KAREN & ROB'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE
- Lining up the Chandalar River in Alaska
It all began 10 years ago with a four-month mountain biking trip from Seattle to La Paz, Bolivia. That experience was enough to hook Karen Holm and Rob Walker on human-powered adventure. In 2000, they built two wooden sea kayaks in Glacier Bay, Alaska and paddled 1500 miles to Lopez Island in the San Juan Islands of Washington. In 2004, they spent six months traveling 1850 miles of Chilean Patagonia by sea kayak.
Last year, they dreamed up the Three Rivers Traverse, a 3-month, 1403-mile multi-modal odyssey. It all started in Skagway, Alaska. The plan was to canoe 4.5 miles to the Chilkoot Trailhead, pack up their 40-pound folding canoe and hike 33 miles along the old Klondike route to the headwater lakes of the Yukon River, re-assemble their canoe, paddle 1000 miles down the Yukon River and then up the East Fork of the Chandalar River to its source, traverse the Romanzof Mountains in the Brooks Range and follow the Okpilak River across the coastal plain of the Artic National Wildlife Refuge to the final destination of Kaktovik. Whew, now there's a run-on sentence.
All went well at first, successfully navigating snow on the Chilkoot (they came prepared with snowshoes) and enjoying favorable currents and daily moose sightings along the Yukon. Karen's rendition follows:
"At first with the high Yukon water joining the mouth of the Chandalar, the current was slow and we continued paddling. But traveling up river proved to be challenging. We mistakenly thought by the time we crossed the Arctic Circle we would be far enough north that the forests would open up to a hikable passage. What we found was dense undergrowth as thick as any Olympic Peninsula off-trail route, forcing us to stick to the river. But the Chandalar quickly became too swift for constant paddling so we resorted to a system of lining and dashing. One person would take the bow and stern lines and set the angle like the bridle of a kite. Using the current to hold the bow off shore they would pull the weight of the loaded canoe with the stern-line. Where one gravel bar ended, another would inevitably appear on the opposite shore. At that point, we would hop in the canoe and paddle furiously against the current, to ferry across channel." "After one week of upriver travel, we arrived at the Gwich'in village of Venetie to re-supply. Our journey upriver dumbfounded the locals who made comments like, 'I don't think anyone has ever done that before' and 'It's much easier to go down river.'"
"Turning up the East Fork of the Chandalar River, the challenge level escalated. When our stress level rose with the quickening current and steep sided bars for lining, we tried hiking bars and wading shallows. When hiking was blocked once again by thickets, we returned to lining or trying new forms of short portages. Our travel days grew longer, as we struggled to make 10 miles per day. After several days we recognized that our 10- day supply of food would fall short. It would be at least two weeks before we arrived in Arctic Village. Our food and our time were running out. [But at least Karen had carefully rationed the chocolate!] With much deliberation, we decided to end our adventure when we reached Arctic Village."
"Although we ended the trip approximately 180 miles short of our original destination, we had safely paddled, portaged, lined, and dragged our red canoe more than 1200 miles in 55 days to get there. We realized that the leg through the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge was a jewel that we would need to return to with more time and energy to complete."
Last week, occasional Source reader Peter Balestrieri slammed me for writing, while we all waited for snow, about two former pro riders in Bend who teach indoor cycling classes. He questioned whether I was HARDCORE enough to write the Outdoors column or whether I at least had any HARDCORE friends (see above!). Now, I'll freely admit that I have never slept inside a sheep carcass. I did shear a sheep in New Zealand last Christmas, but that probably doesn't count. I do have an idea for a future column, though. I was thinking that Mr. Balestrieri could sign up for the Pole Pedal Paddle solo division along with me. Winner takes all-whoever loses has to write 800 words about it.