"The Yukon-Kuskokwin Delta is a natural wonder on the order of, say, the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone . . . a monument, over the millennia, to nothing but the long and single-minded exercise of sedimentation, its motions flash-frozed each fall, then sluggishly renewed in the spring over its underlying pan of permafrost."
--Richard Adams Carey, Summer at Kuskowim Bay
Alaska Diary Day 11, September 10, 2001
This was our longest day in the raft. We floated for about seven hours with only a fifteen-minute lunch break. We saw the most people, but very little wildlife. We saw a flock of geese forming their "V" and heading south but that was about it. The Kisaralik River has three distinct characters: clear and swift flowing over gravel and around boulders, muddy and swift, but deeper and breaking and reforming into and out of braids, and muddy and slower but one wide meandering channel. We had reached the third stage. The river swung back and forth through flat, featureless country. Our speed slowed and our progress along a straight line to the pick-up point was even slower. We watched as the compass swung almost 90 degrees on either side of our generally northwest direction.
Norm did some rowing today. The travel was so monotonous that he invented a game of racing sticks. Sticks floated in the river and tended to follow the "bubble line", the area of fastest moving water. He tried to maneuver into the fastest part of the current and add a little speed by rowing. In this way he was able to pass a very sticks. The other game was to follow the current--which was relentlessly cutting its way into a bank and toppling trees in the process--as close to the bank as possible without hitting the sweepers, the trees leaning into the water. We had been warned about the sweepers; they can easily and quickly flip a raft.
As for people, a boat passed us while we ate lunch, going downstream. Its motor was barely turningjust enough to provide some steerage. They appeared to be moose hunting. We also passed two guys who were walking around on a gravel bar with their guns out. We waved. We also passed a camp with a big wall tent and many amenities such as a two burner stove on legs, cots, chairs and a canopied motorboat. They seemed to know about our pick-up and said that they needed 20 gallons of gas and to leave it at the pick-up place. We saw a Yup'ik heading upstream that night.
We finally came to the pick-up place identified only by a four or five pole hastily lashed tripod. I had made a mistake in entering the waypoint coordinates in my GPS and not initially certain that this was the place. But once I found my error I found I was standing on the exact coordinates. The whole place was kind of a mess--muddy and trashy. But we set up our tent and made a fire. We did notice some beavers across the river--the first we had seen. We had big suppers; there was no reason to save food. Our pick-up was scheduled for 11:00 am on September 11th and we turned in after a couple chapters of River Horse and a look at a pink sunset.
Norm rows for the first time! He rejoices in passing a stick! Note that we continue to keep the guns close at hand.
Here I am. Note a couple of things: how high the river is behind me--flood stage and the netting behind me that should keep all our gear together if we dump.
This is typical of the featureless monotonous country we literally meandered through.
It's hard to see here. The unnaturally straight line under the grass and above the water in the permafrost layer. The plants live in the uppermost foot but from there on down it's ice for several feet.