Monday, December 28, 2020

Walking Home by Lynn Schooler

Walking Home by Lynn Schooler is a compelling travelogue about the 2007 solo trek he took north from his hometown of Juneau, Alaska. He went via his single engine boat 170 miles from Juneau up to Lituya Bay and then by foot 60 miles up the wild and uninhabited coast towards Dry Bay and the Alsek River. 

Lituya Bay where Schooler first went is a fascinating area he notes as being treacherous to enter. Due to the tides, it can be like falling off a shelf as the water drops so precipitously between the open ocean and the Bay, and it’s easy to be thrown against a berm of rocks in the water. Schooler also writes about the 1958 8.3 magnitude earthquake in the region that triggered a rock slide at the end of Lituya Bay, causing a 1,720 foot high tsunami, the largest ever recorded. There were three boats in the Bay at the time of the tsunami, the Edrie piloted by Howard Ulrich with his son, the Sunmore with Orville and Mickey Wagner, and the Badger with Bill and Vivian Swanson. The Sunmore was lost and the other two boats made it. Schooler also tells the story of James Todd Huscroft, who arrived in Alaska in 1915 and several years later went to live in Lituya Bay as a hermit, welcoming visitors that would pass through in the summer months. Huscroft was sixty-four in 1936 when a 490-foot tsunami of unknown origin destroyed his garden, and he died three years later.

Leaving from Lituya Bay, Schooler trekked the coast over glacier rubble and river crossings requiring an inflatable boat he carried, enduring horrible weather rolling in from the Pacific, all with the knowledge that if he got hurt, there wasn’t a way to call for help. He went up past Cape Fairweather, crossed Grand Plateau Lake and then saw the first vestiges of where people had been somewhat recently, less than ten miles from Dry Bay, and decided to turn around for home. While walking back to Lituya Bay he came across a grizzly bear, spotting it standing perfectly still looking out to the ocean, behavior not normal for a grizzly, and then catching a scent of Schooler and walking walking at him, with almost a sideways gait. As it got within a few yards, it became clear that the bear had a deep cut over one eye, and stalked Schooler, who was told later by a biologist that the injured animal likely starving and had neurological damage. Schooler survived by making himself appearing large by raising his canopy up high and charged the bear, causing it to turn tail and run away. 

Along with the history of Lituya Bay, Schooler also writes about the Tlingit people that lived in the lands he traversed, and the book wraps up with him motoring the 170 miles back to Juneau, arriving the afternoon of the memorial for his friend Luisa Stoughton. It's an interesting travel story and well-told personal account.