THE STATE OF ALASKA TENDS TO BREED IDEAS LARGER THAN LIFE. THERE IS JUST SOMETHING ABOUT THE SHEER AMOUNT OF UNTRAMMELED WILDERNESS THERE THAT SEEMS TO SPARK A FIRE IN FOLKS. SO, WHEN WE DECIDED WE WANTED TO PUT SOME OF OUR NEWEST GEAR TO THE TEST, WE REACHED OUT TO SOME OF OUR FAVORITE GUIDES FOR OUTING IDEAS.
Eschewing more traditional adventures, we decided to spend five days exploring the rivers surrounding remote Chelatna Lake just outside of Denali National Park & Preserve.
Deposited deep in the wilderness by a tiny red helicopter, the team would load up their gear in inflatable pack rafts and head out on the icy cold waters. Fed by glacial runoff and the spiderweb of streams flowing down the surrounding mountainsides, each ferrying fresh rainfall towards the sea, the rivers could be perfectly clear or thick with glacial silt almost blue-grey in color. The banks of the rivers often were thick with dense stands of Alder and willows, forming a virtually impenetrable mesh of branches that added to the sense of isolation. They were in territory that few humans had ever visited. It was the turf of bears, moose, elk, and other animals.
THERE IS JUST SOMETHING ABOUT THE SHEER AMOUNT OF UNTRAMMELED WILDERNESS THERE THAT SEEMS TO SPARK A FIRE IN FOLKS
Coffee Creek, Cripple Creek, Snowslide Creek, Lake Creek, and Sunflower Creek appear to most people as little blue lines surrounded by green on a map. Few people even know their name. They are just one more location in the immenseness that is Alaska. That’s what made the adventure so appealing; there was minimal information about them. Few if any persons had ever recorded navigating them.
The rivers required focus to navigate. Hidden gravel bars and sweeper snags could wreak havoc, possibly upending a raft and sweeping someone under. Throughout the trip, the park’s looming peaks kept them company while the massif that is Denali towered overall. When they reached the end of each float, or a spot looked good, the fly rods would materialize, and lines were quickly wet. Each person would chase a rainbow trout’s sparkle, the bulk of a Pacific salmon, or their nightly dinner an Arctic Grayling.
Driftwood crackled each night as river cooled beverages were consumed and stories were swapped. Each person regaled the others with tales from their own adventures in the state. Tents swallowed by the approaching nightfall sat on sandy beaches washed over with the sound of running water. Happily worn out, they would crawl into their sleeping bags excited about what the next day would bring. In the morning, they knew it was time to head out when they would hear the distinctive thwacking of the rotor blades as their transport would arrive to ferry them to their next jumping-off point.
That's what made the adventure so appealing; there was minimal information about the routes. Few if any persons had ever recorded navigating them.
At the end of the five days, close to fifty miles of water had been visited. A few of the Alaskan Range’s secrets had been revealed, and lifelong memories were created, ones that were made from sweat and smiles, ones that tend to grow brighter with time. That’s what leaving the grid can do for you.