A memorable hiking experience

Posted: Wednesday, August 01, 2001

I have noticed several letters to the editor regarding hiking across Baranof Island from Sitka to Baranof Warm Springs. I would like to share my experience with those who may be considering the hike.

I made the trip in 1979 with two friends. It was beautiful and a bit harrowing. We encountered dense fog, clouds of mosquitoes and several areas that required some technical climbing equipment. We had no crampons, ice axes or rope. There are a few rock pile markers on the way up the mountain which can help keep hikers on course. Mount Bassie seems to go on forever with several false peaks. I believe it may be one of the highest points on the island. On the second night, we camped on a ridge just below the peak and like some sort of miracle, the weather cleared and it seemed like you could see for a hundred miles in every direction. Mountain goats actually woke us up walking on the rocks behind our tent. The next day we started down the other side of the mountain and dropped on to a large ice field. I was in the lead and had only walked several steps when I slipped and started sliding very quickly toward the edge of the mountain and a vertical drop of more than a thousand feet. My friends could only stand and watch. Only a small crevasse about 30 feet wide saved me from certain death.

I used the barrel of my rifle as an ice ax and pulled myself out of the crevasse and back up to the top of the ice field. After that experience, we very carefully picked our way across the top of the ice field and then found ourselves facing an almost vertical rock wall about a hundred feet down. To make matters worse, there were huge ice blocks hanging over the rock with heavy streams of water running down the rock face. It took us a half a day to figure out a way down without ropes. We took a big chance doing this. When we finally got off the ice field, we thought we were home free. From the back side of Mount Bassie, we could see the rushing river that wound down the mountain at a fairly steep angle all the way to Baranof Lake. When we dropped down into the trees, we realized that the berry bushes, alders and devils club were so thick, that it was going to take several days to get to the lake. It was at the point that we were crawling on our knees trying to make our way through the vegetation that we decided to jump in the very cold, swift river and let it push us off the mountain. It was uncomfortable, but far better than fighting the dense brush. After getting in the river, we made it to the Forest Service cabin in about four hours. It took us five days to cross the island and I cannot tell you how good the Warm Springs bath felt. It was a memorable experience.

Phil Snyder

Juneau



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