Trip Journal: Alaska
Trip Journal: Alaska
--When, Where, Conditions--
When: Sept 2-10
Preparing to leave. I've packed 10 days worth of gear into one bag. This is simple. The secret is to only bring the essentials: Boating gear, wolf sweater, base layers, tent, sleeping bag, toiletries, journal, camera. The only clothes other than boating gear will be the ones I'm wearing on the plane and later in the bar. Who needs more than one pair of Carhartts.
Tonight I will catch a red eye flight out of PDX and land in Anchorage at 1:20 a.m. There, a shady and gregarious fellow named track suit Jake (future roommate) will pick me up and we hall abscond 134 miles north to the wonderful town of Talkeetna, Alaska. Talkeetna means the place where three rivers meet. The Susitna, Chulitna, and Talkeetna tiers all combine at the towns edge to continue on as the Susitna all the way to anchorage. All three have incomparable scenery, fishing, and whitewater.
Once we arrive we will be discovering where our trip will lead us. There has been talk of the Gulkana river, a beautiful class III-IV wilderness trip, as well as a trip on the Copper, Nelchina, and Tazlina rivers. All world class always a good time. SYOTR
Man was not meant to fly. It is a marvel of the modern age. But man was not meant to fly. It's my opinion and I still fly many places. That said. Nope. This is why I've developed a special skill: I am asleep before the plane takes off and asleep when it lands. I much prefer teleportation to flying. Going to sleep in Portland and waking up in Alaska is much more entertaining than a metal tube full of 200 of your sleepiest friends.
We headed to Talkeetna and Denali Southside River Guides headquarters. We pulled up to the boathouse around 3:30 am and promptly set up camp. I left quite a bit of gear up here last season and I was anxious to inventory what gear I had brought against what I had left. Most importantly I wanted to check if anything needed repairs before heading out on the water. Instead I passed out on the couch and slept till 12:30pm.
After waking, I got around to repairs. My boat needed cleaning and skirts needed mending. After doing a cursory inventory I decided I have enough gear to go on two trips. I re-packed and we decided it was time to go to breakfast in town. And do laundry and take showers since town is one of the few places to do those things.
After trying to stop at the post office to send promised postcards, we headed to the roadhouse. The post office wouldn't be open till 2pm. Typical Talkeetna. We sat down at the roadhouse and set about ordering a standard breakfast. Now we sit settled into our first day back planning the trip and enjoying some a entrees before heading out into the woods.
In which our heroes attempt to go on a river trip.
After a very hearty dinner, we all went to bed with plans to wake up at 7 and depart at 8. Like all good plans, we didn't account for the amount of food-coma ratio and everyone was roused a bit after 7. Thankfully Canaan and I woke the boat house with a few joyous loops of Queen and Cazette songs on the stereo.
I began packing up the Hercules with my gear. 4 river days of gear fits nicely in the pillar-less prijon. I am stoked to try out my new event dry stuff sacks. They should keep my sleeping bag and extra layers super dry as my stow floats needed healthy doses of aquaseal upon inspection. While I'm probably going to be living in the IR Supermodel for the next few days, having an extra change for those rare rain-free days.
We loaded up gear, goods, and boats by 8 and were rolling around 9. Ah river time starts from the first day. We had decided on the Gulkana river from Paxson lake to Sourdough campground. This stretch had some history for us. A 47 mile fun and scenic class I-III we had been shut out in 2012 due to gale force winds. This was the Gulkana revenge year.
The drive from Talkeetna to Paxson lake requires switch from the George parks highway to the Glenn Allen highway. The Glen Allen is as treacherous as it is beautiful. Single lane highway bordering the Matanuska River and glacier for miles. Mountains jut up the landscape like knives. And I slept through it all. Trust me though it's beautiful. I'll post some photos from the return trip. En route to Paxson we stopped at Tok Thai which is the best little thai cart in the middle of nowhere. After a great refuel we got to Paxson Lake late this afternoon and decided to camp here instead of paddle across the lake and set up camp in the dark.
