"So what made you think of trying to climb Robert Barron?" Scott Foster asked as we paddled our kayaks across the gentle waters of Stephens Passage. It was a warm, muggy July morning and the 3,475-foot Mount Robert Barron was hidden under a low gray cloud.
"I wasn't quite sure," came my reply, but the climb was something I had been thinking about for a few years. It was something different to try - a peak off the road system on the north end of Admiralty Island, but easily accessed by kayak or boat. It also looked like it could be a challenge, so I offered to lead the climb and added it to the Juneau Alpine Club calendar.
So there we were: Foster, Tim Arness, Dave Duntley, Rob Tasso, Nick Meyer and myself in our single kayaks while Tim and his daughter Nicole Adair, and Rick Beaudette and Keith Oney paddled doubles. We departed a buggy False Outer Point on North Douglas and slowly worked our way across the four-mile crossing toward Bear Creek. As we approached our destination, a pair of humpback whales greeted us by leaping out of the water several times. As if tired, they rolled on their sides and continually slapped the water with their flukes to announce our arrival. Erik Lundquist arrived a bit earlier in his skiff and as he waited two bears strolled along the gravely beach.
The familiar sound of kayaks scraping the beach was all that was heard as we touched the unfamiliar shoreline - only Eric had been hiking in this area before. Time to transition from kayaking to hiking - Xtratufs were replaced with hiking boots and backpacks took the place of kayak paddles. And food had to be removed from the kayaks to prevent bears from destroying our transportation home. With the spare food safely tied in a tree and kayaks placed well above the high tide mark, we were off.
The maps showed a trail along the creek and sure enough we followed a well-worn path two miles before we crossed and started the bushwhack up the northeast drainage of Robert Barron. We took compass bearings and were able to get a fix on the GPS units Tim and I brought along.
The map showed a trail up the drainage but all we were able to locate were game paths. I was in the lead and tried to stay on a compass course toward the summit. In less than 10 minutes of hiking we came up to a creek that looked familiar. I didn't think it was Bear Creek, but it sure looked like it.
I didn't like the look of the thick brush on the other side so I decided not to make the crossing yet. We continued on the compass course and as the terrain started to get steeper, the brush, with the exception of a few breaks in muskeg meadows, was getting thicker. My overwhelming desire to climb out of the brush got the best of me and I thought if I could get high enough we could loop around to the summit from the ridge rather than staying in the thick brush of the drainage.
As the afternoon progressed so did the humidity. We all were sweating and the bugs that were following us were happily getting meals from the cuts and scratches of exposed skin that came in contact with the blueberry bushes, alder and devil's club. We managed to scramble up a hillside and stopped for lunch in a bit of a clearing. It was enough to allow a light breeze through the trees providing us with some relief from the bugs and barely enough to cool our sweat-soaked bodies. Tim and I were even able to get a fix with the GPS. (Although the GPS is a great piece of equipment for helping locate your position, it can be useless in a heavy canopy of trees.)
I knew without even looking at the map or fixing our position that we should have crossed the second creek when we were down low. The ridge we were climbing was not going to take us to the summit without having to descend back into the drainage. The GPS showed we were 2.2 miles from the summit and only 800 feet in elevation. It was now almost 2 p.m. and the summit was still in the clouds. We just didn't have the time or the energy to continue to the planned destination so we followed some flagging apparently left by hunters to the top of the 1,520-foot ridge, where there were some lakes and we could satisfy our curiosity about where the flagging was leading to.
Our energy restored and bodies cooled, we started climbing again only now the brush wasn't as thick and it didn't take too long to come upon another clearing that offered a 360-degree view. The flagging continued on but we were all ready to just stop and explore our little alpine meadow. Some napped, others explored the miniature flowers now in full bloom, and a few took off in different directions looking for viewpoints to take pictures.
We picked a course and started down a small creek we soon lost in the thick brush. It's always easier going down a brushy slope - aided by gravity the tangle of alder seems to let the body flow through it. Within an hour we were back to Bear Creek. We crossed over to find the trail and started the easy walk to the beach. The kayaks were undisturbed by furry creatures and we slowly began the transition from hikers to kayakers.
As we made our way toward Douglas Island, Scott glanced back and noticed that the summit of Robert Barron was now clear of clouds. While I pondered the strategy for next year's attempt, Scott quickly paddled in front of the group to frame the last picture of kayakers in the foreground and Mount Robert Barron as the backdrop.
Larry Musarra is a member of the Juneau Alpine Club. The group's events calendar can be found at groups.yahoo.com/group/juneaualpineclub/.