West Behm Canal Survey - Passport in Time

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West Behm Canal Kayak Survey and Monitoring Program

Tongass National Forest, Alaska, 1999
by John T. Autrey, FS Archaeologist, and Martin V. Stanford, FS Archaeologist

Using sea kayaks as their mode of transportation, volunteers and FS archaeologists located known sites, updated site information, documented current site condition, and assessed site damage along the west Behm Canal. This information will be used to develop site-protection measures and to determine restoration and stabilization needs.

Tongass NF Archaeologist John Autrey was joined by archaeologists Kathleen Flynn and Martin Stanford of the Ketchikan/Misty Fiords Ranger District and volunteers Linda Blankenship, Rebekka Chaplin, Evelyn Lennon, and Susan Scott. Volunteers spent the first day taking part in orientation sessions on kayaking, “leave-no-trace” camping ethics, and bear safety to prepare for this intensive 10-day work adventure covering approximately 65 nautical miles, with tent camps established along the way. The study area was the western and northern portions of Revillagigedo Island within the Ketchikan/Misty Fiords Ranger District. Many of the work locations and place-names encountered either originated with the Tlingit culture or were named during the explorations of George Vancouver in 1793.

The second day, we were all transported by truck and car to Settler’s Cove, where we packed up our kayaks and shoved off! John Autrey, the trip leader, split off from the group and paddled off into Clover Passage to Back Island. There, he monitored a prehistoric campsite estimated to be 590–906 years old. The rest of the group paddled to Stack Island to establish camp. Stack Island was named for Richard Stack, who was connected with the cannery and community at Loring. A small home was established about 1948 by Sexton Johansen, who constructed a 12-by-16-foot frame structure at this location.

The crew divided into two working groups, one to map the old homestead dating from 1948 and the other to survey the rest of the island, where they found several culturally modified trees (CMTs). Bark gathering, the collection of tree sap and chips for kindling, and the chopping of alcoves into trees to create trap sets for marten and mink leave distinctive marks. More recently, loggers bored into trees to determine whether the wood was healthy or rotten, leaving bore holes. These cultural modifications help to document the various kinds of activities that have gone on in the region.

On the third day, the crew once again split into two groups. One group paddled over to Cache Island, where they located a reported grave site and recorded 13 CMTs before continuing to another island, where they located and recorded two more previously unknown historical-period graves associated with the cannery community at Loring during the 1890s–1930s. The other group had an interesting hike looking for the Wolf Lake Recreation Shelter, a CCC-era shelter constructed in the 1940s. This structure is a 15-by-15-foot three-sided shelter constructed of peeled poles, with a modified gable roof. Hand-split cedar shake shingles cover the three side walls and the two roof panels. Many of these shelters were designed and built during the CCC and WPA eras. After a strenuous morning of trying to locate the shelter, the crew backtracked and spent a long afternoon bushwhacking, bug slapping, and getting back late in the day to the kayaks.

The next day, the entire crew paddled into Naha Bay to the remains of the Eulikon Smoking and Oil Company site, where oil was rendered from shark livers for industrial use. Nearby, we inspected the remains of the 1880s Alaska Salmon Packing and Fur Company Saltery, where salmon were salted in brine and packed in barrels for shipping. We then paddled on to the old cannery community of Loring. Just offshore from this interesting community, we were able to see part of the boiler of the wreck of the side-wheel steamer Ancon. The steamship was carrying mail and freight and was loaded with passengers and canned salmon from the cannery. Upon departure, wind carried the ship onto a submerged rock and ruptured the hull. The vessel began to slowly sink as the passengers and cargo were unloaded. Accommodations at the cannery were provided as passengers and crew waited another week for the next steamer to arrive.

The next day, we paddled past Escape Point, where early English explorer Captain George Vancouver and his survey expedition encountered four canoes of hostile natives on August 12, 1793. We breezed into Traitors Cove with a strong tailwind and monitored an ancient canoe landing and camp site. We crossed over in the beamy chop to the north side of the cove and had lunch in a small cove while we watched a mother black bear and her cubs. We monitored another prehistoric campsite, this one dated to about 1480 B.P., before paddling to the head of the bay for the evening. We received a food drop and trash pickup from Ketchikan via float plane.

From Traitors Cove, we continued about 15 miles to Black Island, where we set up camp. Along the way, we stopped at Club Point, where we located a possible new site consisting of several CMTs and the remains of an old rusted wood stove. As we were leaving this site, a pod of 7–10 killer whales joined us!
All members had different stories to tell of their numerous close encounters with the mother orcas and their young, the huge dorsal fins of the breaching males, whale breath, and the images of rain squalls marching up Behm Canal toward us. The orcas kept us company for several miles on our long stormy paddle to Gedney Pass.

The next morning, after camping in a very wet and bug-infested campsite, we completed a short paddle over to a 2,000-year-old campsite and a historical-period tent platform site. We had a long, windy paddle diagonally across Gedney Pass into Shrimp Bay to camp near other sites slated for inspection. We decided to remain an extra day and night here because of high winds and rain.

From our Shrimp Bay camp, we paddled once again across Gedney Pass, then up Hassler Pass and on into the Behm Narrows, where we entered the Misty Fiords National Monument and Wilderness Area. This was the longest paddle of the trip, at 16 miles. We paced ourselves with rest stops along the way to replenish lost calories as we headed toward Claude Point. This was an ideal place to camp among the chocolate lilies, paintbrush, and wild irises found there in abundance. Because of the protected harbor, people have used this location for many years for shelter when trapping mink and otter and hunting and fishing. From about 1945, various individuals constructed pole and cedar shake cabins that were used until very recently.

On our final full day, we paddled from our camp to Cow Creek to inspect prehistoric fish traps, which have been dated to approximately 2300 B.P., and historical-period cabin remains at Claude Point. Later in the day, we recorded the cabins, which have been used as residences under permit for many years, reviewed our documentation, and recapped our many adventures.

The next morning, we packed up camp and waited for our Dehavilland Beaver float planes to pick us up. The hour-long flight to Ketchikan covered much of the shoreline that we had been inching our way along during the last 10 days. Upon arriving in Ketchikan, we said our fare wells. At the end of the project, we had monitored 11 archaeological sites, located 5 new sites, and paddled 65 miles . . . all in all, a very productive, interesting, and enjoyable adventure.
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