Baird Canyon, take two

Jun 28, 2016 | 0 comments

Kylie and I finally made it out to Baird Canyon last Tuesday, 4 days later than originally scheduled, and it basically took us the whole day to get there too. At least this time we were used to the routine: Load up our monstrosity of camera gear into the truck hauling the boat, drive 36 miles to the washed out bridge, load the gear from the truck bed into the boat, launch the boat into the river and drive it across to the other side; offload the gear from the boat into another truck, drive that truck to Million Dollar Bridge at mile 49, and then reload all the gear into a second boat that would take us the rest of the way to Baird. By the time we did all this, it was mid-afternoon. Two crew members from Baird picked us up (plus the camp lead’s mother, who was visiting), and we took off at a breakneck speed towards Miles Glacier upriver. 20160621_BC_MilesGlacier_AMW It was a warm sunny day, but I stayed hunkered down with my hood up to keep the silt out of my eyes, as it stung and painfully stuck to my contact lenses. We slowed down for a few minutes to putter through a floating field of icebergs that had broken off from the glacier. 20160621_BC_milesglacier_ice_AMW_5 The sheer size of the ice that had broken off was mind-blowing, some of the chunks towering 30 feet high or more. I wished more than anything I had a kayak to paddle around the ice all day, but we had to get upriver to camp. It happened to be the first day of summer, and the crew had a giant bonfire and feast planned. They had already been out in the field for a couple months, and we were some of the first and only visitors they had. For the entire season, they stay out in the backcountry, and won’t return to town until the Chinook run is over, usually early- to mid-July. So summer solstice is a special time of year for them to celebrate making it most of the way through the season, the long hours of daylight, and feasting on their huge store of food from the cabin stock. We thought we would be camping, but when we got there, they all said we would be sleeping upstairs in the main cabin. Sweet! They had two beds in the attic where they stored extra gear, complete with mosquito nets, power so we could upload our footage each night, and wifi. Pretty posh for the “backcountry!” Water was piped in from a nearby stream, and heated by propane. It seemed the only modern amenity they didn’t have was a flushing toilet, but the outhouse was quite lovely (more on that later). We met the other crew members, which consisted of a married couple, and a camp dog named Tenzi. At any rate, by the time we got settled in, it was time to get back in the boats in go downstream to a nearby beach where the crew had built a giant wood pile for our bonfire. They packed coolers with foil “chicken boats” (chicken with vegetables, wrapped in foil to be cooked over the fire), s’more fixin’s, and potatoes to roast. 20160621_BC_solstice_AMW_1220160621_BC_solstice_AMW_5 Since it wouldn’t really get dark, we got to setting the fires right away, and took our time cooking our meals, chatting, and enjoying the rare sunny evening. 20160621_BC_solstice_orr_AMW_220160621_BC_solstice_sunset_AMW_220160621_BC_solstice_sunset_AMW_11 As it got later, something of a sunset did begin to settle in around 9pm, casting the river valley in golden light. Seals dove and bobbed about in the muddy river, and Tenzi happily dug holes in the sand and was generally the center of attention and conversation, as I would find she often was in camp life here. Although we were all in summer solstice celebration mode, the crew still had work to do, and so promptly at 9:30pm, two of them headed off to the fishwheels for the evening Chinook count. Naturally, I went along with them. 20160621_BC_fishwheel_AMW_10 My first up close look at hte fishwheels felt pretty magical. They’re powered only by the flow of the river, so they’re pretty quiet save for the rhythmic splashing of the water as the wheel turns and the creaking and groaning of the structure as it flexes under the powerful pull of the water around it. Within the first few minutes of arriving, I saw it scoop up several sockeye salmon, which would get funneled into these wooden chutes, and slide down into a holding tank. The holding tank has small escape holes at the bottom to allow smaller non-target fish, like sockeye, to escape, while the larger kings get trapped for sampling every 8 hours. There were a couple king salmon in both of the fish wheels, and they were easy to identify by their massive size and color difference from the sockeye. The crew would systematically fish them out of the holding tanks with a net, place them in a padded trough, tag them, measure them, and release them back into the river. Ninety-one kilometers upriver, they would hopefully be re-captured in similar fish wheels at Canyon Creek, and from there they would be able to tell how many Chinook are surviving the run. 20160621_BC_fishwheel_release_AMW20160621_BC_fishwheel_select_AMW20160621_BC_fishwheel_splash_AMW_4 The amount of teamwork and meticulousness that the task took was incredible, and it was clear this team worked well together. They remained calm and aware of their surroundings and incredibly respectful and reverent of the fish. They took their jobs very seriously and professionally, but also clearly love what they do and value every moment of their time out in this spectacular place. 20160621_BC_fishwheel_sunset_AMW_1 After sampling, we returned to the bonfire beach, and stayed out there until midnight when the sun finally dipped below the mountains. I was grateful to have a warm place to sleep that night, and a mosquito net over my bed, but the incessant whine of those little buggers nonetheless woke me up several times throughout the night. I was glad to finally be at the legendary Baird Canyon, this strange wilderness where the river ruled the wild and the mountains stood as sentries over it. The next day, I would be in for one of the most treacherous treks of my life up one of those mountains.


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