Monday, June 9, 2014

The Honker Divide on Prince of Wales Island, Days 1 and 2

To read about the motivation for this adventure and the journey to Prince of Wales Island, check out this page! Or skip to day 3 or day 4.

I scoured the internet for trip reports, advice, pictures or any other first hand accounts from which to garner knowledge. Very little was found. Maybe that should have been a sign. All I found was this slideshow with 19 pictures but little text and a blog called Hunter's Alaskan Voyage which has 8 pictures of his trip. The only unique text description was a single paragraph that Hunter wrote in his blog which I will copy and paste here:

"For my last week off, I had planned a canoe trip with some friends I made over at the Ketchikan bunkhouse. The original plan was for Katie and Jenn to come over and we were going to do the Honker Divide canoe trip. The Honker is a 33-mile canoe trip filled with 8 miles of upstream paddling, 4 miles of portaging, and the wonder levels were high enough. With all that in mind, Katie didn’t feel comfortable with it and backed out. At the time I didn’t blame her as I was also skeptical about doing it, but I felt I needed to stay true to my word and Jenn was really set on bagging the trip. So, she ferried over and we conquered the divide. The weather was in our favor the whole time. That is not saying it was sunny, but we didn’t get rained on and saw patches of blue sky here and there. The water seemed to be ok. The first two days we did have to get out of the canoe frequently and walk past areas where it was too shallow. The portaging wasn’t bad either, but my neck is sore from the canoe balancing on it. We were also fortunate to stay in cabins both nights. One we booked at Honker Lake, and the other we heard about but weren’t sure if it was habitable or not. We saw it after our second portage and decided to stay in it. It was an old tracker’s cabin. There actually was a newspaper article in there about a guy back in the 1920′s who was missing and it was determined that he was eaten by wolves. Pretty gnarly eh! We didn’t hear or see any wolves, though. Bummer! We did see some loons, eagles, plenty of pink salmon, sockeye that had turned red and green, a beaver, and a bear. The trip was awesome, especially the last day as the water level was high enough to where we didn’t have to get out of the canoe if we didn’t want to, and we were able to float along and fish. Thanks Jenn for coming over and partaking in the Honker with me. This trip goes down in the books for sure!"

For the most part an enthusiastic account of the trip without any major complaints. Sounds easy enough! Perhaps another warning sign about how challenging this trip might be is that I asked both the Prince of Wales Island Recreation Planner, Tory, as well as local outdoorsman and writer Jeff (check out Jeff's great website about living on POW) if they had done the Honker. They both said no and they both have lived on the island for years. In the end, we didn't have a first hand account of what to expect or how to prepare. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered anyway. We were determined! After we were done with our trip I discovered, through Instagram, a group of friends who have done the Honker 3 years in a row including the week before we did it. They had some advice I wish we would have heard before the trip.

At the end of the day 4 page I will summarize my feelings on this trip and what I would do differently if I were to do it again.

 A humorous letter to the editor of Island News from 1990 with a description of the Honker Divide trip that reflected our experiences to a T (1st paragraph). 

The Honker Divide

Obviously these maps are not meant for navigational purposes. 

We decided to leave our truck in Thorne Bay so we wouldn't have to go get it when we were finished. This turned out to be a good move as time constraints came into play later on. I called Jeff (907-401-1414) from Island Ride a couple of months in advance and then again the day before I needed a ride. We were all set for a 2 o'clock pick up in Thorne Bay. We drove from Klawock to Hatchery Creek Bridge where the Honker Divide begins. I dumped off all of our stuff and David and Gina and I drove the hour and a half to Thorne Bay to be picked up by Jeff. when 2:15 came around I got a little worried so I called him. He said he had gotten hung up on another job but his reaction made me think that he may have forgotten. He was still in Craig and I wouldn't see him for another hour yet. Despite this little hiccup this was a great and convenient way to get shuttled back to Hatchery Creek Bridge. Jeff was an engaging guy with tons of knowledge about the island. Just make sure to give him that third call an hour or two before you need the ride!

You can't miss the start.

A view from the Hatchery Creek Bridge. This is where our adventure began.

Dropping off all our junk and two passengers.

David doing some fishing while waiting for me to return. He caught several small rainbows here. What a stud!

We were able to paddle for maybe 1000 feet before we hit our first shallow rapid and were out pulling (lining) our kayaks. According to the Forest Service website it is 8 miles upstream from the bridge to our goal of the Honker Lake cabin. We hit the water at 5 pm figuring we could camp along the way if we ran out of daylight or motivation.

Entering a nice flat area before paddling into our first lake: Hatchery Lake.

Smooth sailing across Hatchery Lake. We were still in fully stoked mode here. It was a beautiful day and the scenery is gorgeous!

Leaving Hatchery Lake.

Gina glides under a fallen tree. 

Hiking upstream approaching a logjam. I took pictures of the first 5 or 6 logjams we came across. I eventually quit taking them because there are so many. This area is salmon and trout habitat and the natural debris makes for excellent fish habitat but tough kayak habitat.

Taking a breather while David does some fly fishing.

