COPYRIGHT TERRY WRIGHT 2008
in which twelve intrepid, fearless snafuers do a 12 day trip in southeast alaska, 113 miles on the tatshenshini river.
pictures on picasaweb site. http://picasaweb.google.com/terryw100/TatshenshiniRiver
5 years waiting finally to get the coveted permit, a takeout date on the tatshenshini, the king of northern rivers, in the wildest part of se alaska, sensory overload of mountains, glaciers, rivers, bears. i watched the numbers, we were 98 on the waiting list, but had only moved up 20 spots last year out of 50 possible permits. that told me that people were opting not to apply for permits because they were waiting for a lower number to get a better putin date. weather is everything on the tat, and i was going because the last trip in 97 with mike h was hammered by rainstorms and bad river logistics. i wanted to run my own trip and felt i deserved better weather which is as good as it gets in late june. So it talked to mike, greg and major tom (who has a house in haines to operate out of) and we agreed on 4 dates in early july, and we hit gold on july 3 takeout, meaning a mid-june 22 putin for a 12 day trip.
ok, we got the permit, now comes the hard part, running a 12 day river trip for 12 people in the wilds of alaska. immediatly phone calls to stan boor, the outfitter for rafts, kitchen and food packing and drake the bush pilot for the takeout pave the way and the call goes out for people. we are full as of feb 1 with $100 deposits, then mike holstrom's contingent starts dropping out. randy from the 97 tat trip has major medical, mike has been just down the grand for 21 days and his money has tightened with the slow real estate sales, and his friend chris is out. this opens the door to more snafu members, tom powell from new zealand is already paid up on the waiting list, gerry lewis is on and mark "mr incredible" Sandeen is in. All veterans of grand canyon trips, ready to do the northern equivalent, the tatshenshini river. I immediatly delegated jobs, Greg Malone for money czar, his wife Laura, food queen, great old river hands and very competent organized people. Tom and Carolyn Ganner oF Ridgecrest, Saline hot springs and Haines. I met them in the bar at the halsingland hotel in 97, totally by chance, i had heard of him from the garbage man mike. We recognized kindred spirits, adventure, humor, geology in common. he said he was from a "small valley near death valley" and i asked him his name, "tom". "Whats your valley name?": "major tom", and we greeted with a bear hug, like old bikers, and have been friends ever since. They have been doing kayak trips in glacier bay and Alex Puski is another valley boy who is along. BC bob center is veteran of 30 years of river outrage with me and snafu. From the stanislaus and tuolumne research trip in the mid 70s to high tech jobs abroad and now a hydrology consultant dealing with hydro power and trying to get more water in the rivers. The meloshes, glen and trish, are old friends through geology and have been supporting me on river trips for many years. We are all solidly in, 1400$ per person to run the trip, Haines to Haines and Yakutat with a bush plane takeout.
preliminary skirmishes with logistics: confirming the permit-100 to nps, 1200 to kluane np in canada (ouch), deposits to stan and drake for equipment rental and plane takeout. emails to all about logistics, money, etc on google events site which is very handy, if people read the stuff i put on there. i have a file of these if you want to see what kinds of things came up lemme know. Great meeting with the main people at greg and lauras in march, getting logistics, money, and all the details down. greg runs the meeting and i coax him along with details. he is a good organizer, and should be very helpful in logistics. Laura is talking with stans wife kate about menu and coming up with some great meals. I spend time every day working out the details and communicating them to all. Gerry sends out a personal equipment list, very complete, and we start getting things together.
My life comes to a halt for a couple weeks in april with a heart catheter test, which comes out negative for blockages, but im still not in top shape and work out every day to get the body and heart back together for the trip. Im going to have to take it easy on the trip physically, i know that now, Mark will take over my boat duties and row me down the river, not my choice, but better for me. Back to benton for some spring skiing and hanging with local friends, then to new orleans to sweat and take in the french quarter scene, ellis marsalis quartet with eileen. Then the final push, putting everything in place for the push to alaska.
The flight was great, santa rosa airport at 10 am, arrive at Haines to Major tom and carolyn's smiling faces at 5:30 pm. Pie and coffee at Donnas rest in juneau, my favorite family eatery. Real alaskans, knee boots, rain jackets, unruly hair, beards, large loud ladies. I know im in alaska when the waitress is old, grandmotherly, calls me "hun", and when i leave after warm strawberry rhubarb pie warmed over and vanilla ice creme she says "watch yourself out there. be careful". This is the alaskan mindset, anythinng outside could be a danger, from bears to rocks falling, rivers rising, coming out of nowhere. You are raised to a new level of conciousness, looking out, in concious expectation of the unexpected. News articles about accidents in the outback in every paper, a bear attack here, an avalanche death there.
A great flight to Haines on wings of alaska 6 pass. cessna, i get the copilot seat and revel in the unveiling of mountains and glaciers up Lynn Canal, winging past Rainbow glacier, hanging with great waterfalls below, look right across to tom and carolyns house. how fortunate to be here with good friends, in great country and getting ready for a great adventure.
I download my stuff in the unfinished upstairs living room, with great views of the chilkat inlet and rainbow glacier through huge windows. then dinner, catchup on logistics and soak in the hot tub wood fired before collapsing and sleeping a tired satisfied body. yy
Dawn very early 4 am it starts getting light. The sky is blue and the sun is shining, a perfect day, im up at 6 and making coffee. Tom has tea and Carolyn creates oatmeal with nuts, a great start. Call stan and make an appt for high noon "ill be cleaning the guns" i quip. Tom and I find his place north of town in the woods, a big warehouse full of river equipment, camping equpment, the nerve center for private trips heading out to the tat or alsek. he will put in 12 trips this summer and already has done 3, one couldnt get into the putin on the tat because of snow on the road, but it is clear now. The main problem is Alsek lake, it is blocked by icebergs at the upper end where the cooridor of death enters the lake. We hit that in 97 because of a logistics screwup where we ended up almost being swept under the bergs. I yelled at sam and he slammed down the oars, and said "you take it!" gladly i hauled ass to the shore, where we dragged boats up to the right passage clean as a whistle. That passage is high and dry now, due to low flows in the alsek. we will have to scout when we get there, 14 days can make a big difference in flow, and in berg position. the last trip through, a SOBEK commercial, flew out from a gravel bar strip above the lake, at the spit campsite. At least we have a backup plan if we we cant get through. We clear up a major misunderstanding about putin date, but i aquiesce and we decide to put in a day later than planned to give people some breathing room and fit stans schedule. I spend some anxious moments with the hotel, but they have room for my people for sat night, the night a huge influx of bicyclers in a race from Haines jct to haines. so now people arrive on fri, we have dinner at toms fri night, then meeting at halsingland hotel on sat. aft. and we leave for the putin early sunday. Thursday, alex arrives, another great time, shopping for chairs, last minute details, but plenty of time. Overcast skys and dripping a little, shit i hope the weather gets better for the trip. We score a monster King salmon and another sockeye for the larder and the bbq tmw. They have black box wine at Mountain market, the local gourmet hangout/deli. so i stock up for the trip. I find BC and Mark at the hotel and we go for halibut and chips at the bamboo room with haines microbrew a great red ale. Friday is bright and clear, weather has been lousey up to now, but hopefully it will turn for the trip. we go in town to shop more, and see mark talking on a cell phone on the main street and pick him up. At the hotel, glen, trish, tom are ready for a hike. Im feeling shitty so i hang at bcs room to take a nap before dinner.
