Epic Yukon River Journey: Days 15 -17
Eagle to Slavens Roadhouse
Before leaving Eagle, Kenneth and I had been able to sit and talk. Each of us had set out on the Yukon River by ourselves with the idea of making it a solo journey to the Bering Sea. In a round-about, undecided way we breached the idea of maybe, perhaps, and kind of, we might paddle together to the Bering. Each of us was somewhat apprehensive and uncertain about the other since we had only known each other just a few hours.
I suspect when Kenneth looked at me he saw an old guy who he thought would be unable to keep up with him and thus keep him from reaching the sea. I, on the other hand, was still leery of forming a paddling partnership with anyone. That feeling was still there from my first trip when Dick Postma joined me several miles below Dawson. He and I paddled together a couple of weeks until we split up at Tanana, Alaska. Initially Dick asked if he could join me and I assented—after all I didn't own the river. By the time I left him in Tanana, he thought my role was to serve him and take care of his needs.
So, Kenneth and I made no commitments to each other but left the idea open-ended. We left Eagle at about the same time after a big breakfast (four large pancakes for me for $6.00). Kenneth pushed off before me and said, "See you on the river." That sounded fine with me. By the time I had settled into my kayak, Kenneth was about one mile down the river. He had not waited for me. Just took off. That was just great in my mind. I did not have to rush because someone was waiting for me and he did not have to become impatient because he had to wait on me. I think both of us felt that if we saw each other on river again, that was fine; if we didn't, that was fine also.
The sky was overcast, which I appreciated since I would not have to put on any sunscreen. At noon I found a sheltered place to have lunch. As I was eating, rain showers began to fall and I hurried to put on my rain gear. I jumped back into the kayak, pushed off and finished lunch on the river as I drifted along. It wasn’t raining hard, so my sandwich did not become soggy.
By the time I was back on the river, I had lost sight of Kenneth. Either he was way ahead of me or in some side channel of the river. At about 2:00 I saw a cabin in the distance on the left bank and turned in that direction. The cabin was on a rocky cliff about twenty feet above the river with no apparent easy way to get to it. As I got closer, I saw that there was a crane-like device fixed to the rocks above the river. At the end of the cables, hanging from the crane, was a hook. At first I mistook it for a noose and was about to paddle back to middle of the river. Because there seemed to be no easy access to the cabin, supplies were probably unloaded from a boat using the crane.
Just past the rocky cliff, I saw Kenneth's kayak and sitting on the rock, high above the river was Kenneth having his lunch. I called to him and we waved to each other as I passed by. After some time he caught up to me and we paddled together—that is, in the same vicinity on the river. When we got to Glenn Cabin, Kenneth pulled off. Since it was just 4:00 I continued. A couple of hours later he caught up with me again. At first I thought he was going to stay at the cabin but he said he just wanted to look it over.
Kenneth at the Forty Mile Cabin, below Dawson City, earlier in his trip.
© Kenneth Urnes
Continuing on, we came upon several pairs of swans with their broods paddling along with them. I kept one eye on the swans and one on the river and avoided some sandbars. Suddenly, Kenneth dropped behind and for a moment I thought my progress down the river had increased tremendously. Alas, that was not the case. Kenneth had been watching the swans with both eyes and had run aground on a sandbar. The current was holding him fast. Glancing back, I saw him climb out of the kayak, drag it off the sandbar and climb back in.
Once again he caught up with me. Soon we passed the mouth of the Charlie River. It was easy to identify it by the mud flats at its mouth. At that point I knew we were close to Slavens Roadhouse but it was not until 10:00 pm that we actually got there. We had paddled about 100 miles (or about 160 K) that day according to our maps.
Far enough for one day!
Slavens Roadhouse can be seen from close to two miles away because the metal roof shines like a beacon when the sun is out. Even when the sun is not shining brightly, the light still bounces off the roof and announces its presence to river travelers. Slavens is a two-story log building which was used by miners working the creek for gold many years ago. Now it is used occasionally by caretakers who stay there during the couple of months of the short summer. In the vicinity are three small cabins available for travelers on a first-come, first-served basis.
The newest cabin is about a quarter mile from the river. But since it is the most comfortable, we checked it first. It was unoccupied so we brought our gear to it. The cabin has a propane stove, a wood burning stove, four beds (two with mattresses, two with four inch thick foam pads), a table with four chairs and some other assorted kitchen things.
