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Winter on the Pacific Coast
from Seldovia to Gore Point - February 2006

Read my story below, or jump to the journal entries

The Fruits of Insanity: February in the Kenai Fjords

Snow drifts on Red Mountain
I set aside my soaking gloves to arrange the sleeping bag under our thin grey tarp. An unmistakable mist of tiny drops sprayed the backs of my already freezing hands.

"It's raining inside our shelter." I complained, attempting to inject a note of humor into our misery. "Why is it raining inside our shelter?"

"Well, the tarp is set up flatter than usual..." Hig began, thinking.

"But we've been camping under silnylon tarps for years," I interjected, before he could finish his thought. "It's certainly rained before. And the rain always stayed outside the tarp."

"And we're right under a tall tree," Hig continued, "so the raindrops falling on our tarp are larger. More pressure."

"So they can squeeze right through instead of rolling down?"

"I guess. At least it's raining less in there than it is out here. Lets get in."

Alder and willow on an old logging road
Hig climbed in, and I followed, after taking several minutes to do a ridiculous bouncing dance, gathering extra body heat for the long night ahead.

I stripped off my soaking raingear and crouched awkwardly on the edge of one of the rafts, trying to figure out which layer I was supposed to stick my feet into. Our bed was a strange mishmash of insulation, consisting of one carefully constructed summer-weight bag, and a bunch of hacked up bits of fleece and thinsulate bridging the gap between summer and February. Making our own gear often provides us with stuff better suited to our needs than anything we could find in the store. And when we run out of time for it, making our own gear often provides us with stuff more slap-dash and second-rate than anything we could find in the store.

We squirmed around in our strange bed, trying to stay balanced on the partially-inflated rafts, as the moisture slowly soaked from our wet clothes into the sleeping bag. I located a huge block of cheddar cheese in one of the food bags at the head of our bed, and wriggled out far enough to gnaw on it.

"One good thing about winter, anyway," I proclaimed. "Dinner in bed. Don't need to worry about keeping food away from the bears."

"Or getting bitten by mosquitoes," Hig pointed out.

Dipper on Rocky River
Truthfully, I was beginning to think the bears had the right idea, sleeping through this miserable winter. This was only the fifth day of what was supposed to be a two week trip. It seemed like everything we were carrying was either broken, ill-designed, or both. It was raining inside our shelter. Hig's new paddle was missing a large chunk from where it had collided with a rock.

In this wet weather, our cozy winter boots were merely heavy sponges on our feet, dragging us along a route that seemed to be nothing but obstacles. The logging roads leading across the peninsula were an ordeal of slushy rotten snow and twisted alder. Rocky River, our alternate route, was too thawed to walk on, but not quite thawed enough to raft.

"I don't think we're going to make it to Gore Point," I ventured glumly, hoping to be talked out of my skepticism. "Not at this rate."

"That depends," Hig replied. "If Rocky River is broken up tomorrow to raft down, and if the paddling is okay... We may be going a whole lot faster."

Alder and willow on an old logging road
"But we've already wasted three days. We're not even as far from the cabin as we were when we turned back the second day. And it took us almost all day to get here from the cabin."

"You know, we could go back," Hig offered. "We don't have to go to Gore Point. I bet we could find some cool day hikes and shorter trips to do around Seldovia that would still make a fun vacation."

"But the whole point of coming here was to go to Gore Point again and see the outer coast in the winter!" I protested. "If we don't get out there, then all this crap;" I gestured at the slushy and rainy world outside, "is pointless."

* * * * * * *

Gore Point is a steep rib of coastline, jutting into the stormy Pacific at the western edge of the Kenai Fjords. Separated from the rest of the peninsula by an array of steep and glaciated mountains, Gore Point is barely accessible by land, and far from civilization by water. Most of it's infrequent visitors are fishermen landing on the sole protected beach. Hig's obsession with this place started in childhood, listening to his fisherman father tell stories of the storm-battered beaches.

Gore Point sunrise - 2004
A year and a half earlier, on our way through the Kenai Fjords, we'd spent a week at a beach on Gore Point's eastern shore. It was a mile long stretch of surf and sand, framed all around by towering cliffs, and looking straight out across the Pacific. Crisscrossed logs piled up at the top of the beach where the storms had left them, draped with fishing nets and buoys, rotting into nothing as they stretched back into the forest.

We caught rockfish from the schools near the cliffs, and startled cormorants out of their caves. Fat mountain goats ambled easily across the improbably steep slopes, and we followed their trails through the forest. We smoked fish, gathered huckleberries, split cedar shingles for our driftwood shelter, and raided an old shipwreck for flour and baking mix. We were there for a week, and even as we paddled away, we were planning for our return. After all, it was only a few days walk and paddle from Seldovia.

However, that "few days walk and paddle" was a summer calculation. Getting out there in February was proving much more complicated.

* * * * * * *

The next morning, we crawled back into our wet clothes, took down camp in a thick flurry of snow, and discussed our options, dancing and jogging in an attempt to get warm. Hig has an impressive tolerance for discomfort and cold. I have an impressive streak of stubbornness. Neither of us is sensible. So we waded into the knee-deep slush along the banks to launch our rafts in the half-frozen river, heading for Gore Point.

Rocky River
The rafts floated through weirdly green water, running over ice just a foot beneath the surface. Every few minutes we'd hit an ice dam, and perform an odd form of seated acrobatics with raft and paddle to wriggle over it. But inevitably, we hit a dam that was simply too big.

I paddled over to the water's edge and let my raft rest there for minute, thinking about the moment when I would have to plunge my already freezing feet into the knee-deep slush.

"I hate slush," I commented dully.

Hig glanced back at me from where he was wading up the hill. I gave him a pleading look. After all, his feet were already mired in the slush....

He answered my silent question with a smile. "Here, I'll give you a tug over. Just let me put down my raft."

"That would be absolutely awesome," I replied fervently. "Thank you."

He grabbed the bow line of my raft and pulled me up over the small rise. With a push, I was sliding down the other side, hitting the water with a gentle splash. My feet were still freezing.

* * * * * * *

Gore Point in a spot of sun
In preparing for the trip, we had blithely assumed that the journey out to the coast would pose no real problems. All our worries were focused on the crossing. To reach Gore Point, we needed to paddle at least two miles across a fjord open to the Pacific Ocean. And as we were planning our trip, we obsessed over this crossing. There would be no land between us and the ocean to block any of the swell. Packraft landing spots would be few and far between, and possibly battered by surf. We were traveling in the stormy winter, to a place known for its storms.

Our rafts bobbed gently on three foot swells. Two days after our float down the Rocky River, we seemed to have left both the slush and rain behind. Scattered spots of sunlight lit up nearby peaks and occasionally passed over us, bringing a touch of golden warmth. Staring out toward the open Pacific Ocean, we could see the sunlit waves glinting on the horizon. We sang, to break up the monotony of the open water.

On the other side, I gathered twigs from the gnarled and wind-sculpted snags, and we cooked dinner, watching the harbor seals play in our protected cove.

