Just got back from our scout monthly overnight camp out. A 3 mile uphill hike to John Muir Cabin, a forest service cabin. The day started on a sour note. When I arrived to pick up Sam, noted evader of all things work, was still in bed. Didn’t “remember” there was a hike that we’ve been scheduling all winter at scout meetings, or the text I sent him the night before. His dad hadn’t read the email from a week earlier about the campout. So home he stayed. When another scout hadn’t arrived by 1015 – 15 minutes past our assigned meeting time of 10 am, I called his dad. “Yes, we’re on our way. Meeting time is 11 am, right?” Apparently, scout camp out emails are not must see tv.
We had borrowed a bunch of snow shoes for the kids from Dirk, an elementary school teacher who strives to get his kids out doing activities Juneau has to offer. I had been putting together what I thought was a fool proof ski package instead of snow shoes, so I was the only one without snow shoes. Big mistake.
We started up the trail, which is 3 miles to the cabin at 1700 feet. The first 3/4 mile is the steepest and then the trail goes sideways and gradually uphill. It’s a long 3 miles, trust me.
When we had gained elevation and got out into muskegs, there was at least 3 feet of snow. The cabin and trail is well used, so it was packed down from snow shoe traffic. I put on my skis with skins. And the skins would not bite going up hill. Downhill, they would. And no, they weren’t on backwards – there’s only one way to put them on. So, any place I had to go uphill was a struggle. Slip and slide backwards, then fall down. And when I’d put out my arm to break my fall, it would simply plunge up to my shoulder, when my body would stop my from plunging further.
I’d take the skis off and walk. That was okay, but not great. It’s sort of like walking on a log over a creek. I had to try to stay right in the middle of the snow shoe trail or risk post holing up to my thigh. The rest of the troop pressed on in their snow shoes and arrived in 4+ hours. I was more like 6+ hours. I kept in touch with the scout master by phone so he didn’t have to worry.
It was a blue bird day as we moved up the mountain. Blue sky and the temperature about freezing. I was sweating buckets but every so often the snow on the spruce bows would give way and douse me, and it was actually refreshing. As I trudged on, I thought about the arctic explorers that would pull 100 lbs or more sledges across the ice after having to eat their dogs to survive. I would make it to the cabin It was just gonna take awhile.
As I neared the cabin, the snow got much more grainy and did not pack well from the snow shoes. After a lot of post holing, I put the skis on after pulling off the skins, and the fish scales on the bottoms gave decent traction. On I went. I could hear voices every now and then. I think after I first heard them, it was still and hour more of hiking. The cabin isn’t visible until you are almost right on it. Sighting the brown metal roofing means I’d made it.
By the time I got there, the scouts had already had something to eat and drink, and got their second wind. They had their tents sent up in the yard outside the cabin in a neat little camp site. They’d first tramped down sites for their tents with snow shoes, then made little walk ways to each other’s tents and to the cabin. Some of them were already out exploring on their snow shoes.
For me, it was recovery mode. I stripped off my we gear and hung it over the propane cabin heater. Then I got out my jetboil and collected snow and started some coffee. I settled into the bench next to the heater, already dreading the hike back, but knowing from past experience that that hike would take care of itself.
The kids floated in and out of the cabin to warm and gossip. By now, they are well trained to put masks on when they get inside, and take them off when they go outside. It’s become second nature.
Keith and I chatted as I drank very weak hot coffee and rejuvenated. It was a long hike, and I was tired, but not too sore and no cramps. A year ago, I had a random encounter with the pharmacist in Craig when I had a prescription renewed there, instead of here in Juneau. She suggested I take CQ10 with the prescription, and it seems like that cured the aches in my knee and elbow joints that I had written off to getting old. Almost a miracle.
The scout assigned to cooking started getting her pots and stoves and food together, and Keith gave the kids a demonstration of the different kinds of stoves we had. Soon the first batch of tortellini, basil, and sun dried tomatoes was started. Then a whole pot of hot water and tortellini fell to the floor. I was about to grab the scout and get her hands out into the snow, and was relieved to hear her say she was okay and wasn’t burned. Lessen learned about small stoves with a large pot on top that’s top heavy. Keith’s dog had a field day cleaning up the tortellini.
The kids filtered in around the table as dinner was cooking. I took out a jar of prized Yakutat smoked sockeye salmon from Nevette, along with ritz crackers and some sharp cheddar cheese. I put it out on a plate for the kids to try. It did not last long. Only one kid rated it as “just okay” and he soon had another piece in his mouth. And still another, as it must have grown on him.
