This trip started with a text message, a voice mail, and then another phone call… all in quick sucession on a Wed morning… all to me from one guy.
No, actually, it started the Sunday before that. My new friend Dan, and actually our new pastor at church, had planned out his yearly hunting trip with a buddy. They go out to Dans remote wilderness property in north western bush Alaska for a week of camping, fishing, and mainly moose hunting.
They were slated to leave on Monday the 14th, Early. At around midnight Sunday night, Dan got a text from his buddy; he’d been puttering around cleaning up his garage and thrown out his back… Couldn’t move.
They gave it some rest and pain killers, and waited til Wed morning, trying to get it to straiten out. No luck. So Dan, still wanting to take the trip, and especially since this was to be his sons first moose hunt, wanting another able bodied adult along, called me. He had known that I, having never shot or cleaned a moose, was apprehensive of going hunting on my own, and that I was trying to find an experianced hunter to go out with. Perfect for both of us!
After hearing the details, I thought long and hard about it… for about 40 seconds! 😉
This was actually a big leap for me, my first true camping trip, and first trip any distance by boat, and first trip this far into the bush, by land or water.
Having heard some of his stories, knowing of his vast experiance on the rivers, and knowledge of the area were re assuring. So was the knowledge that he’d just bought a 11’X11′ wall tent that came with its own wood stove. 😀
And honestly, I try to be rather adventurous, and will generally try just about anything at least once, so saying yes wasn’t much of a leap.. 😉
I was also trusting my faith in our God, knowing he might be testing me, but also trusting him to guide me, and actually us, to havign a safe trip..
The property, is ony accessible by boat(or bush plane if your so inclined with $$$), and about a 4 hour boat trip at that, and 30 miles from any civilization in only two directions, hundreds in the other direction, is literally past the last edge of civilization, and on the leading edge of extreme wilderness.
My adventure started that Wed afternoon, running around town and buying gear… Mainly rubber tubs with locking lids for my gear to stay dry on the boat, and a set of rain gear to keep me dry.
And as a side point, it dawned on me then, that in my 30 years in Alaska, about 16 of them outfitting myself, and buying gear, I have NEVER owned a set of waterproof rain gear before. Amazing considering how much I’ve worked and played in the rail over the years, and some of it week long jobs in the pouring rain…
I managed to get a set of Frog Toggs at Wally world. Cheap and light weight, I had my doubts, but soposedly wind and waterproof, while breathable, they were all I could find at such short notice, and all I could affor anyway. ($40)
The reason for the rain gear is the 30 mile boat ride in an open boat… Cold and Wet!
The short notice you ask? Plan was to leave Early Thursday morning!
And whats the boat like, your also wondering? Its a 18′ or 20′ canadian freight canoe.
I was up to 1am that night packing food, gear and guns. And after a short sleep got to Dans at about 8am, an hour later than planned…
That was the first 20 miles of the trip, home to there. My truck was left and I rode with Dan and his sone the rest of the way.
From there, its about 148 miles to the river, the Tanana at Manley Hot Springs. Two lane black top for about 55 miles until the Livengood cutoff(highway change just before the mining town of Livengood). Cell reception ceases to exist at about mile 25 of that. Then its almost 100 miles of 1.5 or even 1 lane dirt. It varries. They had a large section of it tore up for road work, so some of it was 20 miles of rutted mud spread out dispersed in with gravel, cliffs, tundra, etc.. The average AK highway really.
At about 15 miles shy of Manley, you pass the road into Eureka, where my property is. And before this trip, my definition of being in bush Alaska… Now, after this trip, that drive and going up there seems, and will be a LOT less daunting to commit to doing.
Once to Manley, a couple hours loading the boat, and we were on the river.
The launch there is entertaining, and unfortunetally I didn;t get a pic… its a 8′ mud bank, sheear drop, with a 3 or 4 foot wide area at waters level, thankfully for laoading up.
The ramp is about 20′ long cut at a 45deg angle into it. Its steep, slick, and did I mention steep and slick? We had no trouble with Dans boat, but on the way home, before we got out of there, we had to chain up to a guy and pull him up the ramp, his boat being too heavy to get up it.
We also witnessed another heavy one, where the guy had a IMO under rated truck hooked to it, a 3/4 ton (at the most) Chevy… At the end of that it was that Chevy and TWO more i ton dually Dodges hooked in line, to get that boat up the ramp! (A North Force full cabin river boat, inboard motor, fully loaded, about 5,000 lbs of boat at least). As I said,that launch is “Entertaining”. 😉
At this point I;ve aready gone 168 miles, in about 6 hours. Then we started down river, for 30 miles, which took about 5 hours. In those next 30 miles we had motor trouble(bad gas, and learning the ins and outs of a borrowed motor) almost lost the motor because of a mount incompatability issure… ALmost got swamped and sunk is 5′ cresting waves from the wake of a Huge river freight barge in some shallows about 10 miles in.
Our biggest issure was from that barge wake, and I should note there was no opperator erro in that incident… we were as far from the barge as we could get, and in Years up there Dan has never encountered waves like that in one of those wakes. But our big issue was that we unexpectedly got water over the sides into the boat at that point, splashing us, and Dans son. We then fought wet gloves, wet and COLD hands for the rest of the day, especially Dans son, who at one point lost foeeling in his hands, and then after applying chemical hand warmers, his hands ached as they warmed… Dangerously cold. We ended up with him wrapped in a tarp to keep him from the wind, eain, and spray for the last half of the trip.
