Douglas Island lies just across from Juneau and is connected by a bridge. The city of Douglas, on the eastern shore of the island, and the road leading north are well populated. The southern and western shores of the island are a combination of state, local, Native and federal lands and are unoccupied. There is no trail around the island. Its beaches are a combination of small and large boulders, cliffs and the occasional crushed stone. We know of one other person who has walked the roughly 29 miles of unoccupied coast. He summarized it by saying that one walks in the forest for a while until thinking it has to better on the beach, but then come to believe it has to be better in the forest after stumbling along the small rocks strewn along the shore.
Three of us decided to walk the coast in late February because of a minus tide that we hoped would get us around some cliffs, the lack of snow at sea level this winter and before the bears woke up from their nap. We figured we should also do this as soon as possible because there is a joint effort by the Borough and the Gold Belt Native Corporation to seek support for a road partway along the western shore. Once that happens the coast there will become a party zone like everywhere else on the road system.
My Quest backpack weighed the most at 16 lbs for the two night trip. This was the first time my wife had not been a part of the adventure over the past 9 years, which gave me the excuse to buy a solo tarp -- the 6x8 Oware. It weighs just 8.5 ounces and did well in and out of the rain. The rest of the gear included an Oware bivy (6.5 oz), thermarest, my wife’s down bag, puffball jacket, fleece, rain gear, 750 Snowpeak, 1 liter fire pot and a headlamp. None of us brought a stove since we can always get a fire going within a few minutes. Dinners were Ichiban noodle soup with protein and my own stock, cheese and salami for lunch and the venerable oats for breakfast. I had enough winter weight to make it without a lot of snacks, I carried a can of bear spray due to some early sightings the previous week. I had a cell phone that had signal half the trip. I wish I had purchased the gps app which I now have before the walk. We also had a 2 meter and VHF radio among the three of us.
Weather on the first afternoon was marvelous with sunny skies and temperatures in the high 30’s. It rained off and on the rest of the trip with temperatures in the low 30’s.
We walked 3.5 hours on the first day bushwhacking over windfall then onto the beach for a total of 6.5 miles. It didn’t rain during the night at Inner Point, but it snowed the next morning as we started out for Pt. Hilda. We considered ourselves fortunate to pack up a dry camp.
The next day’s walk was brutal. There is no trail, just a series of animal tracks and the beach. We walked along the bench or up past the most obvious dead fall, always looking for a clear route through the brush. I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it would be to do this late spring or summer, perhaps it would be impassable.
It grew dark along the beach and we kept moving, watching the slippery rocks and climbing the barnacle covered boulders using the light from our headlamps. I was sure we had passed the beach we had planned on camping at, but Tim and Steve were just as certain it was up ahead. At 7:30, and well after dark, we moved up into the forest looking for a flat spot to sleep and eat. We had walked 11 hours over rough terrain and were exhausted.
We were still not certain of our location even with the light of day. After a quick breakfast we found another deer trail that turned into a bit of a path. A mile later a Forest Service Boundary marker and a monument put us within a mile of Marmion at the southern tip of the island. We had overshot the camp we had intended to stay at the previous night by a couple of miles, and had walked a total of 16 that day.
At Marmion, we stopped for a dry break inside one of the cabins. From there, we expected a 3-4 hour march to Sandy Beach, and may have been able to do so if not for my knee -- banged on crossing a log, the huckleberries and the high tide, which kept us in the forest.
There is an old trail that follows the bench, but its bridges have collapsed and the huckleberries have choked it, so we were back to bushwhacking the 6 miles into town. We trudged on for 5 hours until I heard Eve’s voice call from the forest. She had walked in to meet us, though she thought we would have met closer to town.
This was a rough walk, but worth the effort.