Tanana-Yukon Trip Log & Journal, 1972

Yukon Journal logo sp50.gif - 47 BytesMay flights of cranes transport you toward your dreams.   Grus canadensis
the Kayaker himself

a true and faithful copy
Jul 31 thru Aug 23, 1972

The following journal is rendered as it was written while on the trip, complete even as to all strike outs and insertions. All additions made since the trip are in italics or in the form of notes. pjw 10/4/2000
     Part1: Jul 31 Fairbanks, departure; Aug 1-4 Tanana R.; Aug 5 mosquitos; Aug 6 more mosquitos; Aug 7 Tanana Village, Sandhill Cranes;
     Part2: Aug 8 day in camp; Aug 9-10 Yukon R.; Aug 11 Ruby; Aug 12-14 rain; Aug 15 Koyukuk, "Last Chance"; Aug 16 Nulato, ½ way;
     Part3: Aug 17 Moose; Aug 18 depressing weather; Aug 19 Kaltag; Aug 20-21 more rain; Aug 22 a good day, Sandhill Cranes; Aug 23 a small Black Bear;
     Part4: Aug 24 Anvik, some interesting water; Aug 25 Bonasila Slough, American widgeon; Aug 26 Holy Cross; Aug 27 hint of autumn; Aug 28 a curious animal; Aug 29 Russian Mission; Aug 30 The Raft;
     Part5: Aug 31 Pilot Landing; Sep 1 a strange phenomenon, another Klepper; Sep 2-4 Ste Mary's; Sep 5 Mountain Village; Sep 6 I prophetize.
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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 of the 'Big I' gives me a bottle of Cognac, which I'll open when I reach the Tanana.
     It's 6:00pm & misting when I leave. I travel about 10 miles in 4 hours. No current. The weather clears up. I stop just above the confluence with the Tanana, camp, cook a large T-bone. Few mosquitos. I use the mosquito netting of my tent to cover my head.


Tues, Aug. 1st:      Repack my gear in a semblance of order. Hit the river about 11:00am. In 10 minutes I'm in the Tanana. It's big, also muddy. It looks like old coffee into wh someone has just poured milk; grayish-brown marbleized. The top 1/4 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 5mi/hr.
     Weather is fair, temp in 70's, little wind.
     I make about 40 miles in 8 hours.


Wed, Aug 2nd:      Broke camp about 11am; 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;   Work Place - think I'll finally have the time; post cards.
     Stopped in the Corner Bar for a beer and asked by an Indian lady if I'm the guy going to the Mouth of the Yukon. Fame?
     Made about 40 miles in about 8 hr. weather same as yesterday.


Thur, Aug 3rd:    Made beans this morning, cooked up a mess of bacon, enough for 2 days. Started a new batch of Sourdough. (Yesterday my pot of sourdough spilled & ran all over my Kayak. I'll have to take it apart to clean completely.)
     Broke camp about 3:00pm, made about 24 mi in about 7 hr. Big wide meanders with slow current, a stiff North wind, & War & Peace 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 altho 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 11am. Made about 36 mi. in about 9 hrs. Still reading W&P Looks like it might rain tonight.


Sat, Aug 6 5th:      Broke camp about noon It rained early this morning (about 4:00). 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 M. netting and the little blood thirsty savages were having an orgy. Calamine lotion works better for mosquito bites than it does for Poison Oak. I think I'll use the tent from now on, so I cut some poles & stakes which I'll carry with me.
     I don't know what time it is. I broke camp about 4 hours ago, but my watch 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. Very common craft on the T. I've seen at least one most of the days I've been on the river (maybe 2nd day out I didn't. At Nenana there were about a dozen pulled up on the beach.      Made about 30mi in 6 hours. I seem to be averaging 5mi/hr. Good, barring halts I should make the mouth of the Y in about 3wks.


Sun, Aug 7 6th:      Last night was the worst I've spent so far. Mosquitos. Jillians of them. I set up the tent w/o the floor and they came in under the sides. Kept me awake until morning when I finally became tired enough to sleep in spite of them. Tonite pup tent w/ floor.
     Rain again today. Just went through a small shower, but looks like I'm coming into a diller. Sky ahead completely black, much thunder while overhead puffy white clouds & blue sky. Time to batten down the hatches.
     It was a dilly, 1/8-3/8" hail, 25kt wind, vertical rain [horizontal?]. I just turned my back to the wind & 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 & on pretty much the rest of the day. until evening. <see continuation next page>


