Part II: "So how do you like small planes?".
It’s never really a question you expect to hear on a Monday morning, particularly if you’re not a pilot, but generally it means something is going to either be a lot of fun, or a seat is being relinquished for a really, really good reason. Especially if it’s followed up with...
"I fucking hate filming out of small planes"
That’s Dr. Hollywood. Kind of like a Grant Rogers of VanIsle but without the patience. He handed me a plane ticket, a warning not to return if anything buggered up, and sent me on my way. And that was how I came to have a second chance at poaching Yakutat. This is not to be confused with poaching in Yakutat. Because when we landed the 185 amphibian Cessna and strolled into the building that said "Food-Shelter-Gas-Booze" about a month after that Monday morning conversation...the entire bar stopped doing their normal chit-chat and became friendly as I mentioned I was going to be shooting up in Icy Bay.
"Oh yeah... so’s what are you guys after? Elk? Bear? Seals?"
Interest was quickly lost when I mentioned that we were going to be shooting film. "Goddamn greenies" was his expression of clear admiration for the cause... "..so who is funding this then? " (The ‘....and am I paying for this little junket on my tax-bill?’. –was implied)
I told him that it was (CENSORED..but benign). Then I asked the plaid-wearing grizzly bear motherfucker standing on the other side of the bar for a low-fat soy-latte, a veggie-burger on organic whole wheat, and a white wine spritzer.
The whole bar roared and, we became friends after I changed my order to a Bud n’ a’ Burger. Special made daily for you.
Flying into Yakutat is an unbelievable experience. It has to be on one of the planet’s longest beaches. The shoreline stretches from Glacier National Park northward in one continuous arc that is only broken for a couple hundred metres at the river-mouths of the Alsek, Dangerous and Black Rivers, and by the entrance to Lituya Bay. Other than this, it is a wide-open beach, exposed to the fury of the North Pacific Ocean and nourished by the continuous grind of the glaciers into the sea. In some places, such as the Malaspina and the Fairweather glacier, the landscape directly behind the beach is one of giant sinkholes. There lie cliffs inland of pure ice, with hundred year old forests growing atop them. Occasionally the ice beneath rots out and giant lakes seem to spontaneously appear in the thick bush, ringed by azure blue of ice that has been trapped beneath for eons.
The beaches themselves are surely some of the widest beach plains in the world, stretching for many tens of kilometres inland, skirting the retreating ice-caps of the Coastal Range mountains. To the visible east, or more appropriately in the clouds lie the boundary peaks that separate Canada from the thin panhandle of the United States. Any beach structure is anchored by the glacial erratics that occasionally mould a section of shoreline into a wave-swathed point break. In certain places, the finer sediments are eroded away, leaving larger boulder fields and armoured sub-surface bars that act like reef breaks.
Yakutat Harbour lies at the mouth of Yakutat Bay. ...which lies at the mouth of Russell Fiord. This is of note as it perhaps one of the few locations in America that has had the idea of detonating a thermonuclear device bantered about, as a means of solving an engineering problem. Well, this isn’t entirely without sensationalism. Russell Fiord made world-wide headlines when this large body of water became sealed off by the advancement of the Hubbard Glacier. This river of ice smashed head-long into the buttress of Gilbert Point, effectively sealing the Fiord and causing the water level to rise by a full 70 feet. This "jokulhlaup
", or ice dammed lake threatened to flood some of the prime spawning beds in the area and provoked a rather heated debate amongst local anglers, native groups, and the US Army Corps of Engineers, who sided with the native bands against the local sportsmen and land owners’ vociferous insistence that they "nuke" the glacier, and unblock the ice-dam that threatened to turn the flow of water in the area inland and to the west (insert map). To add to the drama, there were rumours of some whales inside the fiord just before the icy gates slammed shut, which would have effectively enclosed them in a freshwater tomb. Spawned by the ghost of Jack London whispering tall tales in a whiskey soaked ear, the whales escaped by the brush of their baleen. Perhaps this is best left to fancy in the comfort of the Yakutat lodge while basking in the glow of a few ales.