Peak in the mist, from Port Dick
"It's a good thing no one else came with us on this trip, after all," I commented. "We'd never have kept going."

"Yeah," Hig agreed. "I think if anyone else was here, we would have definitely turned around at Rocky River. It would have been the sane thing to do..."

"Insanity has it's benefits, I guess," I shrugged. "But I knew it would get nice again. That's the thing about trekking. Nothing lasts forever. No matter how awful the weather or the bushwhacking, or whatever, it always does get wonderful again."

* * * * * * *

Sunrise on Port Dick peaks
The sunlight drifted down through the mossy trees as we snowshoed up a low ridge the next morning. It was a beautiful day. The snow was crisp and firm. From there, it should have been an easy downhill stroll through the forest to Gore Point beach.

But there was a more interesting way. Three hours later, I was crouched on the rounded edge of an icy peak, fingertips and toes clutching at the thin crust of snow, hoping not to be blown off the mountain. The wind was roaring past my ears. It was whistling and howling, gusting and screaming. Every loud and violent thing the wind could do, it was doing here. In the most exposed spots, I was reduced to a crawl, for fear of being blown off the mountain. There was nowhere to really be blown to, since the only sharp drop-off was on the windward side. But there was nowhere to stand up either, and the screaming of the wind in my ears drowned out all rational assessments of safety. It felt like nowhere a person should be.

Storm rolling in over Port Dick
From the peak, I held with a death grip to the trunk of a wind-stunted spruce, looking down at the white capped waves. It was foggy and stormy on the ocean side of the ridge, and the cliffs dropped almost straight down to the beach 1500 feet below us. If we'd taken the sensible route, we could have been there already. But we thought the ridgeline detour would give us better views. The view was certainly breathtaking.

But our winter boots had little traction on the icy-thin crust of snow, and with the wind blowing us over, there was little margin of error for scrambling on the narrow ridge. We couldn't follow it any further, and were forced to retreat down and away from the howling wind, moving at the fastest creep we could manage.

Descending the chute to Gore Point beach

Our hut at Gore Point
We slid back down through the wind-stunted forest, gave up a depressing couple hundred feet of elevation, and began slogging through a steep traverse, headed to a less steep spot to climb back over the ridge, and down to the beach.

Hours later, in the last remnants of daylight, we were wriggling into the dilapidated driftwood shelter we'd built on the beach over a year ago, setting a hot fire in the jerry-rigged barrel stove. Our pilgrimage was complete.

* * * * * * *

sunrise on Gore Point beach
The next morning, a cold fog streamed out over the forest from the frozen Gore Point Lake, meeting the mist that formed over the crashing surf. The sun rising over the ocean turned them both golden, and the colorful reflections of the hills and sky contrasted with the smooth grey sand at our feet. Gore Point was as wonderful in February as it had been in September.

Gore Point beach

Gore Point beach
Night fell clear and moonless. We scrambled over the pile of ice-slicked logs at the edge of the forest, out onto the sand flats. The tide was out beyond our sight, but we could still hear the crashing surf. From the forest, a pack of coyotes added their eerie high-pitched yelping and screeching to the sounds of the ocean. Holding hands, we stared up to admire the stars, pointing out the constellations, shivering a little in the cold. I wished I could stretch out this moment for at least another week. But the long and difficult return journey was weighing on our minds. We couldn't afford to linger.

Looking up at the sparkling sky, we twirled in place a few times, making ourselves dizzy. Then we scurried back to the warmth of the fire, and repaired gear for our return.

* * * * * * *

We took the less scenic route back to our previously anticlimactic crossing. But unfortunately, the sea had no intention of being kind to us twice. The wind was howling out the mouth of the bay, hitting us broadside, racing for the ocean. The farther we got into the channel, the faster it blew. And there was sleet. It drove at us sideways, running down into our boats despite the spray skirts. We were decked out in our full set of homemade regalia - a fleece suit topped by a fleece hoodie, topped by a Gore-Tex rain suit, topped by a thermarest modified to be usable as a life vest, topped by a loose poncho-like dress of silnylon. The effect of the last two items, particularly, gave Hig the look of a boxy-looking football player in a Hefty trash bag. We were still soaked.

Avalanche along Port Dick
My packraft was bouncing in the swell and the waves. I squinted against the sleet in my eyes, and paddled ahead doggedly, aiming towards the point at the edge of the bay. The waves crashed and reflected off the rocks, building themselves even larger. Wind currents eddied around the point like water currents in a rapid, sending deafening gusts crashing into us. They cut off the tops of all the white-capped waves as they flew over the water. There was nothing to do but brace for the impact, pointing into the wind, and paddling hard not to be swept back the way we had come.

When the largest gust hit, I let out a scream, half fear and half exhilaration. Though he was only a few feet away, I wasn't sure if Hig had even heard me.

These are the moments we call intrepid - miserable, frightening, but also alive and exciting. Intrepid moments are best taken in small doses.

We made it across the first small bay and around the corner. The mountains blocked a good part of the wind. Suddenly I could hear again. But we didn't need to speak. There was no way we were trying the second, longer chunk of the crossing in this weather. We retreated to the beach, a fire, hot food, and a long sleep. In the rhythm of the winter days, fourteen hours of sleep begins to feel normal. And in the morning, the ocean presented a friendlier face.

* * * * * * *

frozen waterfall along Port Dick
We rode gently following seas to the head of Port Dick, surrounded by birds and otters taking shelter in the long protected fjord. Dozens of swans shied away from us, lifting off when they were barely white footballs in the distance. They flew straight at us, trumpeting loudly and circling our boats before peeling away.

The next day we were back on snowshoes, crunching through the forest and approaching the logging roads that would take us home. We stopped to eat a few handfuls of nuts, enjoying the sunshine. After almost two weeks out, nuts were pretty much all we had left.

"You know," Hig said, looking at the map, "we could go back over Red Mountain instead. It would be really pretty up there in the winter, and we wouldn't have to follow the logging roads"

"I don't know," I replied skeptically. "I mean, I don't like the logging roads either. Even if they're not as bad now that it's frozen, they're still boring. But I don't know... How much farther is it?"

Gear spread out to freeze
"Only a couple miles. But its 2500 feet higher," he conceded. "And I wouldn't want to be up there if it got stormy again."

"Yeah. And we don't know what the other side of the valley will be like to travel. Or the snow conditions. But it would sure be awesome today..."

"You know," Hig said, "I think we should probably just head home. It's been a good trip, but we've had enough adventures."

"Yeah," I agreed. "And besides, we can stop in the cabin again if we go back the same way."

We started walking, crunching along over the craters left by moose tracks on the old logging roads. The sun glinted on the snowy peaks around us. It was only a few minutes before we stopped again.

on Red Mountain's slopes
"I've changed my mind. I mean, it's totally fine if we just go home, but I really would like to go over Red Mountain."

He grinned at me. "I was thinking the same thing."

"I guess we never do learn..."