Mon, Aug 7th:     Around 5 I reached Tanana [the town]. Wanted to get a beer, write some post cards, maybe a letter & possibly a hamburger or some thing. No dice. A dry town & 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 T & Y. Made beans. Good.
     Today while paddling toward Tanana (town) I saw 4 Sandhill Cranes. 1st time I've seen them since the Colorado Trip. [q.v. return via browser BACK]


<It's been raining so much everything is beginning to run together. This section belongs at the end of Sun, Aug 6th:>

     Made camp in intermittant rain, set up tent as pup tent w/ floor and made large smoky fire.
     Supper consisted of bacon, Shaggy Mane mushrooms picked at the prior camp, tea & the first part of Jack's (proprietor of the Big I) going away present, a bottle of Martell Cognac. A sumtuous repast indeed.
     What with the fire, pup tent & a small breeze the mosquitos were kept at bay and this was the best camp so far. It is possible that the Cognac & the Yukon just beyond the bend, both had something to do with my enjoyment. [return to
Sun, Aug 6th]

Tues, Aug 8th:      Today I spent in the same camp as last night.It was a dull overcast day with enough wind to keep the mosquitos at bay.
     I spent the day in sleeping: once I decided not to paddle today I crawled deeper into my bag    got up around 9 or 10.
     By cooking: I cooked breakfast of sourdough flapjacks w/ enough [for] at least 2 days of lunches, also bacon for 2 day lunch. The rendered bacon fat I save. Finished cooking the beans.
     By kayak maintenance: waxed & polished the hull, repaired the spray cover and patched deck inside of comming where my rt knee had worn a hole. Ship shape now.
     And by general didling around.
     Now I catch up the Log while the dinner fire gets going. I'll have omelette (well, scrambled eggs) with peas & bacon (wish I had more mushrooms). Also some beans.
     Tomorrow I head for Ruby. I expect to arrive there on the 4th day (Sat, the 12th)


Wed, Aug 9th:     It was raining this morning so I got a late start. Every time I would think of getting up it would start to rain. Finally around 11 I made it. I was on my way at One pm. Every thing was ok for about an hour, then the wind picked up. If I stop paddling to rest I would go up river. Waves up to 3' high come to meet me burying the bow of the kayak. Lucky I fixed the spray cover.
     The wind held, so I stopped on the beach to rest for 2 hours. I was tired. Arms & hands ached.
     From 6:30 to 8 I again paddled into the wind then at 8:00 it stopped so I let the current take over (about 2-3 mph)
     I made about 32 miles in 7 hours. I think I see my camp for tonight. tomorrow I will leave earlier hoping to get more time in before the wind picks up if it does. Looks like rain again tonight.


Thurs, Aug 10th:      That wasn't a good place to camp. I had to go another 5 mi in the dark to find a place to land the kayak and to pitch my tent. And that place was only just possible. After the kayak grounded on a gravel bar I had to wade about 20 ft soaking my feet. But I didn't care, all I wanted to do was sleep.
     I put my tent up in record time and learned in the process what it's like to breath mosquitos. Miserable! Then when I crawled in I discovered there were a few of those winged beasts there before me. They had entered at the opposite end where I had forgotten to zip up the M. netting when I had taken it down the previous night.
     Todays weather: completely over cast with 5-10 mph wind. Enough chop on the water to make writing diffecult.
     Saw a young black bear just now. Took his picture in pasing then paddled back to within 20' of him. But just then the auto eye on camera didn't work. & the bear decided he wasn't going to wait for me to get it working & took off.
     Another bad camp. Insects make it imposible to make a fire & cook. Just put up the tent & went to sleep.


Fri, Aug 11th:      A beautiful day with the exception of the gnats. Most distressing. Repellent no good.
     Made Ruby about 4, where a six pack of beer costs $2.50 & and 2 apples & 2 oranges $1:00, but worth it. Must find a decent camp soon so that I can cook again. I should have brought enough white gas so that I could cook in the kayak. Next time.
     It's clouding up again.

     Found a good camp. It's a sand bar about 3 miles down river from Ruby with enough willow and drift wood for a good fire. insects not bad. Also it is still early, before sundown. The place is swarming with Tree Swallows gourging themselves on our blood-sucking little friends.


Sat, Aug 12th:      Intermittant rain all day. Spent it in camp cooking and trying to stay dry.


Sun, Aug 13th:      Continuous rain. I spent it on the river. making about 30 miles. Gradually got pretty wet.
     About 4 a pusher tug hailing from Fairbanks with a barge of construction equipment overtook me. A young fellow, the son of the owner-operator, got into thier launch and came along side me. He said that I looked like I needed a beer as he handed me a bottle of Black Label. They are heading for Nulato.
     Many small planes pass overhead. This is really the place for a plane. I thought that a summer place up here somewhere and a plane to get around would be quite the thing for me. Maybe.


