7rmed in a subisding geosyncline preparing for mountain building. The rock starts here, with mountains uplifting so rapidly you can almost see them rise, and erosion rapidly tearing them down. I push my foot into the silt at the side of a puddle and create a density current which flows downward, just like the monster turbidity currents that sweep off the shelf into the Aleutian trench off the coast.

The geology is getting more spectacular, as we watch Carmine mountains red form fade to the north, folds and faulted sedimentary layers come alongside, and I make a sketch. We race in a series of tight turns, and the rain starts again, hunkered down on the deck watching the close scenery whiz by. creeks leap into the main river from cliffs rising above. We follow in a long streached out line down the line of current, some big waves, but mainly rushing flow with bigger eddies, the river is changing, and we start to see more gravel bars, the current flowing between and then mysteriously ending and flowing off to the side. wWe suddenly notice the main current is several hundred yards to the side and have to take a tiny shallow chute, dragging on rocks all the way into the main stream. I am rowing, concentrating on the current when i hear a shout to the right, the others are gathered there on a sand bar, making lunch signs. I try to get over but too late, and drift on down to their great discust. Around the next point I find another bar, same as the first, so we have not lost all. I beach there, and the rest follow. We eat in a cold wind and occasional rain drops, and talk about our progress and the changing river.

We are in a braided stream now, with a crazy series of branching passagways, between gravel bars with stranded trees. The river is more like a half mile wide now, and getting wider all the way down. several huge tributaries have come in, bringing thier great loads of gravel, cobble and sand to the main stream. This extra burden collects in the main stream, and forms gravel deposits randomly, whereever the current slows a little. The current actually slows as a result of the gravel load, and drops that load formaing a bar, and then the current divides around the bar, forming braided anastomosing channels. We enter a grand guessing game, each boatman making up his own mind and we switch the lead back and forth, some following Mike, others on their own. We watch as a pride of eagles (?pride) pick apart a salmon beached on a bar, and taking turns fighting off an arctic tern helping himself to the spoils.

Randy, JT and Nif get stuck on a gravel bar, and get out to bodily push the boat off. Randy starts running upstream, chasing a salmon, also semi-beached. The girls join the fray with great glee and almost catch a monster salmon, but it slips away upstream to die another death. The main current is really cooking 7-9 mph, and we make rapid progress finding our way through the maze of channels. Below Tats creek, the channells are more well-defined, and we enter a reach where there is only one channel with the river screaming along. Mike pulls over to the left and Sam starts to follow, but the oar blade has rotated 90 degrees and is no use. I grab it and physically twist it back, and Sam makes the shore where the others are making camping motions. The water is moving fast right up to shore, and Sam pulls in and we throw a rope to Mike, who makes us fast. The oar is twisted again, I have tried several times to tighten it with a screwdriver, but to no avail. I get a brilliant idea, and switch one of the spare oars to the pin, and it works just fine. This is Towagh creek, with a major fan rising to the south.

Camp is back in the trees a ways with a large number of mosquitos, and we carry the kitchen, and set it up, then go about setting up our own camps. Steve finds a grizzly print and we investigate. It looks like a human footprint, except for the major claws sticking out ahead. Conciousness lowering on the boat is in order and sam and I hang out there, watching the clouds clear, affording first peekaboo looks, and a final unveiling of a spectacular view of the Icefield range down stream, plastered with glaciers hanging on to the peaks. The Alsek runs along the base of this range, so tomorrow we will join this mighty river.

Bean dip and salsa and crackers and mosquitos kick off dinner. There is a pond of standing water, and we are back in the trees, and out come the headnets, and I plaster some deet on me, for the first time being pestered by the Alaska national bird. We devour another major salmon feast with potatoes, salad and topped off with blueberry cheezecake, yum, a feast! I notice the river has come up, melting or rain upstream, so we pull the boats, further up. My calf starts hurting, I must have pulled a muscle after streaching out on the hike and then getting cold. I limp a little, but not impeding my forward progress.

11 pm I watch the sunset, spectacular colors on the clouds and survey the domain from the Icefield range up to the Noisy range across the river with hundreds of cascades. Mountains to the north have huge gashes cut in them by the incessent gnawing of stream erosion, creating the sediment braiding the stream and heading for their ultimate home as graywacke sandstone in the trench. We do some fire duty, Sam is holding forth with Al, arguing about some esoteric bullshit. I get warm and let the smoke fend the mosquitos away. We have found we are even lower on propane than we thought, so I agree to be careful with the water in the morning, using little propane. I crash next to the river, the rush in my mind. Steve is acting a little slow, and I find out from Randy, the medic, that he is bleeding internally, some kind of hiatus hernia. I hope this isnt serious, Randy feels he will be ok to last out the trip.

