Sitka Conservation Society
Feb 09 2011

Expedition: Rust Lake

Rust Lake Expedition 2010

Flying into Rust lake

Adam Andis, Wilderness Stewardship Coordinator

Rust Lake in West Chichagof Wilderness Area

Goldfishing- (adj.) 1. the act of completing a task half-heartedly 2. “half-assing” it Etymology: derived from the process of smoking a cigar by puffing out one’s cheeks without inhaling the smoke.One could characterize our hike from Rust Lake in the interior of West Chichagof out to the head of Patterson Bay as many things: ridiculously soggy, heinous bushwhacking, an exercise in patience, pathetically jovial, steep, slippery, but no one could ever characterize it as goldfishing, a term we arrived at after a long hiking day while smoking the fine cigars Andrew Thoms, Executive Director of SCS, sent with us.


Matt and Kitty hiking through the muskeg

Conducting botanical surveys

Matt Goff, Kitty LaBounty and I flew into Rust Lake on the morning of June 8thunder bright blue skies, unloaded the plane and immediately took off to the alpine. One major intention of the trip, was to survey a band of Karst topography near Rust Lake. The Karst area is an erosional formation of a band of limestone bedrock that runs diagonally across Chichagof Island. The area is unique in the species of plants that can grow on it’s unusual surface. Kitty and Matt were interested in comparing the presence and absence of a number of alpine plant species between the limestone and surrounding bedrock. As the pictures show, this area is a perfect subject area for comparison because of the obvious delineation between the two different bedrock regimes. We finished our 11 hour “day” hike by crashing, sliding, and bashing our way down the Karst ridge back to camp at around 9:30 pm.

Karst Gallery

Karst topography is formed when soluble bedrock, like limestone, is eroded away by slightly acidic water, such as rain. It can create some truly bizarre landscapes on both small and large scales.  At the Rust Lake site, the Karst band abuts other mafic (characterized by high magnesium and iron (ferric) content) bedrock, making it a perfect site to note presence and especially absence of certain plant species.

Removing invasive plants

Matt and Kitty spent the morning taking plant surveys along the gravel bars of the river flowing in to Rust Lake. Last year, Kitty had noted invasive dandelions along this stream. The population seemed small enough that manual removal may be an eradication option. This year, the population had grown slightly, but we still manually removed all dandelions we could find (approximately 200). We hope that continued hand removal and monitoring will prove effective in this area. After all the backbreaking, rugged, and dangerous work of weeding dandelions, I spent a good portion of the noon hours napping on the bank under the sun.

Lily Mihalik of KCAW Sitka arriving under the clouds

Peggy Marcus, Supervisory Natural Resource Specialist for the Sitka Ranger District of the Forest Service, and Lily Mihalik from Raven Radio in Sitka were scheduled to fly in on the afternoon of June 9th. As I napped, the winds picked up and the weather came in forcing them to reschedule for the next morning.

Peggy Marcus from USFS getting a little exposure

I called Forest Service Dispatch at 6:00 am: “Ceiling at 1500 ft, light winds from the South, good visibility”. Rust Lake is in a bowl at about 870 feet. The Forest Service needs at least, 500ft of to fly into the lake. That didn’t give much margin for error. After a couple of hours, Kitty, Matt, and I began calculating the amount of extra weight we would be carrying down to Patterson ourselves, since it seemed very unlikely Peggy and Lily would get through. As we debated, we heard a plane engine, and shortly thereafter saw the tiny float plane dive in just under the ceiling through the cut where the river flows out to the Pacific.

With Lily and Peggy in the field, we packed up camp and headed for our next camp, an alpine lake under another Karst band across the valley from the first.

After morning coffee on the 10th, we packed up and headed for Patterson Bay. The end of the alpine lake and the beginning of the slope to Patterson marks the boundary of the Wilderness Area. One can’t help but wonder if the beautiful weather was directly related to being with in the wilderness boundaries, because as soon as we crossed the boundary, the rain began and continued throughout the day. Armed with aerial photos and GPS, the crew hiked down a very slippery and steep ridge into the valley bottom of Patterson. By late evening we had crashed and thwacked through more devils club and alder thickets we could handle, but we were still a way off from Patterson Bay. Finally, hungry and exhausted, we saw an opening in the trees.

Rainy rest stop

Unfortunately, rather than finding Patterson Bay on the other side of the tree line, we discovered a massive beaver operation that didn’t show up on our out-dated aerial photos. The slues created by the damming we too deep and to wide to cross. We circled around and plunged back into the devils club. After a while, apparently walking in circles, it started to get dark. Eleven hours of bushwhacking in the rain had drained us. We found a spot in the forest, built a fire, and set up camp. As Peggy, Lily, and I collected wood, Matt and Kitty scouted the way ahead only to find out that we were under a mile to the beach at Patterson!

Flying out of the field

In the morning, the weather had calmed down and we were hopeful for a successful float plane pick up. Finally on the beach, however, the wind changed and began gusting. The plane came over the ridge behind us and circled a number of times, contemplating the take-off potential in the current conditions. Satisfied, he landed. We took off again, into the margins of a squall. There were some initial bumps as testified by the bruises Kitty’s fingers left on my leg, but overall the flight back to Sitka was smooth and beautiful thanks to the pilots at Harris Air.


Check out the radio stories of the trip on Raven Radio:

Wilderness Surveys Shed Light on Human Impact

Wild Plants May Show Signs of Climate Change

Jul 25 2010

Expedition: Black Bay 2010

The expedition to Black Bay on West Chichagof was for the SCS crew to create a baseline for monitoring how well the Wilderness area was functioning. Read Bob Christensen’s report below.


