From the Field - Bushwhacking in Dundas Bay

From Expedition Guide Alexandra Hansen, Wilderness Discoverer:
This week’s voyage was filled with classic southeast Alaska weather and landscapes. When it was not drizzling, the fog crept along the mountains and beaches, occasionally breaking to showcase the region’s characteristic waterfalls. After days of stellar paddles, glacier hikes, skiff tours and meadow walks – it was time for the renowned Dundas Bay bushwhack 

Bushwhacks are a great way to see Southeast Alaska’s temperate rainforest in its truest form. While every bushwhack is unique in route (some may be exploratory and venture into the unknown, others may involve a reaching a specific landmark), they are similar in the way that they expand one’s comfort zones and challenge one’s body and mind. For this reason, they are one of my favorite activities to lead.  

Being able to spend time climbing cliffsides, following river systems, crawling over logs, and ducking under Devil’s Club gives all participants a unique opportunity to completely immerse themselves in the temperate rainforest.

After a delicious lunch, my nine eager bushwhackers met on the Aft 300, and joined me in looking over our navigation chart. My plan for the afternoon was to find a muskeg. The guests had heard the term “muskeg” for days but had yet to figure out its meaning. After many guesses at its meaning (a funny looking species of bird, a type of beer brew, and a particular tree), they were excited to discover that it is Alaska’s very own “blanket bog.” A bog that they would be able to explore all afternoon! With lots of hoorahs and cries of joy – we left on our skiff towards land. The ride over was considerable, and as sailed past the coastline we were overjoyed to spot multiple harbor porpoise and sea otter.

We started our bushwhack on a small rocky beach lined with dense vegetation. While the greenery snagged at our packs and hats as we crawled our way through – this didn’t bother us, instead we laughed at the hilarious stances we needed to procure in order to maneuver around the thorny Devil’s Club.  

We pushed higher and higher up the mountain side, and made occasional stops to look at lichen, and listen to bird calls. All the while, I called out loud “Heyoooos” to let all the bears in the area know we were routing through. After about 20 minutes of pushing through the lush green, we made it to a small opening in the trees. At last, we had made it to the muskeg.  

Muskeg, also known as “blanket bog,” provides a fragile home for a variety of organisms. In need of abundant rain, and cool summers, it is no surprise that southeast Alaska offers the perfect environment for them to take form. In fact, over 10% of Southeast Alaska is covered in muskeg. We roamed the muskeg as a group, taking note of all the incredible flowers and plants we saw (including bog cranberry, sun dews, and small green orchids). As we walked, I explained how muskeg are formed. If you are interested, I have included a little bit below: 

Their development involves a dead plant decaying in a pool of water (or saturated soil). Because the air, bacteria and fungi cannot reach the plant under the water, the decomposition of the plant debris is slow which results in a type of peat and eventually a muskeg. Because of this, muskeg itself is composed of dead plants in various stages of decompositions.  

We trudged around little ponds, and were astounded by how deep they were, and how spongey the surrounding ground felt. We also marveled about how short the trees were in the area. Because muskeg are so acidic, trees struggle to grow and are typically stunted. Majority of the trees we saw were under 5ft tall (a serious change from the towering Sitka Spruce we were just climbing under).  

We were also thrilled to see a series of moose tracks that led us to a gorgeous waterfall. After spending a couple hours exploring the muskeg (and even bumping into snow), we started the climb downhill. We followed the river system with the waterfall down back towards the beach. The hike down ranged from scaling cliff sides to army-crawling under fallen trees.

While physically challenging and strenuous, the bushwhack was a great deal of fun. I enjoyed the 360 degrees of uninterrupted wilderness, and the opportunity we had to appreciate it all amongst ourselves.