Tuesday, December 29, 2009

NZ 5 - Motatapu Track

The trail sometimes is long and hard, but in this land of silence and
open space, where the ridgelines seem to hum with the constant sound
of the wind curving over the rocky crests, there is a peacefulness to
it all. Something warms the spirit in those hours walking in the heart
of the Central Otago. The clouds break every so often looking deep
into the Range Aspiring, where recent snows have fell highlighting the
rocky faces. Indeed a beautiful place, even if the trail seems

There is something very particular about Kiwi Trails. Unless you are
on a Great Walk, they truly do not believe in building them apart to
the boot beaten paths that extend in each direction. Orange poles
along ridgelines are the most favored places. You would be hard
pressed to find a switchback in this country. Lucky in the
Tussocklands that surround, I can create my own. But most often I
revert to attacking the mountain as it was meant to, straight up! It
is less a sense of some masculine definitive of mountain travel, and
more just the nature of understanding that this is the only clear way
up the mountains. So slowly, I put in the Potential Energy of raising
myself above the valley floor, knowing Kinetics will play out on the
otherside to the descent.

Over Christmas I found myself hunkered down in Highland Hut. There
surrounded by the rising mass of the Stack Range behind me. Rain rolls
in cloud after cloud. Coffee pot empties itself as I read through the
hut Register, and work writing my thoughts of the past year. The place
has a hunting feel that seems to resound like a low tone, bring the
sense closer to the touch. The name of the basin is apply named, as I
feel that when I look out over the burn I'll see a Scotsman walking
steadily towards the cabin. The words seem to flow from the pen,
filling the page. It is a relaxed day that flow by before I descend
out of these mountains once again.

I realizes that there is something inspiring about Trails. They offer
a place for the thoughts of a person to play out. A place to connect
with the surrounding landscape and to gain a little piece of a vital
life. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. From the valley
meander, to the high alpine route. Enough for an afternoon, or a trail
to play out over the days till your footfalls become the beat of your
soul. Like cathedrals, they are places to come to, yet it is in their
passage that they inspire. Sometimes like the Motatapu, they can
challenge a man towards a breaking point. Other times such as the
Wilkins, they just feed into the hearts delight. It is important that
they exist, in whatever form. For they are a resource of true
re-creation to people everywhere. I find myself best when along their
winding path. And yet only hope to bring a slice back to share.

The end of the track, leads through some Lupine, fields and fields.
Following the course of the Arrow River. It is here, that almost like
a grand Gardner, I feel nature play it's best show. From reds and
pinks, to the familiar purple and blue. It is no secret that no matter
where you go, there is a sense of the alpine when you see it's stands
besides the rivers banks. To say that they have been a warm comfort in
the last month to see, would be an understatement. But along the
Motatapu, they are in shear full glory. A place that will live in my
mind for a long time.

-- Ridgewalker (Jorj

Friday, December 18, 2009

NZ 4 - Karamea River Way

NZ 4  - Karamea River Way

It has been three days since leaving the Tablelands. Following down into the river systems of Kahurgari NP, deeper and deeper with each turn. The tramping has become a rythmn; mud, roots, rock and ford. Following marker after marker, on to the next waypoint and to the hut at the end of the night. The rain everpresent, sometimes a fine mist others a heavy pelting. Steam rises from this tramper, as constant motion seems the best option to keeping warm till reaching the far distant Hut. The track is but a rough boot beaten track, believing that the best way to ascend heights is direct, with little regard for switchbacks. Roots become your friend as you hual yourself over river terrace, rocky faces and mountain passes. 

The inner santucary of the Tasman Range is a rainforest on the level of the mighty Hoh, Queets and Quinault. And yet through it all there is a comfort in this place, almost like home. Ferns, lichen and mosses of uncomporable diversity abound in these valleys, leading the eye in every turn. The botanist in me screams for a good field guide to explore this Beech Tree rainforest. And yet I just travel and take it all in, flashing the camera through many images of rock, moss and fern. Trying to catch that moment of beauty best kept within that space. But some reason I still try. 

The Kea and Weka keeping me company with their songs amoung the sound of falling water in all direction. Rushing ribbon in cascades roaring over limestone cliffs and of small springs, coursing through boulders covered in deep green moss. I stop often to look into deep limestone canyons that are bridged by small steel cable bridges swaying with each step. Always it seems a robin looking down the trail following my progress down the deep gorges. They have became my companions, for other then birds there is little native creatures about. Perhaps they are all waiting out the storm, like the hords of other trampers. 

For over 7 days I only saw but one soul, A DOC worker minding his patrol cabin. Looking at me curiously, through the torrential rains falling from the edge of his porch. Had he never seen the likes of a true NW'ner? If we waited for the rain to stop falling, we would never reach those upper gorges in full splender. But then again, this is how I enjoy my backcountry splender. Solitude, allowing the chorus of nature to play without the competition of human dialog, just the sound of falling foot-falls across the muddy trail.  

One evening I cut out early, to take in a rare sunset. It played across the limestone walls above the river floor. At the confluence of the Lesile and Karamea River, 40 miles from the nearest trailhead, I sit along gravel banks. Watching the flow of two rivers joining as they seem to glide across their gravel banks. Innocent they glide, as a distant roar of the grand gorge travels in the air from just around the bend. A feeling of being in-deep come to the tips of my senses. I warm myself over a crackling fire, watching the light fade from the canyons floor, painting the high country tops with hints of the suns distant blaze. A hush, flowing over the country, with two blue ducks travelling above me down the rivers edge...

Could anyone ever desire a more beautiul place to roam in natures down pour? I can imagine not... But tommorrow I will push on down the rivers course, towards the Tasman Sea...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NZ 3 - Kahuragi NP - Loch Peel

NZ 3 - Kahuragi NP - Loch Peel

I make my way slowly up Cobb Ridge a few 100 meters at a time. Barren but for knee high bunch grass, I follow the carnes along the ridge, which appear and dissappear with each cloud bank. At times gale force winds damn near bring me to my knees, as I make the ridgeline. Rain seems to blow so alhard, that it stings the face and bounces of my rain jacket. There is a love/hate to conditions in the mountains.

At the moment, I'm in a bit of missary about it. Mother nature is what she is, bitter sweet rains and then moments of pure joy with a passing sun break. With tr breaks I seem to try and find my sun, checking for the next carne and allowing the surrounding Mountians to bee seen through cloud breaks, gainin my brearing before the clouds bank in again. It now occurs to me, that I should have brought rain pants. But with all things sometimes you have to learn the nature of a place through trial and error.

I crest over to a gap in the ridgeline. Like a frieght train the wind roars throught twin limestone rock faces. down below is the trail post, and the route down to Loch Peel. I say that, because the Tablelands of the Upper Takaka Valley look like what I would imagine the Highlands of Scotland would be like. Barren rock piles of mountains, with long green and cold hills leading down to narrow lakes nesseled within the oaks and knarled birch, sculped by centuries of winds out of the tops of the island. It is no wonder the few Kiwis that I have meet along the way, have had ancestors from the Highlands.

I take the jucntion and look down into the Valley of the Peel. The winds are a little more sheltered here, as Peel Mtn sits like a thorn at the head of the valley, cutting the clouds like a knife. Blue sky bounces in and out of existance. Lost in lookin up, I fail to notice the grand valley before me. Droping 500m the barren snow grass gripping the sides along the rocky cliffs. As the sun passed through the valley and over the Loch's bench, an arching bow of color spang forth across the valley floor. The sides were cradled with the white lace of waterfalls descending into the lost river below.

I stood there gathering the sight, which slowly fades as the break in the clouds passed by. The force of winds reminded me I was yet to Balloon Hut, and Loch Peel still lay before me. Yet the light on the landscape was playing it's magic like old Celtic lore upon me. Again the rainbow appeared before me, leadig my eyes across the valley, yet tromping forward to Loch Peel. Over the scree of rock descending from the Tableland heights, I bounded along. Coming bench at which the waters edge stood. There the winds moving across the snow grass seem to pulse like wild rapids, giving the whole scene a sense of movement.

This place was alive with spirit and nature. Indeed a place to pay homage to mother natures beauty, even if her furry sometimes can bring a man to his knees. Content with the specticle after a log lingering look, I took back to a trampers long line across the open ridges and on to Balloon Hut, to find the warmth of a wood stove and a hot kettle of tea.

As Basho once said along the mountains of Japan, "Homeless I wander, in the company of Nature..."

Indeed she is a great teacher...

Along the backcountry mile,
Ridgewalker (Jorj)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

NZ 2 - Tale of the Totara Twins (Edited)

NZ 2 - Legend of the Totara Twins (Edited)

While sitting over tea on a rainy Tuesday evening in Roebuck hut, the fire place crackling away of dried beech limbs, an old tramper told me a tale that I thought my Yamabushi bretherin would enjoy. It was a tale told to him by his father while at Aspiring Hut deep in the Southern Alps.

