From Work to Play in One Long Day
Our ambitious plan for the day was to test Jasonís camera equipment in Mystery Creek #170, break camp and pack everything out (two one-mile round trips), then join Jasonís wife, Lena, at Denali National Park for an afternoon hike several miles up Riley Creek before rafting back down in unfamiliar whitewater and returning over 100 miles by vehicle to Fairbanks. One must try to ignore oneís actual age (59 in my case) when planning such a day. After morning coffee and granola, I prepared to break camp whenever we finish working on the creek. By mid-morning we had assembled all our gear and hauled it to a gravel bar a couple hundred yards downstream to a small pool where Jason was fairly certain there would be Dolly Varden and Arctic grayling to film. The next couple hours were spent (Spent: The wing position of many aquatic insects when they fall on the water after mating. The wings of both sides lay flat on the water. The word may be used to describe insects with their wings in that position, as well as the position itself.) calibrating and testing equipment.
We encountered several logistical and technical problems that Jason would have to address before he could reliably use the large cameras to shoot underwater video. We had hoped to film some Dolly Varden, but had to settle for discovering problems that needed solving before real data could be obtained. This is an inevitable, productive step in the first weeks of any complex new scientific research project.
By late morning we were packing up camp and hauling all our gear back to the car. The good trail we cleared yesterday expedited our half-mile treks, but we still had to make two trips each to transport our 300+ pounds of equipment, so we did not get on the road to Denali until well after lunchtime. We met Lena at the Park Visitor Center parking lot where she had been dropped off by shuttle bus from Fairbanks. Jason and I changed clothes and gear from camping/working mode to hiking/rafting mode in the Visitor Center parking lot, much to the amusement of several fashionably dressed tourists from all over the world. By mid-afternoon we were heading up Riley Creek carrying only water, snacks, and inflatable pack rafting gear.
We hiked several miles upstream beyond the usual day-trip tourist area until we reached a very large, steep hill that would take at least an hour or two to circumnavigate to the planned put-in with our packrafts. Judging that we lacked the time to make the full float down, we backtracked down the hill and found a suitable spot to enter the river on a large island of gravel. Denali National Park was quite the setting for a happy couple to celebrate their 4th Wedding Anniversary. Congratulations Jason and Lena!
Near the riverís edge, we encountered three spruce grouse. Typical of their species, they were unconcerned about their safety or the closeness of our cameras.
We made our way to the gravel island, inflated the packrafts, and headed downstream at about 5:30 p.m. Pleasant runs were interspersed with challenging rapids replete with inconveniently placed boulders that required my constant attention to avoid swamping. It was an exhilarating hour of ďin-the-momentĒ paddling that we managed to experience without serious mishap, despite several close calls.
By the time we reached our take-out point on a gravel bar a couple hundred yards from the entrance road to the Park Visitorís Center, we were soaked due to the constant splashing of large standing waves in the more turbulent rapids. Lena was getting chilly, so I agreed to stay with the equipment and deflate the rafts while Jason and Lena hitched a ride to the Visitor Center to retrieve our car. I managed to get everything hauled up to the road by the time they got back in dry clothes and a warm vehicle. We stuffed everything into the back of the RAV4 and headed back to Fairbanks as the sun was setting. What a long and exciting day!
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