May 08 2010

Expedition: Red Bluff

Red Bluff Bay is one of the most iconic places on Baranof Island. The area gets its name from the red, ultramafic (meaning high iron content) of the bedrock outcrop that marks the entrance of the bay. SCS’s Wilderness Crew, accompanied by author Nick Jans, targeted the bluffs as a prime environment to survey for rare and sensitive plants.
Red Bluff is also a popular destination for travelers and small cruise boats, so it was also important to monitor the base-line levels of human use to ensure that we don’t “love this place to death.”


Expedition: Red Bluff 2010 from Sitka Conservation Society on Vimeo.

May 06 2010

Expedition: Goulding Lakes

Goulding Lakes are a series of three large lakes right in the middle of West Chichagof-Yakobi Wilderness area.  In the summer of 2010, the SCS Wilderness Crew comprised of SCS staff and a number of volunteers, flew into the largest of the lakes with the goal of survey priority areas as they backpacked north to Stag Bay.  Check out the video to see how the adventure unfolded.


Jan 24 2010

Expedition: Glacier Study

The 2010 Wilderness Expedition Grant was awarded to the South Baranof Glacier Study.  Check out the final report, watch the video slide show, and read Jonathan and Eli’s stories from the trip.

Aug 07 2009

Expedition: Rezanof Lake

SCS traveled with Forest Service personnel investigating the decommissioned cabins in Maksoutoff and Rezanof lakes. We conducted invasive and sensitive plant surveys on both Rezanof and Khostof lakes, including the main creek valley at the head of Rezanof Lake and up the northwestern slope of Mt. Hagemeister.

We did not locate any invasive plant species in the area.

The most unique vegetation type encountered on this trip was the grass dominated meadows on the eastern shore.  The grasslands may be maintained by episodic flooding and/or browse of invading shrubs and trees.

Also at the upper lake shore were less frequently encountered species such as Symphotrichum subspicatum.  An infrequently encountered orchid (on Baranof Island), Goodyera oblongifolia, was found in the peninsula between the Khostof and Rezanof lake.

We did relocate populations of Mimulus lewisii (on the Alaska Natural Heritage Vascular Tracking List) on the eastern shore of Rezanof Lake.

We found one adult boreal toad in the sloughs of Rezanof Creek.

Rarely documented lichen (for Baranof Island) on Tsuga mertensiana on Mt. Hagemeister: Nephroma arcticum

Historical: Located USGS markers related to hydrological project in late 1960’s.

Range extension of a bryophyte, Pseudolescurea patens, previously known from Yakutat area in Southeastern Alaska.

Notable bird sightings: Great Blue Heron nest, Red Tail hawk, Lesser sandpiper, and Red throated loons.

Jun 22 2009

Expedition: Red Bluff 2009

We spent 5 days at Red Bluff bay conducting Invasive and sensitive plant surveys and solitude monitoring.  Red Bluff was the most heavily used area that we visited in either Wilderness during the 2009 field season.  There were 10 private boats anchored in the bay and 2 parties seen on shore.

We did not find any invasive species, but document several populations  of Polystichum kruckebergii , a species of fern included on the Region 10 Sensitive plant list, on the bluffs.  Additionally we found two species included on the Alaska Natural Heritage Vascular Plant tracking list, Mimulus lewisii  (S2) and Asplenium  trichomanes (S1) on the bluffs near the abandoned cannery site.  Interesting vegetation types encountered included the strikingly sparse vegetation found on the  ultramafic bluffs and stands of Populus balsamifera in the floodplain.

Cedar samples were collected for the Forest Sciences study on the genetics and biogeography of Alaska Yellow Cedar.

Notable bird sightings included: a pair of Red-throated loons, groups of Marbled murrelets, a juvenile Trumpeter Swan and a Western Screech Owl.

The most unusual animal sighting was grasshoppers (not typical of insular southeast Alaska) on the bluffs.

A sow and cubs were seen in the estuary meadow.

Jun 07 2009

Expedition: Lake Diana

The Wilderness Ranger and I spent an overnight trip at Lake Diana to monitor a hunting camp and to conduct invasive and sensitive plant surveys.

We did extensive clean up of a camp site near the eastern shore of the lake, including trash collection, line removal and consolidating multiple fire rings into one site.

We hiked up from the eastern shore to the snow line on the ridge overlooking the Salmon Lake valley. No invasive or sensitive plants were seen.  The most notable feature of the vegetation was the presence of several native Mtn Ash trees.

Notable bird sightings: American Pipits, Red-Tailed Hawks

May 13 2009

Expedition: Lake Elfendhal

Our first attempt to fly to Lake Elfendahl was not successful (due to weather) and we made camp on Lydonia Island.  The second day, a float plane moved us to Lake Elfendahl where we spent 3 days.

Lydonia island is small island with a mixture of vegetation types cedar dominated young forest, scrubby mixed conifer, open muskeg and a pond with a small area of grass/sedge/herb meadow.  In the small meadow  we found our second invasive species of the field season, Phleum pratense .

There was sign of a camp site (tent stakes) on the island, but no trash.

At Lake Elfendahl we surveyed the outlet of the lake and approximately a mile down an unofficial trail to White Sulfur Hot Springs.  Near the lake outlet we collected a buccal swab genetic sample from a Boreal Toad.

Near the outlet of the lake we collected some atypical species including Ranunculus aquatilis and Botrychium mulitfidum.

We also conducted sensitive and invasive plant surveys up the slopes of Mt. Fritz. None were found, but we did collect Cinna latifolia an under documented, but probably not unusual species of grass.

Notable bird sightings:  Spotted Sandpipers, Semi-palmated plovers, and Common Loons.

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