Sunday, December 15, 2013

My spring float trip.

It was a late spring in early 2013. Cool temps in mid april had halted the snow melt. I had hoped to ride my ATV down to my landing, but that was not going to be possible. So I was left with the only other alterative. Walking.
Leaving home is never easy. It takes about an hour to close up the cabin, if I've done some prep work the day before. The morning I left, I started at 5 a.m. first call. The kids and I ate some cold pancakes, I made the day before. I heated up the last of yesterdays coffee and sipped on that while I stored, atv, snowmobile seats and storage barrels inside the cabin. the reason I put the barrels inside, is to "take up", room so a bear can't manouver as easily if it gets in. The bear boards only take a few minutes, and by 7:30 I was on my way.
The morning temps the previous, couple days were in the low 40's when I got up, but today was colder... at +28. This would help in the walking as the snow would hold my snowshoes better. It was the middle of may, and there was still several feet of rotten snow on the ground.
The first challenge was to cross the little overflow creek that runs from the little lakes to the east. The creek bed is normally dry except during spring melt and long periods of rain.
I carried my pack across, then returned to carry my young dog across, as the creek was running high and fast enough to require chest waders. Uljas did jump across a narrow spot, but nearly went in.
Then it was just a slow plodding walk in snowshoes. I had to change out of my waders as the temp was rising pretty fast. I was running a bit behind and didn't get to the river until 10:30.
By then the snow was getting very soft. I drug the zodiac down to the bank of the Talkeetna river, along with paddles, floor boards and the gear I had carried down earlier last week.
By 11:30 I had the raft pumped up, loaded and was ready to go.... I took a short break to rest as I was going to be quite busy the next 4-5 hours...
I shoved off by noon and worked my way out of the slow back channel and into the main current. It wasn't much further than 1/4 mile when I noticed a decided cold wetness in the raft. I had put my chest waders and barn boots back on in case I needed to jump out and beach the raft. Taking my attention off the current I looked around to see about 6" of water in the raft. It has a rigid plywood floor that sits above the bottom of the boat by about 3 inches, but the water was above that!
Dang... there was no turning back now! I was sure I had checked the scupper plugs, and the raft had never been wet before other than splash over... Regardless.. all my stuff was going to get soaked, and my dogs weren't liking it...
I was running with just canoe paddles as one of my oars had broken, and I hadn't found replacements yet. I looked for any sign of exposed gravel bank to pull up too, but everything was a shelf of broken ice about a foot thick. The river had fallen after freeze up and the ice shelf was up to, two feet above the water line.
We floated along through the area's of fast current, and those stetches of river where it didn't even look as though we were moving at all. trying to paddle a semi flooded raft was tiring and frustrating. It had no handling ability at all. Several times I was bumped into large chunks of ice, when I could not get the raft into the proper current. The best I could hope to do was push off and hope I didn't puncture the main air bladder. Tree's in the river where my biggest worry. A tear would be the end of the trip, and maybe the end of me!
We were nearing the Clear creek area. Perhaps a mile above, when I heard the sound of strong current. I looked ahead to see a wall of jumbled ice, but no visible way through! Icejam..... Another concern I had actually discounted. I looked and looked for a channel through, as we steadily got closer. But there was none. I grabbed onto a large chunk of ice and managed to stop the raft about 25 yards or so above the jam. Trying to clamber out of the raft and keep ahold of it proved difficult, but I made it to the ice without losing hold of my line. I then stepped off the chunk onto what I believed to be a solid gravel bar. I pulled the raft more securely onto the ice. As I did so, the chunk I had stood on just a few moments before, broke free of it's mooring and floated down river, to become lodged in the jam.
On solid ground, at least for the moment, I surveyed the icejam. I could see the water being funneled under the ice with a lot of force. I wold have been pulled directly into it with no way out. As I watched the ice groaned and cracked and moved. It wanted to break, but coudn't. I'm glad I hadn't decided to stay on that chunk a moment longer!