Keith brings the adults a meal. This time it was pad thai and chicken, which we both enjoyed, even with some chewy noodles. Some of the kids tried the pad thai and Keith and I sampled the tortellini. Not a drop of either left. Big hikes = big appetites.
The kids went upstairs in the cabin, and we could hear their continued gossiping of all things junior high and early high school. Keith and I swapped stories about fish and game work. Shortly after dark, the kids drifted out to their tents, and I headed to the loft, where I guessed it would be toasty warm. I was not disappointed. I hardly remember sleep when I’m camping out. I’m not sure if remember is the right word, but I’m constantly waking up and shifting on my air mattress to another position. During these times, I can often hear Keith in his bunk or tent doing the same thing.
We were up at first light, and the kids started drifting in one by one. The cook made oatmeal, and everyone ate until it was all gone. I headed out early while the rest of the troop broke camp. I fell within 20 yards of my start, and the kids started my way to help me up. I told them I was okay and I needed to be sure I could get up myself with the ski set up I had. I rolled over, got my skis downhill, and took off my pack so I had something to push against else my arm would just sink to my armpit again. Keith harassed me from the cabin window. I had to put the skins on.
Once I got the skins on, I could see that might work. I got a little further down the hill and fell again. It was gonna take a little practice, but it would work. After that, I was off and feeling pretty good. Slow steady ski walking with the skins on. I could see some deep post holes that I skied over, and knew that walking wasn’t a good option yet. The screws holding the binding down on the ski with my bad foot loosened, so I got the Leatherman from my pack out, tightened the screws, and put the Leatherman in my hoodie pouch as I’d guess I’d need it again, which I did a few more times.
I got down the trail a mile or more. By this time, the troop had already caught up to me and passed me by. My feet were kind of hurting as they didn’t stay in the bindings just right and so my right foot, especially, was pressing to the outside of the ski and increasingly uncomfortable. I saw there weren’t many post holes the lower elevation and so took off my skis and tried to walk. Good move.
There was a light rain falling after the snow had firmed up overnight, and now the trail was solid. I started walking and didn’t stop til I got to the parking lot. Keith and the kids were surprised to see me. They’d only arrived 10 minutes earlier and were milling around waiting for parents to show up.
We’ve got a couple brothers in the troop that moved here from Chicago a year ago. They help the rest of us get a better sense of how lucky we are to participate in scouts here where we live. With communications so simple now, they constantly relay photos and descriptions to their scout friends back home, and the kids there can hardly imagine the experiences we have here as they are largely limited to car camping there.
We piled all of the snow shoes into my car for their return, and the parents showed up to collect their kids. I duffed my pack and put it in the back seat, put my skis and poles in the roof rack, and looked forward to a hot shower and hot coffee all the way home.
I flew down to Craig with Larry, an old workmate, to help him bring back a boat he bought there. Brian and Ellen gave me a 135 hp outboard to replace my 115 for more power. We spent a few days in Craig for Larry to understand the new boat and get any last minute items.
The container was in good shape. Except that some mice got in. At least 2 were dead in the bottom of a dry bucket. I have no idea why they went into a bucket they couldn’t get out of. They weren’t able to get into any food stuffs, and so maybe they were looking for food. I cleaned up their mess and then spray foamed around any line entering through the wall.
The water line was frozen under the floor in the container. I opened up the faucets and got to thinking about how to thaw the line. I turned up the heat in the house and left. When I returned a few hours later, the temperature was up to 42 outside, and the pipe had thawed and the water was flowing. We left a trickle on the rest of our time there.
Mike, a former captain for this boat, helped Larry everyday to learn maneuvering with the twin jet motors, as well as the systems on the boat. We worked on the boat all day Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
The boat was only making 12 kts, but the former skipper didn’t think it was out of the ordinary, although he hadn’t run the boat in years. We were a bit worried that it was going this slow without much of a load. We loaded the outboard on Sunday afternoon, had dinner with Brian and Ellen on Sunday evening, and left on Monday morning, anticipating a 10 hour run to Wrangell. Before we left the container, I turned off the water at the service port, then used the spigot below the house to drain all the lines in the house and hope that solves the line freezing problem in the future.
After several days of the boat only operating at about 12 knots, when we left town, we were soon up to about 20 kts as we sped north toward El Capitan Passage. Something must not have been right with the trim tabs or the cups jet units during the shake down cruises around Craig, but we don’t know what it was. The boat was running now as its builder thought it should.
We headed north and Larry had me drive while he went through one “issue” after another and was able to fix about all of them. Fans that blow engine heat up to the cabin were out of order, and he figured out one had a broken wire and bad switch and the other may have been a fuse. The winch that pulled up the bow door had a tripped breaker. The batteries that were for the electronics and accessories were not charging, and Larry found the switch near the engines that sends the alternator current forward and solved that. The boat was looking like a good rig the more we learned about her.
