Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Beyond the Savonoski River...

...lay our next adventure! This trip was spawned by Jeff and his need for exploration. Perhaps it was boredom? Maybe just a need for adventure? Whatever the reason, Jeff came to me last week with a question: "Hey Luke, have you ever thought about running up the Savonoski river?" Actually, I had never given it much thought. All that I knew about the river was that it was really far away, and it was a part of the Savonoski Loop kayak route. I was going to be shipping the boat home in a few days and really wanted a good trip to end the "summer" for us. I knew quite a few people locally who had floated down the river in route to completing the expected eight to ten day float trip, but I had never heard of anyone running up it in a jet. This plan was starting to intrigue me. We immediately hit the internet to drum up some kind of information on this river. It was actually surprisingly hard to come up with anything tangible! A few accounts of canoe trips and some out dated National Park literature, and that was it. We pulled out the GPS' and the TOPO software and started to make a plan. This was going to be a one night trip, and we would need a lot of fuel. One thing was sure- Jeff, Dan, and myself were going to have fun! We hope you enjoy the ensuing photos and thanks for reading.
All good trips must start somewhere. For us- it was in camp. Luke and Dan go through the final checks of the boat and gear. Our trip would go as follows: Launch at Lake Camp and head for Brooks Lodge. Once we neared Brooks we would aim straight for the cut in the lake and break out in the Iliuk Arm of Naknek Lake. This was new territory- none of us had ever been to this arm before. We would then run the entire length of this lake to the mouth of the Savonoski river. We would run up the Savonoski until it's confluence with the Grosvenor river, then take this shorter river into Grosvenor lake. Once in Grosvenor we would do a little fishing and spend the night. The next day would be the return trip home with plenty of time for exploration messing around.
We start this photo log inside the Iliuk Arm. The mountain views were spectacular! This is a southerly view of Mount Kato and I believe Mount Katolinat. These two mountains stand over four thousand feet and are inactive- though many inside Katmai National Park are actually active volcanoes.
Another view of Mount Kato that I liked...

The weather was chilly- but clear as we raced across Iliuk. We could deal with the chill- it was wind we feared. A flat bottom skiff with a jet pump is not the best transportation when the winds pick up on a mountain lake. Here, Luke and Dan enjoy the views with Mount La Gorce in the backdrop...

...in fact it was so pretty I almost quit drinking beer. Almost.Here is a satellite image of the mouth of the Savonoski river and it's confluence with the Eluk river.This is an aerial photo of the same confluence. The Savonoski river is glacial fed and runs heavy with silt. This makes for an interesting run up it. The river has split into many braids and at the top of each braid lies many log jams! This was going to be fun. Due to the silt build up at the mouth and the cloudy condition of the water, we could only guess as to what would be a deep enough channel to allow us entry. As it turned out- this would prove difficult!...

...first try- stuck in the mud! Yeah, I know- I am a hack. But look at that flat and tell me that you could have picked a channel out of it!It worked out alright though- I brought along Dasher and Dancer to pull this sleigh! Just kidding. Jeff and Dan did their part to walk the boat out to deeper water, and that included going over their boots! Sorry, guys!

With the worst of it behind us we were staring at the rest of our challenge...

...but first we needed to fuel up! As mentioned earlier we were going to need a lot of fuel for this adventure. The plan was to remain as light as we could in the boat, and that meant "cache-ing" our fuel along the way...

Dan and Jeff are doing just that right here. We weren't so concerned with hiding the fuel from people as we were with keeping it from the bears. Bears are curious and would
think nothing of tearing open a fuel can just to see what was inside of it.And from the look of this mudflat we stopped at there was plenty of bear traffic along this river! Moose and wolf prints were in abundance too.

Looks quite a bit bigger than the average hand print......and such sharp toes they have!

This is the confluence of the Grosvenor river and the Savonoski. The Grosvenor is a short, gently flowing, deep glacial blue stream that contrasts considerably with the silty Savonoski.

We are now in the Grosvenor river and heading towards Grosvenor Lake. Once again we were taken away by the raw beauty of this remote wilderness.
Swans were numerous on the quiet eddies and bays.
Finally- we are at the headwaters and Grosvenor Lake sits beyond.
A more picture perfect view would be hard to find...
Everywhere we roamed on this lake we were met with gorgeous mountain views...We eventually found a likely looking creek to try and catch some fish at...
The sockeye were definitely there! It is amazing to think of the journey these fish embark on in their life cycle. From birth till death they are little more than a part of the food chain- travelling untold thousands of mile out to sea and back to spawn in the same rivers they were born in.