I’ve been much colder on snowmobiling trips… Not as wet, but much colder, so I wasnt bothered much. My biggest issue was that the rubber boots I took were old, and I found out the hard way with Wet feet; dry rotted and cracked. Chemical foot warmers, and keeping my legs moving while sitting/ridding made it berrable and safe enough.
On the return trip, I wore my hiking boots. The ones that are winter boots, Cabelas winter hikers, rated to -40F, that have always been water proof… Guess when they decided to stop being water proof? Yup. One boot leaked… I must admit the other was my fault, I believe I got water over the top of it.
So I manages 60 miles round trip on a river with wet cold feet. Next time; I take the freaking hip waders. 😉
By the time we got to the property it was about 7pm, and we were fighting for daylight.
At whick point we still had to assemble camp, which involved me finishing the deck on the tent platform with the several hundred pounds of plywood we hauled in. Dan cut spruce poles for the tent.
This was the first time he had ever set the tent up, and we did a lousy job! But it worked and was a perfctly warm and dry home for two more days…
We basically cut the ploes too short. They sit in an A frame, and we cut them to the width of the tent… Later realizing they should be wider, to alow the tent to hang inside the pole ends, allowing height for the walls etc to be straight. So we ended up with a slumped, slouching wall tent.
We guy lined ALL the points out though(used up 100′ of paracord, and all the sisal line that came with the tent, probably 30′ more) tarped over it and it worked great. Just looked terrible. It was 1030 and pitch black before we got to actually get in the tent, have dinner and crash by about 1am.
And, I must say, I Loved all of it!
The next day was spent looking at the area, sitting in camp around the fire doing moose calls, and just relaxing.
The property sits on a natural game crossing of the side river there, about 400 yards up from its confluence with the Tanana. Its the only easy place close to the tanana, for game to cross that river, and thus is a perfect place to sit and call moose. A LOT of moose have been taken there over the years.
We also did some fishing, but unfortunetally the pike weren’t biting.
We didn’t connet with a moose either. WIth only one full day to be there, it wasn’t long enough. With a full week to work the area, there is little chance of not getting meat… We just didn;t have enough time.
Don’t get me wrong, we tried hard, that night we milked it for all we could, sitting around the fire and calling, and hiking around camp in the driving rain and wind, until after dusk.
It was Cold and Wet, but fantastic times!
We headed back the next morning, a reversal of the first day.
Taking down and storring that tent for the first time was a learning experiance. We got on the river at a good time, and no engine troubles on this trip, although we did run aground in a shallow spot once.
THAT was interesting, because you end up standing Outside the boat, in about 8” of water, in the middle of the river. Literally; There was about 1/4 mile to the bank on either side of us! Didn’t take long, 15 min max to work it off the sand bar and re-route around it.
Thats when I misstepped and got water over the top of one boot. Like I said, next time; hip waders!
I was verry happy at thoat point we hadn’t gotten a moose; 1000lbs of meat in that boat would have been a real pain in the butt to gett off that sand bar!
And actually, early that morning, before first light, Dan and I were up when we should have been going out to hunt first light… It was still cold, raining steady and windy… We talked about it, and agreed that it was a Bad idea to shoot anything that morning. With the foul weather, the time it would take to process the animal added to the trip back time, we would be dead tired, and WAY later than we needed to be.
Just wouldn’t have been a safe idea to get that cold and wet processing a moose, then get on that river.
By the time we got off the river, it was about 6pm. The drive back was the same adventure reversed, just all of it in the dark this time, although we managed to get past the worst of the muddy spotts by late dusk. We hit town about 12 midnight. I got homw around 130 am Sunday. Dan had to preach that morning, and did… I missed the ealeiest service, but was there for normal morning service.
If we had gotten a moose that morning, or on the drive back, we woudn’t have gotten to town by 3am if not 4am.. and man it would have been a miserable Sunday morning.
As far as hunting overall, it was the right place, wrong time from the sign we had, a bull had been through a few days before we got there, and from the looks of things if we’d had a full week there, we no doubrt would have connected. like most failed hunts, just bad timming.
All things considered though, it was All great fun, a little hairy, even frightening in places, but still all fun, and I wouldn’t trade the whole trip for the world.
It was so fantastic being up there, so far from anything, a true feeling of freedom. IT was SO quiet. I mean, I live in a rather rural area, out in the woods, but we still have civilization noises… Or being up at Eureka is out in the sticks, but its still close to other people(relatively…) But out there, that far up the river, the only other contact with anyone, the only sounds of people were the once or twice daily boat heard on the main river, and maybe a bush plane going over. It was GREAT!
I actually got about 1.5 hours alone in camp while Dan and his son went grouse hunting on that secong afternoon. With the quiet, and the river, and all of Gods created wonder around me… I can’t describe how calm and wonderful it was. Can’t wait till I get to go up there again!
This tree is over 4′ diameter at the base… unreal old growth forest, pretty rare to see up here, most of it was logged off in the first of the last century.
cow moose tracks, bull moose tracks and Grizzly tracks, all within a week or so, two at the max, previous of our being there…
Some of the drive;
What an adventure!