The last post ended with us receiving an InReach message from our pilot – “Bad weather headed your way.” Within an hour of receiving that message, we received a slightly more detailed message from my wife saying something about 50 mph winds forecast. Taking a third factor into account, the rather vague forecasts offered by InReach’s satellite service, we pieced together what we thought was a best guess at the next 48-72 hours’ conditions.
Saturday would be gross and rainy, wet and foggy. Sunday might be scary. Monday would be back to gross and rainy, wet and foggy.
That’s just about exactly how it played out. It rained on Saturday from before sunup right on through to when the clock ticked over into Sunday. Even though it was a washout, there were plenty of neglected camp chores to attend to and our bodies needed a break from the 3 buck marathon we were coming off of. The day was spent tending to meat, cutting alder and splitting wood, drying out clothes and footwear, caping a couple skulls, updating our journals, flipping some pages in a book, and having a cribbage tournament. We were both surprised at how quickly the day went and right before dark, we donned our rain gear and hauled a few boulders up from the lakeshore to pin down the tent stakes on the meat tent. The meat tent’s stakes were quite a bit shorter than the stakes for the tipi. Keeping our diligently cared for meat dry throughout the night was a priority.
A couple other notables from that first day tipi-bound. Dad had a pushki blister pop up on his hand, likely from contact the day prior in the sunny weather. Pushki, or cow parsnip, has a chemical in the leaf hairs that can lead to nasty blisters when exposed to human skin. It is not just the secreted chemical that is the problem though. In and of itself, the actual plant compound is relatively harmless. The trouble is that the chemical is photo-toxic, meaning that heat and UV exposure are what transform the chemical into a seriously nasty caustic agent that can result in really bad sores and blisters. This pushki blister was a tiny outbreak, but it nearly got infected and Dad spent 3 weeks getting over it.
Dinner that night was our first exposure to Sitka venison. Once the titanium wood stove was fired up, we just cut medallions off a couple of tenderloins and seared them off with a sprinkle of salt and pepper. We would repeat that exact same meal the next 2 evenings.
The last notable from Saturday was learning how difficult keeping a fire sustained can be when wet wood is the only fuel source available. Thankfully, we had carted in a box of firewood acquired from the local store back in Kodiak. That enabled us to get an initial fire going hot that we then used to dry out the stacked and split alder wood. Using that cycle, we were able to keep a hot fire going whenever we desired. It was a lot of work though.
On to the part of the trip that was the actual peak of the adventure factor. At 11 PM Saturday night, the wind started picking up. Within 30 minutes, the weather had gone from a drizzly breeze to full-on gale force blasts of air. The next 8 hours were in the complete dark, but we spent them totally awake with headlamps armed and ready. Obviously without a wind meter or local weather station to verify how strong some of the winds were, I’m throwing out numbers, BUT Kodiak’s airport (roughly 75 miles north and a bit east) was recording gusts in the lower 70s with sustained winds of 40-45 mph. I have really struggled how to put that night into words, and quite frankly, I just cannot. It simply had to be experienced. From 11 PM until 2 PM the next day – 15 hours straight, non-stop, the wind blew as hard as it could blow. Four or five times throughout the night, one of us would go scrambling down to the lake to haul up another boulder for a sprung tent stake while the other held on for dear life. A couple other times, the fabric on the side of the tipi actually made contact with the center pole, that’s how hard the wind was bearing down on the shelter. I do not regret spending a single one of my hard-earned dollars on the Redcliff tipi and I have no doubt the carbon fiber center pole upgrade had a lot to do with the fact that our shelter stayed in one piece.
Again, no real way to describe the night to anyone who wasn’t there to experience it, but suffice it to say – we survived, barely. And, it remembers fun.
Unfortunately, the meat tent suffered some minor injuries and the once dry meat cache was soaked through and through by storm’s end. On Sunday afternoon, I had a roll of paper towels and a couple micro fiber towels that I employed drying the meat back out and attempting to re-form the good crust that I had already established. The titanium pipe on my wood stove also suffered a minor injury at roughly 4 in the morning, when a particularly strong gust of wind turned it into a pretzel. We rolled it out and worked on it for a while to reform its normal shape as best as possible.
The rest of the day Sunday was spent rekindling the wood stove, working on the meat cache, and then right before dusk – a 45 minute window of clear weather blew through. Dad and I both were growing tired of the tipi, so we popped up the spotting scope outside and perused the surrounding mountains. Apparently we were not the only ones with cabin fever. There were deer EVERYWHERE! In just under an hour’s time, we spotted 19 different bucks from the confines of the bear fence. This pot-bellied buck was probably the best and was located only a half-mile away from camp. We took some mental notes, jotted a few things down on our maps, and went to bed wondering if we would get a break in the weather on Monday to go after this or another buck.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t to happen and Monday replicated Saturday’s misery almost to a T. More of the same in-camp festivities – fine vittles, hot fires, and cribbage.
By the end of the day Monday, we had made contact with my wife to get an updated forecast heading into Tuesday. Thankfully, a switch in winds was supposed to blow the nasty weather back out to sea and usher in some clearer skies. We had a time crunch brewing though, at the same time we were contacting Kara about the forecast, we were exchanging texts with the pilot’s wife. Based on their schedule that had been backed up from the weekend’s storms, we needed to be picked up at 3:30 PM the following day. What did that mean? We had a half-day hunting to get on a 4th and final buck before we had to break down camp and be ready for a fly-out tomorrow afternoon. We made a game plan that evening and decided to pursue a buck close to camp. As simple as that. The venison was simply too tasty to leave a tag unfilled and Dad was content chasing whatever buck made himself available the following morning. With that goal established, filling our 4th tag seemed quite possible as we went to sleep that night.
Ah, but this post is not over. Sometime around 3 AM we had our first uninvited visitor to camp. I woke up to strange noises in the middle of the night and tapped Dad on the shoulder alerting him to the situation. I have never seen him come awake that quickly in my life, and within seconds, I was armed with the pepper spray and he with the buckshot-loaded 12 gauge. Bring it bear! As we unzipped the tipi’s fly, we could hear an animal making a hasty retreat and we got ready for the worst.
Fox. Mr. Wiley Fox. That dumb fox had been gnawing on our blue tarp that was sheltering our gun case and was in the process of dragging off dad’s deer skull. We spent the next 30 minutes chasing the fox around in circles. The last thing I wanted to do was shoot the fox in the middle of the night, but he just wasn’t a rationale creature to reason with. Finally, I enticed him down the lake shore about 50 yards distant with a handful of scraps that we had trimmed from the hindquarters the previous day. On the way back up the shore, I found that the tarp and skull weren’t the only victims of his curiosity. That dumb fox had chewed the paracord through that held a contractor bag full of meat sunk in the middle of the lake. It was too dark to do anything about it at 3 AM, but we did not have any more issues with Mr. Fox that night. We would try to rescue the sunk meat bag in the morning.