Archive for southeast alaska

Large small scale building projects

Posted in alaska, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on July 6, 2013 by polarguide

gustavusmoose-7

Summer finally arrived after a winter cold May and Early June that transformed into the sunniest summer we have seen here in years.  I have moved over to my summer home in Gustavus Alaska, where I have begun construction on my cabin.  Its been a dream of mine for a long time to buy a piece of land and pay for all the building cost out of pocket and design and build my own modest home. After years of thinking about it, it seems a bit unbelievable that I am actually doing it.

The property I purchased is in a small village in South East Alaska called Gustavus. Nestled in the forest at the mouth of Glacier Bay National Park, Gustavus is not an island but it has no road access and is only reachable by boat or airplane. The population  hovers around three hundred people with an increase of one or two hundred more in the summer.

Building in this remote place is challenging but not without its rewards.  Having never built anything in my life the financial and geographical obstacles were intimidating, but once I saved enough money to buy some building material I just threw myself into the project and four weeks later I have made more progress than I thought would be possible. Along with the foundation of my cabin I have built confidence and no longer see the project as overwhelming.  I see the progress I’ve made and  can plan the next stage and even visualize  the completion of the project.

The first obstacle was money and the cost of buying building material.  All the building material in gustavus has to be brought in on a barge, so I have kept the size of the building small to reduce the overall amount of material needed.  Not only is there no road to the town of Gustavus but there is also no road that leads to my property.  This is the second obstacle,  all the material must be carried to the construction site through the forest, another reason the make the structure small.

So far, I have dug a foundation that I put on pier blocks.  Carrying concrete to the building site to pour a foundation was really not an option.  the floor of the building rests on 4″ / 6″ pressure treated lumber raised 12″ off the ground and knee braced with 4″/4″ pressure treated posts.  The deck will be completed with 2″/10″ joist and 3/4″ plywood. It looks like this:

gustavus-3

gustavus-2

I purchased the land 3 years ago with my friend Zach. Together we purchased a Yurt. we share the yurt as a communal living space while we each build our own cabins on opposite ends of the 3.25 acres of land.

gustavus-5

gustavus-9We are completely off the grid.  No electricity, we catch rain water for drinking and we use a wood burning stove to heat the yurt.  Between building I am guiding 8 to 10 day kayak trips.  I leave tomorrow to start trip, it will be at least a week before I can carry back more lumber and start the next part of the project.  I hope to have the walls up and roof on by the end of August.

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Apathy or ardor

Posted in alaska, photography, travel, wildlife with tags , , , , , , , , , , on May 13, 2013 by polarguide

Its that time of the year again, when after returning home from months of travel, work and adventure I have trouble motivating to do anything.  This in between time generally involves lounging on the couch drinking too much coffee, talking to my self or speaking out loud to people who aren’t present. I pace. I suffer with intermittent episodes of insomnia.  It seems the more free time I have the less organized my mind becomes and finding one thing to focus on is hopeless.

Its hard to feel inspired to photograph when I have hundreds of files full of thousands of pictures from Antarctica that I still have not organized. I have snapped only 150 images this past month. I feel photographically congested.

So this year I decided to take a new approach.  I quit the coffee.  Coffee scatters my pattern of thinking. It causes my thoughts to reel down uncharted paths that lead my mind no-where.

Also, I started a strict vegetarian diet. No eggs, cheese or dairy of any kind. Ninety five percent of my diet is fruit and  hearty colorful (mostly organic) vegetables and lots of beans. Once a week I have a meal of fresh salmon or halibut caught by local Alaskan fisherman  or deer meat that I shot and butchered myself. I also joined the local gym and I try to work out everyday.

During this phase of my year I usually hole up in my apartment for weeks at a time, rarely answering the phone and experiencing mild anxiety about spending time with friends while simultaneously feeling sorry for my self, wondering why no one ever calls me.  Lately I have been trying to socialize more. My new strategy has been to actually answer the phone and when someone invites me on a hike or to a dinner party instead of mumbling an incoherent  excuse, I bite my lip and say yes.  So far the results have been quite successful and I am remembering that I actually do have friends.

This past week I said yes twice. The first was to an invitation to go on an overnight sailing trip to Saint James Bay with three other friends.  We had a great trip with some real life adventure when we nearly flipped the thirty five foot steel hulled sail boat completely upside down. Luckily, no one was injured.  The second yes was an invitation to a simple walk on the beach on a sunny day with three lovely ladies. Here are few snap shots from both events.

