My God was drunk and delirious and flailing when His Paintbrush spewed forth the colors and medium to make this part of our planet. Ketchikan (Kehi to the locals) was the first city in Alaska I'd ever landed in, and the terrain and scent of it is something I had always hoped I would experience sometime in my life. It didn't disapoint. I was with JB from EOTech, the inimitable predator hunter Byron South, and his camera man Sammy. If Byron is Cisco, Sammy is his Pancho. A good working pair.
We were in Alaska hunting black bear, and I also wanted to take a Sitka black deer.
John and I were on the same plane from Seattle, and when we landed in Ketchikan (pop. >14,000) we had to take a short ferry ride to the other side of a Pacific river to the city of Ketchikan proper. A short taxi ride across the "river to nowhere" bridge that was so prominently spoken of as a waste of money in Alaska during our last presidential elections (enter Sarah Palin) and was therefore never built would have taken the place of the ferry. A local school is reported to have only 9 kids but a road that cost 20 million dollars for access to it.
JB and I stayed at the Best Western and had a nice meal and were already fairly well lubricated in the late evening when Byron and Sammy showed up. Our plans were to take a ferry to Prince of Wales Island
, about 4 hours away the next afternoon. We saw some of the town the next morning. The sports fields for the local schools used pea gravel instead of turf or grass, and the indigenous tribes were apparent by their totems and speech. We got our extra licenses and tags and I bought a cool brimmed hat that I thought that I needed. I recommend you buy stuff you don't need in far-away places because the cachet makes them even more valuable to you in the future. We saw the preserved whore-houses and saloons that were a staple there 175 years ago. A very friendly city. People don't take fresh fruit and vegetables for granted in Alaska, and they are a hardy folk with a lot of sand in their craw.
Ketchican was started by Russians in the early 1800s as a fur trapping hub, and later on became equally important as a place for miners to bring their gold.
There is even a Walmart, and you would not believe the mounted animal heads, camping equipment and firearms there. Like a mini-Cabela's. You can even special order firearms there. They ran out of harvest tags so we had to go to a local sporting goods shop to finish our legal obligations. My waxed cotton hat came from there.
The M/V Stikine ferry we took was built from the ground up for the unpredictable Alaskan panhandle inland passage. It can hold 30 standard size vehicles below decks, and had a restaurant and enclosed viewing cabin so as to be comfortably awestruck at the islands of the Prince of Wales archipelago outside the thermal glass of the cabin.
Such geology I have never seen before, not from the North Atlantic to the East or West or bottom of Africa, or even in the Mediterranean, although if some coasts and cliffs of Spain were cold and had black and sharp volcanic gargantuan boulders with coniferous trees poking out like porcupine follicles everywhere and had all other inches covered in moss and lichen and it was always saturated and rainy and uncomfortably frigid you would get an idea.
We met our friend Dick in Hollis and barely managed to stuff our gear into his truck for the couple hour drive on the immaculate two lane pool table straight blacktop roads to Coffman Cove
, where we would be staying overnight in a comfortable travel trailer bunkhouse until we left via boats to our final destination. The roads were like traveling through a virginal and old growth forest artery, with trees so hearty and healthy and huge, and rivers sliding under the road at every opportunity, always a unique and noisy waterway, completely wild and different from the last one. They appeared like thick pencil marks on a map every quarter or half mile. Virginal rivers and creeks and streams that hold every kind of creature in its lure, including humans. Salmon are born here and make their way to the sea from underneath our truck as we pass. You see these places on the Discovery channel when bears gorge themselves on fish during spawning season.
In Coffman Cove there was the Dogbone Bar. I met Duke. Duke is the primary protagonist in next year's "Axe Men". The cork boots are a badge of honor and were handed to him in the Dogbone last year by last year's primary star. The cork boots are not cork, but instead spiked sturdy logger's boots required by lumberjacks to help prevent death by slippage. Duke is a young, cocky, and sinewy tall lad full of piss and vinegar, and my new facebook friend. I hope he makes it in life, he has a long road to travel.
We left in two overloaded small boats for our forest service cabin. I was in a jet boat piloted by our compatriot Gary, who has lived here for years and traverses the maze-like inlets of the Alaskan panhandle with GPS and the familiarity and understanding of tides only an experienced local can have. We were heavy with gear. The water was big and intimidating to a flatlander like me, ex-navy experience notwithstanding. The chilled salt water spray filled my facial pores and reminded me of adventures past. I inflated my lungs until my chest was about to burst. My clothing was perfect, and my Maxfit hood
impressed me again as a product that I will never be without during any expedition anywhere. It is light and comfortable and stretchy and wind and water resistant and I call it my "secret weapon". You all need to own one of these. My rain gear was familiar from a few years of hunts, well broken in and familiar. My Irish Setter boots
were superb so far, brand new with only a few miles on them.
