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Thread: Tustumena Trip.....

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    Member 4merguide's Avatar
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    Default Tustumena Trip.....

    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.

    Lessons learned....

    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...!!!
    Sheep hunting...... the pain goes away, but the stupidity remains...!!!

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    Member thewhop2000's Avatar
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    Good story. I have been on that lake just once 20 years ago and it seems nothing has changed
    If a dipnetter dips a fish and there is no one around to see/hear it, Did he really dip?

  3. #3

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    Thanks for taking the time to post this, the shallow shores of Tustemena and Lower Skilak have always concerned me, tough to get off the lake safely when it builds. How do you leave your boat when you hunt? Beached or what? That was why I bought my 21' Scott freighter wanted some thing light enough to beach high and dry but stable in those short fast waves of Tustemena and Skilak, Skilak is much safer if you stay out of the shallow lower end of the lake IMHO. They both deserve a lot of respect and wise decisions.

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    Member 4merguide's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kk alaska View Post
    How do you leave your boat when you hunt? Beached or what?
    It all depends on where I'm at, but usually if I am leaving the boat for a number of days, then I will find some nice rounded driftwood logs and roll the boat up onto the beach with a come-a-long. The touchy part is rolling the boat back in and keeping the logs under the boat.

    When I know I will only be gone for a day, then I have also anchored the boat out but used enough rope to let us onto shore and then pull the boat back out again. I did this once on Skilak and was a nervous wreck all day. I had a leaky riveted boat but had an automatic bilge pump. Needless to say I was relieved that the boat was still there and floating when we returned.....lol.

    Yesterday we just pulled the boat up onto the beach as far as we could, as it was quite calm. I figured that I would keep track of the wind and if it started coming out of the west, (like it ended up doing), we could beat feet off the mountain in time to take care of it. I actually was glad we came down when we did.
    Sheep hunting...... the pain goes away, but the stupidity remains...!!!

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    Member 4merguide's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kk alaska View Post
    Skilak is much safer if you stay out of the shallow lower end of the lake IMHO. They both deserve a lot of respect and wise decisions.
    To be perfectly honest I have never been out in the ocean in seas like I saw off that point on Tusty yesterday. What amazed us was how big the waves were able to build in such a short distance from the eastern shore of the lake to that entrance point of Devils Bay. Had it been the far end of the lake like it was when it capsized that boat and killed those two, I could understand it. But in that short of a distance the size of those waves was phenomenal. Here again, as you said, I do believe the shallow water off the point caused the waves to build so fast. I may have been better off out deeper, but then a guy wants to stay close enough to shore in case they have to swim for it too.
    Sheep hunting...... the pain goes away, but the stupidity remains...!!!

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    Member Ak_Barbarian's Avatar
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    Wow!! What a scary story...thanks for sharing. Just the thought I know how u felt during those moments!! I've never been out on that lake but been in similar situations out in pws... I nearly soiled myself!! I'm glad u guys made it out in waters like that. Area seekers beware!! be safe everyone. Know your limits.

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    Member SANDRAT's Avatar
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    @ 4merguide,good words of wisdom regarding this lake...............

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    Member Smokey's Avatar
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    Nice post 4merguide, no matter where a person lives its good to get a "refresher" once in a while to remind us we should pay attention to what we are doing and as much as it hurts some trips should be aborted....
    When asked what state I live in I say "The State of Confusion", better known as IL....

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    Member Ak_Barbarian's Avatar
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    I agree!! Don't get carried away. Know when to abort. Not worth losing life over. Safety first.

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    Great post 4merguide. Very easy to see how we all can get into a situation like this. Conditions change little by little until they are an absolute nightmare. It was a little eery reading it knowing that the situation was so similar to the one with fatalities last year. Glad you're safe and willing to relay the experience as a good safety reminder.

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    Member martentrapper's Avatar
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    Thanks for the post. Interesting read and good reminder to be safe.
    I can't help being a lazy, dumb, weekend warrior.......I have a JOB!
    I have less friends now!!

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    Member tustumena_lake's Avatar
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    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.
    That last point is aptly named Windy Point. I know it would have been tough to cross over to Indian Creek on a day like that but in the future I usually have a little extra gas stashed around the cabin thats not too hard to find in case you get in a bind. Thanks for the well written report.

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    Member 4merguide's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tustumena_lake View Post
    I know it would have been tough to cross over to Indian Creek on a day like that but in the future I usually have a little extra gas stashed around the cabin thats not too hard to find in case you get in a bind.
    Hi Jim....I actually thought about that, but as we left Clear Ck. I felt we had enough gas. But with the wind picking up, had I gone all the way over to your cabin loosing a little more time and adding time for the wind to build even more, if you didn't have any extra gas anywhere, then we may not have had enough to make it. Plus having a 2 stroke, I would have needed oil as well. Decided I couldn't take the chance to head over to your cabin. Thanks though.....and I will always keep that in mind from here on out.
    Sheep hunting...... the pain goes away, but the stupidity remains...!!!

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    Member SANDRAT's Avatar
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    I try to use the rule of "Thirds",1/3 to get there,1/3 to get back,and another 1/3 in reserve.This is the rule while diving in an overhead environment but I apply it to boating and ATV in remote areas.That extra third can save your butt when that "Bluebird" day turns nasty.

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    Premium Member kasilofchrisn's Avatar
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    Good story. I have never run into weather like that on Tustumena but I know it can happen.
    It is a beautiful place to explore.
    "The closer I get to nature the farther I am from idiots"

    "Fishing and Hunting are only an addiction if you're trying to quit"

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    Member Bullwinkle50's Avatar
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    4merguide,

    Thank you for the write-up. I have never been on the lake but have thought about it several times. I have a friend with a cabin near there so the possibility exists. The stories from you and Jim have been very informative.

    Randy

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    My curiousity is killing me, were you wearing life jackets? I'm glad the story ended well and thanks for sharing it with us.

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    Member 4merguide's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jpost View Post
    My curiousity is killing me, were you wearing life jackets? I'm glad the story ended well and thanks for sharing it with us.
    Yes, we both had ours on...
    Sheep hunting...... the pain goes away, but the stupidity remains...!!!

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    Glad to hear it

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    Nice story, thanks for posting. A question: what would you say the wind velocity was when the 'seas' were 8'?

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