Blue Mussel Christmas Day Letterbox LbNA # 13043 (ARCHIVED)
|Placed Date||Dec 25 2004|
For a full account of the trail, see my AOL Journal at http://journals.aol.com/spiralsage/TheJourneysofSpiralsage
(just in case the link doesn't come up on here.)
Drive out the road 39 miles and park at the Point Bridget State Park Trailhead. This beloved and well-known Juneau trail begins with a five minute jaunt across the muskeg before it enters taller trees. After about a quarter mile of boardwalk through muskeg and border forest, the trail starts downhill into thicker trees. At the bottom of the hill, the trail levels out briefly before coming to a relatively large bridge over a ruddy brown creek. This bridge is our rough landmark for a half mile of the trail to Cowee Meadow Cabin.
Then you head off into the forest, winding through huge old trees, crossing short stretches of boardwalk over mucky skunk cabbage beds and skirting messy mud puddles. There are lots of blueberry bushes here, for good eating in summer and early autumn. Occasionally, you can see through the trees to your right where numerous long, winding ponds curve through the meadow. You walk through muddy, rooty forest before you come to the top of one of the features my kids refer to as a Root Hill of Death, and once you pick your way down it, you stay at meadow level until you reach the halfway point of the trail to Cowee Meadow Cabin. This is a metal pole sticking up on the trail, a USGS marker we call the Metal Middle Marker, which we always kick or pat as we hike past it.
Shortly after this marker, you come past a wonderful cranberry patch on the right (east) to the new stretch of trail that leads out into the meadow. The trail stays close to the western edge of the meadow, near the forest, and you can see far across the meadow where the mountains rise in the distance. In summer, there are profuse wildflowers here, mostly in purples, and in the winter, you can keep your eyes open for the horses from Echo Ranch, who roam beautiful and free in the meadow.
The final stretch is boardwalk through the edge of the forest, and you can finally catch a glimpse of the outhouse, and then of the cabin, before coming out into the meadow by the cabin. You walk on boardwalk up and over a bridge over Cedar Creek right next to the cabin’s fire ring and deck. The cozy cabin is a nice place to take a break if you’re not staying here.
When you leave Cowee Meadow Cabin, follow the boardwalk northeastward toward Berm Beach. It’s a short and delightful walk, 7-10 minutes through the meadow before you approach a large hill separating the meadow from the beach. This grassy berm provides a dramatic physical form of anticipation as you climb the trail, able to hear the waves but not see them. When you reach the top of the hill, Berners Bay spreads out beautifully before you, great mountains rising in graceful sweeping slopes to the east and Lion’s Head Mountain dominating the view straight ahead. This is a great beach for sunbathing (when there’s actually sun), rock-hunting and wildlife-viewing.
Turn left and follow the trail on the top of the berm to the west, heading toward Blue Mussel Cabin. The trail cuts through the last bit of meadow flowers, beach sweet pea, lupine, monkshood and cow parsnip before turning south into the woods. In the winter, it is all dry and brown and flat. In the trees you pass the "Beach Erratic Boulder" – a huge rock far removed from the other rocks of the beach, lost and alone up here in the trees - similar to the glacial erratic rocks which were deposited by glaciers thousands of years ago. Anyway, it’s a landmark to pass on this trail as it marks the boundary between the forest trail and the beach meadow trail. As you turn west around the rock onto the trail, you must skirt a very large and everpresent “pond puddle” created by a basket of roots.
After this the trail heads parallel to the beach, only slightly higher than beach level, with a gently two-tiered slope beginning to rise on the left, or south. It’s about 7-10 minutes of walking through the woods before you step across a little creek at the bottom of a large hill. Just before this creek, note the absolutely humongous tree on the south side of the trail – a trail marker is stuck on it on the west side – WOW! The trail heads up the spongy duff of the hill to meander the rest of the way to the cabin on top of the bluff.
At the top of the hill, it’s a hiker’s free-for-all through a broad, level maze of tree roots before winding through an open, airy forest of devil’s club and ferns. In just a few minutes, you reach one of my favorite spots along the trail, a little copse of hemlock saplings that cluster around a bend in the trail as it curves around the edge of the bluff. In spring, there are numerous mushrooms along this bend in the trail.
