Yukon Journal: Part 1, Jul 31 thru Aug 7, 1972
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the Kayaker himself

Yukon Journal: Part 1

Jul 31 thru Aug 6, 1972

Fairbanks and departure, Nenana,
Chena & Tanana Rivers to the Yukon

force dimension
contents:       Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

124° 15' 40"N

July 31st:

      After 6 days in Fairbanks I depart down the Chena on the first day of my journey. I have been staying at the International Hotel, "the Big I", visiting with Bob White & friends and getting rid of the Computer/North Beach hang-ups.
      After a last drink with Bob and Judy at the "Big I", I head for the Chena river about 500' away. Many of the locals who I've met in the past week are there to see me off. Jack the proprietor gives me a bottle of Cognac, which I'll open when I reach the Tanana.
     It's 6:00p.m.1 & misting when I leave. I travel about 10 miles in four hours. No current. The weather clears up while I'm on the river.
     I stop just above the confluence with the Tanana, camp, and cook a large T-bone for my first meal, a tradition of wilderness trekking. With few mosquitos about I just use the mosquito netting of my tent to cover my head as I bed down under the stars.


Tues, Aug. 1st:

     I use my first camp to repack my gear in a semblance of order. I hit the river about 11 a.m. In 10 minutes I'm in the Tanana. It's big, and it's muddy. It looks like old coffee into which someone has just poured milk; a marbleized grayish-brown. The top ¼ inch, the water of the Chena, is relatively clear but the constantly roiling upwelling of heavily silt laden water from below gives the coffee-milk mixture pattern. Current is about 5 mi/hr.
     Weather is fair, temperature is in the 70's, with little wind.
     I make about 40 miles in 8 hours.
Alaskan Fishwheel
click for enlarged viewThe fishwheel is used for fishing for salmon on the Yukon and Tanana Rivers above the delta. It consists of a river operated paddle wheel which drives two large baskets. Constantly moving through the water, the baskets scoop up the passing fish and dump them into a large holding tank.
The fisherman needs only empty the tank to obtain his salmon, Chum or Dog Salmon for the dog team and Sockeye and King or Chinook for his table.

Wed, Aug 2nd:

     Broke camp about 11 a.m.; in Nenana about 2 hr. later, where I had chili, hamburger, FF & Beer. Bought a few things: pulley - to rig up my sail, repair tape - just in case; This camp will make a good Work Place - think I'll finally have the time; also, I'll write a few post cards.
     I stopped in the Corner Bar for a beer and was asked by an Indian lady if I'm the guy going to the Mouth of the Yukon. Is this my 15 minutes of Fame?
     Made about 40 miles in about 8 hours. Weather same as yesterday.

Thur, Aug 3rd::

    Made beans this morning, cooked up a mess of bacon, enough for two days. Started a new batch of Sourdough. (Yesterday my pot of sourdough spilled and ran all over my Kayak. I'll have to take it apart to clean completely.)
     Broke camp about 3 p.m., made about 24 miles in about seven hours. Big wide meanders with slow current, a stiff North wind, & War & Peace2 kept me from making much time.
     I saw a beaver this evening. I was drifting along when I heard his k'splat! I didn't recognize it until I saw his head swimming toward shore. When he got there, he gave another ker-splat and dove into his home.
     So far no bear or moose although every camp I make has a liberal amount of moose signs: browsed willow, prints and droppings. No bear signs yet.


Fri, Aug 4th:

     Broke camp about 11 a.m. Made about 36 miles in about nine hours. Still reading War and Peace.
     Looks like it might rain tonight.

Sat, Aug 5th:

     It rained early this morning, about 4:00 a.m. So I set up my tent for the first time. So far I've just been using one end of it with the mosquito netting to make a little tent for my arms and head. Last night I awoke to a stinging pain in my right hand. It had fallen next to the mosquito netting and the little blood thirsty savages were having an orgy. My hand was swollen to twice its normal size.
     Calamine lotion works better for mosquito bites than it does for Poison Oak as my hand had returned to its normal size in a few hours. I think I'll use the tent from now on, so I cut some poles and stakes which I'll carry with me.
     I don't know what time it is. I broke camp four hours ago, but my watch3 had stopped. The sun was about 200° on my magnetic compass but what that means I don't know. There's a legend on the bottom of the chart which states that "magnetic north varied from 24 to 27° east with the vertical axis of the chart at its bottom in 1956". All of which leaves me going down the Tanana.
     I figure I will make the Yukon sometime tomorrow.
     A boat just passed me, river scow c.20' long with large outboard.
4 Very common craft on the Tanana. I've seen at least one most of the days I've been on the river. At Nenana there were about a dozen pulled up on the beach.      Made about 30 miles in six hours. I seem to be averaging five mph. Good, barring halts, I should make the mouth of the Yukon in about three weeks.