Coming in from a stormy day about Mt Cook, a lone tramper looking to get warm came to a hut put up by the Mountain Guides that had closed up for the season. He found that the door was unlocked, as was the custom in the Huts of New Zealand. Opening the door he found that the fire had already been going and the warmth had brought him relief. Figuring that the other soul had popped out to find the Lue, even as the winds blasted down the ridgelines to a frightful roar. He believed that they would be around shortly. 

Taking off his soaken clothing and hanging it on to the line, right down to his scivys, figureing a bloke would make no mind, he hovered around the woodstove warming his frigid bones. 

As the night got on, and still no sign of the hut's taker, he began a stew of mtn golosch and tea, making sure to leave enough for his mate should he be getting on. The wind was frightful, battering the old cabin with tossing blows. Each time the wind seem to knock at the door, the weary traveller, kept looking out to see if a man staggered toward the cabin. With ice about the rocks and a full squall tearing from the sky, he did not dare to venture out. But a peek to find the good hearted friend who had lit the fire.

Hours went by, and soon the traveller fell into a lucid state of sleep, catching only moments of wakeful gaze toward the hut door. He half expected it to breech open, with then grizzed figure of a mountain man frozen clean through the bone. Somewhere he dirfted off to the sound of the warm crackle of the belly pot wood stove.

Like a song of a woman, half in a daze he awoke to the haunting sound. Looking around he throught it would be half mad to believe, such as the storm bellowed outside... Again, this time accompinied by another in harmony coming like sweet song just outside the door... It had been a long time since he had heard those sounds, as most of the mining camps were all men those days. And since he had left England had he heard such fair sounds, but two... Must be the wind about the cables singing those emchanting high notes.

In the stillness between gusts, their song came again. So beautiful, he could hardly believe that he was still awake. But the sights and smell of the hut reminded him that indeed he was. So he figured he would take but a peep outside, just to check his curiousity... It would not hurt... Since he arrived at the cabin to a fire... Maybe it was true... Maybe the souls were calling out for help.

Reaching for the door, the nobb felt cold, and hinges squelled against the weight of each blast. How could two women ever be outside in this toss... He almost felt ashamed to look, never giving in before to such lapse in reason. But curiousity, like a fickled kid inside pulled him to open that hut door...

Raising his head to looks out, he saw a sight he would nearly had believe. But two beautiful women, of strong beauty, standing toward the tracks edge with brown flowing hair and a knee length red dress, leather mountain boots to hilt. Their hair weaving with each blow, and their eyes looking deeply out towards his.

He felt beside himself, Stunned at the sight. Had no other dream then but what he saw before him been as lovely. Yet it made no sense to him. He hauler'd out to them to come into the hut with the warm fire and get out of the cold. Yet they seem to just walk slowly backwards down the trail. Gazing out towards him singing thier haunting song.

Frustrated, he motioned again, telling them of the hot tea and warm fire. But still they only stood just before the end of the track, waving him forward. Each howl of the wind seemed to get stronger, and he knew he could not hold the door much longer, but did not wish to see them go.

Somehow he stepped out the door to reach for them to pull one in. Streching his harm while bracing against each gust, he leaned a little further. Soon only his leg holdin the door open.

As he looked up to see where they were, one of the twins in her flowing knew high red dress was before him, her brown hair whirling about his head as he was  but face to face. Her hands reaching out to him and her lips and words luring him in a language of orgins unknown. With a daze of sight only know by men long left without the pleasue of a womans touch, he reached out to grab her about the waist, hoping to bring her in... 

With such close grap his leg left the brace of the door, the man caught in the spell took a step out into the cold. From inside the cabin, the door slammed shut, leaving the scene of the warm crackiling fire and steaming tea kettle upon the silence. Time flowed from that moment, before the muffled gust of the wind on the cabin walls began to flow again...

It lasted for a few minutes... Till there came a rapping in the hut door. The turning of the cold nob and sqweel of the hinges against the force of the wind, seen a haggered man slip through with a sudden sight.

Looking up, this time, a weary traveller wondering what good souls had left a lit fire for him this long tiring night... He had been many hours from the base camp Seeing a pack and tea, he figured the other would be along soon, so rising to his feet began to make himself at home in this mountain pass hut deep within the Southern Alps Range...

As the rain and wind howled outside our hut, and the fire crackled as a few more branches where added to stoke the coals, I looked out the small window into a sea of clouds. A faint high note could be heard into the night... And once, just once did I believe that I saw a flash of a woman in a red dress just beyond the tracks edge. But that is just the wishful thoughts of a man deep in his mountains lured on by the spell of lucid dreams... 

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

NZ 1 - Queen Charolette Sound

We make our way around the point, still swaying with the ocean swell of Cook Straits. The rocks of Arapawa Island stand out, taking wave after wave of azure blue water with each swell. A white froth cascades down the blocks of rock, resembling some giants thrown, perhaps the guard at the gates of the South Island. The hills are barren with green pastures, and amoung the ridgelines can bee seen the white dots that are New Zealand Sheep grazing upon this desolate point. The ship works it's way through the strong current of Tory Channel, the southern passage to Queen Charolette Sound.

In my days earlier this year, the very name Queen Charolett bright chills and watchful eyes. Tales of the passage across her reach had been know to take down boats with single waves, if not toss a mariner from his decks. To this day those tales of the inside passage left me completely unprepard for the tropical waters that stood before me here. With bays and inlets abounding, each holding anchorages of sailboats and luxuary boats. The shoreline switched between clearings of sheppaed land and native bush. Following the line of bouyes in we made land fall at the small port of Picton, a hub of inter-island travel.

Walking along through the town, I gained the distinct feel of being on Holiday. Kiwi Palms lined the white sand beach, whit the in the park locals set up for a Reggie Concert later that afternoon. I walked the High Street, picking up last minute items, and passing a group of women dressed as pirates. To stay longer would mean to miss a hop to the beginning of the trail just across the water that I had been offered by a man Ieet on the ferry. It was not the start of the Queen Charolette Track, but with a free ride, I was not going to argue. I had plenty of more miles yet to hike, and not being a purist, I had decided to allow the journey to show it's way before me.

I meet the man and his wife down at the harbor and we were soon flying across then Sound in his motor boat. The lack of waves in these sheltered channels made for a smooth ride. It was not long before we turned and head to Bay of Many Coves, where the couple had planned to spent he afternoon before proceeding to Furneaux Lodge further out towards the sea. Itching to get on he trail, I decided not to beacktrack and instead to begin walking SoBo (Southbound).
Saying goodbye, I gazed back at the orange sand beach and made my way down the trail.

The one thing that first caught my amazement was the chorus of birdsong about me. There were so many different sounds that it was almost an overload. But as the kilometers clicked by, I began to be able to place each sound with a bird that gazes down at me passing throught their Bush. It occured to me that in most of my time in the woods, I have payed little attention to the sound of birds, due mainly to the ever present Raven that seems to keep all other callers at bay. But here the whole community seemed to be trying to out do eachothers song. It was a welcome suprise.

Working my way from ridgetop to beach and back to ridge again, the presence of Large Tree Ferns drew my eyes. It was as if giant sword ferns had been set atop poles, with their dead fronds linning the trunks like a palm. These are ancient trees that have survived here on this island as a hotspot. Having always throught of the PNW ad the land of ferns, to be suprizingly shown up by these giants, at a certain fasinatikn and tug of the homestrings. Like the Canadian Maple Leaf this country has taken the Silver Fern as it's iconic symbol. It makes me wonder what my own nations symbol might be?

On one evening, I meet a local montassory teacher, who schooled me on the plants and animals of the Sound. With more of New Zealand before me, I can only guess what is yet to come that will open my eyes. As for now, watching the sunset reflect against the hillside, while the Aussie Party it up along the beach, I still feel passage between two different world. Yet the popular nature of this track will not be common through out the whole of the trek. In the end, New Zealand is the playground of the worlds travellers, and I am beginning to see why.

From the land down under,
Ridgewalker (Jorj)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

FALL 3 -- Cold Creek Notes

FALL 3 -- Cold Creek Notes

I feel the forest breath about me,

a white mist mingles though the grove.

Yellow lichens hang from trunk and bough,

illuminating the reaches of a hillside hollow.

Rain drops fall like snare taps to the forest floor,

following the rhythms of a pulsing breeze.

Vibrancy of gold, crimson and orange,

paint this realm against evergreen tones.

The smell of life fading its summer delight,

as the cold crisp feel fills my lungs.

Taking in with each breath, smell and sights,

the gifts which the season brings.

The sound of running water winding down,

through its rocky torrents.

White lace against the green of moss on rock,

streaking down towards lakes and valley far below.

Slowly unweaving a man from the city’s beat,

wandering footfalls lured me on endless miles of trail.

My pace changes to the new motion,

Working their way over root, rock and rill.

These same pathways, lead on to desert sands,

follow along high alpine lands.

But for now the subtle of fall’s touch to the forest,

finds me lost in the details of this small creek basin.

Purple rock and dark evergreen stands,

a mountains battlement rises above.

Clouds enveloping white talus fields,

highlights of color near warm fires delight.

