Realizing A Dream On The Lost Coast - The Conclusion

Editor's Note: Today we share the conclusion to Realizing A Dream On The Lost Coast. -Kid

Click here to read Part One

Click here to read Part Two

Click here to read Part Three

Click here to read Part Four

The Final Cruxes: Icy Bay, The Malaspina Glacier, And A Decision

Unzipping the door to our mid, Doom exclaimed, “There’s a bear standing in camp fellas.” Sitting up quickly, I reared my head out of the door to see a young black bear standing 20 yards away. Because of our commotion, he quickly retreated into the brush making his way under the cascade of water falling from the towering cliff which dominated our camp. Upon watching the bear scamper away, the absence of moisture falling from the sky finally registered in my brain. Our good weather was holding. It was time to move and begin the five to six-mile paddle across Icy Bay.

Our friend was a little guy…

Our surf was still crashing on the beach, though at a much mellower rate. Nonetheless, we decided to ride our way into the bay to see if we could find a quieter launch site—someplace where we would not have to fight through breakers to begin the crossing. After a couple of miles, we found a spot that seemed manageable by all. The break was small with significant lulls between sets of waves. We could make this work.

The intimidating Icy Bay…

In a packraft, with a fatbike lashed to the bow and accompanying gear stowed throughout person and raft, such crossings are scary endeavors. These rafts are slow in comparison to a sea kayak or other human-powered vessel. At most, we could travel at two miles per hour. With up to six miles to cross, this meant we would be exposed to the whims of the bay for at least three hours. A lot could change in three hours. My worst nightmare was to be caught out in the middle of the bay in a big swell with choppy seas and a strong outgoing current. A capsize would be certain disaster. As we readied ourselves for the crossing, conditions of the bay looked feasible. Not ideal, but doable.

Our launch spot…

With a launch site identified, we prepped for the crossing…

Working as a team for the launch, we took our turns in paddling from the shore. One man in his packraft was steadied by a teammate as he jumped into his raft. The raft was then given a push of momentum to make it over an incoming wave so as to avoid a capsize or unexpected surf back to shore. Doom ended up last with no help from a teammate. Floating just beyond the breakers, we anxiously watched him style his entry. Wahoo! Once all were safely out, we tightened up our formation and began paddling into the vast expanse of unprotected water before us. It was eerie.

With all of us on edge to the consequences of a mishap, we said little as we willed the far off shore to grow in stature. Near the middle of the bay, the uneasiness was at its height as our icy water was alive with a slight wind chop and 15-foot swells. Looking around I would see my teammates disappear with each passing swell. When they came back in view, I was relieved to find them still upright and paddling. Whew. Needless to say, under such conditions, snapping off a photo or two was the last thing on my mind. Two hours and thirty-nine minutes later, we calmly landed on the rocky shore of the bay. We had made it without an incident. Another crux was down.

Roman and JB finishing a tense crossing…

It felt good to have Icy Bay behind us…

As stated earlier, Eric and Dylan had pioneered the route with bikes and packrafts in 20 days. Our aggressive timeline of 11 days all hinged on our riding ability and luck with the weather to cross the Malaspina Glacier. Crossing this massive glacier would allow us to avoid some of the most rugged and physically demanding coastline that our pioneers had negotiated. Having previous experience in riding bikes on glaciers, Roman maintained, that with the right weather conditions, it would be possible to make the 40-mile traverse on our fat machines. We would just need some of the sought after good fortune from the weather gods.

With the weather still holding after crossing Icy Bay, we transitioned back to our bikes and began following one of many cobbled and dry braids of the Cetani River which began at the toe of the Malaspina. After a packraft crossing of the main braid of the river itself, we began riding and hiking to the moraine of this massive glacier. With each pedal stroke and footstep, our weather window seemed to be closing. Our once intermittent views of the impressive Mount St. Elias (18,008’) massif slowly dissipated into a bank of gray clouds. The rain was back.

Some of the riding up the dry braid of the Cetani was superb for fatbikes…

Other times we were pushing through pools of water and boulders…

With a quick drop in temperature, we knew we were close to reaching the white ice and the glacial moraine. In a down pour, we took in the next step of our journey. We would need to find a route onto the glacier proper. With the current conditions, however, it was fruitless to consider taking on this tricky endeavor. Utilizing one of our canister stoves to get a fire going, we set up camp. Trying to find warmth from the fire which was under constant assault from the falling rain, we finally gave up and retreated to our shelters and sleeping bags. Listening to a staccato of rain drops falling overhead, I drifted off to sleep hoping for another reprieve from the elements. Would we be so lucky?

With the moraine in striking distance, it was time to find a camp…

It rained steadily all night. At 11 a.m. it was still raining with no signs of letting up. Mother Nature was determining our fate. Without good weather, there was no safe way to cross the Malaspina. It was just too dangerous. Retreating to the coast to tackle the likes of the Sitagi Bluffs, giant boulder fields, and extensive marsh lands, would take more time and food than we had. Our hope of completing the route in our time frame was doused just as our sputtering fire from the night before was extinguished under the onslaught of moisture. We did not have the time to wait out the weather. We would have to abandon the journey and make the call we were all dreading but was now inevitable.

Packing up we made our way to the birth of the Cetani River. Next to its calm waters we prepped to descend it back to Icy Bay. Upon completing the crossing of the bay, we had spied a cabin which we hoped to find open for a respite from the weather to weigh our final trip options. This was the afternoon’s objective.