Mon, Aug 14th:      As I sit here in my tent I feel the sun coming out. Time to get out & a little dry. then push off for Nulato wh is about half way.

          Never saw the sun   it was gone before I got out & Never came back, Intermittant rain all day.
     Camped just beyond Galena making only about 20 mi. It must have been pretty late by the time I got on the river.
     My watch is completely useless. It has stopprd working completely. So I deep-six it. Now the only way I have of telling relative time is by taking azmith reading of the sun's position. That is if there's enough sun to take a reading. from


Tues, Aug 15th:      Had a hot breakfast today. Hot cereal & bacon. Bacon fat is rancid so I cut off most of remaining fat and fried the meat for lunches. Wonder if the rendered fat might be ok, as I still have 5 lbs of bacon.
     Intermittant rain in morning but sun in afternoon (so far, plenty clouds left)
     left w/ sun at 175°, 250° now (3:20hr) 14mi
     gnats getting bad.

     Some indians stopped me about 7 mi upstream of Koyukuk (Koí uh cook), talked for awhile, had a drink. Then at their insistance I got in their boat, lashed my kayak alongside, & continued down river. First stop was Koyukuk where wife & half dozen or so kids [& dogs] were left off. Then on to the "Last Chance1" for beer & whiskey. Here we parted, I continuing downstream, they back to K.


Wed, Aug 16th:      Made it as far as Nulato where I mailed some post cards. Nulato is a slum. Water front is one vast garbage dump. People surly.
     Couldn't make it much past N. due to high winds. Camp just out of sight down river for a grand total of 11 miles a new first.


Thurs, Aug 17th:      Another bad day. Wind & rain again. I'm getting tired of it.
     Also I'm not eating enough. Yesterday when I stopped early because of wind I did[n't] even bother to eat, even the mosquitos were out. So this morning I forced myself to cook a pot of veg & eggs. also bacon. It helped.
     Today I saw my 1st moose this trip. In the evening I was drifting between a long island and the mainland when ahead I saw a brown shape on the marge of the island. "Could it be..." I said to myself " a Moose!? No, it never is." But I pick the ol' binoculars & sure enuf, a moose. No antlers, but a moose. I edged the kayak closer to shore, got out the camera & waited. till I was directly opposite her. She would look toward me & I would freeze, then she would continue her under water salad. When I was directly opposite her, (about 50') Click! I immortalized her, I hope, on 35mm film. At this she decided to take off down stream, after another picture, I followed gave chase but she was faster. She found a place wh she could scale the bank & took off into the willlows.


Fri, Aug 18th:      Wind too high   didn't bother leaving camp. Made chile beans w/ salt pork & rye bread. The bread is sort of heavy because I didn't let it raise the second time (almost unleavened) but I made it thin like a pancake. It's very good tho and I ate several 12" in diam. pieces directly off the fire spread w/ bacon fat.
     Weather is getting depressing & I'm thinking considering cutting the trip short. I'll think about it again at Anvik.


Sat, Aug 19th:      Wind down somewhat   I've started down river again.
     Just passed Kaltag where they are having some sort of festival. One event is to take your boat up river, cut some wood, bring it back & brew some tea.
     It's cold! & rainy of course.


Sun, Aug 20th:      Rained all last night & all day continually. Stayed in the tent feeling depressed & discourged. Ready to call the whole thing off. Sleeping bag is wet.


Mon, Aug 21st:     Weather better today, not raining continuously. It rained all last night & the sleeping bag is soaked. Luck I bought that down sleeping bag liner (fix). [this must be note to myself] I'll be able to use that until regular bag is dry again. And if it starts to rain I'll use a 7' foot length of the nylon film tube that Harry gave me. I'll stuff me & sleeping bag into it like a sausage. Even if it's too hot & I get sweaty at least the rain will be kept out.
     Feeling better today. Weather is good enough to travel. I opened my canned ham, together with my home made rye bread & the end of a pint of whiskey mixed with leamon-ade it made a welcome change to my diet.


Tue, Aug 22nd:     Last nights camp was dry. The sleeping bag, spread on top, had a chance to begin to dry.
     Heading south now with a good current (4mph) and a following breeze (5-10mph). But even more important, the sun is out. First time I think in 2 wks. The sleeping bag is piled out in front soaking up all that good radiation.
     Just as I was thinking that some eggs would taste good today as I was passing a bank cut into a peat bog. And lo! what should I see but a mess of Shaggy Mane mushrooms. Put the ol' brake on, hopped out n gathered me a parcel of the tasty fungi.
     At the same time I identified the Fox Sparrow for the first time. They ^(I think) were hopping around my tent 2 days ago. Would perch right on the front guy not 10 feet away, but moving too fast for positive identification.
     It's a fine day & with all this sun think I'll take a wash.

