Friday, July 22, 2005

 

4 Days Canoeing the Gulkana River (Part 1)


Saturday morning (07/16) started with a flurry of phone calls. The first call was to Roscoe to establish a plan of attack, then to Josiah for a head count of who all would be going along, then to a bunch of random people for the appropriate amount of boats and gear for the trip. There were many chores to attend to as well; get groceries, pick up canoes and gear, pack and load the trucks then set up a time and a place to meet. It was Scott Lescoe's Birthday weekend and 9 people and one dog decided to join in the celebration and canoe from Paxon Lake down the Gulkana River to Sourdough over the next four days. It was a good group of folks ranging from very good friends to first time acquaintances. Everyone met at Humpy's before starting the long drive along the Glenn Highway, then up the Richardson to the lake. By 6:30 p.m. with all of the major running around done we set out to make it to Paxon Lake and "put-in" by midnight. It's about a 4-5 hour drive from Anchorage and with darkness now becoming an issue the urge to get there and get started fueled the drive and helped the time pass by quickly.

We made it to the lake at midnight and everyone went right to work. The boats and gear were unloaded and organized as two trucks were driven to the "take-out" point at Sourdough to leave a shuttle vehicle for after the trip. It was dark but there was enough twilight to navigate across the still water of Paxon Lake and at 1:30 a.m. we started the four day paddle down the Gulkana. It was a beautiful night. The air was calm and the sky showed no sign of rain. The lake water was flat and smooth as we cut across it, slowly making our way towards the start of the Gulkana River. There were 4 canoes, 1 kayak, and 1 pack raft in our flotilla. Everyone was excited and it showed. Songs were sang, jokes were made, beers were drank and games were played along the entire two hour paddle across the lake, through the first signs of dawns morning light. By 5 a.m. we got to the start of the river and set up our tents. Worn out from the days events, everyone immediately set off for bed upon establishing camp.

(07/17) After a bright and sunny start to the morning the sky began to cloud over and rain started falling. We ate, broke camp and re-packed the canoes then started off down the river at 1 p.m. The still, deep water of the lake had turned to shallow, class 2 river rapids right after we started. Large rocks and moving water pushed the boats all over the river. Keeping the canoes pointed down river became challenging as the current often dictated what line to follow. The weather remained grey and rainy through out the entire day but it didn't dampen our spirits. Frequent stops were made to relax while Roscoe and Ryan fished the river for greyling, salmon, and trout. Different conversations about several different topics flowed like beer from a can, encouraging everyone to take it slow and enjoy the experience.

Most of the day was spent like this; paddling through rapids at times while floating down still water sections at others with no one in a hurry to be anywhere. Many fish were caught through out the day by Roscoe and Stokes while canoeing as well as when we were stopped. It was during a 'fish-on' that our canoe (Ryan and myself) "accepted water." Distracted by the size of the catch the canoe high sided a hidden rock, dipping one side of the boat into the river and quickly filling it with water. A minor set back that only made everything a bit more wet.

By 11 p.m. we stopped for the night at an island big enough to handle our party. Josiah, Jason and I took turns gathering firewood from a forest across the river as everyone else made camp and fished a nearby hole. Dinner was prepared, beers were consumed and stories were exchanged as the fire grew hot, drying out our wet gear and our even wetter bodies. By 3:30 a.m. and after a good full day at play everyone headed to bed hoping for a good, dry nights sleep.