I find that certain rubber products interact with my PH level and make my skin stink. This has happened with watch bands as well as sandals and boots. When I was breaking in my boots through my good merino wool socks at home, it still happened, and I didn't want to contribute to the brown gas of a hunting camp so I bought some "Odor Eaters" inserts. They bunched up under my toes and heels and I removed and reinserted them many times until I took them out permanently, to my relief. Also, to my relief, my feet didn't stink after that.
We got to the cabin after a most visually miraculous hour long boat ride through chopped waters and waterfowl and islands and seals and a feeling I was back a tiny bit in the navy. What a wholesome and fulfilling endevour! If my trip was to end right now I would be satisfied! What a delicious experience!
We beached the boats on the shore and my compatriots were unloading gear while I took a short video of our home for the week. The forest service offers these cabins for $25.00 per night. Take advantage of this if you are the hearty type! My first walk on the terrain out of the boat was on kelp. 50 yards of it. Like waxed leaves from an oak tree, but smaller and thicker. I walked up a trail a foot wide through lichen and moss to our cabin. It was about a 12' by `12' indigenous red cedar cube with four bunks and a wood stove. With Dick there were 5 of us, so I thought a good place for me to sleep would be on the floor under one of the bunks. Take one for the team. It had the ceiling height one inch less than the tops of my Irish Setter boots, about 16 inches. My bunk on my aircraft carrier in the navy had a bit more headroom, but I was physically smaller and more flexible then than I am now. I had to lay on my right side on the dirty rough hewn floor like readying for a colonoscopy and scoot my ass in bit by bit until my hip was on my opened bag, then slip into the half-zipper cocoon after wiping off the debris from the floor that attached itself to my butt hair and torso and feet until I was fully ensconced in detrius like a pupae. The bag was the best available once upon a time, but that time was half a century ago when fabrics were not expected to breathe. The zipper was half length and only came down to my hip, so below my hips I was in a sauna and my torso was in a refrigerator. JB had an extra self-inflating mattress that helped cushion me from the bare ground that helped immeasurably.
Prince of Wales island has among the most Bigfoot sightings in the world. It is not a Yeti, as we were sternly told by a fellow passenger on the ferry, Yeti is much smaller and lives only about as far North as Washington state. He also said that he saw something in the woods once and it was whistling the melody from the Andy Griffith show. Bears can't whistle, so it must have been a bigfoot. The Tlingit indians and others call it "Kushtaka".
I slept the next many nights in more positions than ever before. Sometimes morning is long coming, no matter how tired you are. Sammy snored with an uncomfortable cadence like metronomic freight trains wrestling in a tunnel, and I thank God for Howard Leight
and his earplugs. Our barracks verily shook. Never travel without great disposable earplugs, and bring plenty for others. They even worked for the little brat behind me in the plane coming home. It wasn't her fault, but the fault of the parents that didn't teach her about the consideration of others, especially on a freaking airplane.
On the way to the cabin we stopped and pulled crab pots from the cold waters of the Pacific ocean. Heavy crab pots. We were acting like in a mini version of "Deadliest Catch
". I learned to tell the difference between males and females by the flap on the bottom of their shell, and you can keep only males over 6 1/4" wide. Their claws would vise grip your anything if you picked them up wrong. You have to pick them up from the back only. Some of these crustasians weighed several pounds and had the most beautiful purpled colors and were prehistoric and arachnid-like and grotesque and sturdy and multi-jointed.
We steamed 18 crabs for our first dinner on Barnes lake
. Dick told me what to do and I ended up putting our stock pot on the fire for the allotted time after the boil started until the crabs were done. The five of us gorged ourselves on ridiculously exquisite giant male dungeness crabs just two hours out of the Pacific, steamed over a rainforest red cedar campfire. We ate them like seals, breaking the shells with our teeth and sucking and picking out the meat with wrath. I think I may have involuntarily barked like a seal a few times from shock and delight while swallowing . The stick of butter I melted over the fire in an impromptu tin foil gravy boat helped augment the flavor and visual decadence and mess of the experience. These pieces of meat pulled from freshly dead crabs were some of the best pieces of flesh I will ever eat and enjoy. Ever.
The Crown Royal
left the building the first night, and we were dry.
