A 30-Mile Canoe Journey By way of Alaska’s Tongass Nationwide Forest

A 30-Mile Canoe Journey By way of Alaska’s Tongass Nationwide Forest

On the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, with journey restrictions in place worldwide, we launched a brand new sequence — The World By way of a Lens — during which photojournalists assist transport you, just about, to a few of our planet’s most lovely and intriguing locations. This week, Christopher Miller shares a group of pictures from Southeast Alaska.


With my eyes closed, the scent of the forest is sharpened by the dearth of visible distraction. I breathe within the musk of a stand of big pink cedar bushes, which dominate the panorama, because the seemingly endless forest stretches to the mountain-lined horizon.

I grew up exploring the fringes of the Tongass Nationwide Forest, which sits simply exterior my backdoor in Juneau and stretches for lots of of miles alongside the coast of the Gulf of Alaska and the North Pacific Ocean. Encompassing 16.7 million acres of land, the Tongass is each the most important nationwide forest in America and the world’s largest intact temperate rainforest. My earliest recollections are instilled with its sights, sounds and smells.

Right here on Prince of Wales Island, some 200 miles south of Juneau, I’m immersed in the identical temperate rainforest that I got here to know as a baby. It feels each alien and acquainted. I let the aromatic cedar scent wash over me for a couple of extra moments earlier than opening my eyes and shouldering my pack farther into the forest.

It’s late April 2019, and my touring companion, Bjorn Dihle, and I are on a four-day, 30-mile tour via the center of Prince of Wales Island alongside the Honker Divide Canoe Route, the island’s longest path. We have now forgone the canoes and opted for packrafts on account of their dimension and weight; they’re simpler to schlep over logs and throughout the various quick portages.

Due to the sluggish snow soften, our progress is sluggish. We weave via many shallow rocky sections, inevitably dragging, bouncing and scooching over rocks. Ultimately we trudge via ice-cold water that covers our ankles and calves. The journey is unhurried; it permits us to understand our environment and take within the small lakes, streams and rivers.

Southeast Alaska is inseparable from the Tongass Nationwide Forest; they’re one and the identical, with the mountainous western fringe of the North American continent giving strategy to the lots of of islands that make up the Alexander Archipelago. The panorama is blanketed with Western hemlock, pink and yellow cedars, and Sitka spruce.

On the second night, we decide to not cram right into a small tent. As a substitute, we spoil ourselves with the roof and bunks of a forest service cabin on Honker Lake. The hearth is small, but it surely’s greater than sufficient to chase away the night frost, and it infuses the air with the pungent and splendid scent of cedar kindling and burning logs.

Sitting simply exterior the cabin at nightfall, we hear the namesake of the lake and cabin — the Honker, or Canada goose — on the wing, cackling by the hundred on their migration north.

Canada geese use the lakes and streams alongside the Honker Divide as stopovers to their summer season nesting and breeding grounds. On daily basis from daybreak to nightfall we see and listen to them overhead as we paddle and hike, a harbinger of the lengthy days of summer season.

It’s awe-inspiring to observe the birds, however the crick in my neck from gazing skyward attracts me again to earth and to the forest itself.

Prince of Wales Island is barely bigger than the state of Delaware. It’s dwelling to lots of the animal species discovered all through the Tongass — moose, black and brown bears, Sitka black-tailed deer, beaver and porcupine. We’re additionally looking out for a subspecies of northern flying squirrel and Alexander Archipelago wolf.

Sixty years in the past, the forest that surrounds us was alive not with the sounds of cackling geese however with the whir of chainsaws and all of the machinations of contemporary industrial logging. Visually, essentially the most defining traits of the island are the inescapable clearcuts that checkerboard the lowlands and mountainsides.

Logging nonetheless exists on the island, on a smaller and extra sustainable scale. However earlier this yr, the Trump Administration, with the encouragement of successive Alaska governors and congressional delegations, finalized plans to open about 9 million acres of the Tongass Nationwide Forest to logging and highway development — by exempting the realm from protections offered by a Clinton-era coverage often called the roadless rule, which banned logging and highway development in a lot of the nationwide forest system.

Supporters of the plan level to its financial potential. However the elimination of the rule — which drew overwhelmingly unfavorable reactions when it was opened for public remark — may irreparably change the Honker Divide watershed and endanger the oldest dwelling issues within the forest.

As Bjorn and I push via thickets of satan’s membership and trundle over chest-high nurse logs, the bushes appear to develop earlier than our eyes. The forest stands as a witness to the passage of time, and a close-by stream as a lifeline to the previous. The saplings on the confluence of the stream mark the current, whereas the enormous spruce and hemlock at its supply probably predate the European colonization of the Americas — in order that the one people who may have witnessed the delivery of this stand of bushes are the realm’s Tlingit and Haida peoples.

These bushes are among the many most historical within the huge expanse of the Tongass. It might even be among the many most imperiled by the abrogation of the 2001 roadless rule. We ponder their immeasurable worth, and attempt to reckon with the considered them as a easy commodity, as a useful resource to be extracted.

After meandering via the stand of previous progress, we’re compelled to confront the timeline of our journey — and the arrival, the following day, of our floatplane. We retreat into the shadows of the forest, heading again towards the current with each step. Our boats are ready for us, and we set off to succeed in the tip of the canoe route on the sleepy former logging city of Thorne Bay.

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