Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Lava: Ten, eleven, twelve.

On tap for the morning: 5 water crossings traversing the Seal Islands. The continuance of blue skies and light breezes kept us upbeat as the route edged back into a marine phase.

Don't think we're in Kansas anymore...

I dare say this was the most subtly memorable day of the trip. The riding was good--largely hardpacked but requiring you to pay attention and choose lines, often dancing right along water's edge to get the most glide per stroke. But it never went on for long before we'd be unpacking, inflating and paddling a brief bit of fun water. Then pack up, ride another interesting bit before floating, and repeat.

By 'fun' water I mean that we were crossing short constrictions where a large bay filled and drained. So there was substantial current to factor in, increasing toward the midpoint of each reach before falling off again near the far shore. Plus breakers to skirt the edges of, as well as an increasing amount of wind to confound and confuse. All in all, it was just enough to call it enjoyable and challenging, but, perhaps because we'd learned so much a ~week before, it never became exciting or anxious.

On into afternoon the crossings ended and we got back to pure beach riding. And although I doubt any of us could say for sure when it happened, the wind was now up enough that any further paddling would be questionable to commit to.

Fortunately there was no more water to cross today. Somewhere near the base of the Stroganof spit we were able to find a bluff big enough to hide under. Protected from the brunt of the wind, we made camp for the night. Flapping tents made conversation difficult, but it also made plain that what we'd planned the next day--a 6+ mile crossing of Port Heiden--was not going to be possible until the wind died.

I was too fixated on the wind to get much sleep that night. Each time it dropped, usually for mere seconds, I was alert and straining to hear through my bag: How big were the waves, and what direction were they coming from?

As is often my habit, I finally fell off exhausted seemingly minutes before daybreak. Which is when Pete rousted us to get moving. As much open water as we had to cross, we wanted to time our put-in for the very last bit of outflow going to slack, giving us as much buffer as possible to paddle with the incoming flow. We packed quickly and rode the ~5 miles out to Stroganof Point.

And the wind was every bit as strong out there, driving waves into the shore where we stood. We discussed options, but it seemed clear that putting in with that amount of wind and what we assumed were much bigger waves in the channels was a terrible idea. Wanting to stay close to keep tabs on the conditions *right here*, we tried to erect a tent to crash in for a bit, but the wind kept that from happening. A brief powwow then we headed back toward the base of the spit.

There we raised a tent and climbed in, napping off and on, snacking here and there, mostly just waiting for the other shoe to drop. If anything the wind increased through the afternoon, bringing rain with it. Brian and I did some high-stakes food trading, wherein each obviously felt that the other was clearly a sucka for coming out of the deal as they did.

When it became obvious that no further consideration would be given to attempting the crossing today, we erected the other tent, bolstered both with added guyouts and sand dams along the base of each wall, then tried to get some sleep.

By morning the wind hadn't dropped a bit--had merely changed direction 180*. Was that good? Bad? Did it make our planned attempt any more possible? We vacillated wildly while packing up. I was game to go back to the point and have a look, but figured we'd be back here shortly thereafter. Pete didn't seem game to try, Dave was too busy packing the Angry Midget to comment. And Brian? He said little but his look seemed amused, perhaps wondering why we were even having this conversation: We had water, and boats, so why not put in? At least that was how I read it.

Ultimately the decision to abort the crossing and start heading *around* Port Heiden was made. I guessed we were in for at least a day and a half, maybe two days of tidal mank slogging. Nasty as that sounded, I couldn't get my head around paddling a tiny, overladen packraft in the wind and waves present.

It was about as bad as we expected.

We were on the move for better than 12 hours this day, riding for the first 30 minutes and then not again. At all. We skirted the shore of the bay, heading inland when the mank became too deep, heading back out when the mush started to swallow us. We saw birds and bugs, grasses, water, and goop, but nary a rock nor tree blighted our view all day.

We were all soaked through from the inside out and outside in. We had hoped to cross the Meshik River mouth and work our way toward the first contour lines we'd cross all day--all in hopes of finding a dry spot to camp. In the last bit of wan twilight we admitted defeat, opting not to wander aimlessly in the dark. We pulled up bunches of grass and piled them deep in our tents, laid the boats out atop that, then heaped sleeping gear atop that.