From here it’s just a few more minutes to Great Auntie Tree who guards the path to the picnic table on the cliff’s edge. You’ll know her when you see her, a huge evergreen whose branches spread differently from her relatives nearby. Her trunk points up like a huge arm into the sky, with a couple of massive branches, as big around as the trunk, curving like elbows toward the water before rising up. All of the branches that spring from the trunk and these great arms spread out like a canopy from the upper reaches, making a flat roof of needles over Great Auntie Tree. Is it the ocean wind that has shaped her? In any case, at her feet is always a large puddle which must be skirted to follow the trail on to Blue Mussel or to take the right-hand, northern path to a clearing, where a picnic table sits on the edge of a rocky cliff over the sea. Definitely worth a stop if you’ve never been here.
A couple minutes after passing Great Auntie tree, the trail heads up a small rise and into a narrow passage between great old rocks covered with this strange gray lichen. This is another of my favorite spots along this trail, a place I suspect would be inhabited by fairies. I call it Gray Lichen Grotto, and love the profusion of this flat, lobed lichen and the closeness of the rocky humps to either side. It’s a short passage through the grotto before you come out and walk, now with the hillside pressed right up against the trail’s southern flank. The bluff drops steeply off into jumbled rocks and Devil’s Club on the right as you climb over roots and twist along the trail a few more minutes before you reach the top of another landmark hill. This one we call the Bluff Root Hill of Death, and from here it is another ten minutes or less to the cabin.
From the bottom of this hill, it’s a hop over a tiny creek and a short walk to the top of the cliff, where the trail leads down onto the beach. Depending on conditions, the climb down this cliff can be tricky, the top part in the woods involving climbing over roots, and the bottom being on jagged black beach rocks. There is a rope along one part to help you – though I wouldn’t rely too heavily on it. The trail now goes across the rocks at the back of the beach for two minutes to the cabin. The cabin isn’t even visible at first because it’s tucked back into the cove. A little creek trickles down a cliff up behind the cabin, and even in rainy weather it’s not always reliable, so there’s usually a hose to help water collection. Check out the cabin before looking for the box:
Walk toward the beach from the cabin. Step off the boardwalk by the firepit and head west toward a wooden plank tent platform (my kids think it is a stage for seaside performances). Now I tried counting out paces for the first time, though it’s very rough, since you have flotsam from high tide to step over, rocks, and other factors which affect the length of a pace. On this windy, 17 foot high tide day, when I had to walk through gloopy foam, unable to see what I was stepping on underneath, I tried to make one pace equal to one big step from me, maybe about 2.5 feet? Anyway, it’s a rough guideline, and I hope the other clues will help you out if the paces turn out wrong. If not, you’d better email me so I can fix it!
From the tent platform, walk westward, roughly parallel to the backing cliff of the cove, about 35 paces. When you reach where the cliff indents southward into a little “cove”, you should be between the outer edge of the cliff and a big rock on the west. Stand where you are roughly even with the outermost, northern edge of the cliff you just passed. Walk fifteen paces south, into the “cove” and uphill. Paces and footing get a bit tricky here, be careful. At fifteen paces, you should be standing even with a big, straight, tall tree about ten to twelve feet on your right, or west. Take a couple of steps uphill to pass some obstacles and then turn right (west) into the trees, going about eight paces over the rocks and under the trees. Be careful to duck!
When you get under the trees, you should be facing two very large rocks, one uphill and covered with soil and tree roots (one noticeably large and long). This rock points downhill at another rhombus-shaped rock. Under the Rhombus Rock is a nice hidey hole. The letterbox is tucked in here, hopefully under some sticks and such. On this cold and windy Christmas Day when I planted it, the most amazing sight was all the icicles on the cliff! They were yellowish and looked like an immense dwarf’s beard covering the rocky cliff, except for one spot, high up on the western side of the cove. Here the dripping water had been blown by the wind into several banks of curving half-rings of icicles. I suppose they almost looked like braided pirate’s beards. I doubt my pictures will do them justice. But who knows what weather you may encounter. Regardless, this is a nice private spot to sit and look at the ocean, hidden from view of the cabin, and sometimes from the wind – unless it’s coming straight in as it did on Christmas Day.
So have fun, and all the usual cautions apply – tell someone where you’re going, watch your footing, bring a first aid kit, look out for bears, tie your shoes well, bring drinking water. And please contact me to let me know how the box is doing and what I can do to improve it – it was a last minute rush getting kids out the door on Christmas Eve, so I know the box is less than stellar. But heck! This is the Last Frontier!