"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."

Calvin Coolidge

Inside Passage

Inside Passage
The above map depicts my planned paddle route along the Inside Passage

Yukon/Alaska Overview

Yukon/Alaska Overview
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.

Chilkoot Pass

Chilkoot Pass
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
Upper Yukon River

Yukon River

Yukon River
Further Downstream

"The Flats"

"The Flats"
"The Flats"

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

Chandalar River Picture
Chandalar River

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.

Koyukuk River

Koyukuk River
The South Fork of the Koyukuk River. Photo taken from my 1989 trip.

Koyukuk Cabin

Koyukuk Cabin
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.


Post Description

Below are my blog posts with the most recent on top. Click on "Older Posts" at the bottom of postings to see older hidden posts.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Return to Minnesota

I flew back to Anchorage a few days after my niece's wedding only to find out that my ferry was delayed 2 days due to bad winds.  No complaints from me as being delayed in Alaska is a good thing.  My friend Mark and I used this extra time to charter a halibut fishing trip out of Homer with good results. 

The Alaska Ferry ship Kennecott was further delayed due to wind but eventually arrived and I boarded her for a ride to Juneau.  Interesting to note that a 400 foot long ship can also be adversely affected by wind/waves as my 17 foot canoe often was.  What a nice change of pace to just sit back and enjoy the ride through the Gulf of Alaska.  I really enjoyed the ride as the winds picked up to 50 mph gusting to 65 mph for most of a day.  The crew told me the captain considered going to port to avoid the wind but ultimately decided to stay out.

The storm delayed our arrival into Juneau causing us to get there around 4 am.  I was pleasantly surprised to have someone call my name as I departed the ferry.  Local resident, Mike F., had gotten up in the middle of the night to come pick me up at the ferry terminal.  I ended up staying with Mike and his wife, Noreen, at their home for a few days while I was waiting for the next ferry to arrive.  Mike and Noreen both work for the US Coast Guard and had followed my adventure.  I had a great time trading stories and hanging out with them- thanks Mike and Noreen for being such great hosts!

While in Juneau, I wanted to canoe up to a glacier somewhere.  The Mendenhall Glacier is close to town so that was my destination only I chose to get there the hard way.  Most people drive to Mendenhall Lake and put in there, I decided to do it by paddling from Mike and Noreen's place.  I put in at Fritz Cove and paddled to and up the Mendenhall River to get to the lake and then the glacier.  The Mendenhall River is really cold (30 something degrees) and has some class 2 whitewater making for a challenging paddle/pull upstream.  I made it to the glacier and proceeded to retrace my path back down the river.  Although the Kruger Sea Wind canoe is a great expedition canoe, it is not built for whitewater paddling.  Yup, I capsized on the approach to the class 2 rapids ending up bouncing my way through part of them.  I managed to save the canoe and myself, once again, but did crack and deform the boat's hull.

From Juneau I boarded another ferry headed to Washington State.  Much of the route taken by the ship was the same as I had paddled this last spring.  Seeing some of the same areas again brought back past memories of both struggle and accomplishment.  These areas now observed from the ship's deck perspective differred from before- now it wasn't personal, it was just scenery to be glanced at from far away and lacking of a sense of experience.  Sadly, I had become a tourist.


  1. Bob I enjoyed your journey. Enjoy winter freeze up and refresh yourself,spring and new journey's are coming.

  2. You are a good writer. Please think about doing a book.

  3. Listened to the replay of your trip on Charles Wohlforth's program this evening (Anchorage). Amazing journey, thank you for sharing it.