I realize im really feeling sick, so a call to the dr in soco prompts a trip to the local clinic. the owner of the hotel, Jeff, gives me a lift, and i check in, medicare card in hand. Call carolyn to read me my meds list and amounts over the phone as i interview dr. noble anderson, a lean intense dude who whipps out a pocket device and announces that the new med im taking engenders toxic levels in another med, so we plan around this and i go away happy that a solution has been found. he will do a blood test anyway and send off to seattle to analyze for the other med to see if it is toxic. I give him the satphone number so he can leave a message for me while im on the river.
Greg and laura and gerry are sitting in front of the clinic in their new chairs as i emerge and we greet and chat about the plan to dine at toms. My phone rings and its the good dr. "has anyone ever told you you have diabetes?" my heart sinks to the cellar. "your glucose is 444, in full blown diabetes, youd better meet with me and the pharmacist now". I cant fucking believe this, my sugar has always been normal, what the f is going on, im shaking and then he says "with this i wouldnt recommend you going on your trip, 12 days in the wilderness with this blood sugar could be very bad". Im scrambling now, what about the trip? im the trip leader and permit holder i gotta be on the trip. I weaknee it up the stairs and meet the pharmacist. I want another test, but everyone has gone home, he comes out with the dr and a perscription and a blood glucose tester for me. I say "lets do another test now, show me how this works" we do it comes up 84, totally normal. the dr is flabbergasted, i smile and say, "well maybe your test is wrong" hes not used to this, so we do a urine test and it too shows low sugar, so he cant explain it except his machine was wrong. Alex picks us up and shuttles out to toms, every one together at last and getting along fine, wine drinking, munching on delicious salmon fresh from the ocean off Sitka from local fisherman. i test the blood sugar right away and it is 100, so the reading was really a mistake, im still shaking from having diabetes for an hour and a half i figure, not what i needed now. We have a great dinner, all copascetic, all getting to know each other at last. first meeting with tom and carolyn and tom the kiwi for most. a great king salmon has been sliced up by alex for the feast, and asparagus appears, wine, a growler of local brew. I announce the schedule for tomorrow and sunday putin, all changed, but we are SNAFU, ready to adapt to the change. Born on the Rogue in 1973, when everything went wrong, sister pen scrawled "SNAFU" on the side of Gordones van and the name and concept stuck and carried us through major expeditions all over the west, now to Alaska. Finish the evening with hot tub and scotch shot and sleep content.
Sat morn is overcast and pittering, i go in town with tom to do more shopping. get a chair, 15$, not bad, everyone else has one, so i dont want to be the only one with out. i find scott pickett in front of the hotel, he has a permit to put in the day after us, and is from anchorage, a cool dude with wild tennessee accent. he is on a family trip 15 days on the tat, never been down before, so we trade notes. He will be behind us, so no conflict with campsites. we may see him at sediments creek, our first layover. We share battle stories of rivers, he has boated a lot in ak, and wants to do the north slope, "count me in " i rejoin. I stroll to the docks and meet Fred, the mayor in wild iris his gift shop, we talk geology and have a good exchange of people, he has rob goldberg and donna cottati all over the shop, my eye catches a painting of rainbow glacier and will get one for tom and carolyn. I go by Moseys cantina and meet martha, great grand canyon lady, friend of briggs, and arrange dinner for 7 pm for 10 people.
We meet with stan at the hotel for briefing on logistics and the river conditions. His sad news is 2 friends of his just died on the Alsek, flipped at lava north and stayed too long in the water, no survival suits, hypothermia. Its dangerous out there and it begins to sink in the enormity of my task to guide this group down the ultimate wilderness river. Stan goes to his warehouse with 4 people to tour the food and camp gear setup, and i hang on the parade grounds with scott and others who come by to talk rivers, wilderness and our trip plans.
Soon its time to sashay over to moseys and we do a great mexican meal with halibut fish burritos, spruce tip beer and great conversations. the place is packed with bicyclists high from their race experience accompanied by driving rain and sleet at the high pass, glad we are putting in tomorrow. we make a last store stop and head out for toms for last packing and organization. A final soak in the hot tub, and more logistics details, organizing meds, equipment, clothing emphasizing warm and dry. I have the dry suit for extreme conditions, and many layers of mysterioso, poly, fleece and waterproof suit of pvc bombproof for the elements. at 10:30 the sun finally sets an it gets as dark as it gets. Gray starts in the morning at 4 am, and im soon up finishing up the packing and logistics.
The morning dawns breaking clouds and dry, promise of sun is a good omen. We load up and gather at the hotel with stans big truck full of food and gear, a van, and toms truck with brian the driver who will bring it back from the putin. We are all in high spirits, zooming up the road, more logistics to come at the border. It turns out that the haines border crossing with homeland security has recently decreed everyone has to have a passport, and we have to check in with usa hsecurity on the way to the putin because we will enter the usa from canada by river and we might bring in terrorist bombs or whatever. Two people don't have passports, but do have license and birth certificate, and we get into a little arguement about this, but the powers that be lets us through. I ride with stan from there and he gives me some pointers about running and planning the trip. He tells of learning about the tat from walt blackadar, the legendary kayaker, and the first raft run with bart henderson, bangs and other sobek boatmen in udisco rafts in 1976, making frames at putin and burning them at takeout, flying out from dry bay rather than chartering a boat to pick them up. We swap river stories and it turns out we have lots of friends in common. We hesitate at the pass to see the first views of the tat and the broad valley it flows through from dalton post, the put in. The dirt road into dalton post has a sign road closed and we talk to a dude in a vw who tells us of a school bus that has tipped over on the hill, but thinks we can get by. Tom leads the way and we stop to marvel at the "cool bus" lying on its side partially blocking the road. the driver lost it and went into a ditch, a propitious way to start the trip. The put in is deserted except for some raft equipment in a pile from a commerical trip. We immediatly start working on blowing up and rigging boats, positioning food storage and coolers and strapping down. A van and trailer pull in, Nahanni has a commercial trip putting in today also, more competition, Michael the hippie boatman is affable and we talk about logistics. they are going to put in but camp above the gorge, we are bound for silver creek. They will be at sediments creek with another private group from canada. The first stretch is the rapids gorge, with some class 3 drops, but nothing too difficult or threatening. Laura gets the lunch out and we chow down on great deli sandwiches while a frenzy of activity gets the boats ready and personal gear loaded on a strapped down. "rig to flip" the guidebook says, and we do, knowing a flip would be very serious, people in 40 degree water, immediate rescue necessary. we have throw bags on each boat and i bundle up in mysterioso, fleece and rain gear for the trip. Fire up the gps for locations, a data set sure to come in handy in the future and for the guidebook program. Mark is taking care of our boat, a bailer pro, the only bailer on the trip, and doing all the heavy work. i take a short snooze and trish does my bp, all is well. Now Stan gives us some pointers for the gorge, now at 2400 cfs a very reasonable level, actually low for this time of year. We say our goodbyes, as Glenn reads a poem he has written for the occasion. Boats grind against gravel, oars dip in the water and we are free, to flow at one with the river.
