“Rivers know this:
there is no hurry.
We shall get there some day.”
A.A. Milne in Winnie-the-Pooh
A Gates of the Arctic Float Trip #2
According to Alan Alexander Milne we should get there, right?
Our first day of the 2019 Kobuk River patrol was not going as planned. Due to poor visibility our pilot turned back five minutes before our destination. Safety first. We lived for another day.
Next day, another attempt. Same procedure, waiting for morning fog to lift, then waiting for the low hanging clouds to burn off. Off to the floating pond, loading all our gear, bear spray and fuel into the floats, donning life jackets and headsets, off we go.
The landscape already looks somewhat familiar, although today the colors are even more intense. The sun pokes through the clouds. The fall tundra puts on a splendid display.
The John River and the Alatna River below us almost look as if they did not want to leave the Brooks Range. Constantly twisting and turning they are drawn towards their destiny: the Koyukuk. Is that what is expecting us at the Kobuk as well? We see horseshoe turns, where the main channels come within a few feet, only to separate for a much longer detour. Amazing to see this from the air, probably hard to appreciate when you are on the river.
We make it to yesterday’s turn around point from yesterday. There are still clouds lingering, but nothing compared to yesterday. We climb through a shallow pass and there it is, Walker Lake, the starting point of our float trip.
The surface of the lake is glassy, no wind, the mountains and clouds reflecting in it like in a mirror. Hard to believe after yesterdays conditions. We spot a log cabin at the SE corner of the lake. That’s where 2 colleagues will stay for a week, while we attempt to float down the Kobuk. The cabin is located inside the Gates of Arctic National Park and Preserve. It was donated to the park and is used occasionally by back country rangers. The cabin is in decent shape, although it’s destiny is uncertain. No fixed structures are supposed to be inside the park and one of these days it may get removed. That would be a pity.
We unload the plane, have a quick bite. It’s 1 PM. The weather is perfect for crossing the open water. We are already one day behind schedule so there is no time to loose. It takes us quite a while to put together our folding canoe. A single PVC skin is stretched over an aluminum frame that needs to be assembled from a bunch of poles and joints. It takes some head scratching, a couple of zip ties and the ever present duct tape to setup the canoe, load our gear and say good bye to our friends. We are scheduled to call every morning and evening and transmit our location and status with dispatch.
The pilot is supposed to pick us up in a week, about 60 miles from here near the Pah River confluence.
Will we get there?