August 2013

By Phyllis Dawson
Part 3

August 23
     I woke up at 6:00 a.m. to a tapping noise which seemed to be coming from the side of the cabin.  Was the bear back?  Was he trying to break in?  No, I realized, it was George - he had accidentally locked himself out, and was tapping on the door.  I came down and let him in, and then climbed back in my sleeping bag to snooze.  Lying there lazily, I could follow George’s movements by the sounds, as he turned on the propane, split wood, and started a fire.  He even made coffee and tea, and brought it upstairs to us in the loft.  What service!
     The weather was nicer this morning, with patches of blue sky among the clouds, and a pale moon hung low in the sky.  The sun was peeking out for the first time since we had come to Twin Lakes.  The thermometer outside the kitchen window still read 42 degrees, but the one on the porch said it was 53.
     For the first time I was able to truly appreciate the view from the outhouse.  When I booked the cabin Gary had said something about the outhouse having Dutch doors and a view to die for, but this was the first time it had been clear enough to see the top of the mountain.  It was very windy though; Jineen and I had hoped to take the canoe out but the water was way too rough.  Even getting water for drinking and cooking was a challenge; we dipped the bucket in the lake from the end of the dock as it heaved and bucked on the waves.

Jineen feeds a jay

     The jays were getting bolder.  We gave them an early breakfast of lemon cookies, which they really liked.  They seemed to be increasing in numbers; at first just a couple had been coming to eat, but now half a dozen or more were taking turns.  They would perch on the big spruce tree not far from the porch, and then swoop down to light on our hand, greedily snatching pieces of cookie from our fingers.  
We made blueberry pancakes for breakfast, using the blueberries we had picked above Emerson Creek the previous day.  They were amazing - just indescribably delicious.  They were the best pancakes I have ever tasted.  The jays saw us eating them through the window, and flocked to the porch railing in eager anticipation.  We did a scientific taste comparison test with the jays, and came to the conclusion that they definitely preferred the blueberry pancakes to plain.  So did we.

The best pancakes ever!

    George wrote the following entry in the cabin guest book, concerning feeding the jays and the recipe for blueberry pancakes:

On Feeding Jays:
On this date we conducted a scientific, double blind experiment and determined that the ‘camp robber’ jays prefer blueberry pancakes to the plain variety.

Directions/recipe for blueberry pancakes:
1. Charter a small plane, fly to Anchorage, and buy Bisquick, milk, eggs, and vegetable oil (approx. time one day to one week depending on weather).
2. Take the boat to the mouth of Emerson's Creek.  Walk up the creek through willows, up on the bench above the creek, follow mostly non-existent trail to blueberry bushes. (approx. time - 2 hrs. each way)  Pick blueberries and return to cabin.
3.  Follow directions on Bisquick box - and add blueberries.  Make blueberry pancakes.
4.  Feed Jays - they will appreciate your effort.     - George Dawson


     The wind was so strong that we were hesitant to take the boat out on the lake, so we decided to make another attempt at hiking up to the falls above the cabin.  Hoping to find the right trail which we had missed on the first evening, we reviewed Gary’s directions: Follow the game trail that begins directly behind the lower outhouse and follow this trail until the waterfall drainage is reached.  Then follow the drainage staying on the west side until the waterfalls are reached.    
Easy, right?  Well, easier said than done.  We couldn’t find the right game trail, and we couldn’t find any useable drainage to follow.  In fact, the only thing in the directions we did find was the outhouse!  From there, we set out on what we hoped might be the correct game trail, but it wound around in circles and brought us back out above the Windsong cabin, several hundred feet from where we had started.  At that point, we just struck out uphill in the general direction of where we thought the waterfall might be, trail or no trail.
     At first, we padded through a forest of spruce with deep mossy footing underneath, clambering over downed trees and dodging hidden pools.  Climbing steadily, we came to a belt of aspens with thick underbrush, and fought our way up through them.  After a while we came out to an area that from a distance had appeared to be above the treeline, but we found ourselves in a dense thicket of willow shrubs higher than our heads, choked with bushes and undergrowth.  As we climbed, our route became steeper and more difficult.  Slippery, too.  We crashed our way uphill through the riot of shrubbery, climbing hand over hand, grasping willow branches for traction. 
     Debating about whether to continue, we said we’d go as far as the lone spruce tree several hundred yards up and then decide.  Upon reaching it, we rested a bit and then set our sights on another spruce, still further up the slope.  And then yet another.  In this piecemeal fashion we continued working our way up the mountainside.  Had we thought yesterday’s hike tough?  This was much harder.  George thought we were trying to kill him.
     We came to a gully, and hoping it was the drainage Gary’s directions had mentioned, we followed it upward through dense brush.  But the slope was so sheer that finding a foothold was treacherous; surely this was not the way Gary had meant us to come.  Eventually the undergrowth thinned, which was a mixed blessing because now there were no willow branches for handholds.  
Finally, on legs of rubber, we came out into the open country above the brush line and made our way up to a rocky shelf.  We decided that this viewpoint was a worthy destination, and the heck with finding the waterfall – we had gone far enough.  Jineen ascended the outcropping easily and George scrambled up after her with little difficulty, but I clutched at the rock face apprehensively, clinging to the side of the mountain and looking down at the sheer drop-off below.  When I eventually regained my composure enough to take off my pack and sit down, I was rewarded with a beautiful view of the lake far below us.