The trail works it’s way thru the scene,

over the gap of rock and tree silhouette.

Leading down to the crowned shores,

a mirrored lake ringed by the sky.

Natures ornament of color,

more then the finest Japanese garden.

Zen masters of Kyoto and Edo outdone.

Here balance and serenity flows,

from the brush of the Great Spirit paints.

An art man seems compelled to imitate,

yet always tilting towards natures pose.

Raven perched atop a fir,

watching intently, curiously eyeing.

I move through tarn and grove,

he follows, swooping among branches.

Air moves with whipping sounds,

each beat of his wings echo to me.

Answering caws and tilted head,

spirits call forth from the forest edge.

Pearlly Everlasting lines the trail,

white enchantments, the last to fade.

In summer’s fading grip,

the subtle surrounds and seeps in.

On cloud filled days the details abound,

leading the eyes searching out.

Toadstools and pixie cups cling to logs,

pushing up after the rains awakening.

Warm colors and cool air,

lingers the pace of the feet,

letting the mind dwell in the moment.

Be still as the seasons pass before me,

watching each leaf turn to winters grasp.

A fire of brilliance before the white blanket,

covers all again, into nature’s season of sleep…

-- Ridgewalker (Jorj) 山道人

Monday, September 21, 2009

FALL 2 - Lost in the Shire

There is that opening scene from "The Lord of the Rings", in which the camara pans through a grove of fruit trees of the Shire. In that moment you see Frodo Bagins reading through a tome of long forgotten lore. Tales of lands that he could only dream of but will soon walk across. Adventure sounds grand when one reads from the safety of a protected Shire. When I first remember reading "The Fellowship of the Ring", I felt that same wanderlust surge over me. The feeling of walking from ones home out into the unknown, with distances and lands passing before me. With every step further, a slice of the world was added my own. In greater detail due to the act of walking. And yet it was all just a dream of travelling like such, something for another persons life.

The bins click by as I pick in my own Shire. Heavy with Red Spartants, they come down by the bag full. With each turn of the ladder, the limbs of the tree grown and spring back with their baughs reaching towards the Heavens. Released of thier summer burden, it seems now they catch the tussling wind through thier leaves. Rustling out a summers worth of energy. The breeze moves like waves through the sunlit canopy, and I myself much like Frodo, dream of far off places, while surrounded by the beauty of the Shire.

The sounds of the harvest abound every where. The tractor putters through the rows, hidden in a sea of green leaves and red bins. The clack of ladders being moved about the trees by other pickers seem to keep pace with my own. The farmer, an old Hungarian walks around checking the apples. This harvest is a culmination of all his care through the summer, beginning with the explosion of color back at the spring bloom. His light temperment always seems to impart a sense of deep patience that is held within this man. A reason I've returned to this orchard in particular, there is always more to learn.

As I find myself picking, I try and find that flow, where there is only the moment of action leading effortlessly, neither lingering nor forced. A task harder to accomplish then it sounds. There is where the balanced pace comes to this work. One which the old Japanese Fillet staff at the cannery knew well. It is one of those old lessons, to find a state of mindfulness in your actions. It seems that no matter the type of work, this act can bring a good state of being to the day. As I reach up for the next apple it seems that I can feel it before it enterns my palm. With a slight twist, it's weight falls into my hand flowing down to the bag. Action all in a flow as the day wears on.

Watching the sky, I have been keeping time by the passage of the sun moving along the Ecliptic Plane. I'm in the field before dawn, watching it rise from behind the ridge overshaddowing the Orchard. Through the day it follows it's steady course just up from the southern horizon before settingbin a brilliant glow near the lakes edge. I can almost see Apollo's Chariot as it moves across. But with night fall, the planets come out one by one following the same eliptical plane. It gives a man the moment to look at the world in a different perspective. Seeing the universe in a slightly bigger slice, knowing that what is in the sky is part of the same picture as the orchard that I pick in. One begins to feel the joy of Cupernicus' bodhi moment, when he saw things in the sky and the earth as connected for what the really were. Sharing in the greater motion of things.

Somehow as I take my break under these apple trees, with all the days thoughts swirling, it is just nice to take it all in, then enjoy you tortillia w/fresh veggies and the moment of rest before finishing out the day. For fall has that reflective sense to it, yet the urgency to bring the harvest in before the cold comes to the valley. So we'll work till the job is done, and move on once again.

FALL 1 -- Roaming the Central Pasayten

Every part of my body aches, and yet I push on. With each switchback the views of McCall Basin grow larger, and yet the top still alludes us. My steps have steadily followed the pace of my heart, matching step with each beat. Trekking poles extending outward, lengthening my reach. I stop go gather some water, as sparrows fly in mass around me. I hear only their wings beat the movement of air, and feel the slight breeze upon me. My two friends trek behind me, making their way up the open basin. Heads in the air, and eyes a wondering, finding themselves in heavens glen. Indeed we have traversed 15 miles this day, covering three passes and through many a forest creekside. To witness these days in the Central Pasayten, was our intended aim.

Reaching the summit of McCall Basin, the view hedges off extending. The ridgelines are clear, the route innumberable, the skies as blue as can be. On the horizon sits the Catherdrals extending across the 49th Parrallel into Canada. Rounded granite masses, and rocky spires, surrounded by the large U shaped valleys of the Ashnola and Spanish Creek. Here the only trees to grace these meadows is a mix of Abies lasiocarpe and Larix occidentalis. The larch is the king of this domain poking its head in groves where winter snows beat down without end. The bowls and cirques of Sand Ridge and Sheep Mountain show lines that would count man runs of a skier delight. But the sunset upon this meadow ridgeline is all that feeds me tonight.

As the darkness blankets the land, the sun giving the Cathedrals it's last glow, we set up camp and begin to reminisce about our sore feet and muscle whoas. With tarps pitched among the Larches, looking far off to the east, a blazing light flies overhead, tracked by another shape. It takes us awhile, but it seems that we could reach up, if only to touch this bright star. Later to figure that it was our Shuttle and Station dancing and maneuverings through the dark side of our planet. Later on, the stars come out, brighter then one could ever see at home. That orange and purple tint the Milky Way, featuring the stars of Cassiopeia with her noble crown. The skies are what highlight this trip, blazing in the darkness of the skies away from the city lights. And hours are spent looking about, watching Jupiter along the elliptical axis. Soon the streaks reach to the north, fireballs descending from the heavens. Somewhere in the midnight observation, I find myself resting in the heavens.

Morning comes and wanderings begin, as we trek to find Jake's Lake. A small pond at the end of a ridge, to go cross country we must take. First comes a boulder field of solid granite, scrambling brings the pulses higher. Once we reach the top, the views expound... Nohokomeen, Picketts, and Baker... The entire line of the North Cascades, a crested Wall of rock and Ice stand before us. Views unbounding in 360 degrees, and our desire to explore expounding. The Pasayten gives that sacred gift that Yamabushi implore, “... Mountains and Rivers Unbounding.” From ridgeline to long valleys, these lonely mountains do play to the explorers needs to find themselves somewhere bigger then themselves.

We follow the ridgeline out towards the pond, freely walking among the alpine grasses. Over hill and knoll, climbing rock and stone, soon the plateau comes into view. Jake spoke hightly of his desire to visit, a small pond at the end of a lonely ridgeline. Now sitting above it, with the fields in view, reflecting the haunts of the Cathedrals I see the true beauty. Silence falls through us all, as we each take separate paths down below, and come into to contact with wilderness on our own. The silence of the place serves to remind us all, how remote and pristine it is. Only the breeze seems to whistle through, the few standing firs and larches. And soon, we find ourselves memorized along it's glass calm shores.

These are the places that speak to men souls, that tell of her hidden secrets. That sense of landscape to open a man up, towards the world and it's endless possibilities. In a country so large, that you feel like an ant, walking among it's folds. It is surprising how, it drives to the core and makes you fee so humble. This is the spirit of places like the Pasayten, as Ken Burn's titled, “America's Greatest Idea.” To save this land so others can experience, what it had to impart to the travelers. Grand cannot begin to tell, how open skies and backcountry miles can seep into a mans soul. The gospel once spoke, my a lone man Muir, can still resound in a mans heart in these times. We are in love with her graceful lines, and the words she speaks through the winds.

