29. Seymour Narrows to Behring Lake

After missing the 1904 trip, Hayes catches on with Martin for the 1906 survey trip to Alaska.  Hayes serves as boatman, cook, and general camp roustabout for a much larger party in 1906.

The map below won’t appear in an email.  The current chapter appears as the blue path up the Alaska coast, preceded by the pink  from California, and followed by the green south back down the Alaska coast.

Click here to download chapters 1-29 on Google Earth.  

Here and There Synopsis:

29.1 Mapping Wingham Island

May 26, 1905

After the long trip north from Seymor Narrows, Hayes and the party land at Wingham Island to do some mapping. “We have instead of the light and handy skiff I induced Martin to bring last trip, a heavy dory that requires all one’s strength to row even in still water. Against these tide rips and river currents it is going to be impossible to handle.”

Big Fishing Dory

Hayes is to cook for the party, assist the topologists and geologists in their daily work, and must “look after the boats, packing, wood getting and so on.” The other assistant, Small, should have the same assignment but has the favor of Maddren so, “It is the usual thing. If one has influence as this man has, work is left to another.”

29.2 Fossils at Behring River

June 2, 1905

Martin says he and Hayes will press on to Manatuska, “But I wonder, for these college boys are helpless to do anything but eat and complain.”

The fossils in the nearby hills indicate a tropical climate reigned here at one time: Hayes found some magnolia leaves and Martin found palm fronds that will be sent back to Washington.

And one more note about Small, Maddren’s man. “I don’t like to complain unduly of my companions, but it is apparent I am to do two men’s work on this job from now on. If I can I will, but it is discouraging.”

29.3 With Brooks at Katallah

June 10,1905

Alfred H. Brooks, head of the Alaska Survey, “the big shot,” has joined Martin’s group and is pressing to explore the Katalla region as quickly as possible.

Alfred H. Brooks Alaska 1899

So Brooks and Martin set off down river with Hayes to “cook and camp hand while they prospect about the country.”

29.4 Coal at Shepard Creek

June 17, 1905

At Shepard Creek, near the Martin River Glacier, “good grade bituminous and semi anthracite” coal show immense seams wherever the ice recedes. Four companies have claimed it all and their owners “are now towing to Brooks and Martin like these men were demigods.”

“There are some wonderfully pretty lakes in this region.” Hayes claims that one is “as neat a square as a body of water could be naturally”; Lake Kushtacah has its own demon according to the natives; Lake Charlotte is as green as an emerald and discharges into Shepard Creek as “clear and as transparent as water ever is.”

Lake Kushtaka

In all the water, millions of salmon and millions of mosquitoes spawn. The party has too few nets to protect from the latter, “so I have invented one to hang to the flap of my sleeping bad, and Brooks has done me the signal honor to discard his net and make one like mine for him.”

29.5 Stillwater Creek

June 17, 1905

At Katallah, Hayes pitched the party’s tent on “an old Indian shack … and we had a splendid floor made of hewn planks.” He remarks that he, Martin and Brooks “line well together”: Hayes and Martin tow the boat and Brooks steers. “There can be no deadheads in Alaska unless it be near the coast. Every tub must stand in a measure on its own bottom here.” According to Hayes, “Brooks has seen a good deal of the wilderness, but no man can understand very much about it unless he is constantly in it.” Hayes seems to include himself in this assessment as he says, “Therefore we have made a few blunders since wandering about the country.” At Stillwater Creek, which is only still where it enters the Behring River, a horse some coal company men hobbled to shoe, broke its rope, backed into the rushing river, and drown. Brooks, Martin and Hayes came upon its corpse while lining up the Behring.

29.6 Beneath Behring Glacier

June 25, 1905

(Perhaps a reader can help me with the Geography here. It seems likely to me that the glacial geography of Alaska has changed since 1905. I’m locating Hayes where I think he says he was and in the order he says it, but I’m not at all sure I’ve got him correctly placed.)

Brooks, Martin and Hayes, seem to have formed a functioning trio. Hayes says the three of them went to the face of the Behring Glacier for a few days. “I stayed with the goods on the flats near the ice fields while Brooks and Martin Looked over the coal prospects about Canyon Creek, which roars–yes, literally roars down a gorge and spreads over its boulder strewn bed into the Behring.” Hayes is twitchy the whole four days he’s camped on the flat; an old timer told him of tremendous floods that roar down the gorge when an ice dam bursts from lakes that form on the ice fields.

