Posts Tagged ‘publituk’

Gates of the Arctic, Day 4 and 5

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Day 4

On day 4 of our trip we switched from hiking along Publituk Creek to hiking the ridge above it. The canyons where getting tighter and we feared we would soon be “cliffed out” leaving us unable to proceed. So, we switched to walking along the side hills above the creek. This gave us better views but harder walking with brush and tussocks.

Smoke from the wildfires in interior Alaska started blowing in about midday, and the views disappeared.

After 4 miles or so the creek flattened out and left the cliffs behind, so we dropped back down. When we meet back up with the creek we found part of a old dog sled sticking up from a washed out section of the river bank. It was very difficult imagining what travel would have been like in this area in the winter – the creek we had been walking looked like it would be prone to overflow and I expect it would be difficult traveling. It would be been a very unfortunate place to have a sled fall apart on you.

We continued hiking up the drainage and made great process on the wonderful game trails paralleling the creek. We passed a number of old and not so old hunting camps, probably for late season caribou hunting. We were now well above tree line, with only the occasional poplar tree grove and low brush. Just before we made camp for the night we spotted a very blond brown bear with two cubs. The cubs were very bouncy, jumping around and playing. They stayed a comfortable distance away, much to our happiness. The end of the day was rainy, foggy and generally wet.

Day 5

Day 5 started of quite well, and only got better. We awoke to a clear sky and while the sun was blocked by a set of peaks it looked like we had some good weather ahead of us. The hiking was quite easy as we where now well above tree line and the bush was getting progressively shorter as we moved up the drainage. After a couple of miles we left the Publituk drainage and started up a ridge on our way over to the Tinayguk. The ridges in this area are completely free of brush, with only a thin layer of moss, which makes for fantastic hiking.

We had quite a bit of elevation to gain in the morning so there was lots of uphill hiking.

After lunch we where finally at a point where we could look into the Tinayguk. We aimed to hit the Tinayguk river near a section that is covered by overflow ice. We where told that the area covered by the ice was quite large, but where not expecting it to be that large – there appeared to be a quarter mile of ice still remaining, and the gravelly area without vegetation appeared to be several miles long. In the winter this area must be a real mush fest of overflow. In was very fast walking once we made it to the riverbed.

The area around the overflow ice was completely vegetation free. It was also completely mosquito free, as was our entire time on the Tinayguk.

The river appears to completely disappear under the overflow ice and when it reappears it is too braided with many shallow channels, so we walked the river bed until they formed into something that might be floatable.

Once the channels joined up we inflated the rafts and got floating!

The Tinayguk is a really fun river – its fairly mellow with a number of smaller rock gardens that are not all that difficult. Its just exciting enough to prevent boredom but not so much as to be stressful. Folks floating the Tinayguk in anything but a packraft might was to reconsider – there are lots and lots of shallow riffles with lots of basketball to baseball size rocks, so avoiding running aground and getting stuck requires a fair bit of work. I am not sure how well a folding canoe or kayak would take all the scraping.

After a hour or so of floating we made camp in a wonderful poplar grove.

We spent the evening exploring and doing camp chores. Tom decided that it was time to fix his seat which never seemed to hold air for very long, which on inspection had a valve installed incorrectly from the factory. Marsh and Tom attempted to fix it with aquaseal and tyvek tape, but alas this was not effective. After looking at the rest of the valves on Tom’s boat, at least one other valve was only partially glued on.

Our camp fronted a large pool, which had a school of burbot. Marsh spent a fair bit of time reminiscing about how burbot tastes just like lobster. One of my regrets about this trip was the decision not to take a fishing pole – in addition to the aforementioned burbot, I saw lots and lots of grayling and later on in the trip pike. The fishing looked to be spectacular.

Gates of the Arctic, Days 2 and 3

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

After a rainy night we woke up to a wonderfully sunny day, and continued our float down the John River. At this point the John had a number of interesting rapids, including some fun rock gardens and some more exciting bits including a wall shot and a short Class III bit.

We portaged the class III bit, though I got to get play in the rocks a bit in a unladen packraft, which was quite fun. Alas, the exciting sections where a little too exciting to take the camera out, so no photos.

After the short Class III section there was a longer section of class II, which was very fun – lots of standing waves and a fair number of rocks to dodge. Wet and exciting!

The class II section ends at Till Creek, which was where we decided to camp for the night. Till Creek is a smallish stream with a milky hue that appeared to be glacial fed. The bugs where moderately ferocious.

~15 miles traveled.

The next morning was quite marvelous – nice and sunny. We packed up camp and portaged around the next section which included a “wall shot”, or a hard turn into a rock face. None of us had done anything like that before, and decided to skip it. The walking was quite nice with wonderful views and was surprisingly tussock free.

Once past the cliff faces we then put back in and floated the John until our takeout point at Publituk Creek. This section of the John was fun but not too fun – the occasional standing wave but nothing too scary.

Publituk Creek is a clear, rain fed creek that winds up in the high country though a series of gorges. This area is one of the traditional caribou hunting grounds for the locals, so I expected to see some sign of past visitors. I was quite surprised when we ran into a newly minted cabin. Its hard to tell from the photo, but the walls are only about 2 to 3 ft tall – it seemed like a lot of work for a cabin that would barely have enough headroom for my 3 years olds. I spent a long time wondering what they planned to do with it.

Once past the cabin of the gnomes, we dropped into the creek bed and begin bouncing back and forth across the creek. For the next several miles we followed the creek, crossing back and forth to avoid shear canyon faces and thick brush.

The crossings ranged from a ankle deep to nearly waist deep. Tom was the master of the tevas – he spent the entire day hiking of almost constant water crossings in sandals carrying the heavy pack of doom.

The back and forth avoiding the cliffs river hopping continued for the rest of the day.

At a snack break Marsh discovered that her M&Ms;, granola bars, and cheese sticks had become one. It looked quite delicious, but Tom and I passed.

The creek bed was a veritable sumerhighway for animals. We saw tracks from bears, wolves, lynx, caribou, moose, and assorted smaller tracks we could not identify.

Our campsite for night 3 was spectacular and offered great views of the creek for evening and morning animal watching. Alas, nothing was to be seen, but such is life.

~9 miles.