Through the rest of the trip, we move camp twice and circumnavigate the mass of Sheep Mountain. Perfect lakes and open lands, lead thought forward against tiring limbs, pushing us to campsite after campsite. Soon the wonders of a setting sun cast across Whistler Basin, and we like pilgrims, make camp below her sacred bowls. The view to the West is of the Cascade Crest, with the golden and red hues outlining. Even though the next day will take us out, our hearts still wish to follow trails unwinding. The marmots call, echos the sense of emptiness of a ancient Pleistocene cirque. The meadow casts it's hues as the sun lays down, and soon the stars take command. These place are sacred if ever I did tell, not by just by the act of existence. It is the imagination and the way they change a man, that gives perspective on to where they are going. I think to others that I wish could be here, but cherish the time with friends. For the mountains have that enduring call, and some cannot refuse her stirrings.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

AK 14 – Fading of An Alaskan Summer

AK 14 – Fading of An Alaskan Summer

The buzz of the single engine roars over the muffled directions of the pilot, in echoed tones he tells us that we have arrived in the Misty Fiords National Monument. I look down into the blue waters of Behm Canal, streaking north the ebb tide that is flowing towards the head of the sound. New Eddystone rock shines in the afternoon sun, like a Druid Obelisk standing 100 feet above the sea, marking the entrance into sacred land. For as we approach the fiords in this small Cessna float plane, you gain the true feeling of entering into something grand. Low laying mist whisks around the sound, but still the large granite walls of the fiord come into view. This is all I would imagine that Norway would be like. One cannot understand the magnitude in words that 4000 ft from sea level a solid granite wall gives. Those who fly here often just call it, The Wall. Banking our turn, we feel as if only one extra wing tip from the rills of granite descending to the sea as we pass by. My eyes watch each line, looking for cracks and impurities that would avail an ascent. The yamabushi always asking in me, “How does one get to the top of this Temple Mount.”

We bank our turn and begin to descend towards Punchbowl River. This is no easy task! The plane takes a sharp starboard side turn and makes a 180 degree pitch as we follow the opposite granite wall opposite of “The Wall”. I feel my body press against the seat, and my soul whisk sideways towards the nether, it is exhilarating. The promise of the trip begins to take shape. More then just a tourist flight of an hour, I roped myself into a 3 stop tour of the monument to resupply cabins for the coming big trophy fisherman. Something only talking to the locals can gain. I figured I had earned my turns, pushing fish and packing for an entire summer, and it payed off. The wilderness before me was unmatched in remoteness. As soon as we finished the turn, and I gathered my composure, I felt the sudden slap of hard water... The pontoons begin to vibrate against the small ripples that make up the upper reaches of Rudyard's Inlet. The plane slows with rapid speed and we find ourselves gliding into the safe harbor of the Punchbowl Lake Float.

I feel like Tyler from Never Cry Wolf, the extremeness of the mountains and the suddenness of events, I hear the pilot ordering me to drop off the crates onto the dock... “Oh they will be fine there till the tourist arrive. The bears never wander down the float...” So I comply in the only way I can, stacking them one by one as quickly as I can, knowing of the place he still wishes to show me on this clear SE Alaskan Day. Five crates out, we are ready to go. Strapping in, I hoped that I got the right boxes, due to the nature of our journey and limited fuel we still have two more cabins to go. The roar of the engine as we gain speed bouncing off that fine surface of the ocean tide, bouncing in all angles till finally the elegance of a cushion of air pulls us upward. There just is no other feeling like it. The hum of the engine begins to flow over me, as we climb 5000 feet in height to rise over the gap in the fiord to begin our journey across the high mountain ranges. Looking over glaciers and deep valleys, those fabled lines of Dogen Kigen ring through my mind invoking my tough to speak them at that monument, “Mountains and Rivers Without End...”

We follow the rest of the afternoon, dipping down to river streams and paddling the float plane up to watch the bears feasting on the migrating Pink Salmon. Caught in the moment of the moment of the kill as the bears clampering down upon the moving body of fish churning up the shallow streams. Then returning to the skies, to find a new cabin tucked within a glacial cirque, that needs supplies for those in the lower 48 to keep them comfortable enough to enjoy the wilds of Alaska. This is a practice of most Alaskans, as they try and scratch out a living obligated to the demands of those who come from very different realities. Yet the wilderness remains theirs, even when the tourist leave with the last passing cruise ship. It is a hard thing to explain, but being Alaskan, is observing an ever present tone that tells you that Nature is master to all, and mind it, fight it, or flow with it, but never forget it or it will, take you in. Flying through these mountains after spending six months tied to it's seas is an ever present reminder to these lessons.

One cannot hope to explain the total Alaska in words that can be sent in one email. The people are of a different character, and a place that holds only the ability to inspire. In my last days here, I spent time Kayaking out to Lord Islands. A collection of rocks, occupied only by seals, ravens, eagles and two deer that must have washed ashore. I felt as lone as any human could feel, yet as empowered by the crashing of waves, the sound of an raven hovering in air or the concouphany of seals over taking a beach as a man could endure. In the end, even as I paddled against the 4 foot waves back to the relative security of the Pacific Queen, I felt a vitality that I had lost long ago. Through all the bullshit that comes with being on a fishing boat for so long, I felt as vital as a man as one could hope. And knowing that I was leaving Alaska, deep within I knew it would not be for long.

A few days later, after saying good by to some friends I meet near to the end of my stay, I flew over the fishing grounds near the East part of Dixon Entrance, AFNG 1B-101 (Tree Point Fisheries). What had taken me time and time again 8 hours to transect by a 7 knot boat, passed by in mire minutes. Leaving Alaska, I felt the mass of memories the last few months had brought me, and would continue to play within long after I left. With that a sadness to leave a land as big as a man could imagine, but as available as a woodsman would try... Some place we all have dreamed and will hold it's spell..

From the Waters of the Inside Passage,
Jorj (Ridgewalker)

Monday, September 7, 2009

AK 12 -- Echos of Tongass Island Village

AK 12 -- Echos of Tongass Island Village

The rhythms of waves rolling into the breakwater and reefs just off shore seem to leave a fair roar among the trees of the island. No matter where you go, you are always connected to the ebb and flow of the North Pacific coming into Dixon Entrance. Old growth groves of Sitka Spruce and Alaskan Yellow Cedar stand just at the shores edge, a carpet of False Solomons Seal extending out from their base, and the blue skies of the beaches filtering through the stand of shore pine making up the backdrop. Silver Poles of housepost and fallen Totem lay just beyond this Silvan temple, echoing a past when the T'Simpshain made this their home before moving to Ketchikan. Yet now nature has reclaimed it, swallowing up the clearings in thickets of alder and devils club, and only Raven remains watching with his curious eyes, cawing out his distant questions.

With fishing slowing down in the south-end, time has allowed me to journey to shore and up the channels in my Kayak. Tracking treelines and ridges, collecting along the shore, and just taking in the tideline of the Misty Fiords. This landscape feels haunted with spirits still living. Welcoming them in to the curious at heart. A vitality so rich you could reach out and tough it, not muffled by the works and pursuits of man. I follow tracks of otters moving from the tideline through the forest floor. Crossing a small divide in the island to forage for Dungeness amount the crabgrass bay on the otherwise. No matter where you go, layer upon layer show themselves to those who would care to watch awhile, letting the cloak unfold.

I think of the people who traveled between these islands. Fishing by cedar bark nets and woven fish traps. Harvesting from the land and the sea to live rich lives from the bounty, and to return to ornate clan homes. Paddling all the channels and passages we work our way through. Stories attached to each rock, bight and bay. A familiarity with the landscape that surrounds me today. Lost to story and echos of a life once lived, walking the groves and shores I still feel connected. Here a sense of home among familure places seems to call me in. And Raven always watch, following me around my walk and back to the boat. The sequential of the Tongass peering down from the ancient boughs heights. The old spirit of long forgotten clans that called this island, home.

From the Waters of the Inside Passage,
Jorj Aldair

AK 11 – The Fish Buyer

AK 11 – The Fish Buyer

Slap... Slap... The sound of salmon hitting the wet deck. They lay awaiting to be weighed before heading to ice totes. The fisherman leans over to see what price he will yield from the two King Salmon. Monsters of the waters, they come in at 30 pounds each, dressed. At $2.75 per pound the pair will bring the man around $165, not a bad bonus for his last set of the day. A grand smile gleams across his face, "There's plenty more where that came from." The crew of the other boat throw a glance knowing the fisherman always keeps their`1 favorite grounds a secret. Always shifting to keep the others guessing as to where he actually makes his big sets. In the end, with 14 King Salmon, and 6,000 lbs of salmon, he was High Boat for the day, something to be truly happy about.

On the starboard-side of the back deck, brailer bags swing in the air, after being plucked from the small gilnet boats loaded down with Salmon. Water trails across the hatch, till Jordan steadies the load. "Dogs...Twelve Seventy Five," calling out the weight to Brian at the crane. With a jerk of the tail rope, the bag releases it's load in an explosion of water as each salmon slides into the tank. Water boils over the tank and onto the deck, draining out of the scuppers to each side. As soon as it is empty, the bag swings over to the rail and is drapped over, in time for the fisherman to grab it, and pull the crane hook over for the next bag. All the while ice is being loaded onto he port-side boat, to ready it to head back out to the fishing grounds.