The late June heat melts snow and raises the river levels until Hayes thinks he will have to abandon camp and climb a tree. Fortunately no ice dams give way. During Hayes’ tense four days, Martin and Brooks ate mountain goat shot by miners living on the edge of the ice flow. “The goat rolled down hundreds of feet to the talus slope, and must have been fairly tender after this fall.”

The trio returned to the main camp shooting a river running full with blocks of ice. “The two geologists walked down the bank while I shot the rapids, the boat being too heavily laden to carry the lot of us safely when there are so many rocks sticking up in the bed of the stream.” Martin and Hayes rejoined the rest of the survey team near Behring Lake while Brooks returned to Washington glad to be free of the mosquitoes. A full paragraph describing the number, tenacity, and means of battling “these voracious insects” ensues.

29.7 Pie at Behring Lake

July 12, 1905

Some new hands have joined the survey including Valdemar Georgesen, the son of the head of the agricultural department of Alaska. Valdemar is seventeen, soft and carries a big appetite. Martin starts west for Matanuska alone, deciding that Hayes better stay with the camp of new men under the direction of Hamilton the topographer. Hamilton splits the crew into two groups: his larger crew to boat around charting the lake on day excursions from a comfortable cabin, and a smaller group, for which Hayes cooks, to “do the scouting duty where access to the country is difficult.” All the canned fruit went with Hamilton, so Hayes picks gallons of wild berries for pies. With fresh berry pie, a light peterboro canoe, and competent companions, “Our gang get on well, and are glad to be away from the main bunch under Hamilton.”

29.8 Kayak Island

July 18, 1905

Most of the green hands are catching on to the work, “though the college students, who enlisted as camp hands, are so much dead wood.” A group of five including Hayes, Billy Hill, and Bill McDonald did a survey of Kayak Island. Hayes reports doing double duty: all the rowing and all the cooking. “It almost killed me.” All this work would be fine if equally shared as at the mining camps nearby, but “These government parties are made up chiefly of men whose lives are spent in offices, at desks where they wear white collars and do their adventure vicariously.” Somebody with a little practical experience has to do the work – and to Hayes that somebody usually seems to be Hayes – the “human camel.”

29.9 Wild Alaska

July 25, 1905

Martin came back from Matanuska and the “first thing he did was to roust Hamilton out of the soft spot he had dug into and shoved him off to the Copper River Flats.” Maddren is hardened to the work having been in Alaska previously, but he only does fossils. Martin is an expert geologist, honest and hard working but not yet capable of making good leadership decisions; “His money has already run out, and he is at wits end to know what to do to keep us going until the end of the work season.” So Hayes keeps picking berries – raspberries, salmon berries, blue berries, huckleberries, and strawberries – five gallons at a time. “These, with condensed milk and sugar make a wonderful dessert and laxative.”

“We get little news here in the wilderness. … The wildlife interests me more than the people.” The glaciers shut out deer, moose and caribou from this region, but the area is thick with bears: brown bears, similar to the giants on Kodiak Island; black bears smaller than the browns; and occasionally, out on the ice, a blue bear, said to be more savage than all the rest. Porcupines eat the tender bark of spruce trees and are eaten by hungry miners but “they are rather gamey to an unaccustomed tongue.” Marmots, resembling large prairie dogs, whistle sharply when surprised. And Martin reports seeing sea otters off Cape Elias on the southern tip of Kayak Island.

Gulls, cormorants, puffins, murres, sandpipers, snipes, plovers curlews, oyster catchers, eagles, ducks, geese, ptarmigan, mergansers … “but for the interest of the wildlife, I would find it difficult to stick this place.”

And the mountains: “The magnificent ranges covered with snow, extending from far west of the Copper River to St. Elias on the east. This is called the Chugach Range, and it is always covered with snow.”

Chugach Mountains

While none of this austere natural beauty quite adds up to happiness or contentment for Hayes, he certainly expresses awe.

2 Responses to 29. Seymour Narrows to Behring Lake

  1. Tim Bell says:

    Thanks, as ever, for the update on Hayes. Living off the land as they were, picking gallons of berries and harvesting salmon, I am surprised the party didn’t have more close contact with bears, who would have been eating the very same things, and might not appreciate the competition.

    Regarding Bering (or Behring) Glacier, there have indeed been large changes in the size of the icefield and the location of the terminus. Here are some images along with narrative text:


    Here is the first page of an academic paper on the topic (much more recent data than when Hayes was there, but it does suggest a 20 to 30 year cycle of retreat and re advance for the glacier:


    And, of course, wikipedia, (check your sources, take it with a grain of salt, etc…)



    • johnmmartin says:

      Thanks Tim, As with the Salton Sink, geographical features are much less permanent than my particular viewpoint normally assumes.

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