We float serenely on 2400 cfs through an open valley with thick vegetation, trees crowding the river. To the right, a demolished cabin and the remains of a camp on a flat area speaks of local history and may be the camp the Nahanni dudes are going to use. they only have 2 paying passengers, 2 boats, 2 boatmen. the rumor is that tat trips arnt selling well, and some companies have cancelled trips. Clouds in and out, still some blue sky, glad we delayed a day for putin, yesterday was horizontal rain and wind, not much fun. The weather is the key here, and we are ready for anything, but praying for sun. The walls close in at a sharp right turn with cliffs and rockslides framing our view of the sky. The notorious class III gorge is really no problem at this level, but at high water, it can be class V with huge holes and compression waves. The gradient dips perceptably, as if we are sliding downhill. "The wall" is the 1st rapid, but no more than some fast water piling up against the left cliff then right bank, Mark pulls easily to each side. Black Bear and ......are the next and we dodge some rocks and holes widely spaced and easy to avoid. We are all looking for M+M rapid and its signal rock on the left piled with driftwood. Mark is timing the run, stan having said it is 45 minutes to m+m from the top of the gorge. I am dubious this is a good way of location on a complex river, and keep looking at the topo and the gps, trying to locate us. I see the rock as described, and tell mark that is it, he looks at his watch "only 30 minutes, cant be" Im about to tell him that time means nothing here when we are headed right into the hole, fortunately a small one at this level and we bounce through unscathed. More bouncy riffles, approaching camp i call for a firewood gathering session, and we pull over and immediatly people swarm over the banks accumulating great piles of wood on boats, wrapping them in the spare tarps for that purpose. We pull out and investigate squaw creek, a small camp on the left at the end of the rapids. A crude wood picnic table lies in the encroaching alders, not a big place, but good in a pinch if Silver creek is taken.
Drift quietly down a mile to Silver creek on the right. we stop above and scout the camp below. no one there and easy pullin, soon we are unloading boats, setting up the kitchen, and people fan out to set up tents. I am cold and tired, so dress in evening clothes, 3 layers of polypro longies, fleece layer and waterproof layer. i lie down, and trish and glen come over and help me set up the tent, an easy task, but not in my energy sphere at this time. I crawl in and bundle up and snooze for a while, getting my nap late today. We settile into the routine, the groover gets set up and all but the tarp is done, the sky is pretty clear, so we dont anticipate rain. I anticipate a meeting and assignment of tasks, but everything seems to be getting done, we all know what to do, old boatmen and women,veterans of many grand canyon trips, sea kayaking, backpacking, Laura runs the kitchen, the firepan is setup and hot water is heating in the chickie pails blackened by many trips, and coffee and tea water perking. a black box of red wine appears and we sip. The salmon is done two fillets on the griddle, one on the bbq and salad and veges fill us with plenty of energy calories. Im watching sodium, so avoid some salty snacks. The pitting edema is bad after this day, so im taking it easy, with my feet elevated, and lazix draining my system.
It is still light at 10 pm, songsa are sung, including pancho and lefty, trisha has made a book of poems and lyrics, but im ready to crash and most others do, with the instruction to put a coffee pot full of water on the fire in the coals to give a head start to coffee making in the morning.
Day 2 on the river.
I'm up early, making the coffee, the pot warm from sitting in the coals. the sun glints on far off snowy peaks, but the mists are descending over the nearby mountians. I feel a few drops and sound the alarm "We need a tarp crew" several times before people start emerging and setting up the brand new tarp of "top gun" bombproof material and we settle in for a french toast, melon and more coffee breakfast. The drizzle abates, and we urge the ragged low clouds to go somewhere else. Slow packing and sitting around socializing, i have a meeting of all and we plan a leisurely day to go 24 miles to sediments creek for a layover and major hike. That sounds like a long way,but the river is moving us at 5-6 mph according to the gps, so we will have a short time on the river. Putin late, but again no worries because of the speed of downriver progress. Mountains in the far distance shine in the sun now and spirits are high. We quietly to detour creek, finding its fan inaccessible, barred by murky water and a line of huge logs. We opt for a cove on the left, and snuggle in the sun, with lunch spread out on a sand bar replete with big bear tracks. We see tracks all over , but the bears are hiding from us, not acclimitized to humans yet, hopefully never. I instruct the boatmen to pull in a channel to the right above sediments creek, because the main camp will be taken by the private ahead of us, and that we still have a ways to go before camp. The river gathers strength from several side creeks, notably another 1000 cfs from detour creek, but remains smooth, no riffles even.
Detour creek gets its name from the myth that a glacier blocked the alsek at one time and diverted the flow of that river down detour creek to the tat. I dunno the evidence for that, but it sure could happen.. The alsek is far to the north of us, and we will join it in 5 days 80 miles downstream. It is another of the runnable rivers here, bigger than the tat with several lakes blocked by surging glaciers and a helicopter portage of 10 miles around the infamous Turnback Canyon. Walt Blackadar, the infamous kayaker, was the first to run it, major 5 th class whitewater. He also ran the tat and told stan and bart about it, and they explored and opened the river to rafting in 1976. He has a mountain above the canyon named after him.. Never was an old bold kayaker, he died in a sweeper in Idaho, pinned underwater, a legend in his own time. Stan told us a story about a trip he outfitted that was still on the river, but lost the porta potty, the fire pan and some other kitchen gear when a wave from a collapsing glacier washed through their camp at night. they called on the sat phone to report the loss, so that Stan could get more gear for his next trip. I make a note of that, it might come in handy. Below Turnback canyon is Lava North rapid, a technical class IV with huge holes. It was here that two people lost their lives to hypthermia a few days before we started our trip, another mental note to watch for that danger.
