ADMIRALTY: FORTRESS OF THE BEARS

By: Nate Ptacek • nateptacek.com

"There are broad valley systems that have never known an axe and are, except for occasional windthrows, literally unbroken carpets of green, pristine wilderness ...a wet climax forest in which underbrush and down trees frequently make foot travel difficult- insurance, perhaps, that regardless of man's intentions to explore Admiralty's secrets, he'll pay dearly in toil for his desires." - Alaska Geographic, Vol. 1 No. 3, Summer, 1973

Located in the heart of the 17-million-acre Tongass National Forest of Southeast Alaska, Admiralty Island is a wilderness of towering old-growth spruce and hemlock forests, pristine freshwater lakes, snow capped peaks, and coastal inlets rich with the bounty of the sea.  Known to the local Tlingit as Kootznoowoo, or "Fortress of the Bears", the island is also home to the highest concentration of brown bears in North America.

In early August 2015, we crossed the island from the village of Angoon to Mole Harbor, then up to Swan Island in the Seymour Canal.  Combining a unique mix of ocean paddling, lake paddling, and 25 miles of lengthy double portages, we traveled a total of 87 miles over 8 days.  Our time on the island was something like a dream - coming and going with the tides, swimming through neck-deep ferns along the portage trails into the interior, gliding across jet black pristine lakes, and camping at historic 1930's-era CCC cabins.  While we had originally intended to continue farther, complications due to incoming weather affecting our planned water pick up forced us to end the trip some 3 days and 30 miles short of our original goal of Oliver Inlet.  Despite an abundance of sign, we did not see any bears during our visit - successfully entering and exiting the fortress without alerting it's owners to our presence...