gwiles September 4th, 2014
Guest bloggers: Zach Downes & Wilson Nelson
For me, the trip started in Juneau, Alaska. We arrived in Juneau late with a couple of things to take care of the next day before getting in a small plane and heading to Gustavus, Alaska where Glacier Bay National Park is based. We needed food, XtraTuf boots, definitely XtraTuf boots, to meet with some folks at the University of Alaska Southeast, and to hike into the Juneau Icefield just north of town.
The Juneau Icefield. If you look closely you can see a person in the bottom left corner for scale
An ice cave near the front of the Icefield.
We woke up early the next morning to catch our small plane and thirty minute flight over to Gustavus. We were met by our pilot Kyle who was 27 and from Ohio. He said he’d been living in Gustavus for 7 weeks after quitting his big boy job and moving there to fly planes like he’d always wanted to. It’s always great meeting people that aren’t scared of doing something different and going after what they want.
Loading up our plane before taking off to Gustavus, Alaska
The plane ride itself was one of many memorable moments from the trip. Neither of us had been on such a small plane before and the landscapes we flew over couldn’t have been much prettier. We landed in Gustavus with another long laundry list of things to do before heading out into the field. This list included organizing all of our gear, throwing our food in bear barrels, and going through the various orientations required for going out into the park. The orientations were mostly painful to sit through as we were excited to get into the field. All except for the bear orientation as Chris led us into the psyche of the bear through his animated, descriptive, and eye-opening teaching performance. Once the orientations were through, we went back to the park housing for the night to get ready to head up into the east arm of the bay early in the morning.
The ride into the bay was awesome. We met up with Captain Todd at the research boat, loaded it with our gear and kayaks, and started the two and a half hour boat ride out to Wolf Point. A boat ride like that will go fast when you have snow-topped mountains, sea otters, and seals to look at. With Led Zeppelin playing, Captain Todd took us all the way up the East Arm to get a look at John Muir Glacier. What a cool guy he must have been.
The research boat that took us out to our field site.
Puffins we saw on the boat ride.
Sea lions seen on the boat ride as well.
After getting dropped off at Wolf Point we found a place with a great view, lots of bear scat, and bear belly holes that seemed like a good spot to set up camp. That didn’t take too long and before we knew it, Dr. Wiles was ready to go thrash up a side of Wolf Point Creek to see how easily we could make it back to a lake that would house some good wood for sampling. It turned out not easily at all and after about an hour of crushing some pretty heinously thick brush in the rain, we decided to head back and try the other side of the creek the next day.
This crushing through thick brush became somewhat of a theme throughout the trip. There were some sampling bright spots where we found good logs without having to do much more then kayak a short ways. We came across about ten logs to sample at our Stump Bluffs site, and a few more down the East Arm and into Wachusett Inlet at the Wachusett River site.
We spent our nights in the field at the Wolf Point campsite and Wachusett River site. Mornings and nights were fun and there was a lot of good food and chatter with fairly tiring sample searching in between. We drank gallons of Tang and ate way too many cookies and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, or maybe that was just me. The days seemed to go by real slow, but our sixth day pickup came really fast. The time in the field was amazing. We were constantly looking at incredible landscapes, gorgeous water, and relentless bugs, with a few semi-curious bears to distract us every now and again.
Glacier Bay National Park is wild in more ways then one. It is full of life and animals and sounds that were different and completely new to me. I have never been in a place that felt so remote and untouched. I kept searching the ground for some piece of garbage or sign that someone had been there before. Of course people have, but–and I hope it stays this way forever–it certainly didn’t seem like it.