Another bag is steadied over a stainless-steal tray, "Mixed!" Fish fill to the rim, and hands begin to grab salmon by the head and the tail tossing them into white trico bins. Fish flying in the air, coho's with their silver square tails, all dressed in one direction, and sockeye vibrant with clear green, blue and silver lines, with an white-opaque tail. These are the money fish of most gilnet sets. In the other direction goes the dogs and the Humpies filling larger tricos with each throw. These are the most caught, and the bulk of each set. Dogs or Chums, each around 12-19 lbs take two hands to launch towards the bin, while the Humpies or Pink Salmon are 2-3 lbs and can be thrown by the head two at a time. The sorting goes on, fish flying everywhere, with very few missing the tote. After a month of this routine one gets good at launching at totes while keeping there eyes on the tray to sort. Soon the tray is cleared and the tricos weighed and placed into tank and totes. Completing the buy.

On busy days there is always a flurry of activity about the Tender. We move from anchorage to anchorage up the coast line from the US/Canadian Boarder towards Ketchikan and Revillagigedo Channel. Each place clings to the edge of the Tongass Forest with Bonsai looking trees clinging to weather battered rock. Vibrant contrast of green trees, white granite, black lichen and tan barnacles make up the tide line landscape. In the distance the mountains of Misty Fiords National Monument rises above Dixon Entrance. The echos of fish buying overtake these coves as we watch kayaker's move into the beach-side camps.

The day passes along, and we make our way through to Foggy Bay. The fisherman of this community begin to call their sets and work their way in to rest of the evening after a long day on the swells of the ocean coast. We work into the evening, watching the day fade away, and sunset cast against Mt Tamgas across the Channel. Colors of light turn more vibrant as the sun hits the water, and then fade as we continue the same routine boat after boat. Sending each away, we whittle away at the line, till the last boat comes up to outside, always the Eclipses, a gilnetter from the waters of Puget Sound. After our business is done, the floatilla will leave with the anchor pulling and wilderness returns to these coves and inlets. In some places small floats make up little evening community of gilnet boats, yet quiet places as the fisherman rest of their 3am start the next day.

Finish cleaning the deck and taking the time to grab dinner, we begin our 6 hour journey back to Ketchikan every other day to offload our fish. I usually take watch in these late night hours till 3am. Watching the failure lights and channel markers on the horizon, while listening to my music fill the wheelhouse of the Pacific Queen.These sentinels become friends marking our progress north. Black, Hog and Spire Rock. Mary, Angle and Twin Lights, till arriving at Mountain Point/Tongass Narrow, Ketchikan's beginning and the the start of the Captains Watch.

Peaceful and calm after a long day of hectic fish buying, it is a fine end to a long day. At times, I feel we are constantly in motion, serving as the face of the company to the fisherman, and the bus driver of their product to the plant. All in all, it is the life of a fish buyer with the rewards of the stories told over each encounter of your regular fisherman. With each pitch-off, you get to know them just a little more, yielding to the small floating community of this East Dixon fishing fleet. Acting sometimes as the main human interaction for many of these fisherman who go about bobbing along, setting, watching and pulling their nets, to harvest wild salmon from the sea, Alaska's Life Blood and age old trade.

-- Ridgewalker

AK 10 – High Seas of Dixon Entrance

AK 10 – High Seas

WHAM! It hits like a sudden freight train. Something out of the unexpected. Just after you have gotten used to the rolling of a wooden boat to 6 foot seas along Dixon Entrence, it happens without announcement. You know that it is intense, when all you can see out the window is green water, not the usual spray of white. The boat pitches wildly to the starboard side. Almost turning over, much of the galley crashes to the side, and all of the pots and the pans forcefully move within their respective cupboards. But as sudden as it happens, the ol' Queen correct herself, and soon righted, the wooden boat bobbs along like a cork in a barrel. The commotion sends alarms in the engine room, but they stop as soon as they started. Water on engine coolant temporally displaced is the culprit. I collect up my things from the galley table, papers that had boat tallies and load numbers, are in and about the cabin.

I start to look around to anything that may have caught loose on that last one. Outside on the deck I hear the sliding of totes across wood planks. Our main strap holding back 5 tons of fish has broken and with each wave the totes rock back and forth. Every pitch brings them closer to the other side of the deck and an precariously unbalancing the boat. To much and the next wave could roll it. So I grab Jordon and head out to the deck with crowbars in hand. Jordan grabs the new ratchet strap and sets it up on the rails, as I begin to pry the totes across the deck. At 1 ton each, I wait till the boat pitches to the port so to allow the totes to slide downhill. One by one they begin to move back towards the guard rail. Aligning up... Success... Then another roller comes in. As soon as I saw it, the wave crashed over me. Reaching out for the strap that we just ratcheted in, I feel my feet sweep away from me. Water surfs over me, and I feel what it must be like when an Orca takes a dive... Some how when I pop up again I feel refreshed, and alive. Looking around the deck, I see that Jordon is against the totes on the starboard side. He is dazed but jumps up quickly and gives a barbaric yelp! This is life on the high seas at it's greatest. For every trip, a little water must come over the side in the Inland Seas of the Dixon Entrance.

Brain turns the boat with the stern facing the waves. After that, the roll underneath the old Pacific Queen, and after an hour the Swells from the SW subside. Rounding the deck, I deal with the lids of the totes. One flew off in the crashing waves, so I begin to load the ton of sockeye salmon into a ice bag and lower it into the tank. For the most part the week has been chill and relaxing. The job of the tender buying and loading fish relatively easy to that of the fisherman. But in these moments, the job gets a little more alive... Another storm is setting in tonight, and we are likely to head out in the morning back towards Tree Point and Lord Rocks. The fish must be delivered, so we go...

– Ridgewalker

Thursday, July 9, 2009

AK 8 - Returning to the Source

AK 8 – Returning to the Source

There are places that most remember all their life. Places that ring deep to a central core, telling a story of where we came from and how we see the world around us. These places are like a vivid dream in our thoughts, as real at times that a smell or a sound conjures it into such detail that we feel we can reach out and touch them. For most people, images of these places live in the past, where we were kids, just opening our eyes to the world around us. Then it seems, we were more aware of the moments of our lives, then when we grow older with time. An awareness that we seem to spend the rest of our lives in pursuit of awakening again. For some these places are near by, always within reach to invoke emotions and memories of the times. Others return from time to time through their life, to feel the full force of that tactile sense of a place. For me, walking through the long beaches and trails of the Chilkat Valley about Haines has been such an experience.

Growing up, I remember Alaska most out of any other experience. Our family had a Salmon Tender called the Pacific Queen. She was a beautiful wood boat, eighty feet in length, white with fine black lines from bow to stern. In front, a wood carving of an Tlingit Eagle sat below the windows of the pilot house, upturn just enough that from a distance it looked as if the old girl always had a smile. The "Queen" was a working boat, ran by my grandparents, who had raised a family of 6 on the boat through their life. For me, I would get a month or so out of each summer to spend time, running up and down the fiords of Lynn Canal. Watching my grandfather Stan working through the gillnet boats of the Haines Salmon Fleet. Images of the high glacier capped mountains, and lingering sunsets seemed to always bring a deep warmth inside.

The beaches of Portage Cove and Battery Point were where I would wonder for hours during the lingering twilight, looking for lost treasure. Always returning before we headed out to the fishing grounds the next morning. Roaming the forests around Letnikof Cove, getting views of Rainbow Glacier falling from the Ice Fields far above Pyramid Harbor. I had my first bear encounter on a walk out to Mud Bay. Watching him forage about in the current berries, and shore cranberries, I would sit among the tree lost in the moment. During the winters, I would spend time looking over old dis-guarded nautical charts planning where I would go the following summer, imagining what the landscapes would look like from just the contours and numbers on the map. In many ways I could transport myself there just by looking at them, remembering the smell of the tideline meadows, sounds of the flowing Chilkoot River, and relief of a southerly wind on a hot high summer day, just by the word Lutak Flats written in small blocky letters. Always the mountains rising high above the patches of fireweed and lupine just at the Chilkat River's edge. These natural places became my vision of Shambala, a true mountain kingdom of Ten Thousand Buddha's. A place of pure serenity...

Walking the beaches of Haines again is like returning to something core, a source. Like migrating salmon returning to the same river, lake or stream that they began their journey, from time to time, we all return to that personal source. For me, just being among these mountains and waters brings a real sense of joy to my life. In the past few years I have became a Vagabond, heading out for distant places. In the beginning it was to find myself, and escape the disappointment of a failed engagement. But soon my eyes began to open up wider and wider. The people and places along the way, reminded me of where I had already been long ago, and the advise and kind words of strangers reminded me of those from people in my past. Somehow visiting Haines, seems to have brought it all into focus. Realizing that I do have a family history, and connection tied into the Waters of Lynn Canal. To look out and name the mountains that my grandmother quizzed me when I was 7 years old, I feel a link to that past while sitting on the shoreline at Portage Cove. Just lost in the vividness of the moments.

These were some of the great memories of my life, spending time with both my grandparents. There was a sayings that Stan would always say, "Never Run Short in the Land of Plenty." Growing up and having little, I always sort of thought this was a overly optimistic saying. But the grain of wisdom in it was, that no mater what you had, you could make it into plenty. Indeed, my grandfather did make what he had into plenty, good times. The old guard of SE Alaskan Fisherman all have a similar creed. It usually has something to do with, "Love what you do, and to hell with the rest." And yet, these words of advice seem to coincide with those memories from past days in the Chilkat Valley. As kids, I think there is part of each of us that loves that moment of discovery and exploration. Sometimes it just takes awhile for us to let go of that which ties us to the ground and our own rut. But for now, the end of the day, brings a warmth to move on, lingering only another day before heading south back to Ketchikan and the beginning of the Salmon Season...