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Kayaking in St. james Bay

Kayaking in St. james Bay

St. james Bay

St. james Bay

Dall's porpoise exhaling

Dall’s porpoise exhaling

Immature Bald Eagle

Immature Bald Eagle

Rowdy Stellar sea lions

Rowdy Stellar sea lions

It seems silly to lament these things, these journeys into the heart of apathy are a necessary rest period.   Soon it will all change. Three more weeks and my sea kayak guiding season begins, then I will be on the move for another three months and life will be a parade of new people, wilderness adventure and wildlife photography.

Weekend Harvest adventure part 1

Posted in alaska, bears, guiding, photography, travel, Uncategorized, whales, wildlife with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 13, 2012 by polarguide

Note: I like to keep my posts to 1000 words or less but it was a long adventure filled weekend. I decided to write about it in two or maybe three parts. The autumn weather and the practice of  harvesting wild food does not allow time for photos. I hope my writing is entertaining enough to keep you interested. Who ever you are.

We left Gustavus aboard the Taurus at ten in the morning on Saturday to spend the weekend fishing and hunting on northern Chichagof Island.  The morning was cool, the high grey clouds parted occasionally revealing patches of blue sky. Columns  of whale breath rose like smoke signals from the flat surface of the sea . I counted thirty whales while crossing Icy Strait.

Departing Gustavus aboard the Taurus

morning smoke signals

morning smoke signals

We arrived in Mud Bay some time around eleven a.m.  Shellie, the most experienced and prepared of our group of four had her waders on before the boat hit the beach.  She hopped off the bow, helped set the anchor, shouldered her pack and fishing pole and set off up stream.   the weather had begun to deteriorate. Zach and Adam fumbled with their fly rods and fishing line while I stuffed a few extra warm layers in my backpack, then jammed my camera and two lenses on top of that.  With out a word I hoisted the pack, snatched the fly rod in my left hand the rifle in my right and  lumbered along the bank of the river wondering how Shellie (now completely gone from sight) could be moving so quick.  One hundred meters up stream I freed my self from pack and pole and ducked  into the forest in search of a deer.

I slipped under a stand of  alder and into the dark understory of spruce trees.  Rifle in hand I waited, listened, then crept over the soggy pine needles.  Cold, humid air filled my head with the astringent scent of spruce pitch, but no sign of deer.  I hunted through the trees until they gave way to an open meadow of tall sedge.  I stood on the edge of the forest gazing over a golden sea of swaying grass, waiting for a grazing deer to betray its position and lift its head.  A Northern Harrier materialized above. I watched it’s effortless glide , rising slow, dipping quick like a kite, scouting the savanna  below, hunting,  just like me. Except for the flying part.

The rain gusted sideways in sheets.  I looped around the forest and back to the the river to retrieve my equiptment.  Far In the distance I spied Zach and Adam as they disappeared at a bend in the river, Shellie was, by now,  far ahead of them.  I was happy to be alone.

I plodded up stream realizing I had far too much gear.  My camera uselessly jammed in the top of my backpack  made it cumbersome to shoulder the rifle and it kept slipping down my right my arm.  My left hand was occupied with the fly rod.  My three friends were wearing proper waders, they could wade across the river through waist deep water making navigating up stream much faster. I was wearing an old borrowed pair of hip waders that leaked. The crotch  high rubber boots were two different sizes.  knee deep water was as deep as I could manage.

The cold wind seemed to drive the rain straight through my clothing.  The belief that modern technical rain gear (gortex and the like) is actually water proof is a load of bullshit!  Trust me. My spiffy new Patagonia jacket  hung on me like a wet bed sheet.  My socks, soaked with leaky river water  slid down below my ankles and bunched in the front of my boot. It felt like flopping around in wet clown shoes.  I forgot to mention: I am new to fly fishing,  my attempts to cast in the driving wind and rain were frustrating to say the least.  After two hours I managed to catch nothing but shrubs and dead wild flowers on the river bank behind me.

