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 !

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Flying : Tok - Joseph & Fortymile Bridge - Joseph

Six days of delicious meals for 6 people and Panda all rationed out by Ben and stashed in coolers , the rafts & paddles, tents, sleeping gear, cooking gear, clothes were all carefully divided up by weight and size into 3.5 loads, Wayne & gear, Bruce & gear, Ben, Perry & Panda would fly from Tok to Joseph airstrip.As gear was being divided up I noticed the lack of my bags. This was a moment of disbelief! Where could they have gone? Had they bounced out of the truck? been taken while at the market? No - in the rush I'd left them at the house. No clothes but the ones I am wearing and no tent. Disaster was averted by miraculously finding a hunting store next to the Gas station. Tent, clothes, PVC jacket, and rubber boots and a dry bag. Lucky, lucky, lucky. There was still snow on the ground in various places.
Tracey & I would stage the retieve truck where the taylor Hiway crosses the Fortymile River. (I have yet to discover with the river is named such - we floated 100miles down a section of it). Below is the Taylor Hiway (dirt) this is where we took off from) The bridge middle right is where we got out 6 days later. This is the closest road to where we put in 50 miles WNW. On the flight to Joseph airstrip we passed over the river and a few of the close peaksAnd then saw Joseph a narrow cleared strip of gravel between the river and swamp. Quite an exciting landing, I am sure it was all to plan... come in wheels skimming the weeds, stall at 20 feet and gently plop onto the gravel with the wings on both sides gently brushing the shrubs. So this is why they are called bush pilots :) Our pilot did a fantastic job. It was a great moment of reassurance to all be together at Joseph. Schedules, dubious roads, navigation, gear, mechanical breakdown and weather all being quite real threats with no cell phone service or civilization around as back up. Relief, even if we were now 50 miles from the nearest dirt road, isolated by swamp, tundra, mountains and icy rivers :) Looking forward to the adventures on the river the next few days with good friends.

Friday, June 10, 2011


So he we are - Alaska :) Preparing for the next adventure. For a few years a few of us having been saying "Yeah we will come visit some time" to our friends Ben and Perry. Well sometime has arrived.I arrived at 1am and got to their house about 2am. This is the view at 2am here in Fairbanks. Quite light eh ?
I went for a wonder around town the next day. Fairbanks is the start of the Yukon Quest.
Bruce got in, in the afternoon and we started putting the raft together to make sure we have all the bits and bobs, we didn't. That is good to know since we are "flying in". We'll get the rest of the pieces today.
The plan is to fly in to the entry with to Josephs Airstrip on the middle fork of the fortymile river. It will take 3 trips in the Piper to get us and our gear, literally landing on the river bank. From there we plan on spending 6 days on the river and imerging at the first road and civilization at the Taylor hiway river bridge. They is only one portage at "the kink". Hopefully we will get a chance to gold pan along the way.
Tracey, Wayne and Perry should arrive tonight and that will make 6 of us :) and Panda the dog. Today we get packed up and food stashed in boxes. This will be quite an experience. We should be back in a week. If not ... you know where we are.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

A day in Seattle

On a delayed flight to Seattle (a stop off to Fairbanks). Our path took us across some familiar landmarks, Mt Shasta,Crater Lakeand passed the 3 sisters & Mt Bachelor near Bend.
Since my layover was so long I went in to have a look round the city.
The only things I knew about Seattle is that it is home to the Space needle, starbucks & Microsoft. There's is nothing like jumping in feet first :)After breakfast at the Crumpet Shop, I headed over to the space needle, I had a look around the Science centre there. The two highlights were this seemingly spining globe (3 projectors cleverly synchronized onto an invisibly suspended white ball) it animated weather spin, weather, tides and Tsunamis. High coolness factor.
And the butterfly "Airium" did I just make that word up?
And darn it again my next flight also delay an hour, I would have had time for a pint in here after all !