DAY ONE: Ignorance is Bliss
The “plan” was set. We would put in at the Fortymile Bridge and canoe the 101 river miles along the Fortymile River into the Yukon and down to Eagle. It would take about four or five days depending upon how much we paddled and how fast the river was flowing. We got off to a slow start, with Ric having to manage a slow leak on the 4-Runner…
We finally got the canoe loaded and were on the river by about 1 pm, in spite of the delay. The long Alaska days keep the pressure off these late starts. No worries about needing to set up camp by nightfall. There is full daylight until about 10 pm – then it dims down a bit.
We were right into small riffles and experienced many sets of class two rapids all along the way. Fun and exhilarating rides all of them. Made camp about 6 pm above the Deadman’s Riffle, which was indicated on our map as class 3 at higher water levels, and based on the way the river was moving we had the feeling it was running pretty high. Camping there gave us a chance to take a walk and have a look-see at the rapids before going through them first thing the next day. We found a good site with a sandy beach and a nice “shelf” embankment where we could set up the tent. After we set up camp and had supper we took a walk to check out the rapids.
The “Deadman’s Riffle” was certainly no “riffle” and yet it looked no worse than the class two’s we had been navigating all day – so there was never any thought of portaging or lining around them.
We went back and Lin did a little panning in the river – mostly fine flake – and then turned in.
DAY TWO: Deadman’s Riffle
We took our time getting up and going in the morning and finally put in to the river at about 1:15, toasting the river and tossing a bit of whiskey to her. We headed toward the “Riffle”. Apparently this lady is a mean drunk.
By 1:20 we were facing 3-foot waves in chaotic, turbulent, violent water. By 1:25 we were flipped into the water. These were not “riffles” at all, but seriously chaotic rapids. (Ric says that the word “Deadman” probably should have given us a clue.) Hmmmm. Lin’s ankle snared in one of the canoe ropes, which then pulled her through through the waves. She worked her foot free, while Ric was getting squeezed between a huge boulder and the canoe. We finally made it to shore after about 20 minutes in the water and likely have the PFD’s we were wearing to thank for our lives. Our feet finally made a purchase on the rocky river bottom and we dragged ourselves ashore on a gravelly avalanche chute. Thank god it was a warm day (70s) with a warm breeze. It was an extraordinary experience and we are kind of glad we had it…ONCE! We bailed out the canoe and put ourselves back on the river to keep warm… finally making camp a few hours later. We did a good self assessment and determined ourselves pretty fortunate. Lin had a rope burn and bruising and swelling where the rope snared her ankle; Ric had a nasty scrape on his thigh from the boulder squeeze situation. The waterproof food bag worked well. The waterproof sleeping bag and clothing bag did not. Drat. We set to making a fire and setting up drying lines for our wet gear. Unfortunately cold water and stress seems to affect one’s brain as far as remembering to take pictures. So nothing to share except the aftermath…
(1) pair of prescription glasses
(1) classifier pan
(2) gold pans
(1) pack of tea tree sticks
and all semblance of pride
DAY THREE: CANYON RAPIDS (Oh no…not again…)
We had to go through another set of (more intense) rapids the following day – The Canyon Rapids. Both of us were still feeling fatigued, so we tried to line the canoe around them – but half way through we came to sheer canyon walls that we could not line along. With no little angst we realized that the only way out was through. We maneuvered into the rapids and were pulled right into the center in spite of our best efforts to make our way to the other (less intimidating) side. This time we made it without capsizing, but had some pretty anxious moments. It is exhilarating when you make it through.
We set our sights on finding a suitable campsite – it had been a long day and lining the canoe had been an exhausting experience. At least we were through all the major rapids.
DAY FOUR: Confluence with the Yukon
On the river by 9:45 we were pleased to find a slower, wider, calmer, gentler version of Fortymile as it flowed into the Yukon, and we made good time to the confluence of the rivers by 11 am.
Along the way we were greeted by some folks from the porch of their cabin high above the waters as we neared the Clinton Bridge. We had not seen another soul since day one.
As we approached these two islands we knew that we were at the confluence of the Fortymile and the Yukon, and close to Fortymile Townsite.
Fortymile Townsite is an historical settlement in the process of restoration. We took a short break, exploring the buildings and finding wild raspberries and taking a few pictures…
By noon we were on the mighty Yukon River. What a trip. Dude, we are on the YUKON!
These were a few of the highlights of a long day of paddling we put in to make up for the time lost from dumping the canoe…
Lin had a penchant for reading the course of the river: batting 1000 on predicting which way the river would turn, and saving a few strokes here and there. We forged on until nearly 8 pm and made our last camp. A nearby brook was a godsend, as our water filter was getting clogged with river silt. Our last night on the river…
We made camp to shifting winds, falling temperatures and darkening skies. No complaints though, we had been very, very lucky weather-wise. Rain was not far off and we felt a few sprinkles before turning in.
DAY FIVE: Landing at Eagle and the end of the journey
Lin woke with a start at about 6 am to the sound of something knocking the canoe. Up fast with bear spray in hand, but no culprit in sight. Maybe the wind. We had our breakfast and geared up to spitting skies and were on the river by 9 am. We knew we only had about 10 miles to go to Eagle and we took our time savoring the last few hours, making a slow float paddle down the river… just enjoying the sights as the town of Eagle, as the end of our journey came into view…