Weekend at the Camping Cove cabin includes chocolate treats

Possible coyote tracks spotted on beach, a surprise sighting in area

Posted: Friday, December 04, 2009

It's down through a pretty grove of tall red alders that the North Bridget access trail (about 2.5 miles long) opens on to a curving beach. On a recent visit, deep windrows of rockweed on the upper end of the shoreline were evidence of high winds. There was almost a foot of snow in open areas, but just a few inches on the ground under the trees. This made trail-breaking easy.

The tide was out on this snowy morning, so we rounded the beach easily on damp sands and gravels. An otter had left its slide marks in the snow from the forest edge down to the high tide line. On the far side of the beach, the trail headed over a low ridge. There the tracks of squirrels were numerous. Additionally, a mouse or vole had dashed from bush to bush, leaving footprints and tail-drag marks, and a shrew had burrowed into a tiny hole near a stump.

We picked up a trail of some kind of canid - much too small for a wolf. There was no indication of human activity (other than our own) in the area, so a domestic dog was an unlikely traveler. We speculated that a coyote had passed through recently, and it did so again the next day too, as fresh tracks were clear in the newly fallen snow. Coyotes are not common in Juneau, but they are seen occasionally.

Once over the ridge, the trail descended to the next beach, passed three private cabins and re-entered the forest. Between there and the Camping Cove cabin, the trail crawled over numerous ridges and gullies. The ups and downs were rather steep, especially where the trail used tree roots as steps. It's here that long-legged hikers do better than short-legged ones because some of the steps have a high rise. If snowshoes had been usable on the first part of the trail, here they would be only an encumbrance. The last third (or so) of the route wriggled, seemingly endlessly, down into the gullies and up over the small ridges, until, at last, the cabin is in sight.

We ate a late lunch. Everyone had brought chocolate treats. There was even more chocolate than we chocolate-hounds could handle. It's a rare thing for the group to tote chocolate back home after an expedition, but it happened this time!

The sheltered cove faces out toward the north end of Mab Island. The low winter sun, filtered by a few sketchy clouds, sent a gleam of pale gold and silver over the smooth water. Two harlequin ducks dove repeatedly not far offshore and a male Barrow's goldeneye cruised through. A kingfisher flashed past overhead.

The cabin is fairly new and was quite clean. The heater worked very well, once we figured out which way to turn the unmarked valve that regulates fuel flow (the marks have been obliterated). Before too long, the inside temperature was reasonable. We'd brought a gallon of fuel, so the fire burned on low all night.

This group of hiking friends choose to prepare meals individually. Hence, we often suit ourselves on dinner timing and taste, although it's not unusual for treats to be passed around. This time one person made fresh corn bread to share, and it went down well, especially when decorated with butter and homemade raspberry jelly (courtesy of another member of the group). And to boot, there were fresh blueberry muffins for breakfast.

A word of caution however, if you use the new Forest Service map as a guide there appears to be several possible errors. The small parking lot at the trailhead for the North Bridget access point seems closer to highway mile marker 37 than indicated on the map. Additionally, the stream near the three private cabins is north of the row of cabins, not between two of them. And a brown-water creek north of the Camping Cove cabin flows into the cove itself, very close to the cabin. The map does not show the mouth of the creek there, but instead, shows such a creek on the other side of a ridge just beyond the cove (we did not check to see if there was one there also). Also, the state park sign at the trailhead has been destroyed. These possible errors aren't enough to get you lost, but it would be worthwhile to be aware of them.

• Mary F. Willson is a retired professor of ecology.

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