Click on map for more detailed version.


Hig has been obsessed with Gore Point since he was a child poring over topo maps of the Seldovia area. This cliffy spine juts out into the Pacific ocean on the south side of the Kenai Peninsula, into wilder and stormier weather than Seldovia's Kachemak Bay. An array of steep and glaciated mountains connect it to land on the north, and to the east and west it is flanked by the steep-walled channels of Nuka Passage and Port Dick. Gore Point is only 30 miles from town as the crow flies, but it might as well be a hundred. Barely accessible by land, and too far from civilization by water, most of Gore Point's infrequent visitors are fishermen, and they land mostly on the sole protected beach. Gore Point's claim to fame is as a boundary in the local marine weather forecast, and as a rather forbidding-sounding place.

Hig's father was a fisherman, and his stories of storm-battered beaches covered with great piles of driftwood and beachcombing treasures cemented the place in Hig's mind. It was a tantalizing image, but always far out of reach. Years later, as our wilderness skills improved, going to Gore Point became a real possibility. We first tried an overland journey in the summer of 2000, but ran out of time. Our adoption of packrafting technology simplified the journey considerably, and in 2003, Hig and his sister made a brief stop at the Gore Point beach on a backpacking trip out of Seldovia. A year later, when Hig and I were hiking and packrafting the length of the Kenai Fjords (from Seward to Seldovia), Gore Point was right on the way.

It was every bit as cool as Hig had promised. We stayed at a beach on the eastern open coast, which Hig's dad referred to as Profit Beach. It was a mile long stretch of surf and sand, looking straight out across the Pacific ocean, and framed all around by towering cliffs. At the northeast end, only 100 feet of forest separated the ocean from Gore Point Lake. Crisscrossed logs piled up at the top of the beach where the storms left them, draped with fishing nets and buoys, and rotting into nothing as they stretched back into the forest.

Paddling around in our packrafts we caught rockfish from the schools near the cliffs, and startled cormorants out of their caves. Fat mountain goats left steep trails through the forest, and ambled easily along improbably steep slopes. We smoked fish, gathered huckleberries, split cedar, followed goat trails, and raided an old shipwreck. We were there for a week, and even as we paddled away, we were planning for our return.

A year and a half later, we found ourselves planning a February trip to Alaska. We wanted to visit Gore Point again. And we were feeling the need for a good adventure. Adventure is a difficult thing to plan for, since it's something that can only happen when things don't quite go according to plan. So we took a place we knew to be stormy, and decided to snowshoe and packraft out there in the middle of winter. In this case, February itself was the adventure.

Journal - Page 1

2/7/06 - Day 1 - Packraft sleds and a midnight alder thicket

Winter evening falls too soon
The dimming snow dusts trees jet black
And I walk on with swishing sled
And crunch of feet on darkening track

Why am I starting this journal with corny poetry? Because making it up keeps me occupied on a long trudge, and the rhythm goes with walking.

Yesterday was a long trudge indeed. We caught a ride out the road with Dede after work, which got us to the beginning of a 9 mile walk out to Sue and Gordy's cabin. At 4:30 PM. At this time of year, dark comes at 6:30 PM. This probably sounds like a bad idea from the outset.

But it was supposed to be a road walk. A snowy road, of course, but we had snowshoes and sleds (rafts). The Alpackas-as-sleds were the saviors of the first half of the trip. They slid smoothly along the snow behind us, strapped to our waists, saving us from lugging our very heavy packs (crammed with winter gear and two weeks of food) on our shoulders and backs.

The night was moonlit and beautiful, and going was pretty easy on the snowmobile trail. Then we branched off the tracks, and plowed on into the deeper snow along Rocky River road. It was more of a trudge, but still pleasant, and still beautiful. We knew the road was alder-choked later on, but with luck, we thought it would be open as far as the cabin.

No luck. We pulled our way into the thickets, where snow-draped alder lay halfway down over the road. There was enough snow to stop us from easily slipping underneath the branches, but not nearly enough to bury them.

And the sleds that had been our saviors were now an enormous dragging liability. As the temperature dropped, the snow got stickier. Combine the sticky sled with lots of brushy obstacles, and a couple of tired hikers who are quite sad that it's almost midnight, and you have misery.

The last couple miles took forever. This was exacerbated by our failure to take the obvious and sensible step of repacking the sleds into our backpacks. After stubbornly pulling our rafts through the last of the alder bushwhack, we stumbled in to the cabin at 12:30 AM.

We were rewarded for our efforts by an absolutely awesome cabin, where we lit a roaring fire in the stove, ate some macaroni and cheese, and fell sound asleep.

It's 1 PM now, and we're having a lazy morning here in the cabin, working on gear. The gear hasn't had nearly enough time to break yet, but we didn't have quite enough time to finish making it before we started. Every time we've come past this cabin in the last few years I've wanted to stay, but it's never been the right time. I guess this is the right time.

2/8/06 - Day 2 - Venturing down the frozen stream

It's only been a few hours since my last entry, since we got a very late start from the cabin. But carrying packs along the edge of the mostly-frozen Rocky River was far more pleasant than dragging the full Alpackas through the alder. The sky was a bright high overcast, and the weather was just enough below freezing to keep the snow pleasant for walking. Rounded snowy lumps of boulders sat like plump pillows in the dark stream, topped by dippers. These tiny black birds are characterized by their up-and-down bob, and their occasional dives under the dark and icy water. I've never seen so many in one place - perhaps all the other streams are frozen.

But this very short day has also been frustrating. We were using our paddles as walking sticks in the snow, blade down, probing for stable ice. Nothing that should have been a problem, but Hig's paddle hit a rock, and flaked a huge chunk off the left blade. I think we can find a way to jerry-rig a fix, but who knows how it will hold up to paddling in waves and surf?

And as I went to set up our bed, I found my thermarest/life vest completely deflated. Torn at the edges of the neck hole, from where it got tugged too hard in my pack. Snow may be a soft enough bed without a pad, but it's certainly not warm enough. Now we're crammed into our half-baked sleeping system in a shelter open to the wind. Snow is falling in a pile on the raft a few inches from my sleeping bag. It seems that we don't know what the hell we're doing.

2/9/06 - Day 3 - Retreat!

So, we're back at Rocky River cabin, camping out down in the smaller sauna cabin this time. Hig and I are veterans of over 2000 miles of wilderness travel in the state of Alaska. We carefully plan every piece of gear we carry and consider most of the possible ways that things can go wrong. Did I mention that we don't know what the hell we're doing?

This morning we woke up to rain. Actually, we woke up many times through the long night in our half-baked shelter, listening to the snow turn to rain and back again, as it pattered down uncomfortably close to our bag. The roof inched ever closer to my face as it sagged under the snow, and occasionally I would thwack it off, creating little piles of snow on the edge of the rafts that we were using as ground sheets. Slowly, inevitably, these piles squirmed their way inside and melted under my feet. Camped in the forest on the valley floor, we were protected from most of the wind howling through the trees, but an occasional gust would send a violent shower of snow off the branches, spattering us through the open sides of our shelter. Despite all this, we were fairly warm. But the long winter night gave us plenty of time to contemplate the shortcomings of our shelter and the failings of our gear. In addition to the broken paddle and deflated thermarest, one of the rafts we were sleeping on seemed to be slowly leaking (though we can't find the leak now, and concluded it was a valve we hadn't tightened well).

