Follow adventurer Andrew Skurka
as he skis, hikes, and rafts 4,720 miles through eight national parks,
two major mountain ranges, and some of North America’s wildest rivers in
Alaska and the Yukon from March to October. Read his blog updates here.
Posted on May 28 from Cordova, Alaska
Yesterday I reached the Gulf of Alaska (Pacific Ocean) after a five-day
paddle of the Copper River and some of its tributaries. National
Geographic photographer Michael Brown and his “photo assistant” (also
uber Alaskan wilderness adventurer) Roman Dial joined me for the float
and for the four days prior (starting on the White River just west of the
Canadian border) and we were remarking how something really memorable
occurred on each day. Here’s the list.
The first spring rainstorm caught us while we were
walking along the edge of Russell Glacier. It degraded into a blizzard–30mph winds, frozen sleet, and 100-yard visibility–as we headed
over 5,800-foot Chitistone Pass. Miserable conditions, but certainly
Awoke to bluebird skies and 6″ of fresh snow. Left camp
late in order to let some of the snow melt off, which was important
because we then traveled along a super dodgy route down the Chitistone
River drainage known as The Goat Trail. Huge exposure and tremendous
views, world-class stuff.
Floated the Chitistone River and Nizina River into the old
mining town of McCarthy, which has reinvented itself as one of the
coolest towns in Alaska. We joined in on a beverage-enhanced game of
softball among the locals. I hadn’t run the bases in years (or had a
drink in months)–both felt great.
We slipped into our boats and floated 40 miles on three
fun and splashy Class II+/III- rivers: the Kennicott, Nizina, and
Chitina. We camped on a long sandy beach that was protected from the
wind, that had a nice spring, and that had lots of firewood.
We reached the town of Chitina and were greeted by Ralph
Tingey and his friend Rebecca. They had driven out from Anchorage to
meet us, and they brought a feast: steaks, corn on the cob, bananas and
oranges, salad, and chips and salsa.
Ferocious 20-30 mph headwinds pinned us down all day. On our
first attempt we made it two miles downstream before having to take out,
and ditto on the second attempt. The strong winds are standard in
Chitina: cool Gulf of Alaska air rushes into the warm Interior via the
Copper River valley, which is one of the only corridors to disect the
It was calm enough and light enough at 4 am to get back in
the boats. The sun came up soon thereafter and lighted up the
northernmost peaks of the Chugach Range. Some of the best morning
light of the trip.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
After a long wind-prompted afternoon/evening break, we got
back in the boats at 11 pm. We navigated down the river under a full
moon for three to four hours before finding a sand bar to camp on until morning.
When we woke up we were surrounded by snowbound mountains and glaciers
that came all the way down to the river.
One of the glaciers that comes down to the river, Miles
Glacier, carved out a large lake, Miles Lake, that was still partially
frozen. The ice wasn’t thick enough to walk on but it was too thick to
paddle through. In my packraft I had to “scooch” across the ice by
paddling up onto it and then pushing myself across the ice with my
2-piece paddle, like how I’d use ski poles.
A half-mile from camp we floated right past the calving face
of Miles Glacier. It was 5 am and the lighting was great. Another few
miles down the river I floated within 30 feet of a wolverine that was
running along the bank, which made for one of the coolest wildlife
encounters I’ve ever had. The day ended at the 102-year-old Alaskan
Hotel in Cordova.