After a great game of Cody-ball and a few cases of Denali Brewing's best, we tucked in for the night. The next day we would start our paddling with a new invention: the elephant trunk. We have three rafts, three sit on top kayaks and one whitewater kayak. Somehow we are all going to lash together and use a small 4hp motor to caravan across the lake paddle. Hooray! This should be fun and funny.
We woke this morning and began the long process of setting shuttle. All gear has been accounted for and divvied up. The flotilla will set out as soon as the shuttle bunnies return.
Our goal is to gain the unofficial record for boats towed across Paxson lake. At 7 I think we' re a strong contender. It's 5 miles across and down Paxson to the river mouth and from there we will head another few miles before setting up camp. The upper stretch of the Gulkana is a mellow class I-II braided river with a multitude of islands and steep banks to navigate and scout for camp sites.
The caravan was a roaring success. We made it across the lake in about 40min. We linked all the boats together and chugged across with the 4hp Suzuki on the lead raft. We went fast enough and kicked up enough wake it was like surfing an endless wave across the lake. You just had to hold on to the frame with one hand. Super fun!
After paddling frog water for the last few hours, I'm glad we've finally settled on a camp site. This upper stretch has been reminiscent of the lower in so many ways that frog water is slow water. Especially in a raft. I'm paddling my fully loaded Hercules and I'm still making better time.
The kayakers spent most the day scouting ahead and checking out campsites as we could. Trying to weigh ease of access against how plentiful the fishing might be. After four different samplings, we finally found a relatively good camp site. There is adequate tree cover and the fish have begun hiding under our boats in the eddy below camp. If the fresh and large bear droppings are any indication others have found the fishing to be promising. We didn't make a terribly large amount of miles today but we had an enjoyably lazy start and will make up miles at a later date.
It continues to rain. Not real serious Rain. That only comes late at night and lulls you back to sleep As quickly as it wakes you. No this rain is what Portlanders would call normal. That heavy mist sun showers. On the Gulkana revenge tour we call it ' the devil beating his wife'.
This leads me to discuss an important aspect of paddling in Alaska. Dramp. It's that feeling when your dry-but not, warm-but not, comfortable...well We won't call it comfortable because you just acclimate. Ah the dramp. It can break you. You find yourself Counting down to dry clothes. Not only dry clothes but just dry anything. You look forward to those few hours in the middle of the night wen your body heat has dried the layers you're wearing (or sleeping on) enough that you can hop back in your dramp suit with an illusion of warmth.
If you can't tell it's been a very dramp day. A good day but dramp day.
Today we saw the first people we have seen since starting the trip as likely the last. Some hunters were crossing the river just above the canyon stretch. They were wry suspicious of us. Worried we'd follow and snake their stands. No worries hunters we came for the water.
After another long day of flat water we finally reached the Gulkana. Canyon. It contains the only significant whitewater on the stretch. At 1/4 mile long and packed with broken ledges and wave holes it makes for a great class III-III+ stretch at the flows we are seeing it at. Three broken ledges/wave hole combos lead to a head wall where the river turns hard left and thunders over a broken 3-4ft ledge.
There is a very well maintained portage trail on river right and we used this to move gear to a campsite just below the canyon. Then it was time for a fun run. The rafts went down without incident. Only the super puma got a little herky jerky in the second to last ledge. Then Simon and I paddled the sit on top kayaks down. I think this counts as the largest-most difficult water I've paddled a Ocean Kayak Malibu two XL on. It was a blast. Simon followed me down and we made all the eddies and ferrys we attempted through the stretch. Then we hiked back up to the top and I paddled my Hercules down while Simon and Canaan took a second lap in the Malibus. We have a pack raft along with us. I am going to take a few laps in it in the morning.
After the canyon the river runs through 8 miles of continuous class II-III which should be very entertaining after the frog water up stream. Fishing so far has been hit our miss for the older folks on the trip though the resident youngster, Cody, has been slaying. The graylings were hitting at the last site quite a bit. Hopefully our next campsite has good fishing...though I'm partial to running laps on quality whitewater. The hike isn't too bad either.
It's always bittersweet leaving the river bittersweet leaving anywhere you've grown to love. This is one of, if not, my most loved places on earth. The beauty renders you speechless each day regardless of the forecast.
Now time to reminisce through all the pictures and memories...