Thursday, June 30, 2011

90 miles on the Fortymile river

So here we go, first day on the water, beautiful weather calm waters of the upper middle fork of the Fortymile River.Time to get up, enjoy breakfast, pack up camp and float.The river was a little shallow, but nothing much to worry, just a little drag here and there.The ice melt was quite chilly, fortunately nobody took a dunk the entire trip.We did not travel far the first day, this was intended to be a fun and relaxing adventure. Though it was noted that we had only done 7 of the 50 "crow"miles.Our camps typically had many luxeries... running water,Kitchen and full service barAnd great viewsAfter a hearty breakfast, we'd get on the river for 3 or 4 hours.Each day we'd see a creature that, well I never before seen in the wild, this is a porcupine.
The first couple of days had similar scenery, wide and shallow river plain, black Spruce and Birch trees. Occasional Moose lurking in the bushes.On Day 3 we found ourselves in the middle of a Caribou migration. That was exciting.
There had been significant rain the previous night and the river had risen a foot maybe two. The current had picked up from 3 mph to nearly 5mph. The Caribou had their work cut out getting across the freezing river.Another nice spot to camp. We discovered Wolf prints (almost the size of a hand !) - and other evidence in our camp. Red Wolf apparently, never saw one though. Little red riding hood was safe (for now).Day 4 had the canyon walls getting steeper and closer by. Although the Mother Lode of gold was not found there is plenty in the river (not that we found any)A bald Eagle, alerting its family that there were some strange floaty things coming down the river.Merrily, merrily, merrily...
Gently down the torrent of clear freezing cold water ;) On day 3 we decided our progress was a pretty shy of the average we needed to complete the trip and get back to Fairbanks in time for Tracey and Wayne's flight. So we set "The Kink" the goal for the day. It is a set of rapids at which a portage is strongly recommended.Pictures don't really do it justice, the water was moving through a narrow twisted up 1/4 mile channel of rock at about 12mph (guestimate). See Bruce on the left there (above).
The narrow channel was created when prospectors and miners dynamited their way through a cliff to shortcut a meander in the river, creating an oxbow lake that they would dredge for gold. It would have (probably) been run-able with five short paddles and a mostly empty raft. But we had 12 foot ores, survival gear and ~35 river miles remaining to the nearest dirt road.Lugging the gear, food and rafts took the best part of 4 hours after a fairly long day on the river. Quite a grunt ! A Quarter mile that starts up a wet cliff trail, though wooded bog and back down the cliff. I won't mention the mosquitos !!! We were done by 10pm and ready for dinner. The next morning, we scrambled to the top of the Kink for the view. The previous path of the river went behind me.From there we were back on our way. Having rained all night, heavily, the river came up probably 3 or 4 more feet during the morning hours. Which did make loading a fair bit easier.From the boats we saw a couple of Black bear just hanging around on the river bank. We also saw a couple of grizzly bears, but the pictures are not as good, we were preoccupied with being worried. (Well, I was...) At camp we were cooking ribs on the fire that evening, we watched this Grizly menander down the opposite river bank down the cliff in awe. Then as it un-hesitantly plopped in the fridgid water and swam across - we all realized, then, that we were in a "situation". Ben grabbed a pan, a stick and started yelling. The Grizz sauntered up a steep canyon wall about 1200ft in 6 mins or so. I am glad it did that... we were after all led to believe "proper" wild bears are not so interested in humans or their food. Perry would often wake only 6 hours after the sun rose. So she had some time to put her artistic hands to work.
The Canyon walls turned to cliffs toward the end of the trip, the geology became quite interesting.
Ironically after being behind schedule, after all the rain the river was flowing more than double the previous speed, we were easily making river miles and had a couple of easy days. We climbed on peak that had a nice view. Over Wayne's right shoulder you can see our rafts and camp below. (OK so you might need to click on it to blow it up and still need a magnifying glass)The last day was a bit wet. We pulled over a couple of times for heavy hail.It was indeed good to have that tarp along. On the last 8miles of our trip we started seeing gold miners and their dredgers preparing for the summer season of mining. The river is frozen in the winter, and (to my surprize) more accessible with snowmobiles than it is in the summer with other forms of transport. And there it was, the bridge, after 6 days on the river and not really seeing anyone, or signs of civilization the trip was over (the rafting part anyway). Just a 2 hour drive on dirt to the nearest settlement (Chicken) for Gasoline and another hour to Tok which was mostly paved.This is how the trip panned out for us. The different colors are the different days. Though the last two days are stitched together (ooops). Easy to see the Canadian border and the Yukon river that the Fortymile flows into.
A huge thanks to Ben for doing so much planning, packing and letting us use his gear. We rented our Raft from Test the Waters near Northpole, it worked great!

Wow what a trip !


bigsurpete said...

Incredible! Beautiful! Thanks for sharing such a fantastic photo-story! Completely awesome!

little red said...

Ben, Great work putting the photos with your comments together!! I'd be very jealous if I'd missed the trip!

Unknown said...

Not sure if you'll see this, but we are doing the Joseph to Fortymile Bridge later this summer and would like to ask a few questions about your trip in 2011 (especially the Kink and run/portage/lining options).

Please email me at if you are willing...


Doug Whittaker