I work the maps and satellite images from google earth thinking of Kailen, and gps, noting major geographic spots,.we pass creek, another major tributary, and i spot at long meander with a cutoff channel downstream. We are far in the lead, and i scout the cutoff and it looks doable, so we enter, get hung up na gravel bar and Mark and Tom jump out, topping their boots in waist deep water, tom starts sinking in quicksand, and hauls himself out, we break free and continue down as the main channel flows in from the right, looking like a big lake. We wave the others to follow and coast in an eddy, after gathering together to quizzacle looks, we take a break and beach on a fast landing gravel bar. Greg and the others are making wisecracks about "you said go right" "do as i say not as i do" they thought this was sediments creek, and i immediatly realize they are not following their maps and have no idea about the meander we just cut off, saving a mile of river distance. I just start the SNAFU cheer snnnnaaaaaFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU! in a rising tone starting low and ending loud high yell. "we should stay closer together" Gerry says. I say "you guys arnt rowing in the current, remember the grand canyon, and push to keep in the current and to keep moving, No slackers." They are not convinced, people dont take criticism well on this trip, oh well deal with it. On we coast, past the gravel fan of Bear Bite creek, where a commercial passenger was nipped by a bear through her tent,, no harm done fortunatly; then False sediments creek, and downstream i can see the raw scar of the slides on the south ridge of sediments creek. Around a corner, hugging the right bank, we see 2 yellow boats and tents of the canadian private at the main camp, laid over. we bump and grind into the slough at the upper camp. As we scout, we see tom is out in the main current and missed the right channel. Looking at the camp, it is small and not accessible, and tom is downstream already, so we opt to check out the lower camp. Drifting past the yellow boats, i talk with the boatman, "great camp below the creek, big area" "Ok but can we cross the creek to hike?" "creeks pretty high, we derig a boat and carry it up as a bridge, works pretty well" "Hmmmm, oh well we are on our way". Pulling in to a long low beach, we know this is home for 2 days. The kichen site is set up with the trees as a windbreak. An upstream wind has been picking up all afternoon, and we are glad to have shelter. Soon the kitchen is set up and things are humming. Jobs getting done without assignment, then people setting up tents, all working smoothly together, never before have i seen this on a private river trip.
Day 3, layover at sediments creek
Ok a whole day to hang out, major hike is organized to the ridge, we did that last time, my knee is complaining, so mark and laura and i head up the creek along the vast gravel fan with cobbles and pebbles underfoot. vistas of a narrow canyon with raw walls of bedrock upstream promise an interesting sojurn into new rocks and processes to explore the canyon beyond. We watch the others wade the creek to access the trail up to goat ridge. We can see them thru binocs like lemmings crawling up the steep slope above the woods. We have a liesurely stroll up the cobble strewn washboard of the fan, fully 1/2 mile wide.
Looking high up the ridge I immediately see i've won 100$ from BC, noting that the elevated terrace above was carved in bedrock by a glacier, then the river cut down to the present canyon level. I make good geologic bets. We get squeezed off the fan and bash our way through dense alder trees and downed timber and scratchy wild rose bushes, some with zilions of barbs. My hiking sticks brush them aside, but several times i have to bash through lowlying entwined limbs wishing for a machete. we break out on to the fan again and have a liesurly stroll into the depths, rock walls soaring to the sky. partially cloudy, with a few spittles of alaska drool, but otherwise a fine day for hikeing. we are bundled up in 3 layers and shed one as we warm to the task of exploration. I find some layered rocks intact, a contrast to the pervasively faulted melange we have seen upstream. I remember limestone outcrops and white intrusions of rhyolite upsstream in stillwater canyon, and also on the sheep ridge outcrops. Alexander terrane, enigmatic, but similar to franciscan of my sonoma county home, a messed up tectonic mixture of oceanic rocks, shuffled by faults in an ancient subduction zone. I find some superposed folds, isoclinal in the layers then person sized open folds, mute evidence of high pressures and slow deformation, and get a picture of me pointing out a person-sized concentric fold. We finally get totally cliffed out by the stream, and are hesitant to cross, it is running high and would be dangerous, not to say productive of wet boots and feet. The others crossed far below where the creek was wider, wading in boots or river sandals, and bracing against the current. We kick back and revel in the scenery, now a grand view down the canyon to a series of glaciated peaks rearing above green vast forests like a picket fence. Laura does tai chi and Mark and I hang out finding rock couches by moving some major cobbles and relax.
After a couple of whiles we head slowly back to camp, retracing our path on the gps, finding an easier way through the thick forest. My eye is caught by some red berries, stashed in a crack in a log, some critter is leaving its lunch to return later. We see the usual maze of bear tracks, moose tracks and wolf tracks, amazed at the many traces, but no sightings of animals. Where are they? I think they havn't gotten used to people yet, so stay away from camps. We are very carefull to burn garbage and fold up camp at night so nothing is avaialble for a meal. I"m reading "The blue bear" , a story of life in alaska of a wildlife/photographer guide and his friendship with a Japenese photographer and their search for the rare blue bear in this area. We look hard but see nothing.
Back at camp, snooze time, i get a good nap, and rise to find the others trickling
into camp, wowed by the great vista from the top of the ridge. It is 7 pm,
but light is no problem, so we crank up dinner, Halibut this time, with a fresh
salad, veges and dessert of cookies and treats. Each person has brought a treat
for dinner, one per day, and we chow down on sweets after a hearty meal. Getting
dusky, its 10 pm, still sunlight on the peaks, streaks of light focused by
layers of clouds in the sunset.
A flash of purple light at the end signals passage below the horizon for another eventful day.
DAy 4, to Alkie creek
Up not too early, we are adjusting to the time scale here, it takes a while. Great eto (eggs to order) bkfst, with bacon and onions and potatoes. man we are eating like kings, and again everything gets done, packed up and loaded on the boats for the day. A stranger appears, he is from nova scotia, an old time guide, back for the first time in many years with the yellow boats we saw upstream. We talk schedules, they are going to join up with the nahanni group and portage gateway knob to get to takeout. this is not for us, and i am fine with the prospect of a takeout on the spit landing strip. I t will depend on the state of the icebergs in the lake, if we can see a clear path through, well go for it. Its a short run to Alkie creek, 12 miles and we are there before we know it; I scout an upper camp, which looks familiar from 97. I vaguely remember its layout, but it was not a very good camp. It is unused for many moons, and i send a search party below which comes back with news of the real campsite, a bit windy, but a sheltered cook area behind alders is there, and we soon download our gear, have lunch and set up camp.