We packed our increasingly soggy gear in the light of a very grey morning, and discussed our options. Cold rain poured down on the snow. The weather was exceedingly unappetizing, but if that was the only problem, we'd have talked ourselves into going on. But we had critical gear to fix, more experimenting with the shelter setup to do, and we didn't know if we'd even be able to make a fire in these conditions. Without fire, dry weather, or good shelter, setting up to do gear repair sounded hard. And it was still miserably pouring rain on a carpet of snow that was getting mushier and slushier by the minute.

After a long and conflicted discussion, we retreated, plodding back up the river the couple hours to the cabin. The snow was dripping. I was dripping. My snowshoes dragged at every step with several extra pounds of water and sticky snow. The transition between beautiful and miserable can be so fast - even for the same patch of ground.

Here in the cabin we've made it dry and warm again, hung our wet gear from every available surface, and haven't been at all sorry to stay inside, drying, repairing, and eating hot food.

We listened to a very disappointing weather forecast today. Next couple days, it's supposed to stay warm (highs 30s to 40s) and wet. And out on the ocean, the seas are 20 to 36 feet high with east winds (this would be against us during our paddle). To sum it up; miserable walking conditions with probably impossible paddling. Might as well stay another day. If it melts enough, perhaps we can raft down Rocky River and avoid the alder-choked road.

I wish we'd come a week earlier. It would have been awesome to travel in the cold weather, and to be out at Gore Point now in our cozy shelter, watching the storm.

2/10/06 - Day 4 - Regrouping

Still here at the cabin (as planned). Hoping to leave as soon as possible tomorrow morning. I'll miss the crackling warm stove and dry roof, but I'm excited to get out to see the ocean. It'll be even better if we can make it all the way to Gore Point beach, but we're at the mercy of the weather on that one.

This morning dawned as warm and sloppy as yesterday, and I was happy to spend the morning inside, messing with gear and cooking on the nice warm stove. The dripping subsided some in the afternoon, and we went out to stalk dippers (in order to shoot them with the telephoto lens). There's only so much you can do with a very small black bird on a black and white background, but it was fun to try and sneak up on them.

A human foot should be approximately one foot long. So when a person decides to suddenly make their feet three feet long and one foot wide, the only place to put one of these gigantic feet is right on top of the other gigantic foot. We decided to do a little bushwhack up the mountain. Climbing up through steep snow in snowshoes was an exercise in floundering and flailing only a little less graceful than walking blindfolded. However, I doubt climbing up through steep snow without snowshoes is any better. With each step up I placed my snowshoe at least two feet above me, only to have it squish and slide back to the level of (and often on top of) its brother.

We climbed just far enough to get a view of the valley below. The logging road and the river made ribbons of white snaking away from us, and a large white patch of clear-cut interrupted the forest just at the edge of our view. Clear-cut doesn't look so bad as usual in the winter. There were a few patches of blue drifting among the clouds above, occasionally lighting a bright spot on one of the mountains. A few miles away, state and national parkland stretches for about 90 miles east, almost to the town of Seward. But this valley, and its clear cuts, are on native corporation land.

We flailed back down in half the time, with Hig performing some of the descent as a slide on his back with arms stretched out to brake, looking exactly like a misplaced snow angel. Back along the river we searched the forest for dry wood, trying to assess the firestarting conditions. Many people seem to think of firestarting as something that is trivial as long as you have matches and lighters. These people have probably never started fires after a week of rain in the woods. This time, I was quite skeptical of our chances, given how incredibly soggy everything has been for so long. But even in the worst conditions the forest has its secret dry spots. Bark and twigs are wet as soon as the rain starts to fall. Even large dead branches are wet through to the middle. The only dry wood left is in secret little underhangs, protected from the rain, but open to the air. In the hollows under tree roots, sometimes there are chunks of dry bark. When trees split and fall, sometimes they create a natural alcove for the splintered wood underneath. We found one fallen and split tree that has even better dry wood than the stack we had to burn in the stove.

I'm still not excited about the prospect of heading out in this warm wet weather, but I am excited to get started.

2/11/06 - Day 5 - Misery and insanity

We are huddled in a soggy campsite, not quite as far downstream as where we turned back the first time. We haven't given up yet, but I'll admit that things are discouraging. The weather sucks. It's been pouring rain all day. The sodden snow on the alder-choked road collapsed under our feet, trapping and tangling our snowshoes in holes underneath the branches. It probably wasn't even much fun for the moose, and they got to eat the willows. And when we inflated rafts and jumped into the river, we promptly ran up against the ice.

The river was flooded, but not quite broken up enough to let us pass. An ungainly combination of frantic scooting of the raft and shoving with the paddle got us over some of the little ice dams, but others were too large. We had to get out, wade through the knee deep slush along the edge, and jump back in, with feet even wetter and colder than before. And the rain drove down. My hands and feet were freezing. It was miserable.

So we camped early, partly because we think the river might be more broken up for floating tomorrow, but mostly because bed sounded preferable to what the outside world had to offer. We're warm enough, I guess, but soggy even in here. A light mist of rain is falling on me. Inside the shelter.

We've spent a good part of this long wet evening discussing why it's raining inside our shelter. We've been camping under a silnylon tarp for years, and every night before this one, the rain has stayed on the outside. Perhaps it's because the roof is set up too flat, and we're under a large tree, and the drops falling on the roof are larger (thus faster) than ordinary rain.

At least the indoor sprinkling is light, and I don't think it's soaked through our sleeping bag yet, but the water we brought in with us is more than enough to make the nylon clammy.

The weather forecast sucks for days ahead of us yet. I hope it's wrong. Maybe we won't make it to Gore Point, but I still hope the outer coast is cool.

2/12/06 - Day 6 - Onwards

As Hig says, any sane person would have turned back after yesterday. But insanity has its rewards.

We launched the rafts this morning in a thick flurry of snow, which waned later to a few drifting flakes, but never turned to rain. But this more favorable weather did nothing to make paddling more comfortable, particularly with boots full of slush water.

The rafts floated through weirdly green water, running across the ice just a foot under the surface. Ice dams blocked the whole channel in many places, forcing us to make the same slush walking vs. raft wriggling choices as yesterday. Wriggling was certainly more comfortable, but the scooting, poling and shoving often required a herculean effort to get over dams that only stuck an inch or two above the water. Not to mention that each one took forever. We walked through the slush only as a last resort (I somehow even managed to convince Hig to pull me across one of the shorter detours), and then sledded the rafts back down the bank, splashing into the river on the other side. Rocky River is too mellow to have any real rapids, but it seemed like there were sweepers lying in wait around every corner. We finally got out just before a particularly nasty sweeper, and took to the snowshoes.

