SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska


Ketchikan Group Explores the Stikine River
By Marie L. Monyak


January 17, 2006

Ketchikan, Alaska - The Southeast Alaska Discovery Center hosts a free presentation with a guest speaker every Friday evening from 7 to 8 PM.  There are a variety of topics covered, both educational and entertaining.  Most presentations are centered around Alaska's environment, wildlife, natural resources, native culture and more. 
This past Friday, the Discovery Center's warm comfortable theatre was the site of two separate slideshows and a multi-speaker presentation by the Ketchikan Ladies Trail Association and Alaska Waters of Wrangell.

jpg Stikine River presenters

Shar Schwartz, Ivan Simonek and Jim Leslie.
Ivan Simonek is a professional photographer from Wrangell.  He took all the pictures for Leslie's slide show and does all the photography for Alaska Waters.
Photograph by Marie L. Monyak

The Ketchikan Ladies Trail Association came into being one day in May of 2003 when Sher Schwartz and two friends hiked Deer Mountain and decided it would be great to have a club that catered to women who weren't in the best condition, but wanted to spend time outdoors and get in shape at the same time. 
The KLTA currently has over 50 members whose hiking abilities range from upper beginner to intermediate level.  Every week there is an organized hike taking under two hours, held either on a Saturday or Sunday.   During the summer there is a monthly advanced hike that lasts from three to eight hours. 
For the last three years the KLTA has had an annual spring migration bird walk on Gravina Island and just this past December the group was involved in the Christmas bird count in Ketchikan.
The KLTA is a diverse group of women over 35, from all walks of life on our island.  Membership is free and communication is conducted mostly by e-mail.  The weekly hikes are posted on the Internet every Wednesday. 
If anyone was thinking that the Ketchikan Ladies Trail Association is a tame group of gals that stroll through the woods, they had a surprise coming this past Friday evening.  This last fall, eight members of the KLTA embarked upon a sometimes harrowing, high adventure trip, 160 miles up the Stikine River aboard the Chutine Warrior, a 610 horsepower jet boat.
Alaska Waters in Wrangell is a full service charter company owned by Jim and Wilma Leslie.  It was Leslie's expertise and experience that the local women counted on to safely carry them on their 330 mile round trip up the Stikine River to Telegraph, BC and back.
After a brief introduction by Schwartz, Leslie narrated the slide show using pictures from professional photographer Ivan Simonek who doubled as a deck hand for the KLTA trip. Leslie's quick wit and humor immediately infected the audience.  The fist clue that this was not going to be a paddleboat trip up the lazy Mississippi came when Leslie announced that the Stikine is the fastest free flowing navigable river in North America. 

jpg Sher Schwartz and Jim Leslie

Sher Schwartz and Jim Leslie.
Photograph by Marie L. Monyak ©2006

Once on the Stikine, having left Wrangell behind, the familiar terrain of the rain forest slowly dissolved and rocky snow capped peaks appeared through the clouds.  Spruce, Cedar and Hemlock were replaced by trees adorned in the fiery colors of fall.  Numerous glaciers and cliffs of solid granite surrounded the party on their journey northward. 
Slide after slide, the audience was being transported by Leslie to the icy cold Stikine.
By midday the party had stopped on a beach for lunch and were rewarded with Leslie's traditional Braut bar-b-que.  The KLTA group took the opportunity to stretch their legs and do some exploring only after being reminded that they were in brown bear country and must be accompanied by an armed guide - just in case.
Back on the river, gliding through awe inspiring scenery, several hours passed and the group finally reached their first night's stop.  Three miles from the beach, high on a plateau is the Glenora Guest Ranch, a 150 year old working homestead. 
Our group of ladies were surprised to meet the proprietress and hostess Nancy Ball, who lives alone on the ranch, year round.   Her 105 pound frame doesn't stop Ball from hunting her own moose, chopping firewood and running a trap line in winter along with operating the ranch.  It should be noted that this warm and gracious hostess is approximately 70 years old.
The KLTA ladies roused late their second morning to embark upon a three hour hike comfortable in the knowledge that they were protected by a rifle toting Nancy Ball.   
Ready for another day on the river, after saying their goodbyes, our adventurous group proceeded North. 
Leslie informed the audience that the last leg of the trip took the group to what is known as the Grand Canyon of the Stikine. 
After traveling upriver, approximately 25 miles from Glenora Ranch, the group reached white water, class five white water to be exact!   Big water, whirlpools and surges surrounded our group of adventurous ladies.  One challenge of traversing this treacherous river was the timing necessary to climb a 40 degree incline which was the result of an eight foot surge which Leslie accomplished at about 2 miles and hour with all the power he could draw from the 610 horsepower engine.
Having made it safely through the white water, they reached their final destination of Telegraph, BC.  A historic village from the Gold Rush Days, Telegraph is home to an old Hudson Bay Trading Post building converted into the Stikine River Song Lodge where our group stayed for several days before their return trip.
The nights presentation was far from over as Leslie turned the podium back over to the KLTA ladies.   

