Thursday, April 11, 2013

Icy Gauntlet -- an Eventful Kayak Trip

Luck briefly smiled on us the first time Karen and I met LeConte Bay and we didn’t even know it.  We had ferried with our Klepper folding kayak from our home in Ketchikan to Petersburg, then chartered a float plane to drop us off in the Bay.  Our plan -- an easy paddle up the fjord to the glacier followed by a mellow paddle carried by tides and currents back to Petersburg -- five days in paradise, most among translucent blue or green and duller white icebergs calved off the Glacier.  Like clouds, they came in every imaginable shape, some as big as entire apartment buildings. 

We had no idea of how often those icebergs floating in the bay could scrub landings with a float plane.   Not that day in 1981.  To check for ice in our aquatic “airport” our pilot made several passes with a tight turn at each end.  With each turn Karen‘s face turned closer to the hue of the ice.

Her face had the color of concrete by the time our pilot deposited us on a slippery kelp-covered rock beach near the mouth of Bussy Creek.   With my soaring spirits and Karen’s groans about about her stomach being back several turns of the plane, we set off.  First came grass flats, beaten down by last winter’s snows.  Behind the cathedral-like forest beckoned. 

With sagging spirits and no change in Karen’s stomach we found there was more than grass on those flats.  Bear poop!  Everywhere!  The place looked like a cattle feed lot with all the bear scats.  It had to take a whole bunch of bears to leave that many.  For us, those poops guarded the shelter offered by the towering old-growth forest just beyond the tide line -- a forest nourished by the carcasses of a lot of salmon dragged there by a lot of black and brown bears.  Having several campsite encounters with bears under our belts, we decided Bussy Creek didn’t look that great after all. 

Heading further into the bay we found a torrent (think water supply) below a landslide on a slope steep enough to have landslides.  Adjacent to it, one tiny knob just might be flat enough to pitch our tent on top.  Bingo.  The next day we would see the glacier. 

The next day leaden skies shed their surplus water vapor -- en masse.  With five days for this trip we chose to stay in camp confident, as no one in southeast Alaska has reason to be, that the weather would break.  Thus we found ourselves immersed in books as we lounged in our tent late that morning.  Life was good.  Tomorrow, maybe even later today we would see the glacier.

A scraping on the side of the tent -- alongside our heads, a shadow darkening the pages of our books, suggested maybe life was not that good after all.  We concluded there could be only one plausible explanation for that sound.  CLAWS!!!  With every effort to mimic the volume of an Alaska ferry fog horn in a narrow channel on a foggy morning, I bellowed a warning as I tumbled out the tent to face fate.  There, poised at the other side of the tent was the largest black bear I have ever seen -- do they come in any other size in these situations?  Waving my arms and acting far more confident than I felt, I suggested we could never be best friends, that he might prefer the scenery down by Bussy Creek.  He agreed, even if it was at a slow waddle.  Making a similar decision, we packed up our wet tent and headed in the other direction -- at a slow paddle.  This campsite didn’t look that great after all.

We never saw LeConte Glacier that trip.  The ice that parted enough to let us land,  thickened considerably the further up the bay we paddled.  Soon the density of the ice pack and the speed of the out-flowing current turned our progress in a negative direction.  Maybe we, two novices at this game, weren’t meant to see the glacier after all.  What if we did get further up the bay and couldn’t get out?  What if?

After another night in the Stiking LeConte Wilderness, a night listening to the grinding, hissing and popping of the ice, with no change in ice conditions the next day, we joined the bergs floating out of the bay.

                                   Icy Gauntlet    12 X 16 inches    Alkyd on anvas

Icy Gauntlet depicts the outer bay and the kind of ice conditions we often find in LeConte Bay.  Just when it seems there’s no way through, a narrow passageway appears and you’re on your way again.  Sometimes, but not that day in 1981.


Cindi said...

A wonderful memory. Glad it was yours!!! :-)

Don and Karen Cornelius Artwork said...

Thamks,Cindi: All in all it was just that and in a place where we have many wonderful memories.