Day 3: McNeil River Sunday, June 18, 2006

The rain on the tent throughout the night left me unconcerned because my tent had been proven to weather some big Alaskan storms. To my surprise, I woke in the morning with water in my tent! My disappointment and dread at the possibility of the tent causing me problems on this trip, I tried to determine what was different. Although it had performed well on other rainy trips, I realized that this was a driving rain, packing pounding winds of 20 to 25 mph. I was lucky to find a tarp at the cook shack, left by a previous camper. Adjusting the tent ropes, I placed the tarp over the top to help with the wind problem. I figured that if I could keep the wind off the tent, I might be able to stay dry. The wind at McNeil blows hard so rocks must be placed on tent corners in addition to extra staking. In the past, my tent has faired in this environment, but this time it did not perform to my expectations. I hope the tarp will allow me to at least sleep a little drier.

At the cook shack, Lucas had water boiling for coffee and hot chocolate. Hot chocolate warmed me up and I was ready to start the day. When the rangers came to the shack for their daily 9:00 meeting, it was still raining. Most of those here had been out for several days and were preparing to leave today. Ranger Doug took Lucas, a few others, and me to watch bears in the rain. With some luck, maybe it would stop raining and we would get to take some photos.

Wet!

Up Mikfik creek we hiked. There, we saw about 10 bears, which we watched for several hours. Unfortunately, there was no respite from the wind and rain. Although my hip boots did fine, my North Face ® GORE-TEX ® coat was leaking. GORE-TEX ® is good for light rain, but does not work in a driving rain. I always thought GORE-TEX ® was rain gear, but I learned differently this trip to McNeil! After about four hours, Lucas and I were both soaked! Our rain gear did not work in this driving wind and rain. The group conceded to return to camp and try for another day. I was glad because I was soaked and I am sure my camera gear was getting damp also. My tent had failed, my GORE-TEX ® pants and parka had failed, and my camera pack may also have the same problems.

Back at camp we scattered our clothes all over the cook shack to dry them out. The little stove was not heating like it should, so Lucas started a fire in the sauna where we hung our belongings to dry. After about an hour, most things were dry with the exception of our gloves, which needed the rest of the night for them to dry. Our camera gear was also slightly damp and had to be taken out of the bags to dry over night.

Pizza Delivery

While we were watching bears in the rain, Kevin arrived at camp this afternoon and was ready to join us. Kevin had brought us pizza from a pizza joint in Homer. Pizza delivery at McNeil…….that’s sweet! We all filled Kevin in about was going on with the bears and discussed our plans for tomorrow regarding which gear to take and which gear to leave at the shack. After the first day out, everyone lightens their carry load because it makes for a tough day to haul all that gear around.

After preparing and eating our evening meal, we did the daily chore of preparing water for the next day. Although most campers went to bed early, I usually found myself to be the last one to leave the cook shack because nightly, I updated my journal. It is a lot of work to be an explorer, photographer, and journalist, when all I want to do is get some sleep. Some one has to do it, so I don’t mind writing in my journal until midnight. Heck, it’s still light at midnight around here!