Saturday, August 16, 2014

Behm Canal to Misty Fjords

July 31-August 3, 2014

In addition to skipping the cruise ship scene in Ketchikan, another thing that resupplying in Thorne Bay allowed us to do was to complete a circumnavigation of Revillagigedo Island via Behm Canal. Originally, we had planned to go to Ketchikan, and then just run up the south end of Behm Canal to Misty Fjords National Monument. It would have been a bit shorter to run up and back than to start the circumnavigation from Ketchikan, and since we are time conscious at this point in our travels, we had planned on taking the former route. Stopping in Thorne Bay allowed us do the circumnavigation without a loss of time and with the added benefit seeing new territory instead of traveling twice over the same ground. 

The trip through Behm Canal was one of the most relaxing parts of our entire voyage through Southeast Alaska. For one, the sun had come out, and we had four glorious days of full sun. Too, it was one of the only parts of Southeast Alaska where we saw few other boats, even in the National Monument itself. We didn’t get good radio reception in parts of the canal, so for me, it was also a break from the endless fishing boat chatter, as well as the more important Securite calls and other information affecting navigation, that we listened to constantly in the main channels. The downside of the lack of radio reception was that we also couldn’t get the weather radio along the north side of Revillagigedo Island. 

View from a pocket estuary in Port Stuart
The highlight of our trip through Behm Canal was visiting Misty Fjords National Monument. We toured the spectacular Walker Cove but did not anchor. The mooring buoy there was occupied; and although we considered anchoring on a shelf at the head of the bay, we decided to continue on to Rudyerd Bay. 

Entrance to Walker Cove, Misty Fjords
Morning sun strikes the mountain
Head of Walker Cove
Since we arrived in Misty Fjords during uncharacteristically dry weather, the landscape was void of the dozens---perhaps hundreds---of cascades that there was evidence usually tumbled down the steep granite faces. It being late in the season, there was also an absence of snow on most of the peaks. It didn’t take much imagination to see that Misty Fjords would present an entirely different experience early in the season. It is the type of place you can visit multiple times and never see the same thing twice. 

Misty Fjords is only accessible by boat or float plane. We only saw one other cruising boat in each of the two coves we visited, but we saw many float planes. I joked to Patrick that the place ought to be renamed the Misty Fjords Flyway! Sometimes, the noise from the planes can be intrusive, but they do provide some exciting scenery! Tour boats also visit the upper arm of Rudyerd Bay, a place we didn’t make it to. 

Preparing for take-off, Walker Cove
Float plane in Rudyerd Bay
Float plane leaving Rudyerd Bay
Rudyerd Bay proved even more dramatic than Walker Cove. Even though the mooring buoy was unoccupied, we chose to anchor bow and stern in Punchbowl Cove. That first night, we were the only boat in the anchorage, and we were in sight of the 3000’ cliff that rises straight up from the salt water. As the sun set, we watched the cliff rose up with color. 

Approaching the big wall at Punchbowl Cove
Another view of the big wall showing its flutes and folds
Sunset over Punchbowl Cove
Silhouette at anchor in Punchbowl Cove
The next morning, we launched the dinghy and headed for the trailhead for a hike to Punchbowl Lake. The trailhead was marked by a striped Forest Service sign in the south end of the cove. The hike is about 1-1.5 miles long, with a steep middle section. Overall, the trail is maintained from large obstructions like windfall; however, there were loose and rotted boards in parts of the boardwalk and it was a bit of a scramble in sections:  Proceed with caution. It was however, a beautiful forest trail that led to the head of the waterfall flowing out of it. 

Trailhead at Punchbowl Cove
Steps along the old boardwalk
Moss garden on root wad of fallen tree
Waterfall feeding Punchbowl Cove
According to protocol for hiking in bear country, we talked loudly and made noise as we hiked. Periodically, we called, "Hey, bear!"; we clapped; and we sometimes made a whooping noise that sounded like we were whooping for joy. 

Patrick doing the bear whoop for the camera
We saw bear prints along the trail and scat close to the lake outlet. From the size of the paw prints, I think they were black bear, but I could be mistaken. 

Pawprints with claws
These hind feet prints look like a cub's
Our first view of Punchbowl Lake
Log jam at lake outlet
Punchbowl Lake
Tenacious trees:  view looking up a steep granite face
Frog in the forest
Once at the lake, the trail continues along to a Forest Service Shelter. We had to love the U.S. Forest Service when we discovered both a rowboat and a canoe were available at the shelter for exploring the lake! The rowboat seated eight, and was too heavy for Patrick and I to haul out of the water back onto its wooden sled when we were done with it; so we opted for the Kevlar canoe instead. We found the paddles stored aloft in the shelter and made the short portage to the lakeside. After adjusting to being in the tippy canoe, we got in synch and paddled around the point into larger Punchbowl Lake. One could launch a multi-day expedition to explore all of Punchbowl Lake; we just paddled a portion of it. Paddling along the bases of the big walls in semi-silence, the only sound the lap of the paddles entering the water, was truly something.  

Signing into the register at the Forest Service shelter; the canoe we paddled is at rear
Big walls at Punchbowl Lake
Patrick noted that this face looks like a raptor watching over the lake

Lakeside trail through fading skunk cabbage
Lake outflow
Stump along the trail
This trail feature utilized a fallen log
As we arrived back at the dinghy after our hike, we observed that another sailboat had arrived and was on the mooring buoy.

Later that afternoon, we took the dinghy to explore the rest of Rudyerd Bay. (A better plan would be to tour the bay with your boat before anchoring, but we arrived late in the evening after our stop at Walker Cove.) We were only able to see a small portion of the rest of the bay, but it was enough to stare slack-jawed in amazement, as even bigger and steeper granite walls followed the ones preceding them. 

Granite peaks in Rudyerd Bay
I could see a possible route up to this saddle
Misty Fjords is definitely a place I would like to return to. 

Misty morning at Punchbowl Cove
By this time in our journey, we were noticing the transition from Southeast Alaska to British Columbia (B.C.), which actually happens around Ketchikan, prior to entering B.C. The landscape had lost some of its ruggedness (Misty Fjords aside) and overall, had softer edges. There were fewer eagles; although this possibly may have been attributed to the fact that the eagles in the region were concentrated at salmon spawning streams such as Anan Creek. Most of the Sitka spruce had disappeared from the forest canopy, and while yellow cedar was still dominant, I began to see individuals of Washington’s own Western red cedar, Thuja plicata, interspersed among the yellow cedar.

During our hikes to Anan Creek and Punchbowl Lake, we also noticed reminders of the passage of time. When we made landfall in Sitka, the berries on the Devil’s club were green, and the bunchberry were flowering.   

Red Devil's club berries remind us that the northwest summer is coming to a close
The bunchberry had white petals in place of the red berries when we arrived in Sitka
As we left Behm Canal, we headed for our last anchorage in Southeast Alaska, a small cove near Fort Tongass. The next day we would cross the border into our first new country in almost eight months:  Canada. We would temporarily leave the United States in order to return to the United States and our home in Seattle.

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