The stinky flat feet of rising hunters hit the deck a few feet from my face in my underground cubby hole, and the first full day of hunting was on. For me, the previous night oscillated between wet and cold and wet and sauna. I stewed in my bag like microwaved frozen peas and shook off the moisture like a wet black lab when I stood dripping like getting out of a shower. Towel off. Find clothes. Insert body. Breakfast was great. Everything tastes really good when you're hungry. Eggs and baky, waky waky. This is no time to arrange your pack. You had better be ready days before that.
We left for our first morning's hunt in two different boats headed in two different directions. My guns were still with ATF in Anchorage., but I had my 454 with an OPMOD EXPS2 HWS.
A previous blog, "ATF Confiscated My Guns In Anchorage
" will explain about my sequestered guns if you missed it. Nikon Monarch binoculars
were used by everyone in one guise or another, except me. My OPMOD binocular
was still in Anchorage, and my backup was an 8×30 Zeiss Conquest
, truly a superb product. That optics survive through extended saltwater saturation and batterings is truly a testament and equipment cannot be babied here.
Magnificent bald eagles, seals, glass clear water 20 feet under your boat, magnifying decades of mussels on the sea beds, rainforest mountains covered in lichen and moss and cedars and all types of coniferous old growth trees with canopies so thick that rain often doesn't reach the ground, and volcanic black boulders with sometimes craggy and grotesque faces, and sometimes smooth like a river pebble. God was truly drunk and euphoric while making this, with love and ingenuity, and maybe vodka.
The seals' heads above water really look like swimming black labs, albeit with short ears and giant marble-like intelligent obsidian eyes, sleek and wet and with aerodynamics like a stealth bomber.
pack had everything I needed. My survival equipment was chosen through ignorant and futile experiences with orienteering and search and rescue planes and My God's will and sense of humor and my experience (or lack of) with little regard to money, but a premium placed on weight and size. My watertight bags held everything a novice woodsman might ever need. Unfortunately, it's quite a stretch for me to be included in the novice category. My bumbling ineptitude makes me laugh. I couldn't have found out where I was or how to get to safety or how to make a fire if my life depended on it, which it easily might have. There is really no reality check in life but reality.
First day hunting with JB. No game spotted until we got back to the cabin when we saw a small bear, easily in range. Too small, and no shots were fired. Truly a wholesome and exciting day of my life!
The second night the cabin was much more familiar, and even more confining, with wet underwear and socks and coats hanging everywhere to dry. Mostly it was futile, like trying to dry your garments in a steam bath. The scent was changing in our celluloid Alcatraz, as well. For a while it got so hot in there you could make biscuits.
Dick made freshly caught shrimp with coconut the next day. This is outrageous shore lunch. Food is almost never this good.
The second day promised to be The Day Of The Bear! Rain was constant, but my gear was perfect again, chosen and researched for previous hunts with the zeal of a potentially frozen and uncomfortable hunter with a credit card not yet maxed out, and an understanding wife. Today was the day to fulfil promises and expectations with bears in Alaska!
More shenanigans with the up to 22' tide swings and bottoming boats on gravel bars. Refreshing sea spray and a long, hard hike through the thickest wet old growth temperate forest in the world. So thick and impenetrable it was normal to slither and climb 20 yards, just to backtrack and try another direction for another 20 yards. I was soaked from in the inside out. Another great day in my life, but no bears or deer.
Third day, repeat as first, but stinkier in the cabin. Our new Colman stove crapped out, and it was crucial a fire was made for heat, cooking, and drying clothes. No fire means we eat cold cereal for dinner, and the milk was already gone. We had wood everywhere, but it rains always here, and everything is soaked to the core. The weight of the slivers of wood weighed three times as much as they were supposed to, like a Sunday Tribune thrown in a puddle overnight. You could not light this stuff. I found a piece of furring strip under the cabin, split it and made a stout attempt at a fire inside the cabin in our heater, as well as outside in the rain (of course) in our campfire ring. I got them both started gamely with the use of a Coleman hockey puck type plug of paraffin and sawdust that I will make sure OP sells and buy a bunch of them. Great stuff, and it burns under the worst conditions for a hot, long time. Sammy suggested that we cannibalize the log sections holding up our only bench because it was under our porch roof, and it worked perfectly. We traded the only two dry log pieces within 10 miles with wet ones and split the old ones easily to the size we needed, and before my Coleman paraffin went out we were rolling in fire inside and out. Nice job to Sammy. Byron and Sammy got the stove fixed later.