Sun, Aug 6th:

     Last night was the worst I've spent so far. Mosquitos. Jillians of them. I set up the tent without the floor as it's bigger that way and they came in under the sides. Kept me awake until morning when I finally became tired enough to sleep in spite of them. Tonight I'll set up the tent as a pup tent with floor.
     Rain again today. Just went through a small shower, but looks like I'm coming into a dilly. Sky ahead completely black, much thunder while overhead puffy white clouds and blue sky. Time to batten down the hatches.5
     It was a dilly, 1/8-3/8" hail, 25 mph wind, horizontal rain. I just turned my back to the wind and sat it out. Lucky it was short, about 10-15 min, seemed longer. The wind almost completely negated the force of the current.
     It rained off and on pretty much the rest of the day.

(It's been raining so much everything is beginning to run together. This section belongs at the end of Sun, Aug 6th) [in the original it follows Aug 7]
     Made camp in intermittent rain, set up tent as pup tent with floor and made large smoky fire.
     Supper consisted of bacon, Shaggy Mane mushrooms picked at the prior camp, tea and the first part of Jack's (proprietor of the Big I) going away present, a bottle of Martell Cognac. A sumtuous repast indeed.
click for enlarged view      What with the fire, pup tent and a small breeze the mosquitos were kept at bay and this was the best camp so far. It is possible that the Cognac and the Yukon just beyond the bend, both had something to do with my enjoyment.

Mon, Aug 7th:

     Around 5 I reached the town of Tanana . Wanted to get a beer, write some post cards, maybe a letter and possibly a hamburger or some thing. No dice. A dry town and no cafe. So there I am drinking a coke and writing my post cards under the eaves of the N.C. (Northern Commercial, been here since the purchase) Store while it's pouring rain.
     Made camp about sixteen miles beyond the confluence of the Tanana and Yukon. Made beans. Good.
     Today while paddling toward Tanana I saw four Sandhill Cranes. First time I've seen them since the Colorado Trip. [q.v. return via browser BACK button]

continue the journey

    notes on part 1:
  1. The time means little in the summer in the far north. Daylight lasts twenty some hours, then there is twilight and then it is morning again. I went to a bar one evening and completely missed the hour of darkness. return

  3. I always wanted to read War and Peace, now that I was a man of leisure, I had the time.
         I had a paperback copy of the novel which, even though it was cut, was very balky. I remember reverently burning chapters after reading them.

  5. I seem to remember consigning the watch to a watery grave with a feeling of relief. See entry for Aug 14 or return to journal.
  6. The rivers are the main highways here. There is a constant traffic of tugs and barges hauling most of the supplies for the year. General cargo can be delivered year round by air, but balk cargo must be devilvered before freeze up. Heating oil and gasoline for the snow mobiles and generators, heavy equipment, buildiong materials, etc. must be shipped by barge from Seattle or from Achorage.
         The usual family transport is dog sled or snow mobile in winter and a boat in summer. A common configuration for these craft is 30 feet in length with two kickers (outboard motor) mounted and one spare. A rifle, and on the delta a harpoon with float, are carried in the bow.

  8. This is the penultimate time the Journal was written in ink. Apparently, in the ensuing excitement I lost my only pen or more likely, dampness made it imposible to use a ballpoint. The pencil entries are faded and will be very hard to decipher. See entry for Aug 23 or return to journal.

     If you are just scanning notes as I do: Next Notes
     The following links lead to maps of my route. To follow the route from city to city click on the river at the down stream edge of the map.
Return here via your browser's BACK button.
Maps by Expedia.com Travel
large scale route map | Fairbanks | Nenana | Tanana
Contents this Page | Journal Contents | Home Page Contents
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6

edited by Peter J Wait, 10/6/00 1:25:41 AM