Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Alaska Adventure 101

We took a speed boat from Petersburg about five miles north up Frederick Sound to a nice beach and creek called, guess what, Five Mile Creek. The beach would be a more popular place to picinic if it didn't have a virgin forest right in back of it blocking the sun. The end of June it doesn't matter much. The sun is pretty much overhead then and there's more in a day than you can stand when the weather is good. But hanging out on the beach was always a second choice to hiking up the creek to the lake.
We started going to Five Mile when we were pretty young. I don't know if dad was partial to it for it's comparative advantages over other recreation areas or it just held a special place in his heart from rowing out there when he was young. We started hiking up to the lake when Steve was not quite old enough to make it all the way. It is a two and a half mile hike through woods and muskeg, your typical Southeast Alaska hike. Muskeg isn't the easiest to hike in, especially uphill. Good thing muskeg has to be relatively flat to even exist. Only about 20% of the hike to Colps Lake is muskeg though.
That first hike to the lake when I was about seven was probably life changing. The long hike, but made easier by the comeraderie of family, with the sense of accomplishment at the end. The last slog through thinning trees, wondering if the lake will be over the next rise. Then finally taking in the breathtaking beauty of a forgotton alpine lake surrounded on three sides by steeply rising mountains. Even though you know that lake is going to freeze your whatever off, just the thought of all that cool water and the heat and tiredness just ebb right out of you.
Talk about trout in that lake. I always thought that you could tie a dozen small herring hooks on with a salmon egg on each one and haul in a dozen trout at a time. The come at your hook in a school up there. I guess that clear water has them good and hungry all the time. I also heard that it's a subspecies of the cutthroats. Whatever the case, it sure is fun for a little guy to catch them. And a big guy. I went up there once and cooked up a mess of about ten inchers like a clam bake.
I made a good fire with some bigger pieces of wood as a base for the fire. Then I plopped a mound of spaughm moss over that, then a layer of trout a thin layer of more moss then a layer of skunk cabbage leaves. The leaves wilt together when steam starts to come up and seals in the steam. You crack it all open after the steam has had a reasonable chance to work on the trout and you have a real Colps Lake feast. (The regulations on fishing have changed since then, so not sure I can recommend that anymore.) I don't know where I got the idea, but those were the best trout I've ever had. The moss imparts a real nice aroma and counteracts any fishy flavors. I think any seafood would be good cooked that way. There isn't a lot of that kind of moss around though.
This is the first lake that comes to mind when I think of taking my boys on a real great day trip. A lot of the elements of a real Alaska safari are here. We started going to Five Mile when we first got to use the family boat with the 18 horse outboard. We'd camp in the old warehouse at the mouth of the creek and sleep on the old seine web. In the night you could hear the black bears splashing after humpies and dog salmon in the shallows. We'd walk up the creek and chase salmon through the shallows as Alaskan kids are wont to do.
This creek was the last place I recall my dad taking the family boat to by himself. Both were starting to show their age by then. I know the boat lasted only a few more years. He's still going strong twenty five years later. I think he just wanted to get in one more good look. His Grandparents had been the first couple to settle in Petersburg and he had seen most efforts to wring all the salmon possible out of that creek. I suspect he wondered if the salmon runs were coming back with the better fisheries management in the state after not being to the creek in many years.
Of course the big sand beach slopes down to a clam beach. I've fished for dolly varden at high tide off the rocks at the north end of the beach. Reidar Enge liked to longline greycod on a set from the waterfall just north of Five Mile towards Sokoi Island light, a mile and a half off the sand beach. We used to go out there in the spring to hunt hooters. (not from the restraunt chain) The slopes were steep in the valley the creek is in. You could locate a grouse pretty easy in the top of his tree by climbing up hill directly across from his hooting. Steve got his first grouse just inside the woods behind the sand beach. Steve hit the grouse every shot, just not seriously enough. We remember him breaking both wings and one leg before shooting it in the other leg.
The chances of running into other people hiking around Southeast Alaska is next to zero. That's a good thing in a way, but you have to bring company with you if you want to talk.


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