Into the Wild

Kobuk River Trip – Day 2

September in the Arctic can bring everything from warm, sunny fall days to freezing nights, rain, snow and wind, sometimes all of the above in one day. Besides our false start we have been blessed with the weather.

The cottonwoods have turned yellow, the tundra is in rainbow colors. Wind gusts have shaken the first leaves of some trees.

We spent our first night next to the Walker Lake Rapids. The sound of the rushing water drowns most other sounds, that could startle you in the night. The temps must be around freezing when I get up in the morning. I sit next to the river and watch two otters climb out of the water. They explore land for a while, oblivious to my presence, and disappear in the brush after a while. Oatmeal for breakfast and off we go. We decide to line the canoe past the last set of rapids, which means walking in the river on slippery rocks. After that it all becomes quiet and peaceful.

We have an easy day ahead of us with regards to the itinerary. In less than a mile we will hit the mighty Kobuk. The river becomes wide and flows steadily at 3-5 miles per hour. There is no need to paddle, just navigating around some rocks or trees that may appear occasionally in our way.

We float for about 20 miles to the vicinity of the confluence with the Nutuvukti, a small stream coming out the mountains. There are plenty of sand banks, some more rocky than others, where we could camp along the way. We stop a few times for a snack break. On the beaches we find signs of otters, bears, and moose. We also see our first grizzlies, a mamma bear with a cub walking along the river shore on, which may be a narrow stretch of sand and pebbles, a steep river bank, boreal forest or boggy tundra. Once the bears notice the moving canoe, they scramble up the river bank and disappear in the forest. Good bears! I am not looking forward to a close bear encounter in the canoe,

We do not see a single human all day, no boat, no cabin, just some dispersed logs of firewood on a beach. It is clear we are deep in the Arctic wilderness. The Kobuk has been very gentle on this first day, which allowed us to enjoy this splendid natural setting.

We settle in for the night, pitching tents, cooking dinner, calling dispatch, listening to some music…

Zzz.

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Into the Wild

A Gates of the Arctic Float Trip #3

Time to hit the water…

Our plan for the rest of the afternoon is to paddle about 2.5 miles to the first camping spot. This doesn’t sound too bad, but it is our first time together in a canoe. The first mile is on Walker Lake, the water is flat as a mirror, but we are zig-zagging across the lake like drunken sailors. First, we attempt to follow more or less the shore line, because it seems more comforting to be closer to land, instead of heading straight out into the middle of the lake, where the bottom disappears. Not that it matters, if we fall out of the canoe it’s going to be miserable either way.

All our belongings, food, camping gear is stashed in waterproof dry bags that are clipped to the canoe. We wear swim vest over warm clothes (warm when dry). It’s a beautiful afternoon. Still, I can feel some suspense.

I am having the front seat, so I am just the engine, keeping my paddle mostly on one site, trying to get into a rhythm, that we both are comfortable with. Despite our best efforts, we are not going in a straight line. I am wondering, how will we do in class I or II water? How will we navigate around obstacles in the river?

Dylan is optimistic. He has paddled the Koyukuk from Coldfoot to Bettles. He says, we’ll get better every day…

Alright then, let’s find the outlet of Walker Lake that will lead us to the first set of rapids. We are not planning on running the rapids. Apparently it is possible to portage around the rapids, which can be anywhere from class I to V, according to our reliable resources.

We have said goodbye to our colleagues about an hour ago and all we can hear is the splashing sound of paddles, no wind, no engines, no planes, no voices. Mountains in our back, a glassy lake and foothills in front of us.

At some point we did find the outlet. The change from lake to “river” was gentle. In the beginning the flow was very gentle, the water level seemed rather low, in some places just deep enough for us to keep going without scraping on the bottom. Then came the first gentle turns. We learned rather quickly that the water mostly determines where the canoe is going, and that it is a lot of work or simply impossible to go against the flow.

To make progress on the lake it was all on us, once the water started to flow, we could just drift with it. That off course is an insane experience. We are gliding through the landscape without effort, without noise.

What I remember most was that the clarity of the water. It seemed non-existent, as if we floated on a layer of saran wrap. Below us, the creek bottom would float by. We could see underwater plants, tree logs, fish, and rocks. Like snorkeling without the mask.

I was wondering how we would find out about the rapids. Would there be a place to land the canoe, before we would get sucked into the rapids? Oh, the mind of a newbie.

