FIFTY SHADES OF PINK AND GRAY
We got a lazy start on Monday due to the rain. There is something about the sound of rain on the tent canopy that drains my motivation. Eventually we got going, and after breakfast we drove north. Our plan was an easy hike in Point Bridget State Park. We made a couple of stops along the way to check out the scenery. The rain had stopped, and we got glimpses of snow-covered peaks through the clouds and fog on the far side of the Lynn Canal. We actually drove beyond the park, intent on going as far as the rental car would take us. It turns out that wasn’t very far. Before long we reached a gate blocking the road. There was a sign on the gate warning of explosives (!) in the area. Apparently there had been some mining activity here previously. That piqued my curiosity, but I knew Christy wouldn’t have it.
We doubled-back to the state park, which is a little different from the state parks back home. There is no visitor center, or parking lot, or even a bathroom. Instead, there is a pulloff on the shoulder of the road and a trailhead. That’s it. And you know, that’s exactly how I like it.
The trail was uninspiring at first, but improved considerably once we crossed the boundary into the park. We hiked into primordial rain forest, under massive, mossy spruce. Boardwalks helped us avoid the dark, mysterious swamps on either side of the trail. While the trees were beautiful, the undergrowth was fascinating. Some areas were open, but others featured horrific tangles of alder. Alder reminds me of the rhododendron back home. The real horror though was the devil’s club. These shrubs grow everywhere, and they have thorns on the trunk and on the individual branches. Even the leaves are serrated. Literally every part of that plant can hurt you. I almost wanted to dig one up just to see if the roots had barbs.
We eventually left the dense forest behind as we traversed a vast wet meadow. This exposed us to the rain, which had been falling steadily throughout the hike. The views would be great from here in good weather. There were no views on our visit, so we had to settle for thick patches of fireweed. Those pink flowers were blooming everywhere, and they added vibrant color to an otherwise gray day.
After a couple of miles we reached the Cowee Meadow Cabin. It is possible to rent this cabin, and the price is actually pretty reasonable. There wasn’t anybody home and the door was open, so we decided to have lunch out of the rain. The cabin was cozy, complete with a woodstove, but I definitely heard rats while I was in there. Christy investigated the kitchen cabinets, and found some crackers, ramen noodles, tang, and a bottle of whiskey that wasn’t quite empty. What more do you need?
After lunch we resumed the hike and continued north towards Berners Bay. A short rise brought us to a view of the bay and Lynn Canal beyond. The mountain tops above were lost in the mist, but they were still beautiful. The highlight though was an incredible field of vibrant fireweed. It was the best patch of the hike, and I was compelled to bushwhack through wet, waist high bushes to get some photos.
I rejoined Christy, and she surprised me by suggesting that we follow the coastline towards Point Bridget. The trail stays back in the woods, away from the water. We decided to try her plan since it promised better scenery and the rain had stopped. Unfortunately, the whole coastline was a series of slippery rocks. We were rewarded though when Christy spotted a sea otter just offshore. We wouldn’t have seen that from the trail! We eventually bailed out, but we did pass through a vast pile of blue mussel shells on the way back to the trail. Regaining the trail required a short but steep bushwhack up into the woods. We managed to avoid the worst of the devil’s club, and the alder wasn’t too thick. Still, it was a relief to get back on the trail.
We followed the trail through the woods before descending steeply back down to the shore. From there it was just a short stroll to the Blue Mussel Cabin. This is another rental cabin on Berners Bay, a short distance from the end of the peninsula at Point Bridget. There were people here, and we exchanged pleasantries before resuming the hike. From there, some boulder hopping took us out to the actual point. The boulder hopping was good practice for some of the hikes that we would do later in the trip.
From the point we had a great view out over Berners Bay and the Lynn Canal. We relaxed there for a while, watching the fishing boats. The clouds persisted, but we caught glimpses of the mountains peeking out of the clouds. We’d hoped to see whales or other wildlife, but all was quiet.