On average, snowshoeing was hard. Whichever way I chose to lead, I was either falling in slush pools in the clearcut flats, stumbling along through moose track craters and alder traps on the road, or getting tangled in reprod in the aging clear-cut. But there were a few nice bits of snow mixed in to this mess, and we at least made steady progress.

There were some huge wolverine tracks on the end of the logging road. And we've passed the end of the clear-cut. It's true that the clear-cut provided the roads we've followed out here. But clear-cut is just a rather ugly and sad place to travel. The logs and branches left behind pile up into crazy traps, and are soon covered with a very dense mess of underbrush. So it's not only ugly and sad, it's also quite difficult. Just before we camped we crossed the unmarked line between native corporation and state park, and beautiful old-growth trees towered up around us. This forest looks to be fairly good walking, and I really hope it stays below freezing.

2/13/06 - Day 7 - Out the fjord

We're almost at the mouth of Port Dick now. Today dawned clear and frozen. Exactly the oppoite of what the forecast predicted, and exactly what we wanted. However many of our previously wet bits of gear were therefore frozen quite solid, and into rather unfortunate shapes. It took a good ten or fifteen minutes to worm my way completely into my frozen boots, and the frozen string holding my pack closed snapped in half as soon as I tugged on it.

We snowshoed off through the forest on a refreshingly solid crust of snow. The sun lit up the ridges around us and occasionally filtered down through the canopy, lighting up the sparkly icicles on the end of every twig. Bright red clusters of frozen highbush cranberries still hung on the bare bushes, and these perfect plump sour-sicles were even tastier than the fresh variety.

We didn't want to dip our snowshoes in the water, now that it was below freezing out, so we made very elaborate and awkward crossings of tiny streams on slippery snow-covered logs. Though the frozen crust made snowshoe travel much easier, we still managed to pick the wrong side of the valley to follow. As we picked our way through steep, obstacle-rich patches littered with the woody spines of devil's club, I couldn't help noticing the nice flat floodplains on the other side.

It was high tide when we reached the head of Port Dick. Pure luck, since we'd forgotten tide tables. But the high water let us put in far up the bay, and the current carried us out with the dropping tide.

Last time we paddled Port Dick it was pouring rain, and we were pushing hard for home. This time I got to look around a bit more. It's a beautiful fjord, lined by mountains made stark and harsh-looking by the contrast of white snow against black rocks and trees. In their details, each small peak could almost be an image out of a moutaineering photo. Black and white. Winter is a very two-toned world.

A huge avalanche pile reached all the way down to the water on the other side of the bay, and we saw other signs of slides higher up. The sea was glassy calm at the head of the bay, and we paddled the rafts through occasional patches of crackling skim ice. Half frozen waterfalls fell from the icy gullies, cut off at their base by the high tide line.

So far on this trip we've seen tracks of many animals, including the wolverine yesterday, the moose walking, browsing and sitting in the logging roads, and river otters playing in small slush pools. But the only wildlife we've seen in the flesh is birds. Today there were ducks hanging out in Port Dick Creek, and when we reached the head of the bay, three huge white trumpeter swans took off, honking noisily. We took a picture of the one grey youngster that remained - the only one not afraid of us.

We're now about two miles from the mouth of Port Dick, hoping for calm weather for a crossing tomorrow. Hig managed to find enough dry wood for a nice little fire tonight, despite the fact that we're camped in a steep and pitch dark forest, so I'm going to bed with hot rocks to warm me and a belly happily full of macaroni and cheese.

2/14/06 - Day 8 - The crossing

Valentine's Day. The perfect day for an open water crossing on the Pacific Ocean in Alpacka rafts. We made it across today! We're at Takoma Cove now, just a couple of miles walk over a low pass from Profit beach.

In fact, the whole crossing was quite anticlimactic. To get to Gore Point, you need to paddle at least two miles at a shot (more if you go straight) across a fjord open to the Pacific Ocean. And as we were planning our trip, we obsessed over this crossing. There would be no land between us and the Pacific to block any of the swell. Packraft landing spots (anywhere without cliffs) would be few and far between, and possibly battered by surf. We would be going in the stormy winter, to a place that is known for its storms. Even a few days ago, the radio was telling of 36 foot seas east of Gore Point. We thought so much about this crossing that we quite neglected to anticipate all the problems of warm weather, rain, and snowshoeing horrible roads. And in the end, the crossing was simply a beautiful paddle.

It warmed up above freezing, but the rain held off. From last night's shelter, we heard wind screaming through the trees above us, and I assumed that the crossing was off for sure. But when we got out of bed the water was almost calm, and only a breeze blew against us.

Just before we rounded the point, we came across a pair of river otters in the ocean, periscoping up to get a better look at the odd blue-rubber creatures. Then we paddled into the sloppy mess of reflected waves bouncing off the cliffs, and around into the crossing proper. We thought it might get worse once we rounded the point, but in the open water we found only three foot swells and a light chop. Though that chop, along with the breeze against us, really slowed the paddling down. Those couple miles seemed to take forever.

As we paddled by the exposed points, the swell sent huge waves crashing up against the rocks, sending white spray almost up to the trees when they hit just right. We watched the horizon and the lower parts of the mountains vanish and then reappear as we rode the swell. Sitting in the rafts, the horizon will disappear with a 2.5 foot wave. So we figured the larger of these waves were between 3 and 4 feet tall. Scattered spots of sunlight lit up nearby peaks and occasionally passed over us. Staring out toward the open ocean, we could see the sunlit waves glinting on the horizon.

Though it was a beautiful crossing, I am happy to have the paddling over with. Pulling into Takoma Cove, I snuck up slowly to a seal-covered rock, trying to get close. But harbor seals are way too wary, and soon there were a series of loud splashes, and about twenty heads popping up in the water around me. The seals followed us all the way in to land, curious rather than frightened now that they were in the water. Protected bays provide a haven for all sorts of ocean life in the winter, including a mother sea otter with a baby on her tummy who scooted away as soon as we appeared.

Takoma Cove is extremely shallow, as well as being full of fish-eating seals, and Hig failed to catch any fish in his brief attempt here. I gathered twigs from the gnarled and wind-sculpted snags on the rocks, and along with some dried grass, they served nicely to heat a pot of miso-flavored rice and oil. As with every oil-drenched camping meal, it was excellent.

The winter night stretches out so long that I can be lazy here in my writing. I'm propped up on my elbows, lighting a small circle on the page of the waterproof journal with my small red LED, listening to the owls hooting in the trees... And when I'm done, I'll snuggle down into the bag, and sleep happily through the next twelve hours of night.

2/15/06 - Day 9 - Wind on the ridge

I'm sitting here warm, happy and fed, watching flames shoot out the top of our makeshift chimney-less barrel stove. My mind lingers in the comfort, and I'm having a hard time conjuring up all the details of our long difficult day.

