Deer Mountains
Peak 3,100ft P300

Jul 11, 2018

With: Tom Becht
Jackie Burd

Story Photos / Slideshow Map GPX Profile

Continued... Our third and final stop in Alaska was Ketchikan, known as the rainiest spot in the state. The forecast today was more promising, however, scattered rain showers listed by NOAA as 60% - Much better than the 100% forecast we had for Haines. The trail today was saturated and running with water for much of its length due to rains the previous two days, but no rain fell today. The cloud layer hovered around the 3,000-foot mark, rising and lowering as the afternoon progressed, giving us some views from time to time. Our trail was the Deer Mtn National Recreation Trail to the east of town, a popular route that can be hiked one-way, about 13-14mi all told. I had backpacked this trail with a friend on my first visit in 1992, but at that time we weren't all that interested in the peaks. Today, we hoped to reach four summits along the first half of the trail, about all we could manage with the time given ashore.

Our cruise ship reached Ketchikan well before noon, but our disembarkation was delayed half an hour for unknown reasons, so it wasn't until nearly 12:30p that we found ourselves off the ship and wandering the streets of the town. The trailhead is located more than a mile from the docks, but occasional signs put up by the Forest Service help guide one to the location. There were three other cruise ships in port that had arrived well before us, so it was not surprising to find the trail busy with folks descending as we made our way up. The trail starts off in dense forest, part of the Tongas National Forest that encompasses most of Southeast Alaska. Old trees covered in moss, decaying logs, and dense temperate rainforest vegetation are found for the first several miles of trail as it climbs steeply up the slopes above Ketchikan. Views are non-existent at first, then a fleeting view of the Tongas Narrows East Channel to the southeast. More steep climbing (with a few moments of sunshine) eventually leads to a thinning of the forest and more views of Ketchikan, though this was about where we started to encountered the cloud layer, leaving views to be on and off for the rest of the ascent.

We reached a trail junction with half a mile left to the summit of Deer Mtns (digression - this oddly named summit is really a collection of four summits - Deer, Doe, Buck and Fawn - but the USGS labeled the highest as Deer Mountains, with an "s".). I decided we should leave this first peak for later. Our time was limited and we weren't making strong progress, but I was still hoping we might get to the highest of the four, Northbird Peak. We had seen the last person shortly before the junction and she would be the last we'd see for several hours. The trail becomes less-used past the junction as it travels northeast and away from the coast. Another junction is soon reached with a spur trail going to the Deer Mtn shelter in 1/4mi. We could see the shelter with its green metal roof partially hidden in the trees, but we didn't take the time to pay it a visit. The trail continues to the northeast, dropping down several hundred feet on the southeast side of the ridge before climbing back up a mile later. Unlike the trail in Juneau which had minimal vegetation at this elevation, Ketchikan gets more rain and the higher elevations are much lusher, though nearly devoid of trees. The trail continued to be wet on its entire length, slippery in a few places, at one of which Jackie got a boot completely soaked in a deep puddle. She became disheartened by this, asking how much further and how far to go back. I somewhat cavalierly commented that her predicament was highly surviveable and no big deal, but she didn't really want to hear that. We stopped so that she could pour out the water in her boot, but nothing really came out, most of it soaked into the boot lining and her socks. A quarter mile later, the trail returned to the ridgeline and she announced her intention to wait for us there. We were still more than a mile and a half from Northbird and had only a short time remaining. Roy Jones was a half mile closer and I thought maybe we could reach that one. After 15min at a stepped up pace, We went over the summit of Peak 3,100ft unawares (only later did we realize we could count this one), with Blue Lake just in view through the cloud layers. I knew Roy Jones was beyond it by an equal distance and we had only 15min until Tom's turnaround time. We decided to abort the effort and pick up Deer Mtns on our way back.

We found Jackie napping on the leeward side of an outcrop at a saddle where we'd left her. She was in a better mood and seemed happy that we'd only been gone half an hour. A ptarmigan (I think) startled me as I found it on the trail in front of me. Mom had a single chick with her that did its best to hide in vegetation to the side. Mom led us down the trail away from her chick before circling back to retrieve it after we'd passed by. We returned to the spur trail junction near the shelter where we'd spied a use trail going up the east side of Deer Mtns. Jackie elected to continue on the main trail and meet us at the first junction with the maintained Deer Mtn Trail. The use trail was steep but well-used and had us at the summit in about 10min. We found three others there, peering into the fog of clouds that enveloped the summit. After taking a few pictures, we headed back down the regular trail, finding Jackie where expected. It would take us another hour and a half to make our way back down the trail, a few more parties encountered along the way. It was 6:15p by the time we got back to town and the ship, about an hour earlier than we needed. Could we have made it to Roy Jones or even Northbird? Probably and maybe, but that would have caused us some stress on the return - missing the boat is a big deal, but missing a peak or two was really no big deal, just a good reason to come back another time...

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