Read as Bob Vollhaber (aka BeaV) prepares for and attempts a continuous, unsupported 5000 mile canoe adventure to, through, and around Alaska by paddle.
"Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence.
Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent.
Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.
Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts.
Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."
The above map depicts my planned paddle route along the Inside Passage
The above map depicts my planned paddle & portage routes through the Yukon Territory and Alaska
Adventure Description- Inside Passage and Chilkoot Portage
Route Description Overview:I have broken down the Adventure into eleven sections or "legs"each with distinctly different characteristics. The first and longest leg will be to paddle up the pacific coast of Washington State, British Columbia, and SE Alaska (Inside Passage); then portage up and over the coastal mountain range (Chilkoot Pass); then paddle down 900 miles of the Yukon River to the Chandalar River; then paddle/pull up the Chandalar River to it's source; then bushwack portage over some tundra to find the Koyukuk River and stop by my old cabin; then paddle down the Koyukuk to the Yukon River again; then paddle down the rest of the Yukon River to the Bering Sea; then hang a left and paddle the Bering Sea along the SW coast of Alaska to the Kvichak River; then paddle up the Kvichak River to and through Iliamna Lake; then portage through the Alaskan Pennisula mountain range to Cook Inlet; and then, lastly, paddle along the coastline of the Cook Inlet to Anchorage. Determination, persistance, wise decision making, and a little luck will be needed to do the entire route in one season before freezeup.
A more detailed description of each of the eleven legs of the Adventure follows below.
Inside Passage Paddle and Chilkoot Portage:
The Adventure will commence around March 24, 2013 near Bellingham Washington. The first leg of the trip will be paddling up the coasts of British Columbia and southeast Alaska on the route known as the "Inside Passage". The Inside Passage is a 1,300 mile long shipping route from Washington to Skagway Alaska that winds through thousands of islands and provides protection from the sometimes violent sea conditions encountered along the outside passage of the Pacific Ocean. The coastline's climate is that of a temperate rainforest with rugged slopes meeting the ocean and large tidal fluctuations. Expected challenges will be cold oceanwater temperatures, persistant rainfall, high winds, tidal currents, and limited landing sites for resting and protection from wind/storms. This segment will end near Skagway Alaska where the second leg of the Adventure will require portaging canoe and gear along the Chilkoot Trail and over the Chilkoot Pass.
The Chilkoot Trail is a 32-mile trail through the mountains that leads from Dyea, Alaska, just outside Skagway, to Lake Bennett in British Columbia. The trail, which crosses the historic Chilkoot Pass (a 3500 vertical foot climb), was the major access route to the Yukon goldfields during the Klondike Gold Rush that hit its peak in 1897-1899. It was at this time that the Chilkoot Pass earned the nickname "the meanest 32 miles in the world." Expected challenges will be physical (see previous sentence!) compounded by spring trail conditions likely to include mud in the lower elevations and deep, soft snow fields in the higher elevations. My goal is to be able to carry my gear and canoe in two trips (which will equal 96 miles of portaging) in a total of 6 days.
Historical photo of gold rush "Klondikers" (the long black line) climbing toward the Pass
Adventure Description- Upper Yukon River
Upper Yukon River Paddling Route:
I will begin my paddling on the Yukon River at it's source which is in part Lake Bennett after the Chilkoot Pass. I will be timing my arrival here to coincide with when the ice clears from these upper lakes and the river itself. As I paddle downstream, the river will continue to swell in size as other rivers and streams join the Yukon. 2300 miles later (the same length as the Mississippi River), the Yukon River ends at the Bering Sea. The first 900 miles is what I refer to as the Upper Yukon River.
The Upper Yukon River is generally pretty flat, but fast flowing at 4-8 mph on average. The fast current can create dangerous eddies, boils, and whirlpools. The river also carries a tremendous amount of suspended silt which gives the water the appearance of flowing mud. Canoeing this stretch of river will be enjoyable, but avoiding capsize is a must. There are two rapids, Five Fingers and Rinks, neither of these should pose too much of a challenge if run correctly. Much of the time the river flows between fairly high banks, but camping spots are not hard to find. At the Village of Circle there is a change in terrain called the Flats. The Flats are, well, flat. The river is broad and multi-channelled. If I choose the wrong channel, I may find the water is very slow and shallow requiring pulling of the canoe.
