Wednesday, July 24, 2013

A Week on Admiralty Island

For the last several summers, I've participated in Wilderness Volunteers trips all over the country. WV is a non-profit organization that provides service trips that are partnered with the Forest Service, Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Fish & Game, or other federal, state or local agencies. Primarily the projects involve trail work, invasive species removal (plants) or habitat restoration. There are roughly 50 week-long projects offered every year across the county, and I've personally participated in 9 different trips in New Hampshire, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico and Alaska. I was trained as a trip leader in 2011, and I've been leading trips for the last two summers.

These trips are incredibly rewarding! Not only do I get to spend a week camping in wonderful areas of the country, I get to meet interesting people and learn all about them, where they're from and the area we're working in. I'd be happy to provide more information if you're interested in learning more or participating. The trips are also quite cheap- there's a ~$300 registration fee, but that gets you the project, tools and food for the entire week. Participants must arrange their own travel and provide their own personal camping gear and clothing.

Last week we were on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska pulling an invasive weed: hemp nettle. We were partnered with the Tongass National Forest which is the 2nd largest national forest in the United States. Most of Admiralty Island is federally designated wilderness: Kootznoowoo Wilderness. Kootznoowoo is Tlingit (a native language of SE Alaska) for "Fortress of the Bear" as Admiralty Island has one of the densest populations of grizzly bears in the world.

There were 10 Wilderness Volunteers and 2 Forest Service staff camped on Gambier Bay in Southeast Admiralty Island for the week. We had an incredible time! There wasn't a single drop of rain the entire week (even in the summer that's pretty unheard of), and the bugs were virtually non-existant. The no-see-ums made a brief appearance on one humid, overcast day, but we barely needed the organic low-grade bug repellant!

I was the cook for all meals for the group of 12. It's a large, stressful task to plan, shop, buy, and cook for 12 people in the backcountry where there's no electricity and no running water... and no grocery store to run to if you forgot something. Thankfully, I pulled it off again (I did it three time last year) and no one starved to death. There were a couple of bit hit meals, but I was particularly happy with the fresh-picked Alaska blueberry pancakes on the last day. We also had a "Thanksgiving Dinner" one night: mashed potatoes, corn, stuffing, cranberry sauce and turkey sausages.

We spent four full days pulling invasive hemp nettle from the beach. On our one free day, we motored over to some nearby islands to check out a sea lion rookery.  We also went whale watching and "bear sign hunting". During the week we spotted humpback whales, orcas, porpoises, bald eagles, sea lions, seals, Sitka black-tailed deer, salmon, various sea gulls, crows and other birdlife... but ZERO bears. That was the most disappointing aspect of the trip. There were many many grizzlies around- we saw lots of scat, tracks, beds, etc, but wild bears have absolutely no interest in messing with humans. Especially in the summer when food is abundant, they simply are more afraid of humans than we are of them.

Enjoy the following photos... they should give you a nice visual of what our week was like.

A Princess Cruise Ship and a Humpback Whale

Orcas


On our way out of Juneau




Hard at work

Glitter nail polish / hemp nettle / xtratufs

A day's haul

Captain Ranger Harry

Our cook shelter

Pre-trip prep at the Forest Service Warehouse


Admiralty Naptime / Grizzly Bear Snacktime

Playing Botanists

I'm the Indiana Jones of Admiralty Island!

Grizzly Track

Hanging around the campfire

My backcountry pantry (I was the cook for the group of 12!)


We even went swimming this day... in Alaska sea waters!





Checking out a bear rub tree


Backcountry Breakfast Tacos



Naptime

Hemp Nettle



More Hemp Nettle- almost too pretty to pull

My sweet ride

Fresh blueberries and salmonberries

Sea Urchin Eyes

The Whole Gang


Negative Tide

Blueberry Pancakes


Monday, July 1, 2013

Humpback Whale Bubble Feeding

We found this pod of 7-8 humpback whales bubble feeding on the far side of Admiralty Island the other day. They blow a "net" of bubbles around a school of herring to trap it and then they come up from underneath it to feed. Very cool! ....also very hard photo hunting...