This past week has been a blast, and a bit of a let down at, but everyday has been a new adventure with the extra hands of all the SCA crew kids. We all grouped up at the beginning of the week to discuss our upcoming spike out at Child’s Glacier which is when I got the news that I wouldn’t be going with the rest of the crew, instead I stayed back here in Cordova along with Kelly and our leader Rob. Together the three of us were going to take on some of the brushing work that needed done on the Alice Smith Trail. At first I was pretty bummed over the news, but I understood that with so many people now between our crew and the extra SCA folks that it was turning into a bit of logistical struggle trying to coordinate the trip and there wasn’t a whole lot of work that needed done out at Child’s to begin with.
So we spent the rest of the day gathering gear and equipment and loading up trailers with ATV’s, chainsaws, brushers, and all the rest of the work and camp gear that the crew would need out at Child’s. When we wrapped up loading up trucks we did some maintenance tasks around the compound to kill the few remaining hours in the day like sharpening chainsaw chains, and brusher blades, and cleaning up our storage facilities. The next day, as everyone was getting ready to jump in the trucks to head out to 36 mile and then transport everything across the Copper River, Bobby and Schmalzer were called into a meeting at the office, so the rest of us kept ourselves busy until they returned. Unfortunately they brought some bad news with them, there was a nuisance bear that had been seen on several occasions out at Child’s, approaching people and trying to take their food. On one occasion it had even attempted to climb in the back of a pickup to get to some campers food. So the Forest Service decided to send out the Law Enforcement Ranger Andy along with a State Trooper and a few other Forest Service members to haze the bear. Well they looked and looked for a whole day and couldn’t find the bear, so the next day they gave us the go ahead to continue with our plan.
In the meantime, we had gone back out to the Eyak River trail and put some finishing touches on our new split log bridge over a super swampy section of muskeg. We also spent some time dragging more split logs out of the woods where they were cut and down to areas where they will be used here in a few weeks.
The next day, Rob, Kelly and I got the crew off across the Copper and on their way to Child’s and then ran back in to town to help run an Kids Fishing Day which is an event that is organized by the fish crew. The event was held at Hartney Bay and had Salmon shaped cookies for the kids, and different interactive stations where they could test their knowledge of salmon facts, learn to tie fishing knots, paint fish prints onto tote bags, tie fishing lures, and even fish in the river! I got to help out with the painting station and it was really cool to see all the kids get excited about fishing and see how happy they were to be out at the event.
After our fun in the sun at kids fishing day was over, it was back to trail work the next day. Rob, Kelly and I grabbed two brushers and headed out to the Alice Smith inner-tie trail that connects Crater lake trail to Power Creek trail following a the ridge between them. On our drive to the trail we stopped to check out a stream that was full of sockeye red salmon as they were nearing their spawning ground. It was crazy to see so many big and brightly colored salmon in the shallow stream right along the banks.
We also got to see a bald eagle that was preying on some on some of the salmon in the stream.
The hike in the trail starts out nice and easy for the first 3/4 of a mile the trail follows a stream in a beautiful valley before turning to jump up a fairly steep incline and begin the climb to the ridge top. We didn’t have any brushing work to do until we got up onto the ridge so we had a good climb ahead of us with the brushers and our packs.
We worked on this section of the trail for two days while the rest of the crew was up at Child’s, and with only two semi-functioning brushers (all of the brushers that ran well went to Child’s with the rest of the crew) we were able to make it only a short distance. Luckily, on the third day we found ourselves headed out the road to 36 mile to meet up with the crew and bring them back to town.
Due to a slight communication error with captain Jack who runs the airboat we had about 45 minutes to take a nice relaxing nap in the truck while we waited for the crew to cross the Copper. When they finally made it across we got to work unloading all of the gear and loading it right into the back of the trucks so that the boat could run back across the river and get the last of the gear and people. The second trip brought the atv’s across which brought with them an interesting adventure. Somehow a young marmot had managed to climb up into the front end of the Polaris Ranger side by side. We weren’t quite sure what to do exactly because this has never really happened before, and we didn’t want to move the side by side for fear of the little guy getting tangled in any of the moving parts. So we grabbed sticks and anything else we could manipulate through the parts of the Ranger to use to try to prod the marmot out of his perch, and needless to say, he didn’t like that. We were trying to get him to drop into a bucket, but the more we tried to pry him out, the louder he shrieked and the more stuck he made himself. So we decided to drive the Ranger off the boat and drive it about a hundred yards away while we packed up the trucks, in hopes that he would be able to relax a little bit being away from us and drop out of the Ranger and run. He didn’t. So Schmalzer and I grabbed two sticks and again, went back to the poking and prodding method. Only this time, without a bunch of people around, we got the guy to drop right out and he bolted for the nearest cover he could find in a bunch of alder trees. I felt bad for the little guy, he had been separated from his family a little prematurely, but I’m confident he was able to carry on on his own.
To finish out the work week, now that we had our full crew back together, we headed out the road to Sand trail. It’s a nice atv trail that follows a river all the way up to a nice glacier viewing area after about eleven miles. Luckily we were only working on the first section of the trail, we loaded most of our tools into two atv trailers and they went on down the trail ahead of us while the rest of us walked out the trail about a mile or so to where we were working.