     Didn't take much of a wash for just about then I saw an excelent place to cook. Gravel beach, breeze to keep mosquitos at bay & plenty of downed fire wood.
     Cooked Beans w/ salt pork also onions, peppers (green), little chile cumin oregano basil, & bit more rosemary & garlic. Exquisite
     Also I cooked eggs & mushrooms w/ salt pork tarragon nutmeg pepper & ^little garlic. Delectable.
     And (finally) I baked leavened rye bread. With picture to prove it.
     Now I am enjoying my pipe while the sun goes down. Taking a few pictures. At peace w/ the world. Didn't make many miles today (about 20) but it was good.
     Sandhill Cranes making their peculier racket. Takes the place of the loons [of the northern Wisconsin woods].

     While spell-bound by the departing sun I have drifted by my chosen camp.
     But who cares for just now the bottom edge of the clouds have turned a bright blood red. I never seen such sunset.


Wed, Aug 23rd: [Finally I've picked up a pen and the journal is legible once more.]
     If I had any idea that the weather was clearing they were soon dashed into the mud. Intermittant rain all night, then at dawn a real downpour. I thought the tent would be blown down on top of me. But it held.
     Any progress I had made yesterday in drying the regular bag was more then over-come last night when in floods come[when floods came] seeping through the tent where any thing touched it. I managed to keep the liner bag dry by using the nylon film tube. But that won't work for long because of the sweat of my own body. Already the top outside fabric is wet. may be just ventilation slits on top. I'll try it tonite.
     I got a fairly early start this morn - as soon as most of the rain was over) trying to make up some miles.

     Been paddling awhile now. Stopped to rest my tired arse. All my cusions are hopelessly flat and now confined to the deep. I'm sitting on a combinatuion of my life preserver & ensolite sleeping pad. Must devise a decent seat some time.
     ...Drat! Just dropped my pen over side. [I second that 'Drat!' 30 years later as I prepare to decipher the faint pencil record.]

     Another observation. When I waxed & polished my hull I helped improved paddling performance but lessened the speed in a drift, the current just slips by. Oh well, back to the old paddle.

     Just got a reading on the sun, 160°. It set at 210° yesterday 110 / 15 = 7 about 7 1/2 hrs daylite left.
     I was leasurly paddling along a cut bank, grown with cottonwoods for a change, listening to the music: part the wind in the trees, part the water against the banks and through the snags, and part within my head, a Tyrolian childrens choir singing in pure soprano voices far off into the next valley. And lo, there is a small black bear walking along beside me. Giving me no mind. Intent on some berries accross the stream, or perhaps also listening to the Tyrolian childrens choir.

     Recap: Todays weather was much as yesterday's, Rainy & overcast in the morning, clearing in the afternoon but with accompaning wind & waves (some today, 4'). No sunset tho, clouds in the way.
     I paddled almost continually today. 1st time in a long time so much & my arms & hands are tired. Made about 40 miles.
     Was a good day with much peace stored up inside. & so to bed when I find it.

continue with journal

  1.      The "Last Chance" is just a log cabin in the woods a short way up the Koyukuk, containing stacks of cases, a warehouse. It was the last place on the river that beer & spirits were for sale. I had been told of it in Fairbanks, but hadn't paid much attention.
         I remember a very pleasant time sitting on the banks of the Koyukuk, swarms of mosquitos flying around our heads, drinking beer and talking well into the evening.
  2.      This was a good lesson in the avoidance of humans, as the indigenous people carry rifles instead of cameras. Although to make things even again they use kickers instead of paddles. Maybe its not because they want to even the chances of the chase but to make life easier, I don't know. return
  3.      I think I was so agog at this sunset that words escaped me. I remember drifting down the river for an hour or so, engrossed in the constantly changing light show. The almost continuous partly cloudy conditions lend an interesting canvas to splash the colors accross and the high latitude enables the long duration.
         The final fadeout left me in darkness on the river. I remember stranding on a sand bar. And the swift icy current swirling around my knees, as I, with difficulty, extricated myself. I remember setting up camp in a mosquito infested marsh because it was all I could do in the dark. The show was worth this admission price. I still remember the peace I experianced as I drifted along watching it.
         Northern Lights occasionally provide an encore to this celestial show.
     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.
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transcribed by Peter J Wait, 9/29/00
edited by Peter J Wait, 10/5/00 10:19:31 AM
copywrite © by Peter J Wait 10/2/00