It shouldn't have been a long day. Not if we had traveled directly to Gore Point beach from last night's camp on Takoma Cove. We woke up as sunrise lit the peaks (about 9AM in the winter) and sat around to take some pictures from the warm envelope of our sleeping bag before setting out over the ridge. Aiming for the low point of the pass proved harder than it looked. By the time we reached the ridge, we were already several hundred feet above the low pass. But the sunlight drifting in through the mossy trees made us eager to climb even higher, to get out into the open. And the snowshoeing was crisp and pleasant. So we climbed.

A couple hundred feet higher we broke out of the trees into a great view over sunny Port Dick. We paused awhile to take pictures, but we still couldn't see out to the Gore Point beach side of the pass. Certainly we'd be able to see from the top of the peak ahead of us, though. We looked up at it for a minute or two, weighing views against laziness. Then we remembered that there was a second, slightly shorter peak a bit further down the ridge. We decided to skirt the first peak, and head for the second, which should lead us nicely to the talus slope just above our campsite on Profit Beach.

Traversing in snowshoes is hard. They haven't got anything in the way of an edge to cut into the slope, and the lower snowshoe inevitably goes crunching too far down the slope, leaving the upper leg exhausted. But we crunched our way awkwardly to the ridge between the two peaks, and dove into the thick and miniature forest of windblown spruce, which was crisscrossed with rabbit tracks. From the sheer number of rabbit tracks we've seen, you'd think we'd see at least one live rabbit, but no such luck.

Ahead on the peak, the wind had blown all but a thin crust of icy snow from the rocks and tundra, so we discarded our snowshoes for the scramble. Strapping my snowshoes to my pack, I didn't fully consider the implications of this change. For the mountain goats who wander the peaks, less snow means a place for them to find food in the winter. But for us, it means something very different. All that snow didn't just disappear on its own.

The wind was screaming over that peak. Howling, screaming, gusting, whooshing... Every loud and violent thing the wind could do, it was doing here. The higher we climbed, the worse it got, prompting us to clutch at the ground, hanging on with all four limbs. In the most exposed spots, I was reduced to a crawl, for fear of being blown off the mountain. Luckily, the peak was gentle and rounded. The only sharp dropoff was on the windward side, and there was nowhere to really be blown to. But there was nowhere to stand up either, and the screaming of the wind in my ears drowned out all rational assessments of my safety. It felt like nowhere a person should be.

But our curiosity to see over the top temporarily won out over our fears. We ditched our packs in a lee, and scrambled up the last bit without them. It was foggy and stormy on the ocean side of the ridge, and the cliffs dropped almost straight down to the beach 1500 feet below us. I clutched tightly at the trunk of a wind-stunted spruce as I looked down at the white capped waves. It was a huge contrast from the sunny view to Port Dick we'd had earlier in the day. Even now, the Port Dick side looked much calmer, though the sun was hidden in an advancing front of dark clouds.

Curiosity is worth something, but we didn't want to stay in that screaming wind any longer than we had to. Our winter boots had little traction on the icy-thin crust of snow, and combined with the wind blowing us over, this left a fairly low margin of error for scrambling. We quickly abandoned our plan of following the peak ridge, and retreated down and out of the howling wind, moving at the fastest creep we could manage.

Now our day was getting longer. From here, we'd have to go back down to the wind-stunted forest, find a way to skirt around the peak, climb back up to the ridge on the far side, and then find our way to the talus gully that leads down to our campsite. All hoping that no unknown cliffs blocked the way.

It was a long slog, with more annoying snowshoe traversing over steep terrain. We were starting to worry about running out of daylight - always a precious commodity in the winter - and Hig's energy was starting to flag. Leave it to us to turn what should have been a short and easy hike to the beach into a difficult ordeal.

But no cliff popped up to stop us, and once we struggled through the krumholz spruce on the ridge, our talus slope opened up below us. Free and clear. It wasn't even snow-covered. Even the alpine meadows up here were a dull mat of orange-brown grass, testament to the power of the wind. As we descended, we watched the surf crashing on the beach far below us. We reached the bottom just as dark was falling, and found our driftwood shelter, built 16 months ago, still here. It certainly isn't intact (rain is dripping on me as I sit here by the fire), but it's basically still sound.

A coyote ran along the surf line, looking for food washed in by the tide. But it fled as soon as it saw us. We gathered wood and water in the dark, and once Hig had chopped the ice out of the old 55 gallon drum stove, we had a great fire and feast. We'd been dehydrated all day, walking the waterless ridgeline, and my feet had been aching to get out of these sodden boots. Time now to climb into bed, and out of the dripping part of this shelter. I'm so glad to be here, and looking forward to exploring the beach tomorrow.

2/16/06 - Day 10 - The end of the pilgrimage

Time is too short. Originally, we planned this as a trip to hang out at Gore Point. Unfortunate conditions have turned it into something much closer to a pilgrimage to Gore Point. We had to get out here. And we did get out here. Some of it has even been quite fun. But tomorrow we must begin the journey home. We've got five days left on our expected return, and it might not take that long to get back. But if snowshoeing conditions are as bad as they were on the trip out here...? I suspect everyone is worried enough about us already.

It was a beautiful day here on our beach. A cold fog streamed out over the forest from the frozen Gore Point Lake, meeting the mist that formed over the crashing surf. The sun rising over the ocean turned them both golden, and the colorful reflections of the hills and sky contrasted with the smooth grey sand at our feet.

Since we could only stay one more night, and had plenty of food, we were largely exempt from the chores of survival. So we spent the morning lazily wandering down the beach I've come to think of as our own. Coyote tracks criscrossed the sand just above the tide, interspersed with the occasional tracks of a raven or a river otter.

The sun and the mist and the waves were quite thouroughly photographed, and we wandered over to the lake. Though the weather was above freezing, a thin sheen of ice coated the rocks where the lake reached nearest to the ocean - trapped in a current frozen air flowing from the mountains and across the lake.

Out on the beach, away from the icy lake, it's hard to even tell it's winter. The waves today were no bigger than we'd last seen them in September. Snow covers the mountain tops, but only lingers in patches on the forest floor. Just over the ridge we were in snowshoe terrain, but this is the windy side, and it's nearly bare, even in February. The beach is scoured down from when last we saw it, exposing the band of cobbles at the top of the beach. Maybe here, September and February are not that different after all. The journey out here is much slower and more difficult, packed into days less than 10 hours long. But the temeperatures are reined in by the Pacific, and may be only ten or fifteen degrees colder.

The food we hung in a tree a year and a half ago (extras from our raid on the shipwrecked Ranger) was still intact, though a bear did rummage through the hut for the few things we left inside. I don't begrudge him the Crisco, bu I do wish he hadn't disappeared the pot lid.

Hig taught me how to split chunks of cedar driftwood into shingles, and I had fun making a bunch of new ones. The best cedar splits almost perfectly flat, and is completely dry inside, despite being extensively battered by the surf and soaked in the rain. When nothing else is dry, you could still start a fire easily from one of these logs. A good thing to remember.

