"Adventure is putting your ignorance into motion."
--Willian Least Heat-Moon
Alaska Diary: Day 4, September 3, 2001
We began our float down the Kisaralik River today. We had waded across it and had rowed out into the lake to avoid its pull when we went to the other side; but today we would surrender to its power and be carried by it for over eighty miles. We already knew it was clear--the tundra held fiercely to all the soil particles it could. We also knew it was cold; we had been to the melting snow patches that fed it. What we didn't know were its moods, its personality. We knew only vaguely what kind of terrain it passed through.
We awoke to frost on our gun cases outside the tent. We slowly ate breakfast and began to pack up our stuff. The two planes belonging to Papa Bear Adventures, our outfitter appeared. Wade's landed near the women's camp and Jerry's, which was carrying a v-hulled aluminum boat, landed near an old fish camp. We learned later that the women, who had been confined to their tent for two days (like us), were not ready to leave now that a clear day seemed to be in the offing. Wade taxied over to Jerry. They both took off and waved their wings when they passed us.
We soon headed down the river. Papa Bear (Karl Powers) had given us a brief lesson in rafting. The basic idea is to stay perpendicular to the current and row backward (the strongest stroke) or forward across it to avoid obstacles. I rowed and Norm watched for rocks. In the beginning we hit a few. The river increased in size as little creeks and rivulets joined it. As my skills increased, we bounced off fewer and fewer.
I learned that the raft needed constant attention. If I put my oars down for just a few seconds to look at caribou or an eagle with my binoculars, the raft would start drifting and begin heading for a rock. I had to constantly adjust course. I found it easier to float with my right shoulder downstream for some reason. But it was easy to see wildlife just with the naked eye. We saw lots of caribou grazing on the ridges just above the river.
Typical of the upper Kisaralik--Caribou on the low tundra-covered ridges and rocks scattered in the river which runs clear and cold between them.
(Below) This herd of caribou watches us pass.
A herd of caribou is startled by our approach.
A campsite near the North Fork was recommended. Even though we kept watching the map we totally missed it. The current moves us along at about 4.5 mph and there's no going back. So we picked a gravel bar farther down and spent a whole hour wrestling with our tarp. The wind was picking up and changing direction. We finally got it up. I decided to nap and Norm went ahead and ate. He got a little wet when the wind changed direction yet again. As we settled into the tent, the wind increased and we spent a restless night. The wind was at least 30 mph and kept snapping the tent and waking us up.
In Woodland Caribou we would get up with the sun and try to get paddling as soon as we could in order to avoid the wind that inevitably built up during the day. But here we dozed and read and talked in the morning and waited for the sky to clear a bit and the temperature to rise. The river would relentlessly carry us whenever we were ready.