the berries surrounding this patch of rockfield in the Medvejie River Valley were truly epic.  Handfuls could be had in 20 seconds.  I stopped to eat my fill of blueberries and salmonberries throughout the day.

I eventually decide to be "smarter than the flags", and make my way between the narrow canyons of the valley upstream from the lake, hitting wide swaths of subalpine alder thicket.  A sharp talus field on the valley's North side makes tolerable work of the terrain, and later a rocky wash upstream through the brush serves the same.  I take it slow this first full day out on my second leg.  No reason to be in a big damned hurry n' all.  It's beautiful here in the rain.

Lower Medvejie Valley in spotty clouds.  Much of sub-alpine here is a thicket of slide-alders and thorns, but a couple of rocky dry washes made the route up tolerably passable.

By late afternoon I reach the alpine, at a lake tucked in the saddle between Medvejie and Blue Lake drainages.  It's unofficially dubbed "Camp Lake" by the SAR team (they occasionally do training missions there), and the reasons are obvious.  I mean seriously, who wouldn't camp here?

First Views of Camp Lake

Looking Back across the saddle, the Upper Medvejie Valley sports large granitic walls with countless waterfalls frothing their way down to the valley below.

Camp at Camp Lake.  My tarp's in there, look again.

July 31

Another short--but deceivingly hard--day.

Day 8 Map (them are 100' contours)

Today I head into the rocky alpine of Baranof Island for the first time, and my route up starts nearly vertical, crossing almost 2000' in under half a mile, including one patch of near-sheer cliff covered in salmonberries, alders and young spruce... classic "vegetable belay" terrain.  The going is slow and steady, one hand and foot at a time, up.  Straight the hell up.  I eventually reach a shallow peak at 3400' with intermittent but unsteady views through the clouds... with clear skies this would be a majestic view South, but c'est la vie.  I'll be back through in a week or so, maybe it'll shine then.  I (regrettably) don't take many pictures along the way.

I head over a saddle and up wet hillsides onto the slopes of Mt. Bassie, reaching a small flat ridge at about 3700'.  My route North & West around Mt. Bassie is heavily glaciered, and by now I'm officially in the clouds, no hope of seeing more than 100' in any direction.  It's only mid-afternoon, but I don't feel like being stuck on a sloped glacier to make camp with no visibility, so I find a flat spot on the ridge and set up my tarp on the north side of a small rockpile, buffering against the cold South winds & rain howling over the ridgetop.

One of my more interesting finds:  Some climber, decades ago, left an old pair of crampons here.  Steel and leather, they don't make 'em like this anymore.  I'd love to know a bit of the history behind these (I don't see any skeletons to accompany, so I'll presume he made it out okay ).

The weather only worsens into the evening... cold rain and steady winds pick up.  I'm happy with my decision to stay for the night and see if skies clear tomorrow.  To bed early, I hope to get an early start on the snow tomorrow.

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