Sunday, June 14, 2009

AK 7 - Cycling in to the Yukon

AK 7 – Cycling in to the Yukon

The distance back to camp clicks off with each milepost, peddling along the Chilkat Flats. At MP 8, I turn off and take a break, the river flows by a small beach sheltered by some Aspen from the heat of the day. The sharp glaciated peaks of the Chilkat range rise from the tide flats of Pyramid Harbor, holding back the icy mass that gives Glacier Bay it's characteristic fiords. Yet I lay on my back collecting my strength to push on those few last miles more. It has been a long day, with views that could not have been imagined. It seems with every turn in the road, the vistas only got better and better. If I had know that I was going to go so far I might have paced myself a bit. But early in the day when the miles were quick, I seemed to be pulled onward. Now I just lay in the grass, looking out towards the evening light cast it's shadows. It is 8pm and still the sun is out, warmth in the air, and miles yet to go before I sleep.

It started out from the town of Haines, having return from two days in Skagway. This village perched on the peninsula of the Chilkat and Chilkoot Inlets, had history for me, memories so many they seemed to come at once in all directions. When I was young this had been where I spent many summer, aboard the Pacific Queen. Now looking at the mountains, I knew why the lure had soaked within me, always wanting to see what was behind that distant range. Here they are unimaginable, like told in sweeping panoramas, or tales of haunted Klondiker's looking to rise over their dizzying heights. While only reaching up to four to five thousand feet in elevation, their steep sights hold the visitors gaze. The day I arrived, I felt that I wanted to go far up into the Yukon, along the old Dalton Trail. Now made into a road to Haines Junction, a bike rental shop caught my eyes. A quick $35 dollars for a road-bike, helmet and saddle bags together. I went back to camp and awaited the next days dawn to come.

The light rose at 4 am, and I finished my breakfast of oats and packed up to go. At first the peddling was quick and I round the old field where the Ten Mile Cafe once stood. Memories of a Prime Rib Buffet seemed entice the appetite. But a few cliff bars and PB&J was all that I had brought. The Highway wound its way along the Chilkat Flats. Here in the coming weeks the eagles would begin to converge, drawn by the flash of Sockeye migrating up the river. Towards the fall, they would perch on every tree, gazing down at a virtual circus of animals taking in the grand feed. This valley is famous at these times, and photographers from all around converge to capture images of Eagles and Bear feasting as winters chill sets into the valley air.

At milepost 20 at the divide of two rivers, a lone Moose bull splashes about in his cold glacier feed bath. Looking up for me for a bit, the back to the crossing away from the busy strip. I peddle on up the river, passing Tsirku River, Klukwan and Mosquito Lake. Leaving the Chilkat, the Dalton follows the Klehini River as wild as any other, still milk-grey from glaciers rising to McDonell, Three Guardsman, and Nadhahini Mountains. Mark by meanders and sand bars, the river courses it's way to the Sea. The aspen groves rattle in the Chinook winds that relieve this biker on a hot June day. Skies blue and clear as any I've seen in as many weeks. Uncharacteristic for SE has this day ever been.

The road continues to rise through the Mining district of Porcupine Creek. Small cabins and sluce boxes line the rivers edge. Now with gold as high as it is, what was once dead places seem to find a little life again. There is still Yellow nuggets locked in these sand bars. The same that lured tens of thousands a hundred years past. But hard work and little payout is all a miner mostly find, so old family holdings seem to be for relaxation then searching for "the strike." The wheel beats the pavement groves slower with time, the road near Pleasant Camp and Canada begins to rise. Following the route old Dalton blazes to the skies.

Long slow switch back turn towards the summit top. A low pass by constant, I peddle without giving up. Realizing that maybe I should have turned back. The summit is close and the land is beginning to open up. Reaching the Pass. I pause at the summit. Until I realize I am yet to the Chilkat Pass, and the road still keeps agoing. Yet here at Three Guardsman Pass, I can see across to the horizon never ending. The trees yield to tundra, the alpine and fields. Just beyond the horizon lies the Yukon that I had wished to see. But at 45 miles from my camp, I'll have to wait for another day. Here the it seems you are on top of the world. Yet the mountains to the West and East still rise higher. That Spell of the Yukon seems to call deep to a mans heart. Remembering ol' Robert Service's lines, I could not put it any better this day.

"No! There is a Land. (Have you seen it?)

It's the cussedest land that I know,

From the big, dizzy mountains that screen it

To the deep, deathlike valleys below.

Some say Good was tired when He made it;

Some say it's a fine land to shun;

Maybe; but there's some as would trade it

For no land on earth – and I'm one...

"The summer – no sweeter was ever;

The sunshiny woods all athrill;

The greyling aleap in the river,

The bighorn asleep on the hill.

The strong life that never knows harness;

The winds where the caribou call;

The freshness, the freedom and farness-

O God! How I'm stuck on it all..."


Saturday, June 13, 2009

AK 6 -- Cruising the Alaska Marine Highway

AK 6 -- Cruising the Alaska Marine Highway

I lay back in my chair, enjoying the rays of sun that have been plentiful this past few weeks. The rumble of the ships engine seems to lure me into a state of holiday relaxation. Watching others move about the deck of the boat. Passing by the forest, islands, peaks and glaciers of the Inside Passage seem innumerable. Like slicing through a mirrored pond the M/V Columbia makes it's way north. Every now and then I get up to wander the sides of the Ferry. Catching a pod of Humpbacks and Seals along the shore. Vistas of great rivers of ice moving towards the sea or lone fishing boats plying the waters along sunset reflections. No matter where you look, beauty rises from the tide line towards the sky, calling the imagination in an upward gaze.

As I move north towards Skagway, names float by with long telling tales. Baranoff, Kupreanoff, Churchicoff and Mitkoff. The Russian traders who made these waters, on search of firs and wealth leaving names upon the landscape so far from St Petersburg and Moscow… Kasaan, Dyea, Stikine, and Taku, marks of the Tlingit, Tsimshian and Haida who made this place home, exploring with the cedar canoes from island to island for good fishing, hunting and berries to harvest… Juneau, Sumdum, Skaguay and Dalton, words taking a man back to the days when a yellow stone made the men crazy with dreams of changing their lives with a few bits of stone and hard work. Built towns out of creeksides and brought the most determined to find a Alaska weaving a spell within them. Ship Island, Lincoln Rock, Eldred Rock and Wreck Reef, titles to warn those that navigate these sometimes treacherous waters. With wind, tide and weather capable of changing the mood of the long blue highways that take us along.

The ferry stops at the small towns along the way, giving a traveler time to explore the depths of this collection of islands. Formed by the collision of far off exotic islands, bent and folded the mountains tell the tales of millions of years past. The fiords leave little room for towns, yet each clings to the shores of the islands, for their essence depends on the sea. Wrangell a small fishing village at the edge of the large Stikine Tide Flats. Waters turned brown from the silt of the inner depths of Grand Canyon and high Plateau of it's Canadian depths. Petersburg Harbor, filled with the great SE Fishing fleet, bounded by Norwegian Tradition, enduring the long year round harvests of the sea. Juneau, the bustling city clinging to the side of glacier caped mountains, with the Mendenhall pouring down right to it's very edge. Haines, spread out along the flats of the Chilkat River and Mountains. And Skagway, a tourist town and Gateway to the Yukon.

With the Ferry comes the freedom that you don't find on the Cruise ships, to get out and explore deeper. There is the Alaska that we are all looking for yet get caught in the regular haunts of the tourist facades. Caught in the back-roads, and small towns. Never will a large ship visit Coffman Cove or Kloowack, Hoonah or Angoon,, these are where the true Alaska lives, and the stories are told over morning coffee before heading out to the fishing grounds. Watching from the sundeck along the glacier waters of Stevens Passage, the white cruise ships hurry their pilgrims to ports of call. Armed with 4 hours, it is curious to watch as they rarely leave the confines of the local dock, lined with diamond and trinket shops, toting wares from far off lands, China, India and the Islands of Indonesia. World Trade has touched even this corner of Alaska. But just a mile off of the docks, Alaska begins, trails leading towards mountains and rivers without end, in some ways a land that matches a dream.

The boat leaves the Stikine Flats and passes around Zarembo Island. Soon we are at the entrance of Wrangell Narrows near flood tide. More a river then a shipping lane, 84 buoys, lights and markers line it's tight channel. Having seen this passage at low tide, I am amazed by the work the Captain makes of it's frequent tight turns. The wake of the ship surfs the shore, blasting up the rocks on both sides into the trees at the edge. Yet in one spot, each side we are only at 20 ft to spare. Bear and Eagle perch on the sides, looking out to our passing by. Until at the end of Petersburg dock, if the rest were not enough, a small iceberg caught by the current, stands in with way of our likely route. From the distant LeConte Glacier, it has ridden the tide to here. As the ferry unloads and loads at the dock, seals take to lay on this floating rock. Translucent blue and as beautiful as they come, it is caught in Wrangell Narrows and will make and obstacle to some.

