Yukon Journal: Part 5
Aug 30 thru Sept 6, 1972
Pilot Station, St Marys, Mountain Village,
contents: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
Shortly after I wrote the above I did overtake the raft, or fairy house, or what ever.
Dan and Rick had started out from Fairbanks with seven other guys and two girls on a fairly standard barrel raft (3 rows of 7 55gal. barrels supporting a log platform). It had a floor, benches along the sides, 2 sweeps, and a steering oar, and that's about all, except a mound of provisions and stores in the center. People kept dropping out and refinements kept being added until now there is a translucent plastic roof over the whole thing, a spare 6 barrel raft used for fire wood, a row boat and a canoe, a captain's office, four bunks, a fire place, a crow's nest, and a huge collection of junk, materials, wood (both drift and fire), goodies and whatnots nailed, propped, stored, stowed, hung on, about, along side of the original raft. The result is a carnival or fairyland afloat and the kids at every village they stop at are enchanted as I was.1
Dan, the organizer of the raft trip, is an old river rat from Cleaveland. He was justifiably proud of his creation as he gave me the grand tour. Rick, a university student from England, is just traveling around Canada, Alaska and who knows. Both were very hospitable, immediatly inviting me aboard to share their breakfast of pancakes, whitefish and cranberry tea.
They had been traveling all night and then blown upon a sand bar in the morning. So had gone to sleep waiting for the wind to shift or stop. Travel by raft is very much at the whim of wind and current.
But even more worrisome than sand bars are the sweepers and snags on the outside of bends. Sweepers are tree that are in the process of falling into the river. They stick out from the bank at a near perpendicular angle to it and sweep the decks of boats and rafts passing too close. One of these claimed the port side bench last night.
I was invited to travel along with them as long as I liked. I elected to stay for the night. One of the clinchers was the announced moose steaks for dinner.
They had recieved the whitefish and a foreleg of moose from Eskimos at Russian Mision where they had stayed a week.
They ate three gargantuan meals a day. For dinner (around 2 a.m.) we had moose steaks, baked potatoes, onions, corn, corn bread and jello. Then another meal just before I left of moose meat, pancakes and a mountain of home fries. They work off all this food by cutting wood for the continuous fire, fending off shore, rowing (the sweeps are about 15' spruce poles with blades, and each stroke will move the raft about a foot) and prying the thing off sand bars.Definately more work than pushing my kayak down river.
I stay all night on the raft as they negotiate the Devil's Elbow. Constant worry about my kayak being crushed between the raft and shore or a snag kept me awake. Once I had to shift the kayak as we went crashing into shore.
Being up all night gave me a chance to see the full dawn, which was a treat.
They insisted I stay for breakfast but after, I got into my kayak and headed for Marshall.
Before I left they gave me 6-8 lbs of moose meat. Part of which is for three guys in a raft a couple of days ahead if I should catch up with them.
I was camped quite close to the water. In the morning the wind came up causing waves to lap against the shore. I would hear them in my half sleep and imagine I'm curled up in my kayak going down the river. Then I would notice the tent around me and instead of recognizing the truth I would imagine that I had set the tent up in my kayak. This image was very strong and persistant. [My subconscious recognizes that being in the kayak is my normal state.]
As I neared Ste. Mary's I heard voices from the opposite shore. I couldn't see anything, but I had been told when I was 10 mi above Pilot Station that two guys in a canoe were about 10 mi behind me. I picked up my binocs and sure enough it was another Klepper (Blue Whale) with two kass'aq. So I paddled over.
Tom and Steve are from Anchorage and started at Skagway, about 2000 miles up river. They have elected to end their trip at Ste. Mary's. I have decided to share camp with them, eat the moose meat and see what comes.
Much food has been consumed: moose [note:2], fresh bread and biscuits, blueberry pie, cranberry sauce, baked potatoes.
More berries have been picked, pictures of the tundra, hikes to airport (6 mi), a movie at the Cold Storage, talking with the people and the female lay teachers at the Mission High School.
Tom and Steve left for Anchorage about 4:30. I will see them on my way out.
An Eskimo, Brothe[?], laid two ducks on me and I refused a salmon complete with roe (dumb) for fear it would spoil before I could eat it.
I saw two swans last night but couldn't identify them as it was too dark.
Tuesday morning as I was making breakfast a Yupik, Johnson from Mountain Village came by. He had just emptied his nets and was going back to the village. Catch was about 30 Whitefish, a few Ling Cod and one Northern.
He gave me my pick of the whitefish. I took a small one which filleted out to at least two pounds. There was enough meat on the dicarded bones to make a good rich fish soup. But as I have a whole pot of duck stew with dumplings and another of beans I made an offering to the wild beasts.
Breakfast consisted of half of the whitefish, a piece of duck, cereal with fresh Blueberry syrup, and stick bread. Eating like this I don't know if I'll be able to paddle.
Just went through a bad slough. No current, head wind, and not enough water. I took it because I thought it looked would be more protected (it was) and I could make better time (I didn't).
Just saw a Yupik who said that there was a seal in these waters. He was going after it but lack of gas made him turn back when I saw him. He also had a wounded Hawk in his boat. Said he would probably let it go as soon as its wing healed3.
Just saw a Snowy Owl. I was paddling along when I noticed what I took to be one of the constant gulls swooping in for a look. I gave it the old greeting "Kee-ew". It remained quiet and just kept coming. Then I noticed it looked kind of wierd for a gull. Then he he was directly over and in front of me looking me in the eye with his two yellow orbs and I saw that he was an owl. He made about five or six passes coming within 10-15' of me. When he was satisfied he flew off.
Weather clears to a warm sunny day with scattered clouds. Just found a good landing. Stopped, took pictures of the tundra, ate moss berries, whitefish and coffee.
Many flights of cranes and geese passing overhead, heading south and southwest. But with weather like this I'm in no hurry. Tomorrow will probably be hell and I'll curse myself for not making time when I could.
[ With these prophetic words the Journal ends. ]
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6
edited by Peter J Wait,