I needed to get around this obsticle. I unloaded the zodiac, pulled it onto the ice and pulled the scupper plugs to empty the raft out. It weighed a ton!... Then the dogs and I crossed the gravel bar to the other side. water was running shallow across the far end. The water wanted through, and was cutting a new opening, into another channel, that was open. It wasn't deep, but it was my only choice. I returned to the raft, secured the dogs to my backpack and drug the raft across to the other channel. Followed by the gear and dogs. Every trip the ice got slushier. It was warming up fast, and I didn't want to be anywhere near that icejam if it broke free. I pumped up the bladders, reloaded the gear and dogs, and pushed the raft into the water. It was shallow enough that I had to line the raft about 50 yards in order to float it, with me in it.. But we got going..
Back to a soon half filled raft, we resigned ourselves to it, and paddled on.... Other than a few bumps with the ice we didn't do to badly. We arrived at clear creek, to see a few people fishing. the river was quite wide here and had good current due to several streams feeding into it nearby... We couldn't make much small talk, as I was in a hurry to complete this trip. About a mile downstream I spotted a nice clear gravelbar near a feeder creek. Once again I pulled ashore and unloaded the dogs and gear. They were quite happy to lie in the warming sand, as I unloaded and drained the raft once more. We were getting close to finishing and I was really looking forward to getting away from the river. In the water once more, our boat didn't stay dry for long. Where the water was entering was anybodies guess. It was always dry, but we had used the raft to shuttle supplies across river last fall. We had three seperate channels to cross and that left us with having to unload each time and portage gear, canoes and raft, across gravel bars. Not all of which were ice and snow covered. I was thinking we had worn a hole in the bottom then... But it was irrelevant now...
We paddled on... As we neared "Archers", boat launch, I surveyed the bank. Thick ice had formed during freeze up. As it warmed it had broken off, and there was literally no bank. Just a shelf of one foot thick ice about head high, if I stood up in the raft. Absolutely no place to grab onto let alone land! Eventually though, I found places where the ice shelf had broken off and formed something of a ramp onto the shore. As I approached my proposed take out point, I spied a few characters that I know, standing there on the bank drinking beer, I hurled a barb or two at them, and they returned in kind as I drifted by. They own the lots just upstream from my take out point. I decided to hop onto the ice at the first place that looked good. then I lined the rafted the rest of the way, finding a nice little opening in the ice which would allow the raft to sit without fear of drifting downstream. The ice shelf was also broken off into a ramp, which pleased me to no end! Mike (my ride), called. He was in the area, but needed to know exactly which lot I was at. He arrived a few minutes later, as I was unloading the raft and carrying the gear up to were the truck could park. I emptied the raft of water one more time, and we drug her up off the river through knee deep snow. As I deflated the raft, I commented on the conditions on the way down. During the process of folding the raft to stow in the box of the pickup, I saw the tear in the fabric (patch actually), right at the transom... Well, that was easy! Fortunately, I brought my barge cement with me... now I just need some nice weather, to start repairs in. For now I was happy just to get into something drier and a bit warmer. It would take a few day's to dry everything out. The trip was a bit more difficult than I had anticipated. The hole in the zodiac being the worst of it. But other than being a bit chilly we were fine.
I'm thinking that once I get the zodiac repaired it might make a nice tradition to float out every spring.

Here is my launch point. As you can see there is still a lot of snow and ice on the river, for the middle of may. The slow shallow channel in the front of the photo is were I put the zodiac in at.

As you can see the river get pretty narrow in places!

This is the snow covered gravel bar I took out at to portage around the ice jam. note the drag marks left by the zodiac. In the far distance you can see the raft. (marked with the word zodiac!).

Here you can see the water that was overflowing the gravel bar, being pushed to find a route past the backup caused by the icejam. Only a few inches deep it wasn't enough to get the raft through by any means. Just to the right of the photo is the back channel I put the raft in to continue my journey. The channel itself was not deep enough to float the raft with me in it, so I lined the raft down to deeper water. Basically I walked down stream pulling the raft by rope.

I would have taken better photo's however, when things got exciting, I was quite busy trying steer a water logged raft around trees and large chunks of ice.... Sorry... I'll try harder next time!!