Nordic Voyage

Ten days on the boat out of Juneau, our annual family trip fishing in Alaska is complete. This summer it was an all family affair… My mother and father, my brother and his wife, and their grandson Andre. Add Deb and myself for a total of seven aboard the Nordic Quest for ten days of fishing and exploring. The plan was to head south of Juneau, down Stephen’s Passage for the Frederick Sound area.

First stop was Taku Harbor for the night with the following day spent attempting to fish salmon in Stephen’s Passage. A pretty day, but no fish. The only luck we had was a single crab in one of the pots left overnight in Taku.

Dawes Glacier
The towering wall of ice that is Dawes Glacier in Endicott Arm
On to Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier. The weather was not great for visiting the ice, but we did arrive at low tide, the best time to see calving. We were rewarded by the sight of several ice-falls as the water level fell and the face of the glacier crumbled.

An afternoon spend fishing Halibut was rewarding as well, plenty of fish landed along with one hundred pound specimen caught by Andre. A halibut that big can not be gaffed and simply lifted into the cooler. Instead I harpooned the fish off the swim deck. My first harpoon shot was a bit off, hitting low, a second was much better, right through the spine behind the gills. Good this too, the fish promptly broke the steel leader. Two harpoon lines attached insured this fish was headed for the freezer.

A Fish
A 100lb halibut in not a small fish
Working our way south we eventually ended up in Saginaw Bay, a very pretty place in Kuiu Island. We broke out the kayaks for the evening and my mother and I paddled into the beauty of Saginaw creek with the high tide. The next morning dawned bright and clear, with mirror smooth water, an invitation to explore the bay further in the kayaks. The back of the bay features several coves among 30-40 foot high limestone cliffs draped in moss and wildflowers, simply magical.

To our surprise we were skunked on salmon this year. The silvers were a bit later than usual, not yet in the inside waters we were fishing and not yet in the streams. We put down salmon rigs several times and failed to land a single legal fish… Salmon that is. We did pick up one small halibut on a salmon pole. That fish was out of the water mere minutes before being filleted and placed in a frying pan… A halibut taco lunch with fish about as fresh as possible.

A night spent in Sanborn Canal allowed another kayak expedition into a small river. Using the high tide Andre and I rowed two miles upstream through the tide-flats of the river. Again there were no fish, and no bears fishing the stream. A close looks at a pretty river in a very wild place was our reward. Add the mile it took to get from our anchored boat to the river mouth and a couple more miles up the river we did six miles round trip, a nice morning paddle.

Deb at Pack Creek
Deb photographing bears at Pack Creek
A highlight of the trip was visiting the bear viewing area at Pack Creek. The stream hosts a large chum and pink salmon run, benefiting a large population of grizzly bears. The USFS controls entry to a few permitted visitors each day, where they are met by rangers who instruct visitors where they can and can not go. It is a good idea to follow the advice, the bears are accustomed to humans within these mutual boundaries. Stay within the specified area and you are unlikely to have any trouble, and there is ample opportunity for trouble here.

Unfortunately the salmon had not yet arrived in the stream, thus we were unable to watch the bears fishing. It looked to be a quiet visit, with only a few bears seen, and not that close. It was also a wet visit, with steady rain threatening to soak the camera gear. We were somewhat disappointed after the effort it took to get here.

Grizzly
A female grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) at Pack Creek
The hike up to the observation tower was pretty but only yielded brief views of two bears. An excellent example of a beaver pond is directly beside the trail leading to a observation platform that overlooks the stream. Here you can view the gravel bars that make this stream good salmon habitat. Here the bears should be feeding on the fish as they spawn and die. If there were any fish.

Returning to the tide flats changed the story. A large female brought her two cubs by to see the humans. We were treated to perfect viewing of a large sow and two utterly cute cubs as close as 25 yards. Close enough that the 400mm lens was too much and had to be zoomed back. The encounter made the day for us, the hours in the rain and soaked clothing totally worth it.

Tired and with freezers full of fish we stopped in Taku Harbor. Not due into Juneau until the following day we elected to spend the entire day and night in a harbor that is usually a quick stopover. Taku is an excellent harbor, offering two state floats for mooring. We have stopped here so many times, a favorite place to spend a night when leaving or returning to Juneau.

Overlooking the eastern float are the ruins of a large cannery, the main building is gone, only a forest of pilings shows where it once stood. Remaining are number of auxiliary buildings and scattered equipment that tell a tale of a long history. A few cabins line the shoreline, some abandoned, other in good repair. A USFS cabin is available for rent just down the shore from the dock.

Taku Stream
A pretty stream tumbles through moss covered boulders to Taku Harbor
I took the opportunity to mount two hikes around the shore, exploring the ruins and locating still more ruins that are not visible from the water. I first followed a gorgeous stream uphill from shore, photographing water tumbling through moss covered boulders as I went. About a ¼ mile up the hill I located the head of a large steel pipeline, clearly part of a hydroelectric supply system. As I knew there was a large pelton wheel among the pilings at the shore the existence of the pipe was not a real surprise.

Following the pipe I pushed through the brush back to the cannery ruins. It was a bit of a slog, threading my way through thickets of huckleberry, devil’s club and skunk cabbage. Devil’s club was avoided for the spines, the skunk cabbage betrayed marshy ground, that left huckleberry. I made an observation here… Huckleberry without ripe berries is simply wet… Very wet.

Ruins
A ruined building in the woods behind the cannery at Taku
I located several additional buildings, some simply a pile of collapsed roofing tin, others more or less intact. I slowly wandered the woods with a camera and tripod, my little EOS-M a decent camera for a hike without sacrificing photo quality.

The real surprise was a steam engine in the woods behind the cannery. Pushing my way through the bush I looked up to see a ten foot diameter steel flywheel sitting on its mount. The cylinder is still there, the piston and crank are gone. Scattered piping and other parts remain, but little else. Here it sits, covered with moss and with a spruce tree growing through the wheel.

While I hiked, my mother paddled the bay in her kayak. The others played cards or rested. Andre joined me for the second hike around much of the shoreline, a pleasant hike with a good deal more sunshine as the morning’s clouds parted for a bit. After the hike I collected the GoPro camera that had been setup to timelapse the impressive Alaskan tides.

Returning to Juneau we completed the usual routine. Dividing the fish into the coolers, shuttling folks to the airport and cleaning the boat. The end of a family trip is always melancholy,

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on Mauna Kea, Hawai'i.

2 thoughts on “Nordic Voyage”

  1. Hey Andrew,
    Thanks a bunch for sharing your annual trip. We sure missed you here, but was glad to here that you and Deb had well deserved time off. Can we have a slide show at one of our WHACO meetings?
    We would love to see them. Especially us peoples stuck on da island,
    Welcome back
    Alohas
    Dan

  2. Andrew! It is always a joy to see the videos and photos that you and Deb take. Makes me yearn to go back! Sweet wild country! Loved the bears! Jody

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