Evidence of the food chain raises it's head. Dan holds up a pretty Arctic Char that he caught while fishing beneath the hordes of sockeye heading into the mouth of this creek. The Char and Trout like to hang out with the sockeye and eat both the eggs that they are laying and the decaying flesh of the spawned out salmon...
The trout that we were catching here were just amazing. Not the biggest trout around- but the fight and color of these fish was incredible.
We also found evidence of some other fishermen around. In Alaska- if you find salmon, there is bound to be bears close by...
and sure enough, we weren't in this spot long before this guy came ambling down the beach.
He made it to just about fifty yards from us before he noticed we were there- he seemed to stop a moment, assess the situation, and then he veered off into the brushy shoreline...
He reappeared a few yards deeper inside the creek and by all accounts forgot we were even around......that worked well for all of us. We got to keep fishing for fun- and he got to keep fishing for dinner. It was getting late in the evening and we still needed to find a suitable campsite- so off we headed to cruise the shoreline to see what we could find...
what we found was a LOT of bear sign everywhere we went! Tracks and poop- everywhere. We decided that an island might be the way to go. At the very least it would supply us with a false sense of security. This little shale rock beach looked to be just the ticket. Quiet, and protected from the wind that had just started to kick up on the main lake.
After an uneventful night, morning found the weather to be rather overcast and chilly. We had to stoke up the fire to warm us up for our big adventure home.
Running a river you have never been on can be an exciting time. Coming up it, against the current, can be a little easier- and it can be difficult. At best- the current against you allows for a little margin of error in decision making. When coming down a new river- you don't have that luxury. You need to be on the throttle to keep the boat up and planing in the very shallow water- and with the flow of the current adding to your speeds, decisions need to be made fast...
...when rounding a tight corner you have no idea what may lay ahead...
...where do you go? Which is the right channel? The Savonoski splits into so many braids, and takes so many turns, it was sometimes hard to make the right call on which ones were deep enough......and which ones weren't. Fortunately- this crash wasn't photographed or filmed. I chose poorly on this turn and ended up sliding out on a gravel bar and then into that clump of lumber behind us. But that is the great thing about sleds and pumps- you just drift out and continue on your way.Back on track and heading down the river... after one night and some two hundred miles of travelling we were tired and ready for our beds. A great trip and lots of memories. The best part is that we left the back half of the lake and it's connection to Lake Colville unexplored... I think we have another trip in our future!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Johnnys Lake 2008

With the weather having taken a fortunate turn the last few days of July and the first week of August- Jeff, Dan, and myself decided to quit wasting time and get out on our annual camping trip to the lake before it soured. Good thing we acted when we did- we caught the last three good days!

This year we decided that bringing kayaks would be the ticket. They would open up a whole new avenue for exploration and photography. Unfortunately- they also added a bunch of weight! This was to be the first run of any significance for the redesigned jet sled and I guess we needed to put it through it's paces. In fairness, the kayaks did little weight wise- it was all of the other stuff we packed along, as well as the additions to the boat (built in fuel tank, floor boards, duel batteries, etc...) So we learned very quickly that travelling at our expected speeds was not going to happen. That was o.k. though- we got to enjoy the ride a little and drink more of the obscene amounts of beer we brought. The weather was nice but as you can see there was a front moving in.

First stop- Johnny's Lake, a segment of the far larger Naknek Lake. We had never really explored this portion and decided it was going to be our first destination. We found numerous creeks loaded with spawning sockeye. Experience tells us that where there are sockeye, trout are usually hanging around. We picked a likely looking stream that would provide a chance not only of catching the trout that would be feeding on the sockeye and their eggs, but may also gives us a photo of a bear or two.

We dumped one of the kayaks in and Jeff went on ahead up the stream. The ripple and waves you see are sockeye scattering from the kayak. This particular stream was loaded with the colorful fish.

Try as I might- I could not produce a rainbow out of this hole. We caught plenty of sockeye and even a few humpies, but the trout were tight lipped.

Aside from the beauty of this stream, there was plenty of sign from feeding bears- and most of the carcasses along the shoreline were pretty fresh. As you can see- the grass along the shore was pretty tall- between four and five feet to be exact- and thick. We knew the sounds of us approaching had most likely chased the bears away. We also knew they would be back! Not long after taking this image the golden brown ears and head of one rose from the grass right across this stream from us! Sorry no photo- we took off!

This must have been the view from the kayaks (which Dan and Jeff were in) as they paddled to deeper water.

Next we went searching for a place to camp. Again Jeff paddled ahead and Dan and I lounged back. Most of the shore of the lake was thick with brush and offered little in the way of a decent campsite. Jeff did find a wide enough stretch of gravel for us to put the tent and make a fire. Right behind camp was a large hill that Jeff ventured up and snapped this photo of Dan arriving at camp.

Though humble, it was home for the night. We were a little leary of the brush being so tight, and not leaving a margin for error, in the event a large, furry, uninvited guest wanted to join us for the evening. But nothing came by save for the wolves howling from the ridge top behind us all night.

The next morning again found Dan catching salmon along the lakes many streams. As fun as it was- we were on the hunt for predator type fish, and a new camp. We found both. Pike was what we were looking for and we happened upon a little island that was higher than most of the surrounding marsh. It would make for a much roomier campsite and also some shelter from the winds that were picking up across the lake.

With the tent pitched and enough firewood collected we began plotting the rest of the days fishing adventure. Jeff wanted to tie up the fly rods and go after the pike with some top water poppers. That sounded like a great idea to me.

In the midst of our preparations these two loons swung by to say hi and welcome us to the neighborhood. There are few things more beautiful than the call of a loon across a northern lake.

Pike is what we were after- and pike is what we caught! We could see them basking in the shallows and sight fishing is a great way to pursue these voracious feeders. I couldn't say how many we caught, but they hit on anything we could throw at them.

We eventually switched to tossing the hardware at them- pike can't resist a flashy spoon or spinner.

Dan was having the time of his life catching and releasing these aggresive fighters.
When Jeff wasn't catching them out of the kayak......he was boating them out of the sled.

We continued on throughout the day and only had one little mishap- when some hack ran over a gravel bar and loaded the pump full of rocks. Not too big a deal, just a couple of bolts and the shoe is off and we dug out the rocks. We made it back to the launch just as the rains came. Great couple of days.