Friday, October 23, 2015

Gavan Hill & Harbor Mountain: The Joy of Hiking in Pouring, Sopping Rain in Sitka, Alaska

Yesterday I was determined to do a tough hike, something that would get my heart rate elevated and fill me with a sense of satisfaction. We chose the Gavan Hill & Harbor Mountain loop. The day was wet and overcast all morning. I hoped that once we started hiking that the air might clear a bit. It did not. Instead, the rain drops grew larger and colder and eventually turned to hail. The climb up Gavan Hill was done by climbing a tremendous number of wooden stairs, which alternated with rock work steps. The trail construction clearly took a great deal of ingenuity and stamina in order to complete. At each turn, we were met with more stairs ascending as far as we could see into the foggy day. 

Finally, after "1 mile" from where we started climbing the stairs, we reached the viewpoint. We had been walking at a steady speed for more than 40 minutes, which is why I call into question that it was only 1 mile. This was the view that met us. There was no time to pause and look out at the clouds, because cold began to set in as soon as we stopped moving. We grabbed a chicken salad sandwich out of the backpack and ate while keeping walking. The viewpoint was not at the top, and so the stair climbing continued. 

Here we are at what I thought was finally the top. It wasn't. The fog had once again obscured our view such that I couldn't see the higher points along the ridge ahead. I was to be tricked a number more times. In any case, you can see that I was wearing an especially poor choice of clothing - a white cotton long sleeve. I'm inclined to blame my poor choice of fabric on the running enthusiast and author, Dr Sheehan, who's 1975 book "On Running" touted the virtues of running in a long sleeve cotton turtleneck. Times certainly have changed in regards to running attire. 

The constant rain made it difficult to take photos. This picture of Reed trudging through the wetness gives a good feel for the day. 

Then finally, a bright spot in our day --- we reached the "Shelter" at supposed mile 3. I had expected to find a 3 walled decaying structure such as I encountered in the Pasayten Wilderness on the PNT. Instead, we enjoyed 10 minutes inside of a snug and completely dry respite from the elements. Amazing. We ate our second sandwich, dried prunes and changed into dry shirts and readied ourselves to continue plodding along.

This trail sign brought us a great deal of relief to know that we were going in the correct direction and that we were making progress. 

Satisfaction at having completed the trail portion! Grateful for rain jackets! 

Trail sign at the beginning / our ending of the trail section of our hike. More road walking was ahead. 

This photo above was the view we encountered as we descended the road from the trailhead to Harbor Mountain. The clouds had lifted just enough to be able to see the ocean and physically orient ourselves to our surroundings. We walked about 2+ miles down the road and then were offered a ride from a Forest Service worker, Vaughn. I usually decline rides on principle. This time, though, we gratefully accepted and were treated to a narrated tour back to the town of Sitka. Vaughn had worked in Sitka for 40 years and had plenty to share about his experiences working for the Forest Service, including the recent major landslides which had brought down tons of old growth trees and sediments and had destroyed a home and caused the loss of three lives. Vaughn dropped us off right back at the door to the place where we are staying here in Sitka. Last night I read a Bob Marshall story about exploring along the Koyukuk River near Wiseman, Alaska, in the Brooks Mountain Range. At the end of his story he described getting back to the warmth and dryness of the Road House in Wiseman and being fed. He explained that one of the great parts of adventuring is getting back to safety and warmth afterwards. That's how I felt while showering and eating a warm meal back under a dry roof! 

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Welcome to the Rainforest of Sitka, Alaska

We're in Sitka, Alaska today. We arrived here yesterday afternoon by taking the Alaskan State Ferry from Haines, Alaska to Sitka, with a brief stopover at Juneau to let people and cars on and off. It was a most pleasant ferry journey, and even though it was from 7:45pm until 1pm the following day, it felt brief. We got on, found a place to sleep (settees in the Aft Lounge), took showers, watched the movie "Maleficent" - our first movie on a screen since we left Seattle back in April and then it was time for bed. When we woke the next morning, we ate our leftovers for breakfast in the cafeteria using the *free* microwave and toaster! Afterwards, we made our way to the forward viewing lounge, read, watched the incredible scenery slip by and then arrived to Sitka. It's gorgeous here. I can certainly see the appeal for people to live here now, and as a port for fur trading back in the 1700s & 1800s. 

This morning we were moving slow, and it was pouring rain. Even so, we eventually made it to the Totem Pole Historical Park and enjoyed walking all of their trails (about 2 miles total). The poles are quite impressive in size alone, and then there's the detail and the explanation of the colors that made me appreciate and see them in new ways. 

We've been on the road for three weeks now. Our car could use a good vacuuming, and we're grateful each night that we have a roof over our heads. We're learning new skills and enjoying ourselves. This is the view from the Totem Pole park during a rainstorm. Gorgeous!