With a blast of the horn and lines cast off, we enter Fredrick's Sound at the last light of day. All the mountains and ice that surround, are caught in the cloak of alpenglow shades. Devils Thumb seems to lift to the sky. Towering over the range as the day heads to darkness. Making a sleeping bag bed on the top deck, I watch the moon dance from the back of the ship. Sounds of French, German, and Spanish surround, a surreal sense to this last light till dawn. Lighthouses and markers flash white, green and red. And the stars come out and play out overhead. I think of others tucked in their elegant cruise ships, but I would not give up my deck-chair with it's open air cabin on this blue ferry ship…

-- Ridgewalker

Saturday, May 9, 2009

AK 5 - Dawn on Alaskan Seas

It had been a long night, the weather had turned leaving the boat
battered and shaken. Five foot seas, doesn't sound bad off hand,
definatly not Bristol Bay Ocean. But this was a boat loaded with 65
ton of Herring plugging it's way back to Metlakatla to unload the
Herring that we had loaded up in Seymour Canal. I was on wheel-watch
this night. Winds of 25-30 mph gusts were compressing the waves
together, causing the boat to slam down it's keel with the second or
third wave. Water kicked up to the cabin windows, 20 ft above the
water. Luckly just spray, no green water yet...

Bang! Another one hit jolting me out of the pilots chair. Bracing
against the wheelhouse sides, it was time to find a new course. Moving
towards the starboard side, I saw a mountain side blocking the winds
from the SE. If things got too bad there was possible good anchorage
in a cove just a head. Either way it would be nice to stop the rolling.

It had come on suddenly... Most of the past week had been flat calm
seas on clear skys. With 70F weather and views of glacier capped
mountains as far as the eyes can see. We had made our way through
Wrangall Narrows, more of a river then a marine passage. The currents
running 10 knots and boiling to either side of the boat. That was when
the bilge alarm sounded, jolting me out of my bunk. The back tank was
leaking and filling the boat with water. Lucky the large pump did
quick work of the matter. That disaster overted, we jogged on down
thur the Narrows and into the mountain filled Stikine Sound. Looking
forward to maybe uneventful day ahead.

Bang... The boat creaks as it rolls over the next wave and hits the
succeding wall while in the troft. By this time I begin to remember
the leak in the back tank and check the gage for the bilge. The pump
seems to be working like a charm, low water. We were still about two
miles off the shoreline and my hope of calmer waters when the captain
arrived in the wheelhouse. It seems that I threw him out of his bunk,
and so unable to get back to sleep decided to see how I was handling
the boat. He didn't seem to conserned, more inquizative. Grown
acustume to such temperments of the Inside Passage.

Once on the seas, there is little to do other then find the right way
to roll with the waves. Like ridding a bull, all you can do is point
yourself in the right direction and hold on. For old-timers it is the
wild dance they have almost found the perfect sway to. In the ocean
swells while stronger are father apart, so the wooden boat seems to
just sway back and forth. But these wind-tide waves seem to knock us
around more. Brian agrees that the fiord walls to the starbord are our
best bet.

Soon we make it into calmer weather and the waves reduce to just a
little chop. I'm left to finish out my wheel watch as the pre-dawn
light begins to fill the Clarence Straits. The light begins to shine
upon the snow capped mountains above Tongass Narrows and Behm Canal,
Ketchikan lies somewhere below them. It seems that another day has
come and soon we will be making our way down Nicholes Passage and
Metlakatla to off load our load of herring.

Alaska seems full of suprisesand beauty. You are never left unaware of
natures wild-ness as well as her sublime highlights. These morning
times, looking out the wheelhouse windows as well as the moments
caught in the rolling seas, all seem to have much to tell a man. If
heisonly patient enough to listen, these sprirts have much to tell and
I have yet much to learn...

From the waters of the Inside Passage,

Thursday, April 23, 2009

AK 4 - Paddling with Eagles

The water stands as still as a mirror, set in electric tones of silver, gold and black. I feel the slight breeze catching the stern of my Eskimo Style Kayak, that seems to want to wonder with each breeze. S'plook... My paddle catches the next wave as I causally correct my drift, eyes fixed on the setting colors of the sun as it fades out over the NW end of Tongass Narrows. Like the contentment of the evening fire's glow, this sunset caps. A beautiful two days here along the waters of Ketchikan. A glimpse at spring grows the hear towards the future. Knowing that three systems are working their way across the Gulf from the Aleutains, everyone has been soaking up the sun as it has brought warmth to these rain drenched forests. Tonights after dinner paddle is no exception, what seemed like a sleepy little Alaskan town has awaken from it's rainholes, to bask in the glory of the sun.

I make my way south along the pilings that make up the front of Ketchikan. A city so connected to the sea, it is built above it's very edge. Now at low tide, it towers 25 ft above my little kayak. Each piling plastered white and beige by columns of barnacles, while below great flowering anemone and sea cucumber forest the creosote beams below. Keeping just out from the traffic of fisherman heading out for an evening troll, the snowy cap of Deer Mtn rises above the Narrows
reminding e of the chilly nights of early this week. But tonight they catch the alpenglow with electric intensity, making a first-ring of the ridges cornice line, with glittering avalanche tracks descending below.

For the last week, we have been moored at port, cleaning and passing time. Between openings, as it seems again waiting is the ever constant variable in fishing, that seems not to make it to the action packed reality shows. But ever constant as time fades by. Each day had brought a deluge from the sky, keeping a man inside his wheelhouse perched above the Narrows looking out to a gray world. With 200 inches of rain a year, my old home has nothing on this place. But a midweek hike out to Shelter Cobe shown, 15 feet in diameter Yellow Cedars are common place. Pulling you in to their temple green glow, almost like sturdy beams of Tlingit Longhouses, holding up a roof of lichen and moss. Enough wonder to keep. Man going to the next break in the clouds revealing the mountains that had been lost from sight for days. But during these
times, work, books and conversations keep you occupied. Mulling over thought and ideas brewed in a vat of the most recent chapter or bar tale. It is the nature of this place, and part of it's people I have learned. Yet warm spring days as recent seem to remind the heart of the Alaskan spell that weaves itself deep.

As I turn back to paddle towards my floating home, I feel the great movement of air behind me. Whoop.....whoop.... whoop... And as though a large silent plane were about to land upon me an Eagle glides but paddle reach above me. I first catch his fanned out white tails feathers, displayed like a geisha dancer before me. Then with a mighty sweep 9 feet of wing span flowing down with a whoop of the air. Yellow talons reaching out, he plucks a herring out of the water in front of my port-side before climbing into the air without a splash. Time seems endless in these moments, and as I watch him rise, I feel the wilderness of this place, even if the town is but. 1/4 mi away. His silowet rises against the glow of the setting sun. The power of the sublime creating it's own temple out of the moment. This is what the tourest of yesterdays cruise ship missed, caught in the limited time of a four hour Port of Call. The time to just let Nature show her skirt
to you, and lead you away within the moves of her dance. Memories that cannot be bought at Trinket shops or admired on dusty shelves.

Before rounding into the cannery, I see the long V lines of migrant birds moving their way north to the Arctic. Tomorrow, we'll move north as well, towards the Fjord of Taku, the Glaciers of Turnigan Arm, and the protected tide flats of Seymour Canal. Yet another Herring Cycle will begin again, here in Inside Northern Waters...

From the waters of the Inside Passage,

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

AK 3 - Surrounded by Herring

An armada of small boats leave the protection of the harbor on a overcast day. Trailing behind larger boats, they bob up and down while in tow. As we round the bend and out of the rocky shoals of Metlakatla Bay, the chatter on the radio begins to heat up. With each conversation the excitement of the many fisherman is clear, as they have waited weeks now in anticipation for this Herring Opening. For some this will be the first paycheck in months since the close of Salmon fishing the previous fall. But to all this is the beginig of the spring and the stories to come over the next summer of following the fish through these forested channels of Alaska. For the tenders, we've been waiting for two weeks peeling away time from the calendar as well, and now with 60+ boats leaving the harbor it is a sight to see.

We make our way around the north end of Annette Island, the land of the T'Simpshian Nation. This fisheries is special to them, and only open to members of the tribe. The four tender boats act as large tanks pumping fish off of small aluminum skiffs and taking it back to the Cannery. As we enter Kwain Bay, the Armada stages like little floating islands, as about 10 boats and skiffs are tied to each Tender. With little room to cook or house waiting fisherman on their skiffs, Tenders back deck becomes a hub of activity. We take our place in the bay below the snow clad arms of Mt Tamgas rising above and wait for the opening anouncement. Then hours click away through the day till the evening comes. The anxieous drink their coffee and talk of years past while bouncing to and from eachothers rigs. The fish and game float plane passing overhead checking the progress of the fish, watching for the first sign of the Spawn. Waiting for the perfect moment for the harvest to begin. This catch is kent to harvest the Herring for their Roe or eggs to send out for coveted caviar, so while their has been hundreds of schools sighted, timing is of the essence to get the right quality.