Upper Yukon River
Upper Yukon River
Adventure Description- Chandalar River
Chandalar River Route and Tundra Portage:
I will leave the relative ease of paddling down the Yukon River at the confluence of the Chandalar River. This leg of the Adventure will require paddling against the strong currents of the Chandalar River to move upstream on this 150 mile stretch. An Alaskan hunting guide familiar with the Chandalar told me he didn't think it posssible to paddle against the current. Where the current is too strong to paddle, I will pull the canoe using the "lining" method. Lining a canoe is accomplished by tying a rope to the bow and another rope to the stern and pulling both ropes at the same time. The canoe can be steered out into the the river by adjusting the length of the ropes as I'm pulling/walking upstream. The Chandalar River is remote even by Alaskan standards and not much information is available. I will eventually take the West Fork branch to unnamed forks of the river until it becomes a trickle of water and portage from there.
The portage from here will be by bushwacking across the tundra and will require finding the best route through the tundra and Brooks Range foothills- there are no portage trails here. The "here" or starting point will be determined by river water levels. I'm hoping that the length of the portage will not be more than 15 miles but it could be as long as 25 miles. Walking on tundra is no fun! It is like walking on a wet sponge with a maze of raised grass hummocks and areas of almost impenetrable brush and stunted black spruce. My destination is the Koyukuk River drainage- either a navigable creek or the River itself.
Chandalar River Picture
Adventure Description- Koyukuk River
Koyukuk River Route:
I will be glad to be back in my canoe as I travel down the South Fork of the Koyukuk River. After a days travel, I will stop at the site of my cabin that I built and lived-in back in 1989. I am curious to see what has become of my cabin. Paddling this stretch of the Koyukuk will be hard on the canoe bottom because of the shallow, rocky riffles where the water depth is only a couple inches deep. My previous experience here resulted in severely-damaged canoe bottoms. My old fiberglass constructed canoe would only make a few river miles before wearing through. I'm counting on my Sea Wind kevlar hull to perform better on this trip.
According to an experienced Alaska river paddler, the South Fork of the Koyukuk should not be considered for paddling because of the abundance of "sweepers" downstream from the haul road (Dalton Highway). Sweepers are trees that have fallen into the river but their roots are still attached to the bank. They are very effective at catching floating debris (or canoes) from the river water and not releasing them because of the force of flowing water. The Middle and North Forks are the preferred paddling routes, but that is not where my cabin is. Another warning that I can attest to in this part of Alaska- do not have any exposed skin because the mosquitoes are thick!
After the South Fork joins the main channel of the Koyukuk, paddling will be easier for awhile until reaching the lower sections. In the lower section the river enters a vast swampy region known as the "sloughs". River current diminishes to zero through the interconnected sloughs and dead-end oxbow lakes. Locals say that only one or two people per year paddle this part of the Koyukuk. Wildlife is said to be everywhere in this secluded remote section.
The South Fork of the Koyukuk River. Photo taken from my 1989 trip.
My cabin on the Koyukuk River
Adventure Description- Lower Yukon River
Lower Yukon River Route:
I will return to the Yukon River at it's juncture with the Koyukuk River. I will paddle the remainder of the Yukon River to the Bering Sea. The mighty Yukon is wide along this stretch and is subject to wave action just like a large lake. Crossing the Yukon can be dangerous so I will pick a bank and stick near it as much as possible. The total length of the Yukon is about the same as the Mississippi River.
Adventure Description- Bering Sea to the End
Final Routes (Kind 0f):
The last four legs of the adventure will be to paddle 1000 miles of Bering Sea coast to Kvichak River, paddle up the Kvichak River to Iliamna Lake, portage across a mountain pass to get to Cook Inlet, and finally paddle the Cook Inlet to Anchorage. The Bering Sea coastline will be a formidable challenge. I was unable to learn of anyone who has paddled this coastline in my research. Limited landing sites, vast tidal mud flats, and, of course at times, nasty sea conditions are some of the obstacles to contend with.
I will be relieved to be off the Bering Sea as I paddle against the current of the Kvichak River that flows out of Iliamna Lake. Iliamna Lake is a huge lake (8th largest in North America) even though it looks small on the Alaska maps. It always amazes how vast and enormous Alaska is.
After portaging my gear again, I will make it into the Cook Inlet that leads to Anchorage. I was hoping that this last leg of the trip would be easy, but that's not the case. More mud flats and huge tidal swings over 30 feet await me. My original goal was to reach Anchorage in mid November but have decided to paddle harder and make it there in early October. Mission accomplished, but if I still feel up to it, I may paddle back to Juneau along the Gulf of Alaska. This would add over 800 miles more to the adventure.
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Monday, April 1, 2013
Pictures From Bob's Departure
No word from Bob today, but we received some great pictures from Shawna and Leon from Body Boat Blade! They took pictures as he was loading his canoe and as he paddled away. Hope everyone enjoys the pictures as much as we did. Hope to have another update soon!
Kayla and Cassie
Bob's gear including his blue barrel food container.
Ready to go!
Putting all the gear in his canoe. It's looking pretty full!