Larry was eager to see the sea otters that have populated the area since he lived in the area on his dad’s logging camp in the 1970’s. As we entered the Passage, we started to see otters. Lots of otters. Soon, they were old hat.
As we headed further north and then west, the passage got tighter and tighter. When we got to the narrowest section, it was at low tide, I was driving, going about 20 kts and could see the bottom. Larry was confident it was fine as he’d been though here in the 70’s so I stayed on step and we squirted out to the other side and into Sumner Strait and back to the bigger ocean. There was a little chop but no eventful seas or weather as we rounded the tip of Prince of Wales Island, skirted Zarembo Island, and coasted into Wrangell.
The boat’s builder in Wrangell was our first destination. My friend Dave Svendsen built this boat in 2007 for a logging company to haul loggers and equipment around Prince of Wales Island. Larry needed some information on the boat for some of his business ventures with the boat from Dave, which Dave didn’t have in his records, so we overnighted in Wrangell first before heading to Juneau.
We spent the day with Dave and then went to dinner at Bob and Chris’s, where we spent the night. Chris cooked a turkey and we drank lots of home made wines and talked about our food gathering trips and canning from the past year. I sent them some deer meat in November, and hope Bob can come over and hunt himself with Chris and his new knees next fall.
The next morning Kyle, Dave’s shop supervisor, and Dave did the measurements on the boat they needed to do, and Larry peppered them with questions about the boat’s operation and options he had for adding things to the boat for his business. We had hauled an old Cummins engine and 2 old transmissions this far, and Larry offered the transmissions up for the taking. Dave and Kyle said they’d take them and Larry and I used the harbor crane to drop them at the city dock for Dave and Kyle to come get them, and we headed towards home about 1 pm.
We knew the trip would take us running the last ~ 2 hours in the dark, but we had a good weather window and thought we’d be alright running at night as even if we hit a log, it was unlikely to do damage with the get propulsion. As we cruised up Stephens Passage, it was getting dark as we passed the entrance to Tracy Arm. We saw something white in the distance and thought it was a boat. When we got closer, we saw it was an iceberg from the glacier in Tracy Arm. We might skip over a log, but an iceberg was another story. As it got darker and harder to see when the snow started, Larry mentioned going to Taku Harbor for the night and I readily agreed and we headed that way. It was pitch black entering the harbor as there were no other boats at the dock, but we idled in and tied up without incident.
I suggested going up to use the public use cabin there and Larry said it could be hip deep snow getting to it, so we decided to sleep on the boat. We had prepared for this and had sleeping bags. The cabin was nice and warm when we shut down the engines and turned off the lights. By 430 am, the heat was gone and I was cold. Larry heard me stirring and suggested starting the engines again, which he did. It didn’t take too long for the cabin to warm up, and we got a couple more hours of good sleep. We rousted out of our bags at 645 as it was getting light, and we were on our way at about 7. There was not much chop crossing Taku Inlet, and we were tied up in Juneau an hour later.
Finally got back over to check our crab pots after 3 weeks of the truck in the shop and still there. Jeffy let me borrow his truck, and an uneventful ride to the cabin. There were 3 dungies in the pots. One pot was full of juvenile king crab, and so glad to dump them out so the pot can fish again as I’ve never had dungies and king crab in the same pot that I remember.
Almost had a catastrophe at the cabin. I tipped over the table that had the radio on it, and the batteries came out of the radio, and then when I put them back in, the radio wouldn’t work. It’s an old AM/FM/CB/TV/Shortwave/Weather radio I got at a garage sale 2 doors down, and similar to the radio I used in the Peace Corps. It uses 4 “D” batteries, but I bought some adapters that allowed me to use “AA” batteries. I put the batteries back in, and it wouldn’t work. Then I saw the old “D” batteries I had in there before, and loaded them, and it did work. GREAT! I thought. I didn’t break the radio. The “AA” batteries stuck out of the adapters, and were sort of too small to make good contact on the negative end with the spring in the battery holder.
I used the old D batteries through the night and in the morning and then it hit me: tin foil! I took them out and put a square of tinfoil in the negative end of the batteries in the compartment where they contacted the springs and problem fixed! The radio worked. So problem solved. I can use the 50 pack or whatever it is of Costco batteries that should last me til I’m in my 60’s, which ain’t too far now.
I steamed the crab at the cabin but didn’t feel like picking the meat since there were just the three. I brought them home for Sara to give away to some freshman colleagues to welcome them to the Capital.