I caught this little beast. This ended up being the only fish I caught the entire trip. I had decided to ease the pain of the thousands of fish I planned on catching by removing two of the three hooks on my treble hooks and removing the barb on the final hook. It really makes it a bitch to catch a fish! I probably had 50 bites on our journey but couldn't haul any in.

One of our early small portages to get around a logjam. There is no distinct trail around these logjams. We just kind of poked around and found what looked like the easiest way to drag the boats. It seems so few people do this trip that you're on your own as far as small decisions like these are concerned. There are no set paths. We would occasionally see signs from the people that had canoed the route the week before us and would use those signs as potential clues of where to drag the boats. 

Baby wood ducks I briefly and accidentally separated from their mother on the creek. The Mom was pissed!

More walking. Mostly walking. Here we approach what we would later learn is called the GD Rockpile. In the registry book in the cabin I saw the "GD Rockpile" mentioned several times. It took me a second- God Damn Rockpile. I agree! It's a section of Hatchery Creek rapids that is much faster and deeper than the rest of the creek.

Pulling our kayaks up the GD Rockpile. This seemed a little rough at the time. If the water was higher it would have been even more brutal. Due to how difficult the Honker becomes later, looking back, the GD Rockpile seems like a piece of cake.

More GD Rockpile rapids. The rocks were slippery so it made walking upstream very slow.

A great shot of how swift and deep this section is even with low water.

Leaving the rapids of the GD Rockpile but still walking.

More walking. We estimated the GD Rockpile section to be around half to three quarters of a mile. We walked almost the entirety of the distance between Hatchery Lake and Butterfly Lake and between Butterfly Lake and Honker Lake.

Finally- getting to a marshy area where we can sit in the kayaks.

Some lilly pads in Butterfly Lake.

The path was blocked by marshy grasses to the left of the island so we cut right through some lily pads. It was dusk at this point so we were trying to speed through here.

A really nice sunset to the west from Butterfly Lake. This lake wasn't very big and we were in and out within 10 minutes.

A logjam between Butterfly Lake and Honker Lake. For this logjam we drug our kayaks over the lowest tree rather than find a path around. Seemed to work just fine. It was starting to get dark but we had been going so long we figured we couldn't be far from Honker Lake and the cabin. We spent a good two hours walking through the dark.

Looking upstream to Honker Lake in the darkness. 

Looking back downstream towards Gina. The sun was gone but this time of year it never seems to get truly dark.

Following the east shoreline of Honker Lake keeping our eyes peeled for the cabin.

Success! We arrived at the Honker Lake cabin around 11:30. Beer thirty!

Daily beer count: 7. Did  pretty good. Had a Coors while waiting for a ride in Thorne Bay, a Sierra Nevada before got we got in the yaks at the Hatchery Creek bridge and some beers when we pulled into the cabin. Fuck yeah!

My friend Davy told us there is a pack of wolves that lives in the divide. We never saw any but I went outside around 6:00 in the morning and I heard yipping that reminded me of coyotes back in Oregon. Perhaps the wolves yipping? Here the mist rises from the lake early in the morning.

Blue sky! This was a planned day off to read, fish and drink beer. We had great weather and in fact it felt a bit too hot.

A view of the cabin from the lake.

I was exploring the lake when I spotted this bear on the shore about 1000 feet from the cabin. I watched him for maybe 5 minutes before he headed into the woods.

Checking out where Hatchery Creek exits the lake in the daylight. David found a good fishing hole down here where he caught 7 trout.

David and I went to the narrow point in the lake's center to try some fishing.

No luck, but we did find the largest beaver house I have ever seen. I think it was 7 or 8 feet tall in the middle. Huge!

Gina self-portrait. Beer, book and sun. This is living.

Happy campers.

Lots of bites but couldn't pull anything in.

Some dusk fly fishing.

David caught this hogger right in front of the cabin. I had 10 bites in front of the cabin with my rooster tail but couldn't bring any in without the barb on my hook. Barbless fishing is a bitch!

View up the lake.

Lakeside fire.

Honker Stars. We had amazing weather for our journey.

When I wrote this in the registry I was still in great spirits. Still cracking lots of jokes. The humor would fade in the following days. Many of the other entries were full of humor and bear jokes. They should put a registry at the end of the trip! The registry went back to 2006. It appeared around half the entries were from people who flew in to the cabin. One guy was from Europe and was at the cabin for two weeks to "find myself." I saw Hunter's entry from 2012 too!

Daily beer count: 6 beers throughout this chill day supplemented by some wine and whiskey.

Links: Intro, Day 3, Day 4.


  1. Great trip report!! I am considering doing part if not all of this route in September of 2016. Would love to pick you brain as you have intimate knowledge of the area and had fantastic details.

    1. Hi Mark! I was just reminiscing about this trip and saw your comment. I'm very excited for you! Feel free to shoot me an email if you have any questions- I love talking about this stuff!

  2. Thank you for the awesome report on your trip! My wife and I are thinking about moving to POW and it would be great to do this trip! We have a Kevlar canoe which should work quite nicely.