In the past I’d only ever been to Sawmill Creek, north of Juneau, by kayak in the summer. I thought it was inaccessible by land travel. But last summer, my friend Ian and I decided to try and go find Sawmill Creek Waterfall by foot. We got back successfully, but exhausted and starving from our many wrong turns and lack of snacks. We only had three Clif bars between us.
It’s winter now and it finally snowed on Monday, so it was time to try again. I started the day off running late as usual, and picked up my Breeze In breakfast burrito. My friend Katie and I headed out the road. Just past the rock quarry where the road ends, there is an archway of trees I’ve liked for some time now. To avoid getting lost we followed the beach towards Berners Bay Cabin. Blindly stepping on rocks covered in snow was excellent. Slipping and catching yourself on every other step was even more excellent. The air was still except for the occasional cold breeze that sifted snow off the trees like powdered sugar. After about two miles of that we cut through the woods straight for Sawmill. To my surprise, none of the creek was actually frozen. We found a slow-moving, shallow area to walk across.
Pictured in the online version of this pieces is part of flatland surrounding Sawmill Creek outlet. A majority of it is covered in frozen Indian rhubarb stalks. In the summer this area is really dense. It is much easier to walk through while everything is frozen.
We devoured the second half of the morning’s burrito, gummy snacks and donut holes as we stood soaking in the sunshine just outside the beginning of the little waterfall trail. Starting down the tiny path, I got too excited and wiped out on the solid sheet of clear ice that I thought was snow-covered dirt. I thought I was supposed to feel extra tough in these boots?
At the end of the path there are a couple of conveniently fallen trees bridging the two sides of the creek. In the photo you can see our footsteps in the snow. To get a better view you have to cross the horizontal logs and climb up the other side. Because the whole thing is made of that hidden slippery ice dirt, you have to pull yourself onto some roots. Earlier this year I accidentally froze my fingers a little bit. So now I like to convince myself that they are invincible.
It was a great day to be out. It’s amazing the difference in temperature the sun creates. Walking in and out of the shade was like turning the heater in your car on and off. We tried to get back before class but ended up missing the entire day. I think it was worth it.
• California-born and Alaska-bred, Gabe Donohoe has taken photos daily for the past five years. He is currently a student of the University of Alaska Southeast’s Outdoor Studies program. His photo archives can be seen on www.gabedonohoe.com.