Upstream winds are whipping along, but the sky is all puffy clouds and we are mostly in sunshine. A leisurly afternoon, i finally find a sheltered spot for my tent, and settle in for a nap. Just as i am relaxing into a snooze, Greg comes up and yells "wake up, no sleeping" I fly in to a fury, "you f in g ah, i was sound a sleep" he passes by with no comment. I can t sleep, im really pissed and finally boot up for a hike with tom carolyn and alex. I approach laura who is quietly sitting doing a sketch "Laura, could you talk to greg for me?" "of course", " he woke me up from a sound sleep for no reason and im afraid if i talk to him ill say something i will regret" "Im sorry terry, ill talk to him", i stalk off, still shaking from uneeded interruption. I have the blue banner from bali rolledup in my river bag, and see a tripod of driftwood downstream, a perfect place to fly the flag. I tie it onto a high branch and raise it high, a blue moving slash of color added to the snow-streaked mountains looking like chochlate ice cream with cream sauce dripping down. A great effect. Greg comes up with a big grin, "Im sorry terry i thought you were awake" "well greg i wasn't ". "ok old bear, im sorry" he says a nd gives me a bearish hug. Oh well, I cool my jets best for the equanimity of the relationship, he has been great in taking care of the money aspect of the trip, always my nemesis. and he is a strong boatman with lots of experience.
Tom and carolyn and alex are headed off and i join in. There is supposedly an old mining camp here and we poke around in the woods, but they are really thick alders and hard to penetrate. We thrash our way through a mass of downed trees and gain the monster gravel fan that is alkie creek. Bear and moose and wolf prints everywhere, we should be able to see something, but no one is home. we have a liesurly stroll up to some cliffs where the raging creek prevents us from further exploration. The older terraces are covered with moss and small trees, nature works fast here to cover up its scars. Up the huge canyon lined with high peaks, the clouds are falling over the high ridges to the west. "is that coming from the ocean?" "could be, meaning we could be at the end of the good weather." Oh well, it was good while it lasted, but this is where the weather settled in on us with wave after wave of storms in '97. The rock is a tilted sequence of limestone and argillite, part of the Alexander terrane again. we look in vain for fossils, and make some conjectures about the environment, deep water limestone and shale, deep shelf, 250 million years ago.
Dinner is another great feast, one segues into the other, hard to remember, but again people are lined up to help and laura takes the evening off, ably replaced by carolyn and trish and helpful boatmen. We form a line of chairs and eat while taking in a perfect river view downstream, the river getting bigger as we gather water from side streams, with the blue Bali flag waving in contrast to the stark landscape.
day 5 to tats creek
On the rio again, with a ways to go, So i gently prod the crew into action loading and pushing off. A fast run down to Monkeywrench rapid, large cutbank on the left above oconnor creek and the roar of white water, big waves rushing at us, but Mark pulls away from a series of ledges on the left, and we emerge unscathed. We ship some water tho, and thanks to the self bailer we are high and dry. my map/notebook case however gets splashed, and i pull it up to find i didnt close the seal, so a cupful of water has soaked my guidbook and map. the map book from rivermaps is ok, printed on waterproof paper, and the laminated satellite images are fine. The permit stuff i keep handy is in a plastic bag so its ok, i spend some time in the sun flipping the pages of the guide book to dry it out. This is the site where much monkeywrenching happened as crews prepared to build a bridge and road down river to a copper deposit. Thankfully, public opinion stopped the project and BC made this a national park.
We drift past O'connor creek , adding a flood to the the tat, maybe 2000 cfs a big river tributary with glimpses of snow streaked peaks far to the south. Man that would be something else to do that one. maybe just a drift, but incredible viewscapes. Now the river changes, with a braiding taking place of the one channel, and it becomes a guessing game where the true way lies and we scrape on gravel bars and have to push off a major pile of cobbles. We look for leakers and inflowers, trying to guess which one is filling. With some practice we make headway We tuck into a small harbor in a gravel bar and set out lunch, great tuna salad sandwiches, and i finish off with a pb and j, the best river lunch dessert, and a box of cookies comes out also, we feast. Alex jumps in for a swim and right out again, water temp being about 38 degrees.
Down to tats creek, we agree to check it out then see if we want to go down to Towagh, a few miles down. I remember it as a mosquitoy place, so am intent to find a good spot at tats. None emerges at the confluence, so we drift down to the head of a long gravel bar and I find a serviceable spot, with some windbreak. Others aren't impressed so we send a search party downstream on land and they come back with glowing reports of a great sheltered camp. As i come back to the boats, the hippie boatman michael has landed and we discuss camps. he wants Towagh, so i relent, let him deal with the mosquitos. He is going to lay over with the canadians at melt creek lower camp so that is taken , so we have to fend for ourselves down at the confluence. We move into a little cove on the right hard up against a cliff with several sand bars. the kitchen is steps from the boats, and we set up camp with a great view. I spot Gerry heading in to the viewscape with his gear and admonish him not to camp there. "but its a perfect spot" "ya but it'll block a fantastic view" he relents, but he and tom are pertubed at me, but its one of my things, why come down here and block the view from the camp?
I am really tired and try to set up my tent on the sand bar, but it is too windy, so i retreat in to the meadows and alders behind camp, settling down in a sheltered cove surrounded by blue fields of fire weed. Another snooze, and a great meal, getting the routine now, all working together, no job assignments, cooking crew just happens. I do some chopping of veges, and a beef stew emerges the victor. the last of the wine is coiffed and we face withdrawal from alcohol. It clouds up a little and we get some pitters of rain, but mainly it holds off again and we rest another night.
day 6 Tats creek layover.
We are all up late and lazy and discuss the idea of a layover. it is cloudy, not a good river day, and we are divided about moving on. Kiwi tom asks "would anybody be really up set if we didnt layover" "Greg and laura immediately say yes, we havn't started breaking camp and wanted to rest a day" Ok that does it we'll stay here another day, fine. It'll give us a chance to hike tats creek and investigate more off the river, lookin for bears, whose prints are everywhere. I snooze for a while and then boot up for the hike. we get a large majority coming, I wear my knee boots in case we have some wading to do. they are now repaired from a leak in a fold in the neoprene by special repair goo that carolyn was packing. 11 years of service and 3 major alaskan trips and winter wet wear in rainy sonoma county-they are ready for the pasture.