7/9 To the confluence with the Alsek River

I am up early in the pattering rain, rousted by coffee duty from my warm snug nest, and find Randy being fire man, fire girl is in the sack. I greatfully put the pot of coffee water on and we kick back and watch potatoes boil. I make up a bunch of potatoes and onions, and get complaints "who put the onions in the potatoes?" that's the way it goes, true genius unrecognized. It is gray and raining off and on, and we gird our loins for another cold day on the river. Mike asks me if Al can ride on our boat, and I agree, but he will have to ride on the back load, because there is no room up front as the main seat area is a soft-top bulk drop bag, and we have already been taken to task for breaking the tortilla chips into tiny pieces. Al seems frustrated, that he isnt fitting in, and the girls have a definate antagonism toward him. Mike finally agrees to let him ride on his boat to settle the conflict, and they ride fast downstream. The group experience is getting very intense, any minor friction is amplified by the size of the group and the isolation. We have not seen another party all the way down to here. The only sign of civilization is a bush plane flying high above the river.

My calf still hurts as we push the boats to the river, and rain starts pittering as we strike the tent and load up. The river is very fast here, and we whip out into the current and are soon separated and strewn out over a mile. The braids start again, but they are less tricky, more deep channels to follow. The river gets very wide, now about 2 miles. The rain stops and starts, eagles whirl and we keep our eyes peeled for the griz, nowhere to be seen.

A new sound is heard, the clicking of cobbles as they are washed downstream, breaking off corners making sand, and becoming round balls. I developed a technique long ago, of rowing stern first downstream through the gravel bars at low water. This technique works great here, and we roll over shallows on ball bearings made of rock. The sand is constantly washing against the bottom of the boat, making a hissing sound not unlike that of a tube leaking air. It takes a while to get used to this, because it comes and goes. The wind picks up and we can hear it sighing in the trees. The omniscient white noise of running water surrounds us at all times on and off the river. We have passed the Noisy Range, so named because of a multitude of cascades pouring off the heights. We are listening with great anticipation for the booming roar of icefall off the glaciers, we should get some of that and calving of the glacial front walls as they cave into the river downstream.

We hunker down on the boats in the rain, try to keep track of each other and play braided river games. Mike is following a series of channels down the middle of a 2-mile wide river. We are looking to camp on the left bank at Melt Creek which is a major river coming out of glaciers to the south. Through the rain, I can see that we are much too far right to make a camp on the left. several miles away to the left I can see a brown mass that must be melt creek, but we are headed far to the right of that by about a mile. We have to stay together, because it would be disaster if one boat got separated from the rest in a channel that did not rejoin. I can catch glimpses ahead and to the right several miles to the Icefield range, and know that the body of water below that is the Alsek, a monster river, and we are headed directly towards the confluence. After dodging some rocky islands, we are out in the open and the mist clears enough so we can see the Alsek flowing in from the right. We beach on a gravel bar above the conflunce. "Welcome to the Alsek!" I yell at Mike as we land. We look at maps and gps and all agree that we are far from the Melt creek camp and downstream. We throw together a hasty lunch with elk jerky as a treat as the mist lowers and spits rain pellets at us.

Now and then the clouds part and spectacular vistas appear, with hanging glaciers, rushing cascades, deep canyons and soaring peaks. But the view is in and out, and we agree to find a more propitious place to camp, launching quickly onto the flood. Mike soon beaches in a little channel and we find a nice sand and gravel bar with plentiful firewood. We set up the tarp and kitchen and then erect tents in the rain. Everyone stays in slickers and boots, milling around, trying to get the fire started. Randy finally fans it into life, using finger-diameter sticks which dry out fast. I thank myself for insisting that Mike buy some fire-starter sticks in Haines. He was going to start fires with newspaper, a definately difficult way to do fire duty. We arrange piles of these around the fire to dry, and feed the fire constantly. We are in a propane panic now, so agree to heat the coffee water on the campfire. The clouds make a genuine attempt to clear, but to no avail. I watch an arctic tern through the telephoto and burn 20 motor-driven shots of her hovering, diving and retrieving fish, and finally flying off into a spectacular backdrop of shear ridges and cliffs and cascades, taking dinner home from the river store. Sam and I lower conciousness with the last of my vodka; he has a 1/2 gallon stashed away, so I have used mine freely.

Our meal is a major feed, bbq chicken, huge vege stew, salad from lunch, a freshly baked loaf of beer bread and apple crapple for dessert. OOg I can barely move, We hunker around the fire, and the sunset plays a fantastic scene, with peaks lit up by alpine glow through the layers of clouds. We pray for a clear day tomorrow, but the rain continues off and on. The geezers (Sam Bill and myself) close down the fire, and I leave giving instructions to put the coffee pot in the coals when the last person leaves. I have been warming the pot next to the fire all evening, and it should be easy to boil on the fire in the morning for my coffee duty if it is in the coals all night. I drift off after hearing a rumble like thunder and a crash coming from an icefall downstream.

More to come, slowly, keep bugging me if you enjoy this. T

copyright, 1997, Terry Wright

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