By the fourth day, our rank undergarments and soiled bodies and putrid stench was fetid and almost visible, hanging in the air like holy halitosis.
What a release from PC!!!!!! The jokes were particularly foul. Life in the corporate world is so picayune and regimented and corrupted until sometimes I don't even feel like a man anymore.
has his own show called, "Coming to the Call
!" If you want to know how to call critters from coyotes to bobcats to bear, know his show. His history as a bull rider and boot maker make him all the more colorful. Sammy makes him look even better on film, and together they can reach up into a cow's uterus and cut it open with a pocketknife to make a hard birth happen. These Texans know all about that stuff. Ask Sammy to tell you the story about his lactose intolerance. These guys are all in on a hunt. I learned a lot from Byron and these other friends. For instance, "Don't get married during hunting season…Keep your priorities straight." This was regarding having to deal with anniversaries when the whitetail rutting season was in full swing. I get it. JB is a great hunting partner, and Dick's knowlege was legendary.
I washed dishes every night. I took this upon myself, because we all have to do our part. Evening dishes were spooky. I stumbled and bumbled down to the shore 100 or many more yards away from the cabin depending on the tide, on beds of kelp in the absolute inky total black of night until I came to water, in bear country, holding cookware coated with lard and bacon and seafood. I would be a helpless clopping morsel caught quickly like a mammalian floundering salmon, clumsily running away with this stupid light on my head and my raingear and dermis
stripped by the foul ivory of a bear more easily than the skin of a salmon, but with extra fat and screaming! My Coast headlamp
did a good job preventing boogy monsters and black bears from eating me as I sloshed to the tide, where I squatted in my boots, crunching mussel and oyster shells under my feet, scrubbing pots with soap and salt water and handfulls of kelp and my Winchester bandana until clean. Raingear was a prerequisite. It rained almost always. Rain. Coastal dishwashing with bears nearby. Raingear and rubber boots. Headlamp. Scary and so fun. I got back safely every time. I thought I was brave and rugged.
The trail to our outhouse cut through a rainforest path thick like sponge, green and wet. Always wet. A very nice outhouse, as crappers go. It had a window on the upper half of the door so you could see the splendor of creation as you had your movement. It behooves you to be regular on trips of this ilk. Don't back up traffic during rush hour. Toilet paper in its many guises on a hunt is at a premium. God forbid you get it wet. Just run out of it and see what else you can use. Napkins, newspaper, unfilled deer tags, dollars (not three quarters and two dimes and a nickel), kelp, moss, bark, corncobs, and the list goes on. I've never had a bowl movement with such beautiful scenery. Watch for spiders, and don't drop your camera. Cold seats make your sphincter tingle.
You really get to know a person in hunting camp. no holds barred. Barely any work words spoken, even though in my case the trip was substantially work related. I regularly hunt with fatherly figures that should be propogated. Not father figures to me, but really great fathers of their young sons, period. More of them would be good in this world. They can make a difference like individual boy scout leaders and NRA instructors, and hopefully republicans and Christians, although not necessary. My many Jewish friends that come to hunting camp should be prepared for bacon , sausages, and pork chops as regular camp fodder, and fend for themselves if they won't eat it.
No game of any size was spotted thus far. All the bear sign and fish carcasses were old. If I heard one more story about how many bear there were here two weeks ago when the salmon were running and how many deer would be here in two weeks when the rut started I was gonna freaking scream!
Happy Birthday! The last morning of my Alaskan hunt was my 50th birthday! We hunted our way out, and our times of departure were again dictated by the tides. Over 20 feet of tide change daily, very complicated and boat-stranding dangerous. I put 1 1/3 cups of water boiled in a pop can over the fire into a Mountain Home freeze-dried bag the night before, and we each had two tablespoons of seemingly bloody ground up bowel-looking glop to celebrate My God's sense of humor for letting me live this long so far. What an amazing birthday in one of the most unforgettable places there is in this world. I know how fortunate I am.
A nice meal when we got back to Coffman Cove, including a lovely birthday cake for us after the most spectacular and perfectly seasoned giant and newly dead halibut steaks cooked by Dick's gracious wife Debbie.
I feel like I left unfinished business on POW island and I hope that I can cross this off my list some day.
My gun case came in to OP today, and this is the first time I've seen it since I shipped four days before my hunt.
Another successful hunt! I loved the impromptu planning of it, the importance to me of it, and the chance to do something that I've wanted to do most of my life. I needed to to this. I wanted to do this. I can hardly wait to go again, and do it better.