We split up into two groups to be able to cover more ground, I was with the smaller group with only three other crew members as well as Schmalzer while everyone else went on down the trail to do some brushing where the trail had started to close in with shrubs and saplings. The crew I was with went to work moving loads of rock to fill in sections of the trail that had gotten fairly muddy and rutted out. In years past the Forest Service had large bulk bags flown in by helicopter and dropped off along the sides of the trail where they had intended to spread them, but never got around to it. So we had two people shoveling the rock into an atv trailer, one person driving the atv down the trail from where the rock was being shoveled to where we were spreading it, and then two more people dumping the trailer and spreading the rock to fill in the ruts. It was an efficient system and we moved through loads of rock pretty quickly, but there also seemed to be a good bit of standing around waiting for the atv to come back to your station. Which I was totally fine with because it was pretty hot that day, it got up to almost 80° which I know isn’t very warm, but when you’re used to 50°-60° weather, a sudden day in the 80’s can be rough.
However, the next day Schmalzer decided that we had too many people standing around and that a few of those people could be more useful with the brushing crew so he and I worked together for the day to finish up moving the piles of rock before tying in with the brushing crew later in the afternoon where we made some good progress for only working on the trail for two days. Then it was the weekend!!!!
Salmon Jam was coming up that weekend and we were all super excited. Every summer a bunch of people from the town help to organize a big festival where everyone can hangout for the weekend, enjoy good food, some awesome craft vendors, live music from local talent as well as visiting bands, and celebrate the salmon that are so vital to this town’s existence. In addition to the festival, they have salmon runs on Saturday which feature a 1 mile fun run, a 5k, 10k, half marathon, and full marathon, as well as small fry children’s events which the Forest Service helps to facilitate. So on Friday morning a bunch of us folks from the Forest Service helped to set up the large tents for the live music and some of the private vendors, and in return we were given “salmon bucks” which we could put towards our entrance fee to help cut the cost of getting in for the weekend.
Friday night was the opening night of the festival and I volunteered to help sell beer tokens, which were $5 a piece and once someone had their token they could then exchange it for a drink in the beer garden. After my shift was over I got to enjoy some free salmon burgers from the local cannery, and the live music provided by a few local acts. Overall it was a pretty solid opening night.
On Saturday morning, for some reason, I decided that it’d be a good idea for me to run the 5k, so I made my way to the starting line with a few other forest service folks to see if I could run 3.1 miles. I knew that Luke was in pretty decent shape so my goal for the day was to try to keep up with Luke, I didn’t make that goal. But I did manage to cross the finish line in right around 24 minutes, I was never given an official time, and I forgot to stop the timer on my phone when I crossed the line so my best guess is that I finished in around 24 minutes, probably a little under 24 if anything, which I was super satisfied with! After a quick free massage and some fruit I was on my way back to the bunkhouse to get cleaned up and head up to help run some of the small fry events for the kids.
We had a casting station where kids could try to cast their line and hit targets to win candy. There was a station for the kids to paint a paper cutout of a salmon to add to a large colorful banner. At another station macro invertebrate samples were available for kids to look at under microscopes and identify, as well as learn some cool facts. And the most popular attraction was Ruby the Red Salmon who was really Matt or Luke (depending on who was in the costume at the time) walking around saying hi to the kids and taking pictures with them. My job was to walk around with Ruby and be sure that she could see where she was going because that costume did not provide hardly any visibility to the person in the suit. It was another fun day meeting kids and watching them either get super excited to meet Ruby, or bury their face in the parents leg out of fear and refuse to look at her. After we were done with small fry, we ran back to the bunkhouse to stuff our faces and take a quick nap, we were all pretty wiped out after staying up late the night before and then getting up early to go run.
So we ate and slept, and later that afternoon we made our way back up the hill for round two of Salmon Jam! There was more good food and more music, with new acts coming across the stage before the headliner of the night got on stage and played a great concert until almost 2 am. It was a night full of good food, good people, laughter, dancing, and celebration. I met some really cool people from town, some that were just passing through, and some that had made the trip to Cordova just for the festival. It was definitely an experience I’ll never forget and I’m super glad that I was able to take part in the festivities with everyone there.
It was a great way to spend the weekend, and on Sunday we all took a much needed lazy day. After working hard all week and then partying hard at Salmon Jam we were all a little worn out and needed a recovery day before heading off to work on Monday. We said goodbye to the SCA crew who had been with us for the last three weeks. I was sad to see them go, when they first got here I wasn’t too keen on them to be completely honest, but I got to know a few of them pretty well and it seemed like I had just started to get to know a few others. But they were moving on the Seward, another awesome town up the coast from here to do some work up there, so we parted ways.
That afternoon I walked over to Nirvana park on the edge of lake Eyak, slung up my hammock among the spruce trees, and enjoyed the book I had been reading “Last Man on the Mountain”, a story of the second American climbing team to attempt to be the first to summit K2, the world’s second tallest peak.
And that is how I spent my nice Sunday afternoon. Tune in next time to hear tales of brushing Alice Smith, Saddlebag glacier trail, climbing Sheridan Mountain trail to see the view out over Sheridan glacier, and climbing Heney Ridge Trail, meeting a bear, exploring an ice cave, and getting a little turned around in the fog!