Rounding the first bend in the river, my heart beat rose. Before me, the river picked up speed and funneled into a channel of sizeable waves and holes. I was floating into a “Grand Canyon” style big water rapid. This was going to be interesting. Without a spray skirt, a fatbike strapped to the bow, and wearing a full pack, I charged the rapid and tried to pick a line that would keep me mostly dry. Catching an eddy while sitting in six inches of water, I watched my teammates struggle to make the eddy with cockpits full of water. This was a wake-up call.

After reshuffling some gear and tightening up our bike straps, we reentered the quickly moving current. Rounding the next bend, we entered a wide, rocky rapid. In the blink of an eye, the extended handlebar of my bike caught a rock. With no time to react, the combined force of the water and stuck handlebar caused my raft to flip. I was now swimming while wearing a full pack, in a torrent of ice water. Once emerging from the initial dunking, my instincts from years of whitewater kayaking took hold. I grabbed my paddle and upsidedown raft and began self-rescuing. Spying a small eddy on river left, I kicked and swam with a sense of urgency brought on by the direness of the situation. The loss of gear or an extended swim in 35-degree water could be fatal. Upon reaching the safety of the eddy, I deposited my pack on the shore and flipped my raft over to find my bike still attached and in one piece. My rig job had held and my homemade blow-up PFD had somehow kept me afloat despite wearing a pack and a camera bag. That was a close call.

Still warm with adrenalin, I got back in my packraft and continued the journey down stream. The rest of the run was uneventful. Before long we were on our bikes and pedaling towards the cabin. We found the cabin door to be unlocked and ready for five cold and wet visitors. The wood bin was partially full, and a large wood stove was ready to be lit. Within minutes we were hanging our wet clothes on the lines overhanging a roaring fire. The rain continued.

A welcome respite from the cold and rain…

What ensued in the next four hours was a more poignant conversation about the current state of our trip. In our minds, we each grappled with the inevitable fate – that our trip was over. None of us were accustomed to giving up or admitting defeat. We all possessed a strong confidence that we could accomplish anything we set out to do. Having to accept that we couldn’t will or suffer our way through this situation was a mental challenge for each of us. It was, however, the right thing to do. A more inexperienced or fool hardy crew might have attempted to push onto the glacier. Our intuition, formed from years of traveling in the wilds of our amazing planet, had taught us when to back off. Now was the time.

Enjoying the warmth of the cabin, we made the decision to make the call…

Pulling the satellite phone from the bottom of my pack, Roman made the call to the Yakutat Coastal Airlines. They would pick us up the following day at a remote landing strip about 8 miles or so from our borrowed cabin. We needed to be there by 9 a.m. the next morning.

And thus, the decision to end my first ever coastal adventure was made. While sharing a feast of our remaining food supplies, we made plans for our return next summer. In all of our minds, the trip wasn’t over, just delayed for a little while. We would be back. We had a glacier to ride across and one more big bay to paddle.

More beauty in the overgrown field near the cabin…

Great riding to the air strip…

One final section of cobbles to finish a grand adventure by bike and packraft…

Our ride to Yakutat was able to land despite the poor weather conditions…

Special thanks go to several people and organizations for helping to make this trip a reality:

  • Good To-Go provided most of our meals for this trip. This Maine-based company is an up and coming provider of high quality, delicious and nutritious meals for those who venture into the backcountry. Check them out at www.goodto-go.com. You won’t be disappointed.
  • Thank you to Andrew Wracher and Joey Ernest at Bedrock Bags for my bike bag set-up. The panniers, frame bag, and prototype burrito wrap were all great for this rugged trip. These guys are adventurers who make bomber bikepacking gear in Durango, CO. www.bedrockbags.com
  • The great folks of Alpacka Raft provided the dry suits that were essential for our safety from the inclement weather and all of the river and bay crossings. Without them, we would most likely have been sparring with hypothermia. www.alpackaraft.com
  • Neil Hannum, the Chip Peddler, is a super generous supporter of all things cycling. Despite recovering from a life-threatening accident, Neil graciously sent us on our way to Alaska with bags of his tortilla chip goodness. Locally made in Durango, CO, there are no better chips on the market. www.chippeddler.com
  • Thanks to Switchback Travel for providing me with stellar foot and rain wear. It was tested and withstood the rigors of Mother Nature. www.switchbacktravel.com
  • Thanks to Luke Bishop and Renee LaLonde for hosting JB and I, and watching after my truck while we were in the wilds. Your donuts are amazing! www.bakinbakeryfoodtruck.com
  • To Roman and Peggy Dial, thank you for the airport pick-ups/drop-offs and for welcoming all of us into your home. Your hospitality and patience was tremendous and above and beyond.
  • To my teammates, thanks for including me on this adventure. It was an amazing experience, made that way by each of you. I look forward to the “finish” and more future escapades.
  • And lastly, thanks to the Salsa crew for making some sweet bikes that inspire adventure.

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For more of Brett’s images or to check out his many adventures on his Salsa bike and beyond, follow him on Instagram at @bdavisdurango or www.brettrdavis.exposure.com

If you missed the earlier parts of Realizing A Dream On The Lost Coast:

Click here for Part One

Click here for Part Two

Click here for Part Three

Click here for Part Four

This post filed under topics: Beargrease Bikepacking Blackborow Brett Davis Explore Fatbike Mukluk Sponsored Riders

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brett Davis

Brett Davis

I grew up in a military family where we moved 13 times before I left for college. Consequently, I have the continual urge to explore and travel having climbed, kayaked, and biked all over our amazing planet. My passion for the outdoors drives me to seek out adventures which often times combine multiple modes of travel or activities (i.e. biking to a wilderness area and then backpacking in to climb a high peak). "Keeping life simple" is a guiding motto of my life and for me, bike travel epitomizes simplicity.

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