As an incorrigible geologist, Hig couldn't stop himself from digging, so he set off to make a large hole in the forest behind the beach. After all, he did lug a shovel head all the way from Seldovia. He didn't find any evidence of tsunamis this time, just a shallow soil overlying a lot of beach sand. It's a very open forest behind the beach, with huge trees, a mossy floor, and very little between them, aside from some short and scrubby devil's club.

Sitting here in the dark, I'm listening to the waves crashing on the beach, the crackling of the fire, and the howling of coyotes. It sounds like a whole pack. They have a strange yelping screeching sort of howl, higher pitched than a wolf, and not as majestic. But still eerie and wild.

Earlier this evening, we walked out on the beach to watch the stars. The tide was way out, and we scrambled over the ice-slicked logs on the burm, down to the middle of the sand flats, looking up at the sparkling sky. It's so rare for me to see a clear dark night full of stars. In Seattle, the city lights prevent it, and in the long Alaska summers, we usually fall asleep long before they might appear. I found Cassiopea, the Big Dipper, Orion, the Pleiades, and the Milky Way. And then my knowledge of celestial landmarks petered out, but the sky continued to fascinate me. We twirled around a few times as we looked up, making ourselves dizzy, and shivering with the cold. Then we scurried back to the warmth of the fire, necessary gear repairs, and a pot of hot cocoa.

Tomorrow we head out, on a route yet to be determined, hoping to catch the good weather. With luck, the return weather will be like the last few days, and we'll be spared the misery we found on the way out here. I'm sad to leave, but I know we'll be back here. Not again this year, but soon enough. Though I think next time I vote for a trip in June. No stars then, but the traveling would be nicer.

2/17/06 - Day 11 - Into driving sleet

We built a fire in the dark, ate in the dark, set up the shelter in the dark, and spent an inordinate amount of time futzing with our shelter to try and keep out the rain. So now we're tucking into bed at the incredibly late hour of 8:45 PM. I've slept more on this trip than I ever have in my life. 14 hours a night, sometimes. With dark at 6, light at 8:30, and our sleeping bag the only warm place to hang out in the evenings, there are few other options. But suprisingly, our bodies have fallen quite naturally into the rhythm of the winter, as if the long night makes our 14 hours of sleep feel normal - even necessary.

Tonight is very wet and very windy. Our shelter roof is too small for these conditions. It works well as a small tent stretched over a nice flexible alder shrub. But pitched high and tied to branches, its footprint is small enough that we have to constantly rearrange to make sure we stay in it. We'll see how wet we get tonight.

We certainly got wet enough today. We woke up late to a soggy but relatively calm morning, and decided the weather was favorable enough that we ought to head out. This time, rather than retracing our convoluted route over the ridges, we decided to follow the simple path - around Gore Point lake and over the low pass to Takoma Cove. At least we thought it was the simple path. Near the top, the pass becomes a jumbled mess of confusing bumps and hills, with all landmarks obscured by the forest. We wandered back and forth a bit, trying to get to the correct side of the pass, until we stumbled on our own tracks from two days ago.

We'd detoured quite a bit higher on the ridge than we meant to, but from there it was easy. We bombed down on our snowshoes, traveling from the light flutter of snow at the ridge down to a steady sleet at sea level.

At the head of Takoma Cove, we were protected from the wind, but we watched the gusts as they swept away from us on the bay, ruffling the water. We couldn't see much else, as the driving sleet effectively killed all our more distant landmarks. We set out anyway.

The sleet blew at us sideways, running down into the boats despite the spray skirts, and soaking our lower bodies. We were decked out in our full set of homemade regalia - a fleece suit topped by a fleece hoodie, topped by a goretex rain suit, topped by a thermarest modified to be usable as a life vest, topped by a loose poncho-like dress of silnylon. The effect of the last two items, particularly, gave Hig the look of a boxy-looking football player in a Hefty trash bag. Other than our hands, we were pretty warm.

We paddled easily out Takoma Cove, and turned to cross Sunday Harbor. The wind was howling out the mouth of Sunday Harbor, cutting across us, racing for the ocean. The farther we got into the channel, the more the wind picked up, and the long fetch of the bay let the waves pick up too. Our small rafts bounced up and down in the waves and swell, battered by the driving sleet. I squinted against the sleet in my eyes, and paddled ahead doggedly, aiming towards the point at the edge of the bay. The waves crashed and reflected off the rocks, building themselves even larger. Wind currents eddied around the point like water currents in a rapid, sending deafening gusts crashing into us. We could see the gusts coming, cutting off the tops of all the white-capped waves as they flew over the water. There was nothing to do but brace for the impact, pointing into it, and paddling hard not to be swept back the way we had come. I didn't feel too close to tipping over, but I let out a good scream when the largest gust hit, just the same. These are the moments we call intrepid - miserable, frightening, but also alive and exciting in a strange and twisted way.

We abandoned all plans of making the rest of the crossing to Port Dick, and focussed on hurrying around the point to the nearest available tuck in. And here we are.

Amazingly, Hig managed to find enough wood for a fire, and we ate some oily macaroni and cheese (a.k.a. impatient child noodles). We finished filling our bellies with diluted but wonderfully warm hot cocoa, ignoring the stray bits of burnt noodle dislodged from the pot. It's hovering just above freezing, very windy, and very wet. Hypothermia weather.

The wind has picked up since we got here, but I hope it gives us a window tomorrow, since this isn't a place I want to be stuck in forever. In a too-small shelter, under a tree by the beach, in the wind and the rain.

2/18/06 - Day 12 - A kinder ocean

At the head of Port Dick again. We're done with the crossing and all the paddling, and for that I am relieved. From here on out, conditions may suck, but nothing will actually be able to stop us.

This morning I woke up, crawled out from under our postage stamp shelter, and felt nothing. No rain fell on me. No sleet. No snow. It was still fairly windy, but unlike yesterday, we could see where we were going, and the crossing looked free of any really big waves. We dragged all our stuff down to the beach, draping it over the trees and letting it dry off some in the wind before we launched.

The ocean that had seemed so angry yesterday seemed almost friendly today. We still watched the sporadic gusts as they traveled out the bay towards us, announcing themselves with a ruffling of the water. And it still took all our effort to paddle against them when they hit. But on this leg of the crossing, the waves were much less. The gusts stemmed from the eddies swirling around the rocks, and didn't travel in a straight enough line to gather large waves. When they passed, the ocean was almost gentle, raising and lowering us on several-foot swells, with only a small chop on top of them.

We turned the corner into Port Dick around a rocky point, where the swell crashed against the rocks, sending up great jets and spurts of foam. And then the wind turned with us. It was moving at a steaady clip, pulling us along. We were testing one experimental Alpacka raft with a longer tail, and it coasted especially well through the wind and waves, hardly needing more than steering to keep up with its brother.

