Friday, July 11, 2008

Yukon Ho!

And now for the latest adventures of Molly Malone, the dirtpatch anthropologist...

That's right folks, I've headed to the northwest corner of Canada to live out the dream Calvin & Hobbes inspired in me so long ago.

I'm here working as a research assistant to Professor Patrick Moore of the University of British Columbia, where I am currently a PhD student in anthropology. Pat is doing linguistic research on Kaska, a native language spoken in parts of the Yukon and BC, mostly by people in their 50s and older (referred to as elders). I haven't been on the water as much as the other Expeditionettes, but I am getting to learn a lot about how people have lived off the land for the past few thousand years.

The photo up top is of the sign at the BC/YT border: "Welcome to North of 60." When I first saw it, I thought it said "Welcome to North of Go," in reference to Monopoly. I was wrong.

This is some typical southern Yukon scenery. The white trees are poplars, the other trees include spruce and jack pine. There are berries all over the place: strawberries, soap berries, bear berries. A grizzly bear is probably about to jump out and eat you.

This is me at work with Kassua, my 3 year-old half-Kaska, half-German intern. My jobs include running the video camera while elders tell stories, setting up really fancy voice recording equipment (Marantz, anyone?), taking notes in a language I neither speak nor understand, fetching lunch meat, brewing countless pots of tea, and driving the elders wherever they need to go. I make it sound tedious for humor's sake, but it's actually a really awesome experience.

These are my new moccasins made from moose hide and beaver fur (don't tell PETA). They were sewn by Kaska elder Minnie Caesar. Kaska women like Minnie tan their own hides and do intricate bead work on things like moccasins, vests, and headbands. They make a good living doing it, too, since tourists are willing to pay top dollar for Indian-made items.

This is what the back of your car looks like after driving for 400km on the Robert Campbell Highway--a road that is only paved for about 40km--in the rain. Check out the little gold miner on the left--killer facial hair, eh? I also like his "toque." Words of advice for driving in the Yukon: if you don't like mud, stay on the Alaska Highway.

This is the sign at the entrance to Lower Post, a Kaska community right across the border in BC. I've been driving here almost every day to bring some elders up to where we are working in Watson Lake. The top of the sign is written in Kaska.

Watson Lake has a signpost forest. What is that, you say? Obviously it is a forest of beams where you nail up a sign you stole from home. And I found one from Asheville.

This is what you have to drive up here, so you can bulldoze the grizzly bears before they kill you. Just kidding--they'd kill you anyway! Yukoners just love big machines. The better to extract all the minerals with, my dear...

And how do you transport all those minerals so they can sail to China? In a muffin truck, of course.


On Monday we head to Frances Lake for some more research, and the elders are all bringing their boats and their guns. Stay tuned for tales of fishnets and mooseheads...

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Fourth of July Celebration- Honolulu Creek and Chulitna River

Fourth of July is an important holiday for the Dirtpatch.  This 4th represented two years since our Honduras adventure, which ended with an emergency flight home and a cancer diagnosis.  Last year, Stacy and I made our way down the Middle Fork of the Salmon river on the 4th of July.  A few years before, Stacy and I had gotten lost in the Olympic National Park on the 4th of July.  And a few years before that we were engaged in some major firework wars at the Ocoee River on the same holiday.  It is becoming a tradition to have some sort of adventure/ celebration on the 4th every year.  This year was no exception, except that I was on my own for this one.  I am sure that the rest of the DP was celebrating somewhere as well.

For this year's celebration, I got to fly into Goat Lake with Scott and Allen Warren.  Goat Lake is an incredibly beautiful and pristine mountain lake near Denali National Park.  A couple of photographers from SELF magazine were also flown in to take some pics.  They are doing a story on cancer survivors and I am one of the survivors in the article.  We spent a day shooting pictures, hiking, and fishing, and then paddled out via the clear waters of Honolulu Creek.  

Scott making Thai food at Goat Lake
Goat Lake was one of the most beautiful places I have been, and the weather couldn't have been better.   It was a great feeling to be flown into this place, knowing that the only way to get out of there was by kayak, plane, or a really long hike.  A few Carribou decided to join us for dinner that night on the other side of the lake.  We also spent some time catching Dolly Bartons (Not sure if that is spelled right, sounds like Dolly Parton with a 'B'), which became dinner on night two.

Beginning a kayaking trip with photographers was a unique experience.  They were really nice guys, straight out of LA, and we really enjoyed camping with them for the night.  They had been photographing several other cancer survivor athletes, and it was great to hear about them. 

SELF rapid on the creek that feeds out of the lake and meets with Honolulu Creek

After the photos were taken, Ray came back and picked up the photographers.  Allen and Scott and I decided to take a little hike.  We pointed to the top of one of the peaks around us and decided to go there.  It turned out to be a pretty long, intense hike, and the views were spectacular.  With the weather being as clear as it was, we were able to see Denali (Mt. McKinnley) from the top really clearly, although 'the Great One' didn't show up very well on camera.  

The boys taking a short break and checking out the view

The view from the top: my feet and Denali, which doesn't show up that well on camera

5 hours later, we were back at Goat Lake.  Allen fished for our dinner, catching a few Dollies which we through in with some couscous- oishi (delicious)!  The next morning we managed to make it down the small creek and eventually into Honolulu Creek.

packin' it up

Me and Goat Mountain in the Background

Honolulu Creek was a really nice class IV creek with amazing views.  It was 12 miles back out to the road from the lake.  It flowed into the Chulitna river, which became our next river trip.  

Scott on Honolulu Creek

Me on Honolulu Creek
The Chulitna rafting trip was the greatest fishing trip I have ever been on.  The river was beautiful and the company was fantastic.  Unlike the Charlie, the weather was bright and sunny most of the time.

