Middle Fork Koyukuk Part 2

Day 2

When I woke in the morning, the sun was beating down on the east side of the tent heating the insides. I was the first one up. I slipped into my clothes for the day and grabbed my food and went hunting for a good spot to go the bathroom on the island. I managed to find one and it was easier as nobody else was awake. Then I got my breakfast stuff ready and heated up some water for my oatmeal with freeze dried blueberries and tea. People gradually started waking up and joining me for breakfast.

I went back over to the tent to start packing up my things. My tent mate then showed me the sopping wet roll of toilet paper. He apologized and I laughed. It really was no problem. While toilet paper is a nice convenience it isn’t essential. I told him it was his toilet paper now. I guess the story was that he was trying to cross the river in the pack raft to go to the bathroom on the main land and ended up belly up in the river. I was glad he was ok and we continued our day.

We all cleaned up camp and switched boats. I was in the Grabner inflatable canoe with my tent mate. He was the captain and we headed down river. Before long we stopped at an old claim site for gold mining called Tramway Bar. The site was mined into the 80s and even had a landing strip built at one point. We toured the site and took pictures exploring. Afterwards we had lunch and then got back on the river to head down the canyon.

Spring Flowers blooming under a flipped table in Tramway Bar
Abandoned cabin site at Tramway Bar


Just before the canyon we stopped at another claim site. This one was not mined for as long, but people had diverted the small stream coming down the hill with trenches and there was an old cabin site. We took pictures and discussed how to decipher between trash that is newer and “trash” that may fall under the Antiquities Act and should be left.

Rock faces along the river


Walls of conglomerate rock from glaciations in the area rose around us. Several notable rocks rose up in the river, they were like strange spires floating. We floated down the canyon marveling at the rocks. We also avoided one Class 2 rapid and looked for birds and wildlife. We did see a moose just before we met with the North Fork Koyukuk.

One of the rock spires from the front of the Grabner


Then we floated around the corner and found a nice sand bar for camp. This time we weren’t on an island and found it easier to find a private place to go to the bathroom. We set up camp on a beautiful sand/gravel bar with purple lupine blooming all around us. We enjoyed dinner down on the bank. Company was nice.

Lupine blooming near our camp


I went to sleep with my earplugs and hat over my eyes. The sun still cooking the tent. A symphony of snoring started and I was glad to have my earplugs.

Day 3

I struggled to wake up and got ready for the day. I packed all my things and then went down for some breakfast and tea. Everyone was already down there and I caught up with them. After breakfast we broke camp and switched up boats again. I was in the Ally Pack with an experience canoer to help me learn the ropes and give guidance. He started out as the captain in the back.

View from the front of the Ally Pack


It felt like we barely went anywhere before we pulled over. This was the site of a cabin that our instructor wanted us to go out to as we have a geo-point there (even though it’s not in the park). We bush-whacked our way back to the cabin. It seemed like all the mosquitoes in the bush could smell us coming and they found us at the cabin. Though our instructor said it was a relatively slow day at the cabin.

The cabin. It was muggy back in the bush


We then went out into the clearing area where a forest fire had been through. They had marked two grave sites there and we looked for them. One of my coworkers found a rabbit foot. As we stood there looking for the grave sites, the mosquitoes became unbearable. So on our way back we practiced using our GPS to map the path back to the water.

Instead of eating lunch there we went down river a bit further to find a gravel bar for a break from the mosquitoes. We enjoyed lunch and switched positions in the canoe. I was the captain! As we left the beach a gust of wind came up and created a large dust devil where we had been enjoying lunch. We tried to paddle away as the dust devil grew and began picking up and throwing debris. I could feel it sucking us back toward it, but we managed to get away as it broke up over the water.

Canoe captain in the Ally Pack


We headed downstream trying to make time to get back to Bettles at a reasonable time. At this point it was important to stay close to not go down different braids in the river. A couple more moose were on the banks and swimming across the river.

On a large bank we stopped to rest and switch boats. I got a new captain on the Ally Pack and we floated down stream singing various songs that popped into our heads. I laughed when he gave an impression and sang of his favorite Olive Garden commercial. We talked periodically to other boats and finally came across the Wild River which was a sign we were close to Bettles.

A plane was practicing takeoffs and landings and we knew we were getting closer as the plane got closer. A house appeared on a bend and that was our sign to hang left to not miss the gravel bar. It was also a sign that our trip was about to end. I felt relief that I would soon be resting, and sadness that such a fun and perfect trip was almost over.

Airplane flying overhead near Bettles


When we arrived on the bank, the mosquitoes arrived as well. We had gotten so lucky to have beautiful weather and minimal mosquitoes on our trip it was hard to arrive back in Bettles and see that they had arrived. We packed our boats onto the truck that was waiting for us and put them out to dry and be cleaned the next day.

Our trip was over, but I will never forget it. Great company, great weather. Certainly a treat in the arctic.


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