At the northern end of Chichagof Island, southeast of the town of Hoonah, are several steep mountains and ridges of limestone extending high above the surrounding countryside. Most are in Tongass National Forest. Glacial reconstructions of the area suggest that they were not overridden by ice during the Last Glacial Maximum. The cave potential on these peaks is enormous, but so far very little exploration has been done.
|Sonyakay Ridge (left) rises to 900 meters above sea level, and the Vortex (right) rises to 1,150 meters. These limestone peaks were probably not overrun by glaciers and have enormous untapped potential for caves.|
Two of the most promising mountains are Sonyakay Ridge and the Vortex, which are high limestone ridges that run from the northwest to the southeast and are separated by Freshwater Bay and the North Fork of Freshwater Creek. Geno Cisneros of the Hoonah Ranger District took Dr. Heaton on a tour of this area in the summer of 2001. They climbed part way up the north side of Sonyakay Ridge to check several holes (see photos below). Previously Geno took caver Dave Love on a climb up the Vortex.
The mountain peaks of Sonyakay Ridge are spectacular and majestic. The blue limestone that makes up these peaks has solution cavities that can be seen from the valleys below. Some of these openings can only be reached by rappelling down a rope from above, but there are undoubtedly others that could have served as dens for bears or other carnivores.
No caves have yet been located on the high ridges shown above, but some will undoubtedly be discovered if an expedition is mounted to explore the region. If fossils can be located, they will provide the first glimpse of the glacial or early postglacial history of the northern part of the Alexander Archipelago. During the brief trip in 2001 Geno took Dr. Heaton to a small shelter in a valley at the extreme southern end of Sonyakay Ridge, which is discussed on the next page.