Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Yukon River, Alaska - Canoeing

My friend Tim has lived in Alaska for the past few years and this has given me the opportunity to visit several times for some fun adventures between Anchorage and Fairbanks, including amazing Denali National Park.  A few months ago, Tim, along with my friend Kevin from Oregon, began to plan another big Alaska adventure.  When I heard the plan was to float the Yukon River, I initially dismissed it as crazy as thoughts of grizzly bears, gigantic rapids, and icebergs filled my mind.  It didn't take much more than a visit to the National Park website to completely change my mind.  Not only did it look do-able, it looked leisurely and fun!  A few trips to REI and too much money later, I was off to Fairbanks to meet up with Tim and Kevin.

It wouldn't be a trip to Alaska with Tim without some drinking and non-adventure shenanigans.  Prior to our river trip, we spent the weekend in a place called Chicken, a former gold camp, for the 2011 edition of the Chickenstock Music Festival. 

Chicken Gold Camp - home of the Chickenstock   Music Festival.  Brakaaaaaaaaark!!

Simple Folk Uprising performing at Chickenstock

Mandy and Tim perform the Chicken Dance (of course).

Tim and Kevin cook up some dinner at Chickenstock

Mandy, Kevin, and Tim enjoying Chickenstock

After Chickenstock, it was time to get down to business.  We needed to travel from Chicken, AK to Eagle, AK near the Canadian border to begin our trip.  Mandy, the most awesome person in the world, volunteered (or was tricked) to drive us to Eagle before her long trek back to Denali.

Upon arrival in Eagle, the horrorshow of stuff that was Tim's truck was dumped onto the ground and off Mandy went.  There we were, in Eagle, hunkering down in a torrential storm, with our only way home being the Yukon River.  No turning back now!  The Yukon looked much wider and flowed much faster than I imagined.  Had I been tricked, too!?

Eagle, AK

Yukon River in Eagle, AK

Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve in Eagle, AK

The 160 mile journey began Monday morning.  7 Days later we would pull out in Circle, AK where a bush plane would meet us and transport us back to Fairbanks.

Too much stuff!!

 Suited up and ready to depart Eagle

Tim and Kevin .. down the river we go!

The river was generally calm and we only needed to paddle about half of the time.  The biggest challenge was trying to stay in the main channel and not get stuck in some of the slow moving channels around the numerous islands.  We averaged about 20 miles per day, with some days being shorter to allow time for exploration.  The weather was generally warm and dry, but we got knocked around a few times by some pretty intense rainstorms that fortunately moved on as quickly as they hit.

First day on the river

Tim enjoying the float

Paddling with Tim

Some nights we camped alongside the river on beaches or gravel bars where the breeze was strong enough the keep the mosquitoes to a minimum.  The sun set around midnight, and rose around 2am, so it never got dark.  It sometimes felt like the trip was one long continuous day.  It was difficult to sleep, and nearly impossible to tell what time it was without a watch.

Tim, Kevin, and the anti-bear gun.  We didn't see a single bear!

The canoes hang out while we camp along the Yukon

Kevin's tent and the midnight sun

 Tim enjoying his book and his giant fire

Camping along the Yukon

Some nights we were able to stay in "public use" cabins that the National Park Service has preserved along the Yukon.  The were very basic, but it was nice to have four walls and a ceiling to not worry about the bears and rain.

Nation Bluff Cabin

Kandik River Cabin

Tim unsuccessfully fishing at Kandik River Cabin

One of the highlights of the trip was a stop at Slaven's Roadhouse originally built in 1932 and restored in 1993.  It felt like a luxury hotel after several days on the river.  The nearby Coal Creek mining camp and gold dredge made for a great day of exploration off the river.

Slaven's Roadhouse
An awesome wood stove to warm up the cabin and dry our gear
Sunset at Slaven's Roadhouse

Kevin panning for gold and Coal Creek Camp

Gold dredge at Coal Creek
Kevin exploring the gold dredge at Coal Creek

Gold dredge at Coal Creek

On Sunday, the small town of Circle came into view.  Our journey ended 7 days later and it was certainly one of the best weeks of my life.  One week on the river was enough for me - the plane to take us back to Fairbanks couldn't come soon enough on Monday.  A huge thanks to Tim for another Alaska adventure, to Kevin for planning our route and keeping things running smoothly, and Mandy for helping us out with transportation even though it meant many, many hours of extra driving.

Arriving in Circle, AK

Tim despises this picture, but it totally sums up Circle, AK