Allen's raft near the put-in
We didn't catch many fish the first day, but found a perfect camp spot to celebrate the 4th.  We were up bright and early the next morning and floated down to the sweet fishing spot.  The place is called Spink Creek, and it is a clear creek that flows into the silty Chulitna.  It was big and slow moving and an ideal place for Kings.  To get here, you have to know where the creek is, and make a big ferry move to avoid the logs and enter the mouth of the creek.

Newman caught one before we decided to stop for dinner.  As soon as dinner was over, the skies let loose with a huge hail storm.  We all took cover in our tents and eventually all fell asleep.  

The next morning at 5 am, Scott and I snuck out of the tents, and took the raft out to fish.  It was the best fishing I've ever been a part of. :)  We pulled in four Kings, two each before we stopped to wake up the rest of the group.  

Catching my first King!  Fish on!!!

As soon as everyone woke up and saw the fish, they piled into the raft and took off in pursuit of their Kings.

The Chulitna Group: Newman, Tera, Allen, Me Scott, Dale, Char, and Ben

Not only was the weather perfect that day, so was the fishing, and so was the view.  We were able to get a clear view of Denali all the way to the take-out.

Denali, also known as Mt. McKinnley, means Great One.  
Real Alaskans don't call it Mt. McKinnley, since president McKinnley never even came up to Alaska.

Fourth of July has become a celebration of life and adventure for the DirtPatch.  Life is short, but it is wide, and it is made to be packed with experiences.  Flying through the air over the beautiful mountains, living it up next to a pristine mountain lake, watching the carribou, hiking to the top of the mountains, kayaking with the boys, floating and fishing the Chulitna, and seeing the powerful snow covered Denali, I felt ever so grateful for the life that I have, and the gifts that I have been given, and independence from the threat of cancer.  I felt really free and really blessed.

Newman caught the big fish that morning.
Mine's the big one on the ground!  :)

Charlie River Fishing Trip

The third week of June, we rafted down the beautiful Charlie River.   It felt good to be on that river, even as the wind whispered past my ears, trying to cut through my jacket, stinging my bear toes and fingers.  

To access this run, we had to hire a plane to take us to the put in.  The first member of the group to arrive at the put in had to deal with a curious grizzly until the rest of us got there.  The river was pretty technical at first for the rafts and then gained more volume as we floated out further out of the mountains.  

Here is our crew...
Allen, Jason, Matt, Mindy, Dale, Newman, me and Scottie
Scott's Dad and his friend, Rusty, flew their float planes in and picked up Matt and Mindy to take them back to the airport so they could fly home to Utah.  It was pretty cool to be out there for 3 days and then see two float planes land on the river.  Not a bad trip for Matt and Mindy, too, to fly into and out of a river in Alaska during their vacation.  

It was pretty rainy on 3 of the 5 days we were out.  The fishing could have been better, but we managed to catch 2 or 3 pike and a she-fish.  The trip itself was beautiful and our group was really entertaining.  At one point, Scott and I stopped and checked out some wild sheep that were pretty close to the river.  They seemed so much bigger when they were closer.  As we watched them we began to hear sounds of thunder in the distance shortly joined by the sound of another cold summer shower, which began to fall from the sky all around us.

We saw several bald eagles and I did catch 5 little greylings, which I threw back since they were too small to eat.

 We did a hike one morning and were able to get a good birds-eye view of the river.  Here is a picture of me with Newman and Dale, two of my favorite Alaskans.

The Charlie fed into the Yukon river, which the rest of the gang (minus Matt and Mindy) floated out until we reached the city of Circle, AK.  Back during the 'golden' age of Alaska, this town was a bustling hub for prospectors.  There was a theatre and about 12 saloons there, now there are only a few buildings, and not much else.  It was really cool to see that town.  There were some hotsprings nearby that we went to and then we headed back to Fairbanks.

Here are some pics of the Yukon river:

living in a van down by the river

Scottie and I have been in Alaska for a few weeks now.  This place is amazing.  After arriving in Fairbanks, we fixed up Scott's van and took it out on the open road.  We drove through Denali around 11pm on the 5th of June and the sun's golden glow was still shining, illuminating the earth, the clouds, and the snowcapped peaks which surrounded us.  It was like that all night until the sun decided to rise out of it's colorful repose and rise up into the sky the next day.
We first ran the Nanana river, camped at Troublesome Creek, and did some fishing.  We didn't catch anything, but you could see Denali (aka Mt. McKinnely for non-Alaskan people) from our fishing spot and it was gorgeous.  Scott and I headed south afterwords, took a nice hike up the little Susitna river.  The hike turned into a breath taking run towards a glacier under imposing snowcapped mountains.  Afterwards we put on the little Sue and it ended up being a really fun, continuous class IV creek.  Sort of like Big Creek back home.  We met a nice couple who took some pictures and emailed them to me...  here is one of them.

here is another...
and one more...

After that, we paddled 6 mile creek (no photos of that one, sorry) and stayed with Beer Can Dan in Anchorage.  Then we picked up Scott's friend, Matt, and paddled Ship creek.  We had a small brush with the law there, and got some warning tickets for being on military property (no photos again, sorry).  We hiked into Ingram Creek one day, but no one had been in it yet this year and it looked pretty snowy.  We were worried about the logs and ice bridges that may still be in the river, so we are gonna save that one for later this summer.  Maybe when Stacy gets in town.  We paddled Canyon Creek and Bird Creek as well.  The water up here is really cold, but the weather is pretty nice.
Here is a picture of the falls at Bird Creek.
Here is a picture of our hike up the little Sue

Here is one of the hike into Ingram Creek

After that, we went to the Charlie River.  That'll be the next post.