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The Wrangell Mountains
from Nabesna to Chitina - August 2004

Journal - Page 4

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8/17/04 - day 13

The rushing ocean

The world is rushing and roaring outside, zipping past us in a wide band of turbulent glacial silt. We're traveling over 6 miles an hour on this river, and it feels like an ocean. The Copper River is fast and high, full of swirling eddies and big smooth waves. Its roaring puts me on edge, but the ride has so far been gentle. There are waves and holes bigger than I would like to raft into, but there is a lot of room on this river to avoid things, and a long view ahead.

We're camped on a sandbar island like an ocean shore, with sand and cobble beaches ringing the willowy interior, and smooth waves lapping at the shore. It's past 1:30 in the morning now, since we stayed up late by the campfire, watching it die down to the last few coals under the brightening stars. We even saw the northern lights, though in a distinctly unimpressive form.

Our trip has been stretched about as long as we can stretch it. We're down to the last and most unappealing bits of our food, and we're not that far from Chitina as the river runs. So we'll spend a good chunk of tomorrow here, go almost to Chitina, then roll into town the next morning.

All or our walking was finished this morning. We had a real bushwhack to finish it off, too. We scrambled over trees and stones in the gully bottom until we hit a spring, and the gully got wetter and thicker. And afterwards, on top of the ridge, we clambered over piles of deadfall spruce, snacking on interspersed high bush cranberries. I got my rain pants eaten by the spruce again. And then the rose bushes ate my legs through the holes in the rain pants.

All in all, I was happy to see the Copper River. It is bluff lined and beautiful, and mostly just big. This is the biggest river I've ever rafted down, and it's less than half of what we'll follow to the ocean later.

8/18/04 - day 14

Only chocolate

All the food we had left to eat for much of today was chocolate. We had a pile of chocolate. We had a pile of chocolate covered fruits and nuts, a small bag of cocoa, and we've saved our three last chocolate Powerbars for breakfast tomorrow. Then we'll have no food left, so we'd best hope nothing goes wrong, and that we find Chitina despite the fact that it's off the corner of our map.

The Copper River is still large and fast, and the only way we managed to not be in Chitina already was to not actually spend much time rafting in it. We spent the morning on last night's gravel island. Hig and I wandered up to the photogenic bluffs, while David fished and hung out on the beach. We found one private property sign in our wanderings, and the remains of one old campsite. I still have no idea what the crossbar sticks affixed between two trees are for, but they seem to be a common feature of all old camps.

Our next stop was precipitated indirectly by a difference in channel choice, and directly by my raft. Hig went left, while David and I went right (since we didn't have nearly enough warning from Hig to make it left). So we shot past him in the faster water by the bluffs and waited downstream on a sand bar. Just as we were about to hop back in the river to meet up with him, I kicked the red valve on my raft and cracked it loose, starting a slow wet hiss of air.

The temporary gluing held for the rest of the day, even though we only let it set an hour. But being in a raft when I'm not entirely sure whether or not it leaks is uncomfortably like being back in a Suckylor (Sevylor's well-earned nickname). Hopefully the overnight gluing will work out.

The Copper has continued to be enormous, scenic, and mostly no problem. Except for the rapid we couldn't get around. And even the rapid wasn't much of a problem, it was just the fact that we couldn't get around it that worried me. The whole channel dumped into a wave train by the cliff, and despite a whole lot of frantic ferrying from way upstream, we had no way at all to avoid it. We have lessons still to learn about rivers this big.

We've seen an old settlement by the river, power lines and buildings way up on the bluffs, and a chunk of the highway where it gets close to the river. My stomach is growing, and I am really looking forward to getting to Chitina. And I'm really hoping it has some sort of restaurant.

8/19/04 - day 15

Where the hell is Chitina?

We've been lucky to find a room with a shower for not too much money, lucky to find our boxes at the post office, lucky to find everything we need in the great metropolis of Chitina, and lucky to be inside for the first rain we've seen in two weeks.

I feel comfortably stuffed. My stomach gets better and better at its job of immediately expanding whenever we reach a town. I am stuffed on fast food, salmon, spaghetti, and candy bars. The only eating establishment open in Chitina is the burger bar, run out of a trailer. Our salmon fillets came from two nice guys by the fish wheels down on the Copper, who were the first of civilization we talked to, and gave us nice silver salmon along with directions to Chitina. We'd cut the town itself off our map, so we spent a good part of this morning discussing where it might be, so we'd know when to get out of the river. Upon actually finding the town, we immediately purchased a handful of "Where the hell is Chitina?' bumper stickers.

Our salmon got cooked on a one-burner Coleman stove we borrowed from the guy who rented us this room, as did our spaghetti. The spaghetti, along with a far-too-large block of cheese, bread, and candy bars, was purchased from one of the two competing grocery stores in Chitina. These two stores probably represent a good quarter of all the businesses in Chitina. I don't entirely understand the economics that often lead to small towns containing two competing grocery stores.

All in all, Chitina is a fairly typical small Alaskan town, less isolated from the world than some by its location on the road system. They get backpackers headed up to McCarthy through here, and didn't seem to think what we were doing was all that crazy.

I agree with them, though David still thinks we're nuts for planning to raft the larger Copper downstream of here. The Copper was a colder place this morning with the wind blowing steadily up valley, sucking our heat away and slowing our progress downstream. I was happy to change into my fleece suit, and if the weather turns to rain, the Copper may be a more forbidding place in our future.


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Last modified: 10/20/2004