Upper Twin Lake - the view from the mountainside.

     Though the wind was strong, the sun was shining and the temperature was mild.  It was the best weather we’d had yet, and we sat on the mountainside basking in the sunshine and enjoying the view.  A little Cessna floatplane landed on the lake near Dick Proenneke’s cabin, presumably bringing supplies to the ranger, and then took off again a bit later.   
Getting back down was much less strenuous, but somewhat treacherous.  We went slipping and sliding down through the thick brush, with no more of a trail than we had on the way up.  We came to a deep gully and slid down it like a luge run.  We weren’t exactly sure of the way back to the cabin, other than to just keep heading downhill.  
We spotted a large bird in a tree; George thought it was a blue grouse, which are not known for their intelligence.  He told us he had encountered a blue grouse once on a hunting trip, and his hunting partner had bet that he could knock it out of the tree with a rock.  On the first throw the rock had missed by half an inch, and the grouse never moved.  The second throw had hit the bird in the head and killed it, and they ate it for dinner.  Testing the theory, George threw a stick at this bird, which whizzed close over its head, barely missing it - and the bird never moved a feather.  Yes, definitely a blue grouse.
     Eventually we made it down to the lake, and turning left, followed the shoreline back to the cabin.  We were half hoping Barney the bear would be there to greet us, but there was no sign of him.
     Later, looking up from the boat in the lake, we could see a big cleft high on the mountain with a thin white stream of water; the falls we had never found, surely a much bigger torrent during snowmelt.  We could also see the rocky shelf where we had sat, high above the treeline.  We had actually been above the falls, but too far to the left.  There must be an easier way up to those falls, but we never found it.

     Peanut butter and honey sandwiches for lunch, and then we were ready to go fishing.  It was still really windy.  Both Gary and the air taxi pilot had warned us not to take the boat across the lake if the waves were rough, so we planned to stay close to the shore where we hoped it would be more sheltered. 
     The water was choppy, but it seemed safe enough.  We followed the shoreline, trolling for lake trout, but with no success – surely the water was too rough.  We stopped at a sheltered cove where two streams flowed into the lake and cast from the shore.  Nothing.  We had read a website blog where the Sparrow Brothers described catching 50 fish a day while staying at Windsong the previous summer, but we were having no such luck.  A fish jumped out of the water just a few feet in front of me, but even though the water was quieter here, nothing was biting.  Other than the one small fish Jineen caught two days earlier, we had not had so much as a nibble.  Good thing we brought plenty of groceries with us!  George was getting frustrated - he is not the most patient of fisherman (Jineen is).  But I was enjoying myself; it was a beautiful spot, and I was more interested in photography than fishing.  I got some good panoramic shots of the mountains and of George and Jineen fishing.


     We headed up to the top end of the lake where two rivers flow in.  George thought it would be a good place to fish for grayling, and I just wanted to explore the lake.  The wind was picking up and clouds were moving in, and the lake was getting rougher.  We trolled intermittently as we went, enjoying the spectacular scenery.  Patches of sunlight illuminated the dramatic peaks, and dozens of high waterfalls cascaded down steep slopes.  We could catch glimpses of snow amid the mist-shrouded heights, and glaciers were creeping down the mountainsides.  A tall snow-covered mountain dominated the view up the valley at the top of the lake.
      Fishing for grayling was out of the question by the time we made it to the head of the lake.  The waves suddenly became so big that the boat started to buck and heave violently, and we decided it wasn’t safe to be out there.  We turned around and headed for home.  We hugged the shoreline; we had been advised to stay within 50 yards of shore if it was windy, because if you capsize the water is so cold you would succumb to hypothermia within minutes, so you couldn’t swim far.  
The boat was hitting the waves head-on, plunging and bucking over the swales.  This was definitely the kind of conditions that we had been told not to take the boat out in.  Jineen, as uncomfortable on rough water as I am with heights, was clutching the sides of the boat and looking pale - but I found it exhilarating.  

Rough waters on the lake.

          Ahead of us, we could see a storm moving in.  Clouds lowered over the mountaintops, and silver rain came slanting down.  Stray sunbeams escaped through holes in the clouds, to form God’s rays reaching from the sky down to the lake.  The wind blew even stronger, and the boat was slamming over huge swells; my spine would never be the same.  It seemed much longer on the way home.  Of course we shouldn’t have been surprised; Upper Twin Lake is big - 7 miles long and 3/4 of a mile wide - so we had to have covered about five miles each way.  But still, I didn’t remember coming this far.  
We finally got back to our little cove at Windsong, where we wrestled the boat up on to the skids and winched it out of the water.  Our feet and hands were frozen, and it was a relief to stand on solid ground.  George made white bean soup for dinner; he’d had the beans cooking all day on the wood stove, like Dick Proenneke described in his book.  The soup was fabulous - we were eating like kings. 

I hope the wet socks didn't drip into George's bean soup.

     The birds were getting greedy.  I was feeding them on the porch when one bold jay lit on my hand and quickly gobbled all the crumbs offered, and looked around for more.  I held out a pancake to him, expecting him to peck a bite out of it - but instead he snatched the whole pancake out of my hand and flew away with it!  Camp Robber is an apt name for these audacious little birds.

~ Continued on next page ~

ALASKA 2013 Pages:   Next              3                 

Back to Phyllis's Travels Page