Monday, August 15, 2011

on the river

We expected our boats to arrive Sunday morning but didn't hear the plane approach until after 1 pm. We trekked back to the drop site from camp to unload the aircraft, then began portaging to the river. Jim & Rita and Michael & I had rented canoes in Bettles, but we'd brought Bob's raft from Anchorage in a trailer. It was clear that after the portage, inflating and assembling the raft, and packing the boats it would be too late to put in to the river that day.

After a brief flash of disappointment, we decided to kick back and enjoy the leisure time. It was a beautiful camp site, we had plenty of food, good booze, and a roaring fire. Plus Bob had brought a few luxury items and it felt downright indulgent to sit around the fire in a folding chair.

photo by Nick Adams

Monday morning dawned clear, sunny, and mosquito-free. The put in was some of the fastest water we'd encounter on the whole trip; 50 feet after ass-in-seat time we hit the confluence of the John and the Hunt Fork. Michael was an accomplished cano-er in his youth (lo, these many years) and apparently paddling a canoe is like riding a bike. Our companions probably took us for city slickers who would panic in fast water. Ha! I don't have Michael's skills in the stern but I paddle a strong bow and the boat is one place where I'm happy to take direction from an expert.

The John is a snow melt river; its water is clear, unlike the silty water of a glacial river. It twists and turns, curving around on itself,

photo by Nick Adams

splitting into channels, detouring around islands, then coming together again. Each split presented a new choice: shallow or deep? fast or slow? Aim for the V, call out the rocks and snags (underwater logs), and avoid the sweepers (fallen trees that lie across the river's surface).

photo by Rita Bates

We made camp that night in view of Gunsight Mountain: a stunning gravel bar replete with rose hips and red currents.



At August 16, 2011 at 2:51 AM , Anonymous Leda Meredith said...

Gorgeous! It must've been a jolt to come back to NYC after this trip.

At August 16, 2011 at 9:05 AM , Blogger Linda said...

I love my Down & Dirty mornings. I always save this email for last, so I can still be on a river in Alaska in my mind as I move to the next task of my day.

At August 16, 2011 at 9:30 AM , Blogger Mum said...

Many, many moons ago, probably about 1949, my cabin went on a 3 day canoe trip on the Bear Camp River. Not exactly comparable to your trip, but the sense of adventure...looking for beach to set up camp, wild life along the way...for a a 15 year old...was unforgettable. The Durkees and I still remember paddling across the lake in the moonlight. I am SO glad you had this trip. Love, Mum

At August 19, 2011 at 12:28 PM , Blogger Marie said...

I can't think of a better place for someone with the storied name of Nick Adams to be!

Aren't you going to tell us what the luxury items were?

At August 23, 2011 at 9:22 AM , Anonymous wiseacre said...

Let's just say I'm jealous :)

not really, I wish more people had the chance to experience wilderness. for those who can't make it above the artic circle - the adirondack mountains is a great alternative.


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