Chapter XIV. Sum Dum Bay
I arrived early on the morning of the eighth of August on the steamer California to continue my explorations of the fiords to the northward which were closed by winter the previous November. The noise of our cannon and whistle was barely sufficient to awaken the sleepy town. The morning shout of one good rooster was the only evidence of life and health in all the place. Everything seemed kindly and familiar - the glassy water; evergreen islands; the Indians with their canoes and baskets and blankets and berries; the jet ravens, prying and flying about the streets and spruce trees; and the bland, hushed atmosphere brooding tenderly over all.
How delightful it is, and how it makes one's pulses bound to get back into this reviving northland wilderness! How truly wild it is, and how joyously one's heart responds to the welcome it gives, its waters and mountains shining and glowing like enthusiastic human faces! Gliding along the shores of its network of channels, we may travel thousands of miles without seeing any mark of man, save at long intervals some little Indian village or the faint smoke of a camp-fire. Even these are confined to the shore. Back a few yards from the beach the forests are as trackless as the sky, while the mountains, wrapped in their snow and ice and clouds, seem never before to have been even looked at.
For those who really care to get into hearty contact with the coast region, travel by canoe is by far the better way. The larger canoes carry from one to three tons, rise lightly over any waves likely to be met on the inland channels, go well under sail, and are easily paddled alongshore in calm weather or against moderate winds, while snug harbors where they may ride at anchor or be pulled up on a smooth beach are to be found almost everywhere. With plenty of provisions packed in boxes, and blankets and warm clothing in rubber or canvas bags, you may be truly independent, and enter into partnership with Nature; to be carried with the winds and currents, accept the noble invitations offered all along your way to enter the mountain fiords, the homes of the waterfalls and glaciers, and encamp almost every night beneath hospitable trees.
I left Fort Wrangell the 16th of August, accompanied by Mr. Young, in a canoe about twenty-five feet long and five wide, carrying two small square sails and manned by two Stickeen Indians - Captain Tyeen and Hunter Joe - and a half-breed named Smart Billy. The day was calm, and bright, fleecy, clouds hung about the lowest of the mountain-brows, while far above the clouds the peaks were seen stretching grandly away to the northward with their ice and snow shining in as calm a light as that which was falling on the glassy waters. Our Indians welcomed the work that lay before them, dipping their oars in exact time with hearty good will as we glided past island after island across the delta of the Stickeen into Soutchoi Channel.
By noon we came in sight of a fleet of icebergs from Hutli Bay. The Indian name of this icy fiord is Hutli, or Thunder Bay, from the sound made by the bergs in falling and rising from the front of the inflowing glacier.
As we floated happily on over the shining waters, the beautiful islands, in ever-changing pictures, were an unfailing source of enjoyment; but chiefly our attention was turned upon the mountains. Bold granite headlands with their feet in the channel, or some broad-shouldered peak of surpassing grandeur, would fix the eye, or some one of the larger glaciers, with far-reaching tributaries clasping entire groups of peaks and its great crystal river pouring down through the forest between gray ridges and domes. In these grand picture lessons the day was spent, and we spread our blankets beneath a Menzies spruce on moss two feet deep.
Next morning we sailed around an outcurving bank of boulders and sand ten miles long, the terminal moraine of a grand old glacier on which last November we met a perilous adventure. It is located just opposite three large converging glaciers which formerly united to form the vanished trunk of the glacier to which the submerged moraine belonged. A few centuries ago it must have been the grandest feature of this part of the coast, and, so well preserved are the monuments of its greatness, the noble old ice-river may be seen again in imagination about as vividly as if present in the flesh, with snow-clouds crawling about its fountains, sunshine sparkling on its broad flood, and its ten-mile ice-wall planted in the deep waters of the channel and sending off its bergs with loud resounding thunder.