Today’s journey will take us south in Clarence Strait, past the Haida village of Kasaan to Karta Bay in the heart of Karta River Wilderness. The seas were calm with little wind and as we approached Kasaan Peninsula, we spotted two humpbacks leisurely feeding along the shore. Kasaan Peninsula is mostly rocky shoreline with small pockets of pristine fine pebbled beaches embraced by old growth forest.
While Arctic Star and Athena were off on their own adventures, the remainder of the fleet took a detour into Kasaan, the northernmost Haida village with a rich culture and several powerful chiefs in the past. The docks at Kasaan are robust and the town welcomes visitors.
A short walk along the boardwalk leads to an exquisite modern totem that tells the story of the Haida culture past, present and future. Beyond this totem is a path through moss-draped rainforest leading to Chief Sonihat Whale House located in the Kasaan Totem Park established in the 1930’s. The whale house is built from thick cedar planks all adze carved. Inside the building on the far wall are three exquisitely preserved house poles. There are no windows, the only light comes in thru the ceiling where the smoke escapes the central fire. Many of the totems were relocated in 1938 from the Old Kasaan Village. Walking through the shadowed rainforest surrounded by the babbling creek, ravens’ calls, and nature’s tranquility, is an awe-inspiring experience to view these original totems in their natural setting. One of the many poles depicts mother bear at the base of a pole guarding her willful cub at the top.
Leaving the forest, we were invited into the Carver’s Shed where Eric, the local carver shared his knowledge of carving totems using an adze and making traditional Native canoes carved from a single cedar log which is then filled with salt water and hot rocks to steam the wood, widen the canoe, and make it seaworthy. Eric was very kind and generous with his time and knowledge, all the while keeping an ear out for his young daughter.
Two hours later, we continued to Karta Bay about 45 minutes from Kasaan. Karta Bay is part of the Karta River Wilderness inside the Tongass National Forest. Salmon swimming in large schools leap as they wait their turn to swim into the river. The area is truly a “wilderness” completely untouched. The Karta River is shallow, wide and meanders through the forest. Rocks are draped in bright green algae with king fishers patrolling the overhanging branches and dippers bopping along the banks. A small Forest service cabin is located at the beginning of the salmon jammed river, perfect bear habitat. As we arrived, each boat chose the perfect anchorage, and many dropped crab traps. Tomorrow we will start our 4-mile round-trip hike up to Karta Lake but tonight, we will simply rest in the solitude and stillness of the wilderness.