Thursday, October 12, 2017

Tokositna Packraft - 9.30.2017

It was 12:30 AM on Saturday and the six of us were bouncing down the Petersville Road. Between wildly swerving around potholes, and cringing as the Subaru scraped over loose cobbles, I kept imaging a very large brown beach ball bouncing down the road in front of us. I was seeing things, why would there be such a thing bouncing just out sight? Just in case, we sped up, and there it was - a brown bear so fat it could barely keep its belly off the ground as it bumbled down the road.

What a way to start the weekend! We camped just past the old townsite, and after shaking the ice off our sleeping bags, were chasing Nathan and Charlie thru the frosty willows and up into the Peters Hills.

At the ridgeline Charlie and Nathan were waiting for us.

We followed the undulating ridge north. Ahead we could see a flock of ptarmigan that had made the mistake of turning white before the snow arrived. Peering into the cloudy peaks in front of Mount Foraker, I kept thinking about the wild trip to Little Switzerland that Amy invited me on years ago.

A small bundle of moisture lifting over the huge peaks brought with it a rainbow of colors to the valley below:

Farther up the valley, and floating in and out of the wispy clouds, Foraker looked larger than life.

After lunch the terrain began to trend slowly down toward the Tokositna Glacier valley.

Quite the view.

10 miles ahead we could see the toe of the Ruth Glacier. The debris on the glacial ice are so thick that a forest grows there now. The pulverized rock and trees that blanket it are thick enough to insulate it from the heat of summer and slow its melt.

By 4:30 we had dropped off the ridge and were descending towards Home Lake. For the next couple hours our views consisted of green alder leaves, branches whipping towards our eyes, and occasional brown splotches of startled moose.

In two hours the bushwhack was over and we were standing in awe at the edge of Home Lake. It was easy to forget the time spent crawling, thrashing, and cursing thru prime moose habitat.

On the water it was magical. Salmon fry jumped around us as we looked west into the headwaters of the Tokositna.

At the end of Home Lake we hopped over the beaver dam into a slough filled with red salmon waiting to be dinner for some of those giant brown beach balls. I couldn't help but notice all the alarmingly large bear trails, and hoped they wouldn't confuse our packrafts with dinner.

With the onset of twilight we camped on a gravel bar. The night was interesting. Local beaver law enforcement took issue with our unsanctioned camp, and spent the night punishing us with loud tail-smacks against the water. It was only too fitting that Sunday morning started with a loud splash as someone tried to raft to shore in their sleeping bag.

By the time I crawled out of the tent, the offending sleeping bag was frozen stiff on the ground.

After using our stoves to defrost our rock-hard shoes we reluctantly slipped into the icy water. Andrew and Nathan wondered how many packrafts it would take to bring along one of the moose breakfasting by the water.

The miles down the slow-flowing slough went pretty quickly. Perhaps because we were paddling as hard as we could to stay warm.

Upon joining the glacial main channel, the water got even colder. But, I think that the mountains made it easier to forget our cold toes.

Around lunchtime we stopped on the frozen bank to warm up. Charlie and I raced each other down the gravel bar until we noticed it was a highway of momma-bear and cub tracks. An encounter with them seemed worse than numb feet.

Curving around the Tokosha mountains, we could see through the Ruth Valley and up to Mount Hunter:

The Ruth River joined us and soon other tributaries followed suit. With each addition we moved faster; and once past the Tokosha Mountain Lodge the pace kicked up and we cruised. Along the river we passed eagles taking a break from fishing for lunch. What a life.

We turned south at the confluence with the Chulita River, and taking one last look at the peaks to the west, we paddled towards the car.

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