Lost Coast, Part I: Beaches, Bays, Bugs, and Bears

I’m writing from Yakutat, an isolated 600-person community that marks the mental halfway point of this trip’s “Lost Coast” section. The Lost Coast is a ~400-mile-long strip of temperate rainforest squeezed widthwise by the Gulf of Alaska and the Chugach Range, and bookended lengthwise by the Copper River Delta (east of Cordova) and Icy Straits (west of Juneau). There are four features worth mentioning about my ocean experience thus far: beaches, bays, bugs, and bears.


The coastline is dominated mile-after-mile by a near-linear beach that is interrupted only occasionally by river outlets or glacier-scoured bays — this would be a great section for an iPod and some audio books. Underfoot is usually a hardpacked or semi-hardpacked sand, but I’ve also slogged many miles through looser surfaces: couscous-sized sand, popcorn-sized pebbles, and golfball-sized rocks. There was one continuous 12-mile section of boulder-hopping, when I skirted around the south edge of the 40-mile-wide Malaspina Glacier and I expect more boulder-hopping as I head south, where the Chugach Range is closer to the shore. I have seen surprisingly little trash in consideration that there has never been a beach clean-up out here — most of it is plastic bottles and fishing trash.


The two single riskiest parts of the Lost Coast are the crossings of Icy Bay and Yakutat Bay. The former can be dangerous due to icebergs that calve off glaciers in the upper bay and then get blown all over, blocking shorelines and/or creating a linear barrier across the middle. The latter bay can be dangerous because it’s huge and essentially open ocean, which is rarely conducive to travel in my 4.5-lb inflatable packraft. My strategy for both crossings was to hurry to reach the put-in and then wait for a good weather window. Thankfully I had good weather upon both arrivals and the crossings were uneventful.


The Lost Coast is superb bear habitat: large swaths of wilderness, thick brush, difficult hunting access, and ample food sources (e.g. salmon). I see bear tracks all over the beaches and I frequently walk the “bear trails” just inside the forest in order to get off the sloped beach and out of the wind. Yet I have seen only four black bears; I have yet to see one of Alaska’s famed “brown” bears, the better-fed cousin of the Interior grizzly. I’m told by locals that it’s not surprising: the bears want to stay away from me, since I could be a hunter and since they prefer their King salmon over my Snickers anyway. I’m certainly taking precautions along this stretch in order to avoid bad encounters: I’m carrying my food in odorproof Aloksak bags; I’m not camping where I cook dinner; I’m camping well away from beaches and bear trails so a bear won’t just stumble upon me; and if all else fails then I’m carrying a can of bear spray.


The bug season is in full-swing here: three days ago I squashed 14 mosquitoes with one slap of my shoulder — and that was once I reached the beach after leaving my wooded camp, where the bugs were even worse! (The crazy thing is that I’m told the bugs are mild here compared to the swarms in the Interior.) To preserve my sanity I’m carrying DEET and a headnet; I wear my raingear when taking breaks or in camp; and I now sleep in a bug bivy inside my Mountain Laurel Designs SoloMid tarp. I also try to stay away from the bugs: they are worst in the mornings and evenings, and in the cool shaded forests; they don’t like the open beaches where it’s sunny and windy.

Posted in on June 8, 2010

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