July 23 I’m paddling down a nearly glassy river this beautiful, calm, warm Alaska morning. I launched at 2:30 AM and have already come many hours and many miles.
I’m hungry for breakfast. I land on a high sandbar next to a rocky bluff. A lone moose is walking along the opposite shore. Here, hundreds of white-winged insects are crawling and flitting about, landing on my arms and head and hands and everywhere else. Some type of caddis fly perhaps?
I watch for Hess Creek, a tributary that crosses the Haul Road and reaches the river somewhere ahead, planning to make a few casts at the confluence. I spot it and paddle to shore but when I step out I sink nearly to my knees. Before each step forward I have to fight the suction of the mud. I’m hoping my wading boots are tied on securely. When I finally make it to firm ground I realize my lures are still back at the kayak, a long 20 feet away. Instead I enjoy stretching my legs on dry ground.
I find a long small log and push it out nearly to my kayak. I walk out on the log then push my kayak into shallow water and then flounder the rest of the way, dragging my lower legs in the water to wash off the clinging mud. That stop did not go as I’d planned.
Near the village of Rampart I begin to see significant smoke, with the familiar scent of burning spruce and birch and muskeg. There is a bustle of activity around the tiny village. Relative to the wilderness that is. There is a camp of what must be a paddling group. Greenhorns, presumably, as their tents are set up in blazing sun, with no protection from any wind that might arise, and barely above the water level. It looks to me that a boat might send a wave big enough to wet their sleeping bags, not to mention any upstream rain raising the river. The paddlers are a hundred yards away in the shade.
I plan to talk to someone who is near the bank, but by the time I reach the end of the village the opportunity has passed me by. No matter.
At lunch time I land to cook up a meal and look up to spot a distant canoe coming towards me. I wave as they approach and they wave back, turning towards me.
“Where have you come from?” I ask.
“This year we started at Dawson.” They answer. “We did the upper Yukon last year.” I’m not surprised to hear German accents.
We talk about our journeys. They are going all the way to the mouth of the river where they plan to give away their canoe. They’ve got four 30 gallon plastic barrels of gear and food and a pump shotgun for bears. They are definitely going heavy, but they’ve clearly planned carefully and seem to know what they’re doing.
I’m surprised how quickly they recede into the distance once they start paddling again. It’s amazing that they are the first paddlers I’ve spoken to since I hit the Yukon.
After paddling for a few more miles the wind comes up. There’s a nice island ahead. I land but find there’s drift logs on every flat spot. When I land farther down, it’s too steep. Finally, at the foot of the island, I manage to find a spot barely big enough to set up my tent, with willows crowded closely around.
July 24 What’s that, trotting along the shore? A black wolf! He moves purposefully, stopping to sniff now and then. He probably has good luck finding an occasional dead salmon. I scramble for my camera and get a couple of shots, but the light is still low. I launched at 1:30 AM. It won’t be long before it starts getting dark for a while at night.
Ahead are some bluffs and what must be The Rapids. There are some rocky areas in the middle of the river but I paddle near the bank without a problem. There are a number of cabins in the area, along with fish wheels. Good building spots, scenic, good fishing, not too far from Tanana. No wonder this is a popular area. I check out several fish wheels as I pass.
An hour later I spot a nice brook running into the river, a good lunch spot, and once again find that I have to aim far upstream to avoid getting swept past my intended landing spot.
Back on the river I hear someone yell. I look over to see a distant figure yelling and waving. Are they saying “come over?”
“Me?” I yell.
“Yes!” I hear the faint reply.
I’m nearly on the opposite shore and have to paddle hard to avoid getting swept far past them. Several people walk down to meet me, a 50ish women, a young couple, and a boy.
“I’m Nina,” said the leader of the group.
“Are you paddling the whole river?”
I tell them the story as they walk with me up to their fish camp. It’s a nice high spot in the birch trees, a log cabin next to a nice brook. Nina shows me their fish smoker. I notice a can of bear spray hanging there.
“Do you ever have trouble with bears getting into your fish?”
“Nope. Hey, do you want some smoked fish? And how about a cup of coffee?”
They are a friendly, smart, interesting bunch. Nina and her husband have this camp, a place in Tanana, and a house near Fairbanks, only a couple of miles from my cabin. The young couple are interesting as well, relatives of Nina, one is an officer in the Arkansas National Guard, and his wife is a Black Hawk pilot! A jet boat from a nearby fish camp stops for a visit. The smoked salmon is a real treat. What a fun group! Nina is a genuine people person. She invites many paddlers to stop by. Thanks!
I’ve come 44 crow miles today. From a good camp spot I heat up some water and pour it in my big ammo can, taking a crude but effective bath and doing my laundry, hanging everything to dry in the hot sun.
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