Kayaking, hiking Berners Bay in November

Posted: Sunday, December 22, 2002

Unusually warm weather for late fall prompted me to extend the kayak season and an overnight camping trip to a quiet beach cabin seemed like an ideal way to spend a weekend.

Berners Bay, a likely choice for this time of year, and the availability of the cabin at the end of the bay, launched the Juneau Alpine Club kayak camping trip. Carol Race, Tim Arness, Ric Iannolino, and I started out from Echo Cove early on this overcast early November Saturday morning. Greg Bledsoe and Don Larsen left Friday.

We started paddling north as the tide was just about to finish filling up Echo Cove and set an easy cadence to enjoy the coastal scenery. By 3 p.m. we paddled up to the small sandy pocket beach in front of the cabin.

Greg and Don were nowhere around and a note found in the cabin stated that they were off on a hike. Thinking they walked to the head of the bay we set out on the rough little trail to meet them as they returned.

In a short distance with the afternoon light fading away, we unexpectedly stumbled into Middle Earth. As we approached the waterfall, a large, grassy clearing appeared. Surrounded by tall spruce and hemlock trees shrouded in thick green moss, steep rising terrain on one side falling down to the gentle waters of Berners Bay on the other, and in the middle of this scene, a mystical waterfall sprayed a fine mist.

Energized from this spiritual place in the forest, we started walking back to the cabin in the dusk. Greg and Don arrived shortly after us. They managed to venture into the high country and climb above the fog. Their bushwhacking through the devils club and up the steep terrain rewarded them with magnificent views.

The morning offered cloudy skies and no wind. After a quick breakfast, Greg, Don, and I loaded our boats and headed up the bay. Tim, Carol and Rick decided to take breakfast a little slower and caught up to us later. We spotted a nice beach and thought it would be a safe place to leave the boats, that is, until we saw the rather large brown bear. We needed to look for another place to land.

A safe location was found on the other side of the stream and with our boats well above the high tide mark and food high in a tree we enjoyed a casual hike in the tall grass along the edge of the forest.

We reached the Antler River and our easy walking came to an end. Blocked from adventuring any further by the swift-moving, glacier-fed river and a day's paddle ahead of us, it was time to start back. Only this time we ventured off into the forest. We punched through the thick first layer of trees and started walking along fairly easy game trails. It wasn't long before I spotted the mother of all bear trails.

I heard about bear trails where the bears will place their feet in the same spot and after decades of this hiking, the footprint is embedded deep in the ground. Well, there was one of those trails right in front of us. "Crikey," I yelped, "will you look at that, mate." And getting down on all fours, imitating the bear walking along the trail while spouting off how the bear made these tracks in my best impression

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