We head off up the bar, wave at the canadians who have been behind us, and now with a layover day they will be ahead all the way down, taking out 2 days before us. After some timber bashing we find distinct trail littered with bear poop through the woods, a real bear trail, we must be getting close. We sing and yodel and clap as we forge along, a really fresh pile of shit tells of recent passage of a beast. We have a leisurly stroll along another open fan checking out rocks, bear tracks and another major scenic display of snow streaked mountains and cliffs. I tire after a couple of miles and rack out in the moss at the edge of the fan, mindful of bear noises in the brush. The others return soon and i follow the gps track back to a stream channel going off downstream. I remeber maps of this area and guess that the open stream bed would be better than thrashing through the dense undergrowth, so I take the stream route, thankful for my knee boots, perfect for this hike. Soon i emerge on the main river just above camp and head for the tent and sleep city.
I'm up and hanging out at the camp. Greg and Gerry stayed here and have been watching the resident eagle, hanging out in his nest or on a big snag on top of the cliff or patrolling his piece of wilderness. We hope to see some fishing action, but nothing is happening. We notice a new development and have a great time watching a mother merganser duck and 5 little ducklings in the stream next to camp, paddling around and dipping for food. Suddenly she leads the kids out into the main current and across to a midstream gravel bar. They hang for a while, then trip over the cobbles up stream. Mom wants to take them for a swim through a small rapid. A flash of white and black and the eagle is diving at them, wheeling in the air right over the group and diving again and again. Just as eagle gets close to snatching a meal, all at once the ducks duck underwater and the eagle comes up empty. We cheer the ducks on with our hearts in our mouths as eagle dives again and again, but relents when mom leads her brood to the shelter of cranny in the cliff. Wow, wild kingdom at our fingertips, a great show, we are elated, and high on the experience.
Another salmon bbq that cant be beat, and laura pulls out a bottle of late harvest zin by carol shelton and we sip dessert chased by chochlate. the sun sets on our magnificent view and streaks of sun turn purple in the final throes of another day on the river.
day 7 melt creek
Another 24 mile day, we get on the river early at 10 am (thats early for snafu) but the river is broad and we are moving fast. cloudy rain spitting down, wind up stream, we cruise down to the s-turns, a series of swerves, with holes, waves and spearing fallen trees on the outside of the bends. Still negotiating the braids, but the current picks up as we approach a lumpy series of hills and enter a canyon. Now in the Noisy range, aptly named for waterfalls and rapids, we enter the canyon of the Noisy range batholith, a large granite body on the map, steep slopes and lofty snowy peaks rearing high above. An eagle is picking at a salmon carcass on the bar next to the river and is soon joined by his family, about 5 eagles swoop down and start fighting over the spoils. Wild kingdom again, a great scene of survival in the wilderness.
Around another bend a teenage moose is standing on a bar, paying no attention
to us as we swoop by on the current. We stop to pee, and i check out the rocks,
major granite with many white aplite dikes (fine grained). We head to 98er
creek, a possible camp, as the one at melt creek lower is taken tonight. After
poking along the shore, we think we find it, not flowing, presumably cut off
as the glacier feeding it changed course to feed melt creek. It is a sunny
spot, but muddy and there are many bear tracks here and the mosquitos hurry
lunch. I initiate a discussion of camp, and some want to camp here, but i tell
them of stupendous views down at melt creek so we agree to head to upper melt
and find a camp there. We hug the left bank, remembering in 97 when we were
on the opposite side of the river here and couldn't make it across to the camp.
Another major snafu. oh well, i find a channel and follow it up to a gravel
dry river bed, with a natural harbor for the boats and an exposed plateau above
for tents. Im not pleased, but we see the possibilities, we have to schlep
gear a little, but there is a sheltered place for the kitchen and a major viewscape
streaching up the Alsek for 30 miles. Partly cloudy it portends of a great
We set up camp, and i find a flat spot on the plateau, clear off the rocks, here there are cobbles, this an old river terrace covered with moss and stubby pine trees. After a good snooze I migrate to the kitchen where we sit and watch a 4 hour sunset, burn many megapixels with our digicams and talk of life and the river. I stroll over to the creek, really a river here, white with glacial flour and admire the revealing view, 360 degrees of mountains, sensory overload the old boatmen call it, glaciers, more than 1000 of them visible from here. A piece of ice grounded catches my eye, shaped like a bird, crystals of hard water 10,000 years old. I bring it back to camp and enjoy some grape juice cooled by glacial ice. We finish another great meal and arrange our chairs taking in the constantly changing scene, sun beams breaking through the clouds untl 11 pm when it becomes a soft gray and black scene, just breathtaking. I crawl into the sack, reading some more blue bear, life in alaska is rough and characters here are strong to match the environment.
Day 8 To Walker glacier
Another medium day, and it takes a while to carry everything to the boats, more like the glacier bay kayak trip where inevitably the morning involved a couple hundred foot carry over greasy seaweed covered rocks. A major chore. Alex gathers firewood, and i get him to find a 10' flagpole and put the blue banner on there, so we can keep track of each other on the Alsek, with the confluence just downstream. The alsek starts far to the north and cuts across all the same ranges we do, but bigger up there. The run involves a helicopter portage of turnback canyon, a major whitewater gorge runnable only by kayaks. Walt Blackadar pioneered this route in the early 70s on one of his many derring do adventures.
The clouds clear and soon we have great views 360 degree mountains, rivers glaciers, rocks. Major contrast to 97 when we were socked in with major rainstorms here. We skim by petroglyph island, spotting a beach we could stop on but opt to continue past. We can do that another time, if there is one. Now out into what looks like a moving lake, the Alsek running about 60,000 cfs and the tat maybe 20,000 coming together. Boats are dwarfed by mountains rising straight from the banks, glaciers clinging for dear life to their sides. We immediately accelerate, and are lost at sea, with huge channells and braids miles apart.
We stick to gether to Dunlap creek, and pull into a bay for lunch. The day is clear as a bell, a few clouds puffing like cottonballs above the higher peaks. We dance and sing and take a group shot, cavorting on the vast plain of the gravel river bed. High flows must be something else here, we read the guidebook of a story about people camped here, and finding their boats gone in the morning, rounded balls of ice mute evidence of a glacial jokulkupf or flood from high in the glaciated valley. We strip down and slather on sun screen, reveling in a perfect day in a not so perfect world.
On down the rio, we get separated, and spy greg and Gerry a mile away in a different channel. Now we gather again, and they say the blue banner made us totally visible from far away. good idea. We round the corner and scout the entrance to the walker glacier camp,A constant cool breeze, katabatic wind, blows at the middle camp. we see with the binocs that there is a bay that is usually a channel running up to the best camp (camp A) and after scouting it out, we move the boats up there. The sun is beating down, so i take the challenge and dip into the river and wash 8 days of grime from my skin, it thanks me and im refreshed, sit in the chair to warm up and soon am feeling at peace with the world.