I began to miss my friends. I assumed they had successfully fished out every decent fishing hole I was now passing on my clumsy journey up river.  I abandoned  fishing and decided to march forward until I found them.  I crossed a shallow section of water and confronted a steep muddy bank on the other side.  My boots in the muck, I reached both hands over head and with my right hand I planted the butt of the rifle into the soggy earth, with my left hand I planted the butt of the fly rod.  I then attempted to pull my-self up the muddy river bank in my waterlogged clown shoes. I kicked one foot high and began to stand, it slipped through the mud and my other foot quickly tried to replace it and Suddenly I was running in place, feet frantically kicking and slipping through the mire until my arms grew tired, realizing the futility of the effort my feet quit and left me dangling.  My grip slowly failed and I oozed down the river bank, belly in the mud.  I felt so alone.

I hefted my self from the mud cursing. I hurled my rifle over the river bank, then the fishing pole, then my pack.  Grabbing fists full of mud and grass I clamored on hands and knees and came up panting, thankful there were no witnesses to this embarrassment.  I stood to brush the mud from my clothes, that’s when I noticed the bear.

He was standing on the opposite side of the river watching me with a vacant glare. We contemplated  each other for a  moment from a safe distance.  “What are you looking at” I hollered over the gurgling river “this kinda shit is easy for you, you’ve got four wheel drive.  But  I’ve got something  you don’t… thumbs sucka!”  I jutted both thumps out in front of me and wiggled them at the bear.  He appeared unimpressed. He began swaying left to right  with an listless stare that made me uncomfortable.  I flung my pack on to my back, lifted my rifle and rod and staggered forward, glancing over my shoulder to be sure I wasn’t being followed.

About fifty meets up river I began to hear strange sounds, like an ancient foreign  language broken up by the rush of the river.  Was it laughter?  My friends having fun with out me?  Maybe it was the wind, I thought.  I came to a fork in the river. A channel flowed in from my right and in that channel were three large brown bears in the midst of a fierce fight over a prime fishing spot.  They were in the middle of the river thrashing at each other with gnashing teeth and claws, fur and spit flying everywhere. The sound of the battle was barbaric and evoked a fright in me that rose from deep in my guts.

“shit!”  I thought out loud  “I’m going to have cross the river again to avoid the clash of the titans”. I slid down the muddy bank trying not to draw attention to myself.  slipped into the river and waded to the other shore, all in plain view of the sparring monsters.  I found Zach,  Shellie and Adam fishing a hole not to far up river from the bear fight.

Hours  passed since I had seen my three friends. All day I had imagined  them having a grand ole time together, catching fish, laughing and eating cheese and crackers in the sun.  Turns out they had adventures and mishaps all along the way. Zach caught a Coho salmon and left it on the beach next to Adam.  While Adam was distracted by a fish on his own line a bear crept from the bushes and stole the salmon right out from under him.  While trying to wade across the river, Zach fell in and drifted down stream. He climbed out on the opposite shore and continued fishing.   The relentless rain and constant wind zapped our enthusiasm to fish any longer.  We were all soaked to the core and on the verge of  hypothermia.  We decided to make our way back to the Taurus.

Zach pulled an inflatable paddle board up river with him and he and Adam began to flat downstream.  Shellie and I trudged along the edge of the river and once again bear appeared on the shoreline to our right.  Zach and Adam floated on the paddle board to the opposite shore to avoid the beast.  As the bear approached it became clear he had no intention of changing his coarse to avoid a close encounter. Shellie waded through the deep part of the river to join the others, leaving me to face the bear on my own.  “Seriously” I said sarcastically. “you’re going to leave me over here alone with this guy”.

I backed into the current  as far as I could with out going over my boots.  The bear passed thirty feet to my right. I spoke softly to it mostly to reassure myself .  When he ambled a comfortable distance past me I paced slowly to the shore. Then a surprising thing happened:  He turned and began to walk straight at me. He sauntered at a relaxed pace, head slightly lowered his eyes fixed on me.  “Hey bear!” I shouted, but he kept coming.  I took a large step toward the bear and kicked up some water “Hey Bear!”.   He closed the distance to less than twenty feet. I dropped my fishing pole, slapped a .300 caliber rifle round into the chamber and flicked off the safety.

I have had countless close encounters with brown bears, black bears, even polar bears. Focusing a bear into my two hundred millimeter Nikon lens is a common experience.  Raising my rifle and narrowing the cross-hairs  between the eyes of a brown bear was a whole new sensation.