The group of women from Ketchikan that participated in this adventure were Karen Brand, Pat Chapman, Becky Harris, Tammy Howard, Victoria Lord, Brenda Manicke, Sher Schwartz and Karla Sunderland. 
Karen Brand was first to take the stage and told the audience; "When I attended the organizational meeting in July, I didn't know anybody."  "The women were nice but they were a diverse group of different ages, background, different employment, I was nervous."  She then stated, "We were diverse, but we had one thing in common, the love of hiking and it turned out to be a great trip." 
After showing slides of Wrangell, Brand encouraged everyone in the audience to visit Wrangell especially since we now have the fast ferries for transportation.  Brand highly recommended Petroglyph Beach, the Wrangell Museum and hiking, of course.
Tammy Howard took her turn at the podium to tell of her experience hiking the beach after Leslie's customary Braut bar-b-que on their first day of the trip.  According to Howard, "A lot of people come here to see wildlife. I was happy just seeing the tracks in the sand - moose, bear, wolf, geese but no human tracks."  She went on, "We were following bear tracks and wolf tracks, one was following the other and we were following them."  The audience burst into laughter at the logical conclusion.  "As long as they didn't turn around,"  Howard said, "I was happy just seeing the tracks."

jpg Brand, Schwartz, Howard, and Sunderland

Karen Brand, Sher Schwartz, Tammy Howard, Karla Sunderland.
Photography by Marie L. Monyak ©2006

Sher Schwartz was up next, relating about the portion of the trip that led the group to the Glenora Guest Ranch.  With the assistance of photos, the audience could see Nancy Ball's log cabin, her many flower baskets, the well kept ranch and Ball's companion, a pure white cat.  Schwartz said, "The meals are all family style and Ball and Leslie did all the cooking on a wood burning stove."   Schwartz continued, saying, "We each had to share a cabin with a roommate and Brenda Manicke was my roommate."  She said, "Our cabin had one large bed and one smaller single bed, we had do decide who would sleep where."
At this point Schwartz gave the floor to Brenda Manicke.  Manicke picks up the story, telling the audience, "I grew up in a large family and we had to fight for the best bed."  Manicke said, "At my mom's home, we had a rollaway bed that was my favorite, it was kind of bowed in the middle but I could snuggle right in."  Manicke went on to say that she gave Schwartz the queen size bed so she would have the smaller one.  "I pulled back the three wool blankets and there was an unbelievable memory moment for me." Manicke said, "The sheets were the same exact style and color and design as the sheets on the rollaway bed at my mom's house and I wondered, how did Nancy know?"
Karla Sunderland was having her turn at the podium and announced that she was the group's historian.  Sunderland chose to focus on day three when the group reached Telegraph, BC.  She educated the audience with the interesting facts regarding the settlement of Telegraph following the discovery of gold on the Stikine River in 1861.  Sunderland said, "Today, Telegraph Creek is a quiet place, there are many deserted historic buildings dating back a century or more."  "The Hudson Bay Trading Post was constructed in 1898 and originally located a few miles below the old town site of Glenora."  Sunderland said, "In 1903 the building was disassembled and moved upstream and reconstructed to become what is today the River Song Lodge."  She said, "This is where our group spent two nights."
Karen Brand finished the KLTA presentation with the last of the many slides and more information about the hikes the group took part in.
The audience gave a rousing applause for the entire group that partook of this daring adventure.
For information on joining the Ketchikan Ladies Trail Association call 228-1444 or email redfor1518 (AT)
The next presentation at the Southeast Alaska Discovery Center will be on Friday, January 20th at 7PM: "Exploring the Big Island ­ Prince of Wales Island, AK."   Dennis Benson, US Forest Service Recreation, Lands, Minerals & Heritage Staff Officer for Prince of Wales Island, will outline the many recreation opportunities available on Forest Lands on Prince of Wales Island.


Marie L. Monyak is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Marie at

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