Time to check in with stan, and i break out the sat phone only to find the battery low. Putting in the spare battery, it also is very low, they didnt charge it or check it before send the phone off. Shit i cant believe it. With the juice left, I talk to stan and he says a SOBEK trip found a way through the bergs on alsek lake far to the left. I still say we will check it out, but if we cant see a clear path through the bergs on a scout, then we will take out at the spit above the lake. I talk to drake and tell him that is our plan, unless he hears otherwise.
we kick back and another fabulous meal comes out, more salmon, and a dessert of cherry cheezecake, yum, and Laura prays for a bottle of cabernet, which doesn't appear. We are in bed early, to rest up for the hike to the glacier tomorrow.
Day 9 walkin' on the walker glacier.
When Bart and stan and bangs first explored the tat, they made trip up onto an unnamed glacier which was crawling down from the snowy heights and at one time had blocked the river. There are native stories of boating through a cave through the glacier, wearing their best beaded clothing in case they died. This became known as the Walker glacier, not for a person, but for the ease with which one could walk to and upon the ice. It is a unique experience and one we planned to have as the major attraction of the trip and of a layover day.
Trish cooks eto over the fire on the griddle, the propane is getting low and we only use it for final boiling of water heated over the fire and for other necessary operations. I find the valve left on one evening and report to laura. "i didnt do it" her fast reply, "well lets keep and eye on it, if we lose our propane we are in deep shit." We laze around and finally get going around noon. A perfect morning is suplanted by a high haze, signaling incoming precipitation, so we set off across the moraine, many ridges and valleys of glacial dump, traverse the steep rubble cliff of the lateral moraine, and are soon on the ice. It is first covered by rubble, angular rocks rolled from above off the moraine, but further up deep crevasses appear with deep blue ice from the compression where all the air bubbles have been squeezed out by millenia of burial deep in the ice pack. Ice melts slightly under pressure of 120 feet of overlying ice, and gravity works on the ice flow deep in the glacier to make it flow downhill. Crevasses are cracks in the brittle surface ice above the flow zone, and act as conduits for erosion of surface water. Small clots of algae have gained a foothold on the surface, rooted in patches of dust that has been blown down the glacier. A constant wind is cold blowing down the glacier, the katabatic wind from temperature differences between ice and land. We hike across the steepening ice slope and gather in a hollow at the base of a waterfall. The glacier forms an icefall over a cliff here. I compare with the picture from '97 and it seems the ice has retreated from the left side of the cliff, global warming?? We spread out and Tom investigates an ice cave, a deep cavern formed by sapping by meltwater from the glacier. Trish mounts a pinnicle of ice and looks down on tom, i pray it doesn't break off. Gerry and Laura and I head back, gerry later reports some falling rocks at the time a 4.5 earthquake hit the fairweather fault, 20 miles away, i find out afterwards.
Back to camp, it is clouding up and the mountains are misting, soon it starts pittering and tarps are flying. We have a tarp city, toms big tarp to sit under, stans to cook under and BC unfurls another structure just for more shelter near the fire. We are set for whatever hits.I snooze for a bit, and emerge to another major feast. Tom buses the plates and silverware and we all sit and discuss the change in the weather. "We have the time to lay over another day" I suggest, and near unanimous agreement. Unheard of a 3 night layover, but wtf? we have the time. Tom and I talk "I have the premonitiion that we will be taking out at the spit" Tom says to me and i agree, and the mantra is "we'll scout it, but if we cant see a clear way through, we will take out at the spit. " We crash out feeling well fed, well glaciered and well well well.
Day 10 3rd layover day
Still dripping and socked in the morning, so we agree to hang here, but do some of the takeout chores in lieu of a day on the lake. It clears up by noon and is another spectacular day, a few ragged clouds clinging to the summits. what a spectacular show. we putter around, taking stock of remaining food, planning our last days on the river. I take a long hike around to the glacial lake, contemplating icebergs, bear tracks, fireweed and other visual delights, glen and trish join in and we hang for a while. Back at camp the bathing beauties are unfurled, the tarps come down and another great meal is in the offing. We are all relaxed, refreshed from a day of doing nothing but what we want to do. I do homework for tmw, should we scout the lake and the right passage, or just pull in at the spit and call it a day? Id like to have more information about the state of the bergs, but the phone is dead, i check it, boy, im glad we dont really need it now. We will approach this problem in the SNAFU way, check it out and go with the best plan. I feel guilty not giving the whole experience of running down to dry bay, but the others are ok with it.
Scott and his family crew appear far up river, headed for walker, and I take a hike down to their camp to see how they are doing. He loves the weather, blaming me for it, "you deserve it after what you went through in '97". they are all tricked out with a groover tent and fancy groover with a plastic insert that can be easily washed out. We plot future trips in alaaska, hes in anchorage so is in the right place for it, maybe the northern slope rivers, vast tundra plains, caribou and spectacular hikes, im all for it.
Day 11 Nanutak glacier corridor to the spit
Up and off in good time, another picture perfect day, a following wind blows us 11 mph downriver and soon we negotiate Cat in a Washing machine rapid, waves emanating from a series of ledges on the right. We search the left shore for Purple Haze campsite, major fireweed place, but get stuck in a drainer and push through to a sand bar to take a break. The nanutak glacier is huge , dominating a broad valley coming in from the north. Still the river is over a mile wide, so we can't really see any camps or tell where we are. I have lost the last four laminated google earth images, it must have blown off the deck at melt creek. Another strike against us logistically. We coast down on a narrowing river channel next to a long moraine that culminates in the spit. I call lunch, and we discuss the possibilities, a scout on the right high on the slope of the talus is decided on, and we send a strong boat over to check out the right channel. I can see with the binocs that there is a 3 foot high gravel bar all the way across, Alex climbs the spit and comes back reporting that he cant see any way through the bergs on the lake, so we pull over at the spit camp, and kick back. A great vista of mountains, glaciers, forests and the lake fills our senses, overload again. After a snooze, I climb bear island through fields of fireweed to the summit, and see we might have been able to squeeze through the bergs on river left by cruising a shallow channel the way the sobek crew probably did. Im not willing to chance it though, with a bunch of geezer boatmen, with no experience on alaskan rivers, icebergs and the danger they pose. The landing strip looks great, criss crossed with wheel marks, aimed at our camp. we pick a likely place and plan the takeout for tomorrow.
We roam the lake shore, listening to the groan of the icebergs rubbing against each other, and the occasional crack of a calving glacier. People are worried about waves, but we are a full 100 feet above the lake level, and notthing short of a major collapse would effect us. It has happened up here, at Lituya bay, an earhtquake on the fairweather fault cut loose a monster landslide into the bay creating a wave that topped bht spit at the mouth by at least 100 feet, killed several fishermen in one boat, but flushed another boat clear over the spit and out into the ocean.
