July 30 – We woke up at around 7:30 and broke down the tent. Our ferry to Prince of Wales Island left at 10:35, but there wasn’t a check-in time on the ticket (actually there wasn’t a ticket either) so we arrived at the terminal at 8:30 figuring that two hours would be early enough. The office wasn’t even open when we arrived. We checked in as soon as the office opened and were told to park in either lane 2 or 3 by 9:35. We knew that there were only a handful of small communities on Prince of Wales Island and that due to road conditions (dirt roads with lots of pot holes) it could take up to two or three hours to get to the major city where there was a real grocery store so we loaded up the cooler at the local store before heading to our lane (Dave decided on lane 2 although it didn’t matter because we were the only vehicle in either lane). The ferry arrived on time and we were loaded on the boat by 10:25. The Inter-Island Ferry is a different experience than the main ferries. In some ways it was more laid back – there was no I.D. check to board and your ticket was a receipt but at the same time it was stricter – no alcohol on the boat, no running, etc. (lots of rules posted all over the place). There was one similarity between the two systems – we left half an hour late. The trip was uneventful until we reached the inlet that lead up to the terminal. A humpback whale greeted the ferry, rolling over onto its side and waving its side fin in the air. The fin must have been five feet long and it made quite a show.
We arrived on time near the city of Hollis. We say ‘near’ because even though we followed the signs that pointed to the city, we never saw one. We continued on the main road and found our first stop – the Prince of Wales Hatchery Association’s hatchery. While we had seen several hatcheries so far on our adventure, this one appealed to Stacie since they sold the Coho salmon that returned for $1 a pound (since she didn’t catch a fish the day before she hoped she could buy one). We arrived to find them getting ready for the return of the Coho’s which was a few weeks away (so no fish for Stacie). We were given an informal yet informative tour of the facility. This hatchery had a large lake nearby, so they didn’t need concrete tanks to hold the fry. Some species were thrown in the lake when they were big enough to fend for themselves while others were kept in netted pens to protect them from other fish. The incubating room for the Coho eggs hadn’t been sterilized yet so for once we were able to see the tanks that are used. They also used a few clever tricks to make handling the salmon easier. One trick was to move the fish that were about to be harvested from the holding pens into a tank (the one in the foreground with wood the lids) where carbon dioxide (the stuff that makes soda and beer fizz) was added to the water, thus reducing the oxygen available to the fish. The fish fall asleep in this water and as a result they are easy to handle. Overall it was probably the most useful and in depth tour we’ve been on. As we departed we were warned about the roads on the island – “always make sure you’ve got lots of gas and a spare tire.”
We next passed through Klawock, the second largest city (about 850) on the island. It had a small grocery store and a Post Office. We turned north and headed up towards the campground. Our map indicated that the road should have turned to dirt after a few miles and we were pleasantly surprised when we found brand new pavement instead. The road ended in a ‘T’ intersection in a construction zone. We made a right turn (as our map said we should) but instead of a road we found gravel piles and lots of construction equipment. We followed another car through the area and eventually emerged on the other side of the mess on a proper (and newly paved) road. Apparently the construction company that is doing all of the paving work decided to put their asphalt plant at the intersection and has pretty much consumed the road in the process. We arrived at our campground and found the site that we had reserved (the campground only had 10 sites so we reserved one just to be sure). As has been the case in all of the other campgrounds we have stayed in, there were few campers and a reservation was not needed (many merchants have commented that this has been a slow summer).
July 31 – One of the things that we had been looking forward to on this trip was the Sarkar Canoe Route. This was a trail where you paddled on five different lakes, carrying your boat over “easy” wooden boardwalks from one lake to the next. The total distance was described as a 15 mile loop. Since we would be on small lakes where there wouldn’t be any waves and we would get a break from paddling when we carried the kayaks we were sure that we could handle the trip (we also allowed an entire day to do it). The first challenge we faced was getting to the start of the route. We started out on newly paved road but we soon ran into the area that they were paving and had to wait for a guide car to lead us past the paving equipment. After we passed the paving equipment we were on the infamous dirt roads. They was barely enough room for two cars to pass (on the rare occasion that you ran into one) and the roads were filled with pot holes. It took two hours to go 40 miles. When we reached the launching ramp we found that there were no maps available. We had a general map from our island guide book and the route looked simple (although it was not really a loop, as we had to use the first leg of the route as the last leg too). We started paddling along and paddled the length of the lake and found the first portage (walking part) near the mouth of a stream with salmon (and Stacie without her net!) We picked up the first of our kayaks and headed off along the boardwalk trail. We should have remembered that the Forest Service loves to put steps on their boardwalks. After the steps the boardwalk crossed a muskeg meadow and finally we hit the next lake. With one kayak moved we hiked back and got the other one. From our map it looked like this was the start of the circle part of the route and we headed east to do the route counter-clockwise. We quickly crossed the small lake and reached our next portage. It was a nice spot so we decided to have lunch on the boardwalk. After lunch we put the kayaks in and again quickly paddled to the next portage. This portage had its own challenge as a large tree had fallen over the boardwalk, smashing it to pieces. We negotiated our way past the tree and when we reached what we expected to be the next lake we found it to be a section of a stream that was too shallow to paddle on so we had to carry the kayaks up the stream bed until it got deep enough to paddle. We paddled briefly and hit the second half of the portage which continued along the stream and had several sets of stairs on it. At the end of the portage the stream opened up into a pond and we continued our paddle. We found the next portage which led us to a long narrow lake that wound between two high ridges. The lake suddenly ended without a portage in sight. We back tracked and found a stream that emptied into the lake. There were clear signs that many boats had been dragged up the stream so we followed the path and were in another lake. We paddled this lake until it ended and we found another portage. This portage had a sign with a map of the route engraved on it, but there was no ‘you are here’ on it. We studied the official map and found that the map we were using was not accurate. This map also showed how long each portage was – they were averaging half a mile each with the longest one being ¾ of a mile. We carried the kayaks to the other end of the portage and there we found another map and a sign that helped us figure out where we were on the map. The good news was that we only had one more leg to do until we completed the circle. The bad news was that after completing the circle we had to backtrack over the first three portages. The fun of the route had definitely worn off by the time we started back tracking. The sunshine had also worn off and it was raining off and on. We slugged through the back tracking and reached the first lake. It was getting close to dusk, and the overcast skies and rain had really cut visibility down. In the twilight we saw what looked like a log sticking up ahead, but then it flapped its tail against the water – it was a beaver. The tail flap was a warning to the other beavers working in the area and they all surfaced to see what was up. We found ourselves surrounded by at least 8 beavers who quickly dove back under to hide upon seeing us. We paddled on and somehow, and we’re really not sure how, we managed to make the three mile paddle and find the launching ramp in near twilight conditions (its not as scary as it sounds as we were seeing the lights of cars on the road along the edge of the lake so we knew that in a worst case situation we could beach the kayaks anywhere and walk along the road to the ramp). By the time we had dried off equipment and secured the kayaks to the truck it was after 9:00. With the delightful roads we didn’t get back to camp until 11. We would have fallen asleep in our clothes but they were soaked.
While we were driving we did the math based on the route information on the sign we found. Since we had to carry 2 kayaks across each portage we had to walk each one three times. This meant that we walked fourteen miles (carrying kayaks for ten of them). We only actually paddled 13 miles.