After last years deaths on Tustumena Lake, I thought I would post this story as a little "heads up" to more of you potential Tustumena travelers. Probably most of you have been here for awhile and are knowledgeable as to the ways of the lake. This is mostly for potential "newbies" that are about to embark out onto the lake in search of an adventure....
As a little background, I have lived in AK. for nearly 30 years. In that time I have been out on Tustumena Lake more times than I can count. I will admit that I have been out on the lake at times that I pretty much believe that I should not have been. I am no rookie to the lake but Friday night was even a lesson for me. A fellow coworker and I left the boat launch at around 5-6pm headed for the far end of the lake. It was to be a short black bear hunt. As we left, the wind was pretty mild out of the west. In fact it was pretty nice till about halfway across the lake. By the time we got a little past Caribou Is, the wind started picking up but still wasn't bad as we hugged the south shore. A few miles past Caribou Is. I realized that the wind had done a 180 and was now coming out of the east and building. Yes, we had found ourselves into the dreaded glacier winds. This has happened to me before and was really not much of a concern as you stay close to the south shore but have to run at a much slower pace. Keep in mind that we are in an 18' Valco Bayrunner. As we approached the last point headed into Devils Bay at a very slow speed, we could see lots of white water, and were guessing the seas to be at around 3'. As I idled into the surf we rounded the point and the seas were building quick....4'....6'. In a heartbeat we were in 8' seas. I realized then that we needed to turn back, but didn't want to take one over the side, or the stern in doing so. Next thing I knew we were going over a 10' wave and diving down the other side into another one. We survived that one and managed to get turned around. I rode the surf back for about a mile or so and pulled up on the beach where it wasn't pounding the boat. Here we decided to eat dinner and wait it out. We hung out for about 2 hours. For sure the wind was letting up "a little" so we decided to try again. As we approached the point again, the waves were still bad. I think there were still a few 6 footers, but I was able to maneuver them slowly and follow the south shore of the bay. A little ways into the bay I heard the motor starving for more gas, so I switched to the other tank. At this point we had gotten through the worst of it and I wanted to head straight across to Clear Ck. But the seas were still too bad to chance it. So we slowly followed the south shore of Devils Bay nearly all the way around till the seas were light enough for us to cut across.
We got to Clear Creek where it was calm and we pulled up on the beach. We got out and were quite glad we had finally made it. It was just shy of midnight and we figured it had taken us around 6 hours to come across the lake. We stood there thinking about where to put the boat and a possible tent location. We weren't there 3 minutes and a blackie stepped out onto the beach at about 300 yards and started walking away. Still in a fade from the trip, there we stood with no guns thinking "Oh yeah....this is what we're here for!!!". I ran for the boat to get my rifle and came back looking at a log on the beach for a rest. Just as I dropped down and brought up the scope the bear was gone. We waited a few minutes but didn't see him again.
So we continued to walk around looking for possible camp locations. We walked down next to the creek looking at all the different kinds of tracks. As we walked back towards the beach, with the light fading I looked to my right and said to my buddy..."Is that him again?" Yep....sure nuff the bear had come down on the beach again but even further away now. As I found my rest again I had one quick view of him in the scope as I tried to find a shot. But that was it. Once again he was gone. But this time never to be seen again. We pitched the tent and went to sleep.
It was a calm beautiful morning. I had been wanting to see for myself what Clear Ck. trail conditions were like up to treeline so we strapped on our packs and decided to give it a go. Even though we lost the trail a number of times, we managed to climb fairly well. As we approached treeline and started to get into the alders, we started loosing the trail more and more. Finally with so much dead fall and overgrowth, we had to call it quits. I doubt very much that we were more than a half our from breaking out over the top above treeline. For those of you that may be planning to head up there for either sheep, bear, or caribou (by permit), be prepared to take your time to saw, or ax your way onto your own trail as you near treeline. Years ago somebody had used a chainsaw up there to keep the trail open, but now the dead fall and overgrowth has pretty much reclaimed the trail completely. Now I'm not saying a guy couldn't make his way up there like it is. But packing down an animal with the trail like it is, is not something a person wants to do. But with a little effort and a little time I think a new trail at the top could be forged.
We came back down the mountain and back to camp on the beach. We packed up the boat and wondered what we were going to do next? We had thought about hiking the glacier flats in hopes that we might catch a blackie wandering about. But as we motored out onto the lake the wind was picking up out of the west now. Knowing that we had used far more gas than planned coming over, I was concerned that if we had to go slow and buck the wind all the way back this time too, that we may not have enough gas to make it. I decided we needed to get back across the lake before the wind picked up anymore.
Indeed the wind, and seas kept building again. But I gave it the throttle as I felt we couldn't take our time now, and we skimmed over the top of the waves without pounding the boat too terribly bad. We made it back to the launch with VERY little gas to spare.
They don't call it Devils Bay for nothin'. I guess I have just been "lucky" but in all my years I have NEVER seen it like that. During that first attempt we may have hit the wind and waves it at it's peak. I should have turned back earlier, but it happened extremely fast. Like I said before, I had been out on the lake in pretty rough seas, but I never had to turn back. ALWAYS be prepared to do so. Go as far as to plan that there is a good chance that you will.
Understand that even though you feel you have plenty of gas, if you end up having to buck the wind and big waves at little more than an idle, you WILL use lots more gas than you think. Had I run out of gas as we tried to get around the point the first time, we would have been in a world of hurt. ALWAYS bring more gas than you feel you will need.
Lastly....even though a bear may hear you pull up on the beach, it doesn't mean he won't come and show himself. If you're going bear hunting, always be ready to see one. Believe me, the last thing either one of us expected was to see a bear 3 minutes after motoring up on the beach.
Even though the trip on Tusty, there AND back were a huge pain, had we connected with that nice bear that presented himself to us, it would have taken the sting out of it quite a bit.......lol.
Good Luck and be safe...!!!