The last supper, again a masterpiece, pork loins barbequed on wood from our pile. We sit aound late and remember our experiences in this heaven of mountains, rivers ice and snow. As dusk closes we repair to our rinver homes and sleep the sleep of the dead and pleased.
Day 12,, takeout by bush plane
Im up very early making coffee, banging around, pissing everyone off, but i feel like claire quist, the messenger of action on a new day. The clouds are gathering, but not threatening, and the sunrise is spectacular, lighting the cliffs and peaks, rearing above all mount fairweather (a major misnomer) shoves its ghostly white finger high above the rest. We never even saw this much on our last trip, a low cloud cover obscuring everything, hints of glaciers gliding from beneath.
Major coffee scene, the last morning of cowboy coffee, straining the grains with our teeth. I hike to the groover and deposit my load and take pictures of the unfolding scene among fields of fireweed. one by one people crawl out of thier holes and we greet like old friends in the wilderness. The last bacon and eggs comes our and our last meal is devoured with a sense of sadness, we will nerver be here with this group again. Ive never been on a trip with so many compatable people, all will ing to work filling in where needed and cheerful to boot.
Now the hard work comes, derig the boats clean the coolers, and have everything piled up to fit into bush planes at noon. Drake said he would come early if we were at the spit, because we should be ready for him having camped at the takeout. We drift the boats down to s small cove and start the process. Stan has it worked out perfectly, instructions to derig the frames are the most complicated, but soon everything is in neat piiles and people are bringing their gear down and the mound of stuff accumulates. We separate the Yakutat flights from the haines flights gear, all stans stuff, and mine, major toms, carolyns and alexs heading back to haines, 2 flights for the gear and one flight for the 4 of us. 2 flights to yakutat with the rest of the folks and gear. The weather clears and we toil in the warm sun, thankful for great weather and many hands to do the work.
Just after noon, we hear a low plane coming from the direction of Haines, and there is drake in a 3 wheeler with fat tires landing lightly on the strip. Wow , perfect timeing, and just what i wanted to see. He is wiry, waist length hair and has the air of a total wildman, totally at home with his element, the skys of alaska. We greet and he immediately looks at our raft rolling job and says, you can get those a lot tighter, you have to to fit it all in. He is a master and calls for coolers, frames, rafts and fills his plane with gear in no time. He takes some of our personal stuff going to haines. Another plane appears coming up the river and lands in front of us, wheeling around and parking next to drakes ship "thats les of alsek air, a legend in his own time" drake drawls. Logistcs get complicated fast, he will take 4 people and gear and fly to dry bay, where they will get on another plane for the trip to Yakutat.
He doesn't want the other pilot landing here, doesnt trust him in this outback setting, so we rearrange, and pack the firest four into his plane, with as much gear as possible, some on people's laps. He takes off after a group picture in front of drakes plane, followed by drake, who is headed to Haines with the first load of gear. Now we cool our heels, we have to wair for him to come back, a two hour trip, before we can leave. Les comes back and loads the rest of the yakutat passengers, cramming them into every available space, and even taking out his extra seat and leaving it on the strip. I'll be back he says and heads for yakutat with a full house. A serene silence now replaces all the activity and we wander around aimlessly, with nothing to do. Most have left their chairs for tom and carolyn, so we relax and watch the day go by. sun, glaciers, rivers, mountains, what else is there? an incredible scene we feast on the view and plot our retreat into the other reality.
Les is back first, now in a taildragger, and we pack the gear in, he backs off, looks at the pile and lays the foundation of rafts and coolers and adds pieces to the pile, like a giant jigsaw puzzle, and it barely fits, he cant take his seat so he heads off to haines in a roar of engine getting a head start in the shallow water. Now it is really empty and quiet, I snooze for a while, take a few more pictures, and then right on target, we hear the drone of drakes engine falling over the mountains and onto the spit. We pack up, another major shoehorn job, but all is ok, we taxi through the water and off over the lake. We wheel around and can see the gap in the bergs, but it looks like we would have to shinny through a gap between 2 major ice rafts to get out onto the lake. Drake gets a voice on the ground to air radio from a guide upstream and tells him what he sees and where the gaps are. That first hand kind of information would have been invaluable to us, oh well, next time.
We can see the last stretch of river winding to dry bay and the sea, through
the barbazon range, well maybe next time we will finish there. Glaciers all
over, the big ones, the grand plateau glacier and the alsek pouring into the
lake, with bergs dotting the surface. I am copilot, and have great views, snapping
pictures in rapid fire, dark streaks of medial moraines, sharp cliffs at the
edge of the lake now deep blue, weather still holding. I check out the conjugate
fractures in the cravasse pattern, must be stress from the sides to cause that,
constriction in the glacier valley. Up and up we go,now all white below us,
mt fairweather looming to the right, then across a high ice plateau and then
over glaciers draining to Glacier bay to the south. Meltwater ponds are deep
azure blue on the surface of the ice. What will happen to this country with
global warming? Maybe another ice age, it still looks like the ice age down
there now. We talk geology, and give drake a lesson is areal geology, he is
really interested, and i offer to fly with him any time and talk geology. I
make a mental note to send him michaels book over the mountains with a nice
note. Now descending, he talks to les on his return flight to Yakutat, comparing
notes, conversation about oil filters and other pilot stuff. The land gets
greener, we pass over the headwaters of the oconnor river and it looks clean
all the way to the tat. that would be an incredible trip. wonder if it has
been done? Too soon we emerge over a broad glacial valley and catch views of
the chilkat river and inlet and finally the strip at Haines. We coast to a
stop near 2 neat piles of gear from our trip and download the rest from drakes
plane. I find some smoked salmon, and we munch on that and talk of the country
and the flight, and future plans. Hes ready to go any time, never been down
the river, very busy during the summer.
The usual aftermath, packing all our stuff into toms van, stan appears and we help him fill his van with the gear, telling talkes of the trip, He has a 500 deposit, so we will get some of that back minus the firepan which he has already ordered from nrs, they dont sell just the pan, they sell the whole rig, grill and all. there is also a question of some damaged oars, but we should get money back,. we have paid the pilots a total of 3600$ for their work, then only way to do it. we should be able to return some money to the folks. Tom and i do the dirty deed, emptying the groovers and cleaning them out, returning to stan before he leaves for home. We finally load up and head to town, pulling in at the palm room for delicious cold haines brew and a monster pile of fish and chips.
The last deed is a call to the border patrol, to clear their
records, I do that on toms phone, we hang, eat, repair to the manse of tom
and carolyn sleep and feel all at peace with the world.
W.H. Terry Wright, PhD
Emeritus Professor of Geology, SSU (retired)
"Not all who wander are lost" J.R.R. Tolkein