After a long break we started back. When we returned to Berners Bay Christy saw a bald eagle. She’d actually spotted two earlier in the same area, but I missed them. This time we followed the eagle to his perch in a dead tree. I took a few photos, and even managed one as he was flying away.
A VERY BAD DECISION
(or, the shortcut that wasn’t)
We returned to the Cowee Meadow Cabin. At that point I made a horrible suggestion that led to some of my poorest decisions of the entire trip. Instead of taking the same trail back, I suggested combining the Cedar Lake and North Bridget Cove Trails. That would add 1.6 miles to the hike, plus it would bring us out on the road a mile from our car. My information also described these trails as “less maintained”. On the other hand, it would give us a greater variety of scenery. It would take us past a small lake and along a remote stretch of coastline. For some reason Christy agreed.
The first mile along Echoing Creek was a steady climb through deep forest. The trail alternated between muddy and steep and rooty and steep. The overall climb was only a couple of hundred feet, but numerous steep ups and downs increased the difficulty substantially. The horrible footing was the worst part though.
Cedar Lake was pleasant, but the wildlife I’d hoped for was absent. From there, a long, occasionally steep descent brought us down to the Camping Cove Cabin on the coast. There was a family here, and they seemed surprised to see us. Clearly not many people hike this trail.
From there we followed the coastline south. This stretch of trail was challenging, too. We climbed up to traverse a cliff, before descending and climbing again. More steep ups and downs followed, but the thick forest limited our views.
We passed some folks hammock camping, and then spotted a nice campsite below the trail close to the water. From there we descended to a small bay and a private cabin. At this point we still had a mile to go and we were out of patience. I thought there might be a road leading from the cabin out to the road, which was only ¼ mile away. There wasn’t (the cabin must be only accessible by boat or trail), but the forest behind the cabin was actually pretty open. I suggested bushwhacking out to the road. For some reason Christy agreed.
We followed a stream for a bit, heading north and then east. This brought us within 1/10th of a mile of the road. Unfortunately we had to climb up and over a minor ridge to get to it. This meant abandoning the open forest close to the stream. The woods leading up the ridge was a horrid tangle of alders and devil’s club. Unfortunately a better route didn’t appear, and we were too stubborn to turn around. We decided to bash our way through.
This was the point when the rain resumed.
The bushwhack was awful. Areas that appeared to be somewhat open were actually full of devil’s club. That was to be avoided at all costs, which meant that we had to fight our way through the worst of the alder thickets. The only saving grace was the abundant blueberry bushes growing among the alders. We were out of food, so those blueberries kept us going. We eventually pulled ourselves up to the top of the ridge. From there, it was straight down the opposite side. The descent was a little better – at least until Christy said that she thought she saw water below us. A few minutes later we discovered that she was right. We were 50 yards from the road, but between us was a deep, dark swamp that wasn’t shown on my map.
Going back was not an option. Neither was swimming. We attempted to bushwhack around it, and eventually found a route through that only required knee-deep wading. At least we didn’t need to worry about alligators or snakes! Once through the swamp, a final brief bushwhack brought us out to the road. A 10 minute walk along the shoulder brought us back to the car.
Our misery wasn’t quite over. We were famished, and decided to stop at a restaurant for dinner. However, we ran into a couple of problems. First, the campground gate closes at 10pm. It was already after 9pm, which meant that we probably didn’t have time for dinner. Neither of us was interested in parking the car outside the gate and walking in the rain a ½ mile to our campsite. Also, most of the restaurants in the Mendenhall Lake area were closed. We actually found a Thai place and decided to get something to go, but they closed just as we arrived. Ultimately we ran to the grocery store and picked up something that we could cook back at the campground.
Back at camp we discovered that a large group of teenagers had moved into the adjacent campsites. Oh boy! We’d gotten a little spoiled having the place mostly to ourselves, but that was going to change.
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