With the crackle of the radio, the voice of the biologist comes over the radio reporting what they saw in the last pass and declaring the fisheries open along Crab Flats. A sudden flurry of activity takes over the bay. Boats begin to motor off to spots already scoped out. 54 boats total pass sound the reef, some crusing ahead, others puttering behind trying to catch up to the best place in the flats. For days the Orcas, Eagles, Seals and Gulls have had their fill of the schools, now that they have started to spawn it is the Fisherman's turn. Everyone knows eachother in this fleet, most are somehow related to eachother from this small village. So the opportunity to catch the first big set is king bragging rights. Words are tossed in the air as well as fists shaken as boats manuver to get out to "The Spot" that will bring home The Catch.

As soon as it started, the bay is now empty, only the sounds of the last boats wake slapping against the shoreline and the cry of Eagles perched on the breakwater rock, just as bewildered as the four remaining boats anchored in Kwain Bay. It seems so peaceful now, as I hear the small river flowing over the tide rocks and out of the cedar forest below Tamgas. A tranquility of the moment before and after action, broken only by the neccesity of passing time. There is always
that feeling of surreal I'm those fractions of time, when the canvas of the world takes center stage before the players walk on fade it towards the back. It is when you notice the voice of nature that abounds, always there in every other story playing out.

The silence is broken by the distant whine of an outboard motor. Soon the aluminum skiff makes the corner around the rocky island and work begins. Activity and life begin to bussle about as more boats enter the bay. The sound of giant vacumns take hold as skinny footlong Herring are Bering sucked out of the boats a ton at a time. The air is filled with the chatter of stories being told of doging in and out of other boats as they hurried to set their nets to surround the schools, while dodging others trying to cut them off. A few stories of collisions and bent egos make their way out, but as I hurry to off load the boats to return them to the grounds there is mostly laughter. It is amazing to hear, as tons of fish make it into our holds, that only 15-20% are harvested each year. Herring make up a large step in the food chain of these northern waters, and yet their numbers are staggering in proportions. To see a school is like watching a moving ball swarming by. The hope is to catch of of the balls just at the right moment.

As the evening continues on we work through the night. Cold hands cling coffee cups from sweetshirt and orange raingear cloaken figures as I work. Soon dawn begins to break over clear skies, and the boat reveals a full hold, 65 Ton of fish. With our last boat we pull anchor and head towards the processing plant at Metlakatla, three hours away. Passing the fleet clacking away as they repeatedly pull and a set their nets out from the shoreline. I wash down the deck and equipment, scalely fish slime cover everything. Soon the pressure hose does it's trick and I find the boat back to it's previous state. As the sunrise over the mountains behind Dixon Enterance, back to port with a full load of fish.

From the waters of the Inside Passage,

Sunday, April 5, 2009

AK 2 - Wilderness of Metlakatla

The surf pounds the rocky shores of Smuggler's Cove. Repeating with a slow rhythm, every fourth brings a spray out on the basalt stacks protecting the beach. These are the ocean swells running up Clarence Straits from the wave hatchery that is the Gulf of Alaska. The
sequence a tell-tale sign of their origins in the wild-er-ness of the open sea. Between each cycle smaller waves expose, the pools of low tide, and a open sand beach just long enough to find sanddollars
reflecting against the sun. Sunny days have caught me on Annette Island, exploring this undesignated wilderness. Here Nature seems both sublime and bold. The creak of boardwalks along Muskeg forests to the thunderous waterworks of the waves crashing against the rocky headlands, Nature holds ways here to play to each part of the symphony. I'm reminded of the last four months absent from the view of
wilds, how the city has a dulling effect to the ear. But the last week walking around this T'Simpshian World, has all my attention stirring.

I've spent as much time in Metlakatla exploring, as it seems the best use of the idol energy in waiting for fish. Watching from theshoreline wilderness as Orcas feed playfully on schools of Herring,Eagles catching fish and courting their mates from aloft in Cedar tree bungalows, to the Sea Otters working their dayscracking open shells of oysters muscles and smal crab. All these seem to signal Spring trying to take hold of SE Alaska. And yet still while climbing to the top of a local peak, snow squalls lay in, keeping the mountains locked in winters hold. But between arms of SE'sterly winds and Northern fronts, Alaska captivates the imagination of this Naturalist.

Annette Island, with it's villages of Tamgas Harbor and Metlakatla, is a sovereign nation here. Part of the greater T'Simpshian Nation, which range from lower SE Alaska, down through the BC Coast to Bella Bella just north of Vancouver Island. Boardered by the Tlingit to the North, the Haida to the East and Kwaquitl following the Inside Passage to the South, they are often over-shadowed by the culture of these
surrounding Nations. But due to an act of history, they have held Annette Islands their own in the face of modernity for 100 years. Before then the Tlingits held this island, in much of a wilderness state. But Metlakatla grew from a group of T'Simpshian Natives led by missionary William Duncan escaping troubles between settlers near Port Simpson on the mouth of the Stikine River near Prince Rupert.

The other evening, while walking back through Metlakatla after following the rocky beaches of Cemetary Point, I was lured in by the sounds of drums and signing coming from the cedar longhouse near the edge of the bay. Standing outside seeing the glow of lights from the firebox atop the roof, I caught myself listening to the drums and chants being preformed within the walls. Soon a Native Fisherman invited me in to watch. I walked in the hall clad in four clan poles carved in each corner and stained wooden benches. I watched as women dancers young and old donned in wool blankets outline with designs of mother of pearl buttons. Circling the center where a male dancer with a mask of a raven played out the story of stealing the sun and sharing it with man. The rhythm and beat of the five drummers, and the power of their chants, played in harmony to the sounds of the signing of the female dancers following in a circle.

I sat in awe at the spirit if this team practicing for the summer\tourist season. Four dances of the stories of different animal spirits, reminded me of how alive Nature felt watching that day. How some in the community were keeping that tradition power of myth and legend in connection. The dancers were made up of from the 2 yr old girl to the 65 yr old elder but most were of age of teens. In an isolated community, the urge to leave for modern pursuits comes at the cost of disconnected generations. And yet here they were trying as they could to keep the ties going, even if it was in the name of performing to the hordes of tourist who would arrive on cruise ships in the coming summer.

It is easy sometimes to see Nature as separate from man, yet we are part of it and need a wild-ness in our own lives. Through exploring the Islands forest, mountains and coast, listening to old fisherman tales and watching the stories of Nature's characters play out in song and dance I'm faced with thoughts and images. Of how it all intersects with man as he lives with his fellow inhabitants that abound here. How he changes it, as well as it changes him. Either in city or wilderness, it is always there, you just have to look.

From the waters of the Inside Passage,

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

AK 1- Midnight Shift Along the Inside Passage

Darkness blankets the wheel house as I take the mindnight watch on my
journey to Ketchikan. I stand behind the wheel looking out at the
horizon keeping course with the deck light of the lead Fish Tender out
of our group of three. The churning hum of the desiel engine seems to
set our 9 knot pace as we cross this portion of Queen Charolete Sound.
With each wave the green glow of sea algae trails the wave of the
boat, giving that glow to the Sea. The skies above break every so
often to reveal as many stars as a man could count before loosing
himself, and yet not enough to tale away from the dark loneliness of
the Sea. Islands dot the Sound, with faint flashes of channel lights
marking the shore, outlines that only come to light with the sweaps of
the radar that I hold my course with. In these moments, I realize the
Wild-er-ness of the Inside Passage. Out here, on watch, the night
finds it's solumn tones.

A crackle comes across the CB, Gabe calling in to check the watch,
three boats lined up one after another passing north to Alaska.
Cugging away at about 10 mph, it is a long slow haul to make it up
towards the fishing grounds. Many hours spent just looking out towards
the sea till your next turn.

"Big-B... Big-B... This is Sumpy callin' out..."
"Yeah Stumpy, I hear you loud and clear. Another long night watch
while the skipper takes in some Beauty-sleep..."

In the last day or so, our call signs have turned into nicknames of
the captain of the boats. Every now and the the Muskrat chimes in, but
mainly on these late hours it is just the watch of the Gene S and
Pacific Queen, keeping eachother company. Through the hour or so we
talk about mountains, Gabe spends most of the off season travelling to
find the perfect powder to ski down.

Both hikers, we obsese over mountains we've seen along the way, and
old haunts deep in the Cascades. Connected briefly to thoughts of
home, and yet they seem to be revived by the fiords and channels that
we've past through in the last few days. Some how this leaky boat has
become home, and the canvas of the mountains and channels the catalyst
for the summer to come. For a wilderness, awaits our along these
coastline waters, one far wilder then I have travelled before.

From the waters of the Inside Passage,