When all of our things were in the cabin, I fired up the wood burning stove to both warm the cabin and to dry some of our clothing. It had rained for 13 hours that day. By the time I had rolled out my sleeping bag, hung the wet clothing to dry and eaten my supper it was close to 1:00 a.m.
It was 10:00 the next morning when hunger drove me out of my sleeping bag. My breakfast consisted of four packets of instant oatmeal with blueberries I had dehydrated myself before the trip. In the package my wife, Maija, had sent me, were several packets of instant cappuccino. That tasted great with the oatmeal. As I ate, I realized that I was having brunch, not just an ordinary, every-day breakfast.
The rain continued to fall. It had rained the rest of the night and was still coming down. I figured I would stay at the cabin the rest of the day and the following day also. I was happy for the rain because apparently I did not have the sense (yet) to get off the river and rest once in a while. The rain prevented me from leaving because I don't like to pack my gear into the kayak when it is raining. So, I had a restful and relaxing day. That gave Kenneth and me a chance to talk and get to know each other a little better.
Kenneth told me that while he had been in Eagle, being processed by the Customs Agent, he had also talked to some other people in the village. One person was a native who had rescued a German couple who had been stranded on an island. They had no gear, no canoe and no warm clothing. Apparently, as they had paddled a very over-loaded canoe down the river, they had come too close to a logjam across the mouth of a slough. The force of the river's current pushed the canoe against the logjam and then forced the outside edge of their canoe down far enough that the current capsized the canoe. The force of the water filled the canoe and swept it under the logjam. Their canoe and all of its contents disappeared and never came back up.
Fortunately for the couple, they managed to scramble to the top of the logjam and saved themselves. They made their way to a sandbar of the island and spent a couple of days there before they were seen and rescued. There are many channels on any section to the Yukon. That means if one is stranded somewhere off the main channel, it may be days before another boat passes by.
As a footnote, there was some mention made of a guitar being part of the total loss. When the couple was found, all they had were the clothes on their backs. Their money was gone. Their passports were gone. Their food was gone. And any means of making a fire was gone also. In my life jacket pockets (and my pants zippered pockets) there were always some food bars, lighters, a multi-tool knife, credit card, phone card, driver's license, passport, money and my whistle. After that account, I always checked for those items before setting off on the river.
I asked Kenneth if he had kayaked any other rivers, lakes or if he had done any ocean kayaking. He said he had: Prince William Sound with its sixty foot tides, the fjords in Norway, the Charlie River to the Yukon and on to Circle. In response to another question from me, he said he had rolled his kayak once. Unfortunately it was on Lake Laberge on this same trip.
Kenneth said his borrowed folding kayak (Ally) had no sprayskirt and was greatly overloaded with food and gear, a good part of it being tied to the fore and aft deck. He added that there were large, wind-generated waves coming from his left. Somehow he was able to keep most of the water out of his open-cockpit kayak. Then, a much larger wave caught him off guard, tipped the kayak, filled it with water and rolled it over. The inflatable bladders kept it afloat. Kenneth said he was about 100 meters from shore and began to swim toward it while pulling the kayak. The water in Laberge is usually around 45 degrees.
It was going very, very slowly for him so he pulled out a couple of dry bags and swam to shore with them. He then swam out two more times to retrieve more dry bags and swam to shore with them. Back on shore he waited for the wind to blow the kayak to shore but that was not happening. The kayak was drifting parallel to the shoreline. So, Kenneth plunged back in once more, swam to the kayak and was able to pull it to shore because then it was much lighter. When he finally got back to shore, he was so cold he could not start a fire. He had to run up and down the shoreline until he was warm enough to hold a match to start a fire. He then spent the rest of the day and all of the following day drying out his gear. He was beginning to sound like a person who I would not mind kayaking with long distance.
Kenneth, with his greatly overloaded kayak, on Lake Laberge, earlier in his trip. © Kenneth Urnes
When the rain finally stopped at noon it had fallen for 24 hours. Eventually, a small streak of blue appeared low on the horizon, just above the mountains across the river. My split thumbs (from the constant soaking and drying) had finally healed but the skin was so thick I could hardly feel anything with them, making it harder to pick up small objects. I took a look at Kenneth's maps which he had run off from Google Earth. There is a subscription fee but the first 30 days are for free (Hmmmm).
Before turning in for the night (Remember, "night" was still just a word for the time spent sleeping. There was no connection to darkness as yet.), I threw some more wood into the stove. The caretakers kept a large supply of firewood by the cabin—about two cords.
I slept soundly, even with the lights turned on outside.
Show Low, Arizona