Baranof Blog & Fishing News
The next morning we awoke to some fairly decent weather by Southeast Alaska standards; high cloud layer around 2,000’, 5-10 knots of wind, a drizzling rain, and visibility of about 10 miles. Dad decided it was worth a look, so we packed up, bid our farewells, and taxied out to continue our journey.
With nothing to do as dad got us airborne and out over the waters surrounding Cordova, I remember marveling at how big Alaska really is. I’d grown up “in” Alaska, but had never spent an appreciable amount of time outside of Southeast. The night before we’d borrowed a truck from the local air-taxi operator (might seem weird loaning a car to a complete stranger, but he had our airplane… Again, welcome to Alaska!) and drove out to the Copper river for some sightseeing. On the road we were stopped by some oncoming traffic as a moose, towering over the cab of our Chevy Silverado, decided he had the right of way as he ambled past us without so much as a “thank-you” bob of his head. After this short delay we made our way to the river, completed our sightseeing trip, then headed back to town without further deer-delay to bed down for the evening.
My reminiscing was interrupted by a few curt words from my father. “Get the chart”, he said. (This was alarming to me in a way as, even though I was too old and experienced to admit it out loud, I was still young enough to be surprised that my father needed assistance from something so rudimentary as a map. (Next, he’d be consulting instructions to put together a Lego castle…). Peering about as I pulled out our sectional chart, I began to understand the situation. Like the children in Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang realizing the tide had come in around their magical car as they were lost in their father’s story, the weather had deteriorated at an alarming rate around the plane I was riding in while I was lost in thought. There had been a storm in the area the last few days, and the stubborn thing was still there – visibility was down to a couple miles, the rain was driving in winds of at least 30 knots, and the seas below us were 40’ swells. Save for the swells, the conditions would not have been out of the ordinary in Ketchikan; I believe the old timers would have termed these conditions “pretty crumby”, compared to the “pretty good” conditions we’d departed in (during my day-dreaming session we’d blown right through “kinda scuzzy” and “a bit bumpy”). However, over the open ocean, with no other point of reference now that our visibility was gone and we’d since left Henderson Island behind us, my dad wanted me to find a heading from Seal Rocks to Montague island. We estimated the strength and direction of the wind by looking at the seas below us, came up with a crab angle, and continued on to Montague. Once we got there, with the conditions getting worse, dad told me to find a place to land. On our map was a small lake situated just inland from the south shore of the island. We buzzed around over the lake for a minute as dad contacted an airliner overhead on the emergency channel of 121.5. He asked them to call his wife and let her know we were going to camp for a night or two and we’d call when we got to Seward. I don’t remember the name of this lake, but I do remember, much to my indoorsman delight, that it had a Forest Service cabin. We touched down, taxied to shore, tied off the plane with every rope we had, and schlepped our gear through the trail to the cabin.
This Forest Service cabin was the same design as I was used to seeing in Southeast at places like Ella lake and Manzanita, but it was fortified like Bert from Tremors had prepped it for the apocalypse. My ignorance of moose driving habits serves as a good example as to why I hadn’t even considered the idea that the area would have brown bear wandering around… One bear in particular seemed to have the cabin lands designated as his territory; Hercules was his name, and the cabin logbook was full of accounts of him hurrying to the sound of gunshots to feed on what deer remains hunters had left behind after making their kill. We never met or saw any sign of Hercules, but my father did scare the life out of me during our second night at the cabin when he woke up and knocked over some gear on his way to the door while I was still sleeping. Bears aside, this cabin was a God-send. Some canned goods had been left behind by previous occupants. Though someone had erroneously believed mayonnaise had any kind of shelf life, the rest of the food, along with the tuna packets we had with us on the plane, served to provide us with some delicious fare. Our 3-day, 2-night, all-inclusive resort stay at the Chalet de Montague resort was an incredible bargain at $0.00 U.S. We were responsible for our own 2:00 a.m. tree-clearing, as the lake level rising a couple feet during the storm necessitated chopping down a parking space to keep our airplane from bobbing its way to a new location, but this was a minor inconvenience compared to any and all accommodation alternatives.
Once the storm passed, we loaded our gear on the plane, filled out the logbook at the cabin with tales of our travails, and took off from the by-now much larger lake. We headed to Seward, but it was socked in, so we landed in Homer. From Homer we made our way to Anchorage after fueling up, gave the plane back to the owner, and hopped on an Alaska Airlines jet back to Ketchikan – all according to plan. Compared to the rafting adventure he’d taken my brother and I on from Upper Mirror to Lower Mirror lake, things had gone surprisingly incident free by my father’s standards on this trip. But that’s a story for another time.
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