We didn't stop much, to be sure to finish the paddle in the light. But we made it in record time, riding the following sea. On the journey out, we'd noticed an enormous avalanche pile which reached all the way to the ocean on the north side of the bay. This time we stopped there, pulling our rafts into a tiny harbor created when the avalanche shoved cobbles up into a little jetty, and scrambling up onto the jumbled pile of snow.

The avalanche was the texture of jumbled cobbles and boulders, which would shift and disintegrate unpredictably when stepped on. I stumbled and post-holed through the mess, climbing up to slicked smooth chutes, and even bare ground, where the avalanche had scraped away everything above it. Elderberry and alder bushes lay stripped and aligned along its path.

We hopped back in the boats just as the first rain squalls hit, and finished the last chunk of the paddle to the head of Port Dick. In the winter this protected bay is a haven for wildlife. We saw sea otters everywhere, popping up to look at us with paws held high, then deciding we were too scary to be worth keeping their paws dry, and diving away. Ducks and other waterfowl were everywhere. And when we reached the shallows at the head of the bay, there were swans. Dozens and dozens of huge white trumpeter swans.

They were quite shy of these great bumbling rubberized creatures paddling towards them, and when they appeard to us as barely more than white footballs in the distance, they took off. Each group trumpeted as it flew, and they flew right towards us, circling or buzzing the boats before peeling away. I appreciated for the first time how incredibly huge a swan is. We kept scaring up more and more and more of them, and by the time we reached the head of the bay, we must have seen at least 70.

All but one flew. Right at the river mouth, we saw one swan that just hopped up on shore, gracelessly pacing back and forth. As we got closer, we saw that its wing was trailing oddly behind it - likely broken. I doubt that bird has much of a chance in this land of hungry coyotes, otters, and wolverines.

We also set off a flock of a few dozen smaller ducks, and made a quartet of little river otters scramble down the beach into the sea.

It's another wet night here, under our less-than-perfect tarp. We had a wonderful fire of rotten wood to cook our oily meal tonight. Hig insists that rotten wood burns hotter, and I think he may be right. There's not much left to it, so maybe most of the low-energy wood rots away first. I hope the snowshoeing conditions are ok tomorrow.

2/19/06 - Day 13 - Moose craters

Well, we've talked ourselves into one last adventure. I'm sitting under our shelter in the middle of a slightly-overgrown logging road, prepared for a long ridge climb tomorrow. Instead of going back to Seldovia via the Rocky River road and cabin, we're on the other side of the valley, planning to head up and over Red Mountain pass - 2500 feet above us. Hopefully the weather and snow conditions will be kind to us. It might be an awesome detour, or it might just be hard. But things are freezing up quickly tonight, and I'm hopeful for hard snow tomorrow.

Today we walked up the south side of Port Dick valley, which proved generally quite a bit easier than the north side. The forest was dripping, and so much snow had melted over the past weeks that we didn't even need snowshoes until we hit a meadow just before the clear-cut. We pushed our way out into the clear-cut, looked up at the sunlit peaks, and reconsidered our decision to go straight home. We talked back and forth for awhile, trying to argue that it would be smarter to go back the simple way, and ending by convincing ourselves to take the detour. What else should I expect of us nut cases? We say we're taking this detour to see a beautiful alpine place, with a chance of beautiful views. But I think we may be taking it because we would have done just about anything to avoid the awful Rocky River road.

So we set off along the newer set of logging roads on the west side of the valley, heading towards our high pass. These logging roads are definitely much less overgrown than the Rocky River road, and generally not too bad for walking. Where the snow was good, at least. And if you could avoid the moose craters.

There are moose tracks absolutely everywhere on these logging roads. I think I saw only one ten foot stretch of road without at least one set of moose tracks, and it almost startled me out of walking on it. There has to be something wrong with a road with no moose tracks. Most places were completely cratered by them, along with piles of moose crap, and the occasional moose butt-print. Every scrubby willow (and many of the alders) had its tip chewed off. I'd half expect to see a moose, except that our very loudly crunching snowshowes provided ample warning of our approach.

It was only in the very last bit of hiking today that the logging road even hit clear cut. Mostly we were wandering through the forest. Snowshoeing is dead tiring, especially when you sink through the snow, and perhaps also especially when you've run out of sugary snacks. We camped a bit early tonight, stomping a flat spot into the sloping road, throwing all our gear over the bushes to freeze, and melting a huge hole into the snow with our cook fire. I was in bed before 6, and I'm writing for the first time with a bit of natural light, as Hig fixes his snowshoes by the fire.

By the end of tomorrow we should be back to civilization, or at least civilized roads, with no overhanging alders and with packed snowmobile trails.

2/20/06 - Day 14 - Alpine wonderland

As with most final journal entries, I am writing this in perfect civilized comfort, on a couch in a warm and weatherproof house. Our trip back to town was about as easy as we could have possibly hoped. We got a ride almost all the way down from Red Mountain, and as I'm sitting here writing at Dede's place, it's not even dark out. In fact the whole day went just about perfectly.

The morning dawned clear and frozen on our campsite in the middle of the logging road, and we got up early enough to have a hot breakfast of minute rice before we left. We thought we might need the starch for energy.

The sun was rising over the mountains, and it wasn't long before we left the clearcut and climbed up into the smooth snow above. There may have been alder underneath us, but they were nicely laid down and buried, and we soon hit the glowing white slopes of the alpine. They weren't just glowing, they were glaring. So brightly that we quite regretted our lack of sunglasses, and stopped to make a jerry-rigged solution out of medical tape and normal glasses (leaving a narrow slit to see through).

The snow was pretty easy for snowshoeing all the way up, and we made very steady progress, except when we were taking picutres. Neither of us could resist the temptation of the smooth curves and shadows of the alpine landscape. Stubby spruce trees and ice-rimed twigs stuck up above the wind-hardened snow, and our snowshoe tracks made a pattern of snaking lines over the curvy terrain. We probably took as many pictures today as on all the rest of the trip.

Our only real problem was Hig's cold toes. It was well below freezing, and walking on very cold snow in a pair of entirely saturated and partly-frozen mukluks is maybe not the best idea. He had to stop several times in the icy wind to wring out his socks before his toes thawed enough to be reasonably functional.

From Red Mountain pass, we could see south to the Pacific coast, and north across Kachemak Bay all the way to Homer. But as soon as we crested the pass we were getting blasted by a sharp and icy wind. We stayed there just long enough to snap a photo of the wind-textured snow, and then bombed down the valley as quickly as possible, picking up the snowmachine tracks on the road below.

But we only walked on them for about half an hour, until we were caught up by the snowmachiners we'd seen up on the slopes. They were the same folks who saw us dragging the Alpacka sleds on the way up, in fact. On the back of a snowmachine, the trip down to Jackalof took no time at all. And given that the road along Jackalof bay was skating rink quality ice, we would have been quite sad to have to try and walk it. From Jackalof, the snowmachines got loaded up into a trailer, and we hitched a ride in the SUV all the way back to Dede's. Simple. Easy. The way I'd like all our trips to end.

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