Alaskan Adventure, Part II

One of the nicest parts about this internship is the way the work weeks are set up. We are on a eight days on -six days off schedule which allows us to bust out our work when need be and also gives us time to recuperate—and go adventuring! We have had the opportunity to explore the majority of Prince of Wales Island in addition to the places we visit while working in the surrounding area. Our bunkhouse is located in Hollis; a small community comprised of a schoolhouse, a library, a church, a dock, and about one hundred and ten residents. The first day after a remote trip is usually spent doing laundry and relaxing. Warm showers and long naps punctuate hours spent reading or catching up with friends and family via email. Once everyone has had time to rest we typically plan some sort of trip to a new location on the island. Much of POW is connected by a relatively extensive road system, so getting around isn’t too difficult. Over the course of our time here we’ve camped at Memorial Beach near the northern tip of the island, rowed a boat back and forth across Red Lake to stay at the cabin there, probed the El Capitan Caves, and much more.

The trip that stands out the most in my mind is our most recent adventure to the Karta River Wilderness. Although the nearest border of the wilderness area itself is around 30 miles away from Hollis as the crow flies, the sole trailhead is only accessible from the sea. Six of us rented ocean kayaks in order to get there. We left just after dawn; the water was as smooth as glass and the surrounding mountains were draped in the early morning mist. I had never been in a kayak before but I picked it up quickly. During that leg of the trip I saw an eagle swoop down and snatch a salmon right out of the ocean as well as a small brown marten scurrying along the coast! After four or so hours of paddling we reached the trailhead. From there it was a five mile trek along the Karta River, winding through mixed old-growth to the cabin we had reserved. Along the way we came across a dozen rough-skinned newts which we made sure to carefully remove from danger and stopped to eat lunch at a stone table completely covered in a thick layer of spongy green moss. The cabin itself was located right on Salmon Lake and had a sandy beach directly out front. It was our own personal paradise, without another soul around for miles. The weather was so agreeable that I was able to sleep under the stars by the fire on the beach both nights we were there. On the second day we hiked all the way to the opposite side of the lake and up a river to a waterfall that Hunter had heard about. I climbed around on the waterfall which was a lot of fun, if a little sketchy at times. There were so many salmon in the river that I caught one with my hands!

The weather wasn’t as nice on the way back, so the sea was much choppier. I was paddling alone for a time kayaking back toward Hollis when the most incredible thing happened. I thought I had seen a fin from far away so I paddled that way to investigate. Shortly after I saw a bunch of bubbles about five to ten meters to my left, and when I looked under the water to see where the bubbles had come from I saw a gigantic dark moving object with a large white spot. It was a KILLER WHALE!!! At first I couldn’t believe my eyes but I turned to paddle beside it for a little while and sure enough that’s what was. I followed it until it dove too far for me to see. I will never forget that moment for as long as I live.

This most recent work week was a particularly long one. Myself and the rest of the South Crew were dispatched to Neet’s Bay 1 again, having been unable to complete the installation a couple months ago due to a poor choice in camping location. This time went much more smoothly, however, as we finished the remaining three treatments in record time. The workweek was not yet over when we had finished though, so upon returning to POW we joined the Biomass crew in collecting data on potential deer forage. After three days spent picking and weighing several species of vascular plants in the rain our next task was to break down the pseudo-permanent camp the Biomass Crew had set up in the nearby town of Coffman Cove. Things here are in somewhat of a transitional phase now. TWYGS has been completed and two members of the South Crew have left to go back to school; the weather is growing colder and rainier to signal the end of summer. Next week we will re-arrange the crews and start work on CSDS, another ongoing Forest Service study. We have one more month left here and people are beginning to make plans as to what they’re going to do once this is over, but I know that there are many more amazing experiences to be had before the end!