Yes, it become very obvious when we got closer to the rapids. While there was silence until now, except the splashes from our expert paddle strokes, all of a sudden there was a roar in the air and we could see the water surface become more agitated. But we could not see white water, yet. Must be around the next turn. No, still no white water, but the sound becomes louder and louder. There seemed to be a nice landing site, so we decided to stop here and explore on foot our options.

Since the canoe was our life line we made damn sure that it is safely dragged out of the water and tied to a sturdy tree. We had picked the perfect spot. It was indeed the beginning of the portage trail. Amazing how little human use it takes to create a visible trail through the otherwise dense brush.

That’s it. That’s the first set of rapids. It may look tame, but you should hear the sound. No way would we get through this…

So, we unpack our canoe and portage everything around the rapids. At the end of the rapids we find a flat, open site that has been used before. We find a campfire ring and some spots that are ideally suited for a tent.

Our first day of adventure ends well. We make it to the intended campsite, maybe not in style. But we make it, before dark, before some evening raindrops fall on our tents. We are dry, warm, and had a decent dinner. At least I had, more on that next time.

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Into the Wild

Into the wild – № 2

“The very basic core of a man’s living spirit
is his passion for adventure.”

Jon Krakauer (Into the Wild)


Not all may subscribe to this statement. And adventure means different things to different people. To me an adventure begins with the unknown. Some level of uncertainty. If I step outside in the morning and go look for wildlife or visit a familiar location like this place at Round Prairie I never know what to expect. I have come back to this place many times because there is a magnificent mountain in the distance that gets illuminated by the setting sun in the right conditions. Well, it has happened only once so far. But even on a snowy day, I found snow covered bison, moose nibbling on willows or lovely snow mounds.

What’s your next adventure?

By the way, if you want to read a nice write-up about the adventures of Chris McCandless and his followers visit Eva Hollands essay “Chasing Alexander Supertramp“.

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Into the Wild

Mammoth Hot Springs

“The world’s big
and I want to have a good look at it
before it gets dark.”

John Muir


Great quote from a wise man. I am on the same page.

Mammoth Hot Springs is such a place that deserves a visit. Located close to the North entrance of Yellowstone National Park, accessible by a board walk, never the same. I plan on visiting this place a few more times this winter, as I imagine the contrast between snow, ice, steam, and hot water during the cold season is just out of this world.

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Old Faithful, the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and many other features of the park experience a break from the summer crowds. All roads inside the park, except the one from Gardiner to Cooke City, are closed to wheeled vehicles for the winter, and there is no riding with snow coaches or snow machines, yet. Currently, you could have Old Faithful all to yourself.

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Into the Wild

The Great Divide

For years I have been contemplating a really long bicycle tour.

holsteemanifesto

Growing up my first overnight trips away from home were bicycle tours with friends, involving camping or staying in youth hostels. I have great memories of those days. Later in life, I was grinding on mountain bike trails on short day trips to stay in shape. Now, I feel, the time has come to combine both experiences.

What better place, than to try the Great Divide. On paper this trail sounds epic. 2750 miles, climbing 5 times the height of Mt. Everest, that’s a lot. But, those are just numbers. Along those many miles, there is an amazing amount of wild and remote back country to take in. For most of us this will be a once in a lifetime experience.

So here I am. Old, overweight and out of shape. The bike ride will change all of that. That’s my hope.

If you want to follow that adventure you can do so at bikeeatsleepblog.wordpress.com.

Happy trails.

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Into the Wild

The First Man to Walk the Iditarod Trail

This is a great story by the man, who walked the Iditarod first. Oh, there are a few hardy souls these days that walk parts of the Iditarod  to McGrath, even fewer go on all the way to Nome. This year’s Invitational was especially challenging with temps around -40, Fahrenheit or Celsius, your pick.

Last Frontier Magazine

Denis between Iditarod mushers Joe Runyan and Doug Swingley.

Denis Douglas made it to the Yukon River (Ruby) two days before Iditarod front runners, Joe Runyan and Doug Swingley.

Booty Road – The First to Walk the Iditarod Trail

by Denis Douglas

The sun got hotter as I walked, and sweat rolled down my back soaking my shirt… No. I must be hallucinating again. Actually it’s about 40 below zero and I’m trudging down the Yukon River with a twenty-mile-an-hour wind blowing in my face. Such was my first walk from Knik to Nome.

Let me back up a little here. Two years earlier I was asked by a hunter to fly from Anchorage into the Farewell area just on the far side of Rainy Pass. The man was from Texas and had drawn a permit for a buffalo during the spring hunt. He shot a cow at about twenty yards and soon we had the animal field dressed…

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