Monday, June 15, 2009

W. Fork Atigun Weekender

Dan rides the waves in the West Fork of the Atigun River

I suddenly felt a sense of relief as the last bit of warm blood vacated the few remaining vessels in my feet. I was no longer subjected to the excruciating pain caused by the snow and pools of slush that were penetrating my sneakers. I somehow convinced myself that no feeling is better than endless stinging. But I already knew that repeated inflictions of my feet to the cold over the years had resulted in permanent numbness to some of my toes. At this point I still didn't care. I just wanted to keep moving downhill to a lower elevation where green tundra and the first wildflowers of the summer dotted the valley bottom.

We headed north for the weekend to the Brooks Range in hopes of crossing over two passes and floating a portion of the upper Itkillik River before returning to the highway. This plan abruptly failed. A cool start to summer left large expanses of snow lingering in these mountains that define the divide between water flowing north to the Arctic Ocean from that draining southward towards the Bering Sea and north Pacific. We retreated back in our tracks after attempting to climb a sketchy ice covered pass with our inadequate gear. Instead we found ourselves bouncing down the whitewater of the West Fork of the Atigun River in a stunning Arctic valley.

Ted plunges up to his crotch as he crosses endless stretches of snow on our way over the continental divide. We delicately placed our weight on the white surface in hopes of warding off additional swims in the bottomless snow. It would be another week or so before the snow would setup and transform into a solid walking surface.

Despite the rotten snow and laborious trudging the scenery was absolutely spectacular as we descended into the upper reaches of the Atigun River.

We really were happy to be out in the mountains.

Another water crossing near the headwaters of the Atigun River flushes the cold snow out of our shoes.

We had to hike for several miles down valley to a spot where the shallow braided channels consolidated into one primary deeper channel.

Resourceful Sky chomps away on an abandonded caribou rack. She could survive a long time on small mammals and other treasures in the wild. The caribou had moved down out of the mountains to the coastal plain in preparation for calving.

The West Fork of the Atigun is pinched between the exposed bedrock. We portaged this significant drop. The remainder the river was primarily fun wave trains and navigating through partially submerged rocks.

Videography from the West Fork of the Atigun.

Preparing for the final leg: a cold rain and driving headwind forced us to vacate the boats when our waterway skirted the Alaska Pipeline and road. Mildly hypothermic we ran the last 15-miles to the truck along the muddy highway outfitted in all our clothes and life jackets with the hopes of getting a ride came.


Julie said...

nice video, ed! the song caught me by surprise. i like it. :)


Doug said...

I walked up that approach valley and dreamed of this trip last summer before I became an Alpacka owner. Now I am glad to get a sneak preview of what it is like. The approach drive is a bit farther for me, Ed, since I live in Anchorage.

Your pics and awesome video make it look like you would recommend this river. Your map shows that you headed up the "pass"(?)toward the next drainage to the west. Stopped by snow too early in June? Looks like great potential over there too with a west to east walk out to the Atigun drainage at some point?

Have you also run the Atigun Gorge and Sag River in pack rafts?

Ed Plumb said...

hey doug. our plan was to hike over to the itkillik river and float/hike out to galbraith lake. we were stopped by a rotten snow pack and ice over our 2nd pass. so we ended up on the w fork atigun instead. i made it to the itkillik the following week via another pass. spectacular country up there!

Doug said...

Any chance of meeting up with your FBX gang next year to go into that hot springs you have blogged about?

Dr. Cookie said...

That video is awesome -- looks faster than the Hula! My face hurts just watching it . . . and my feet hurt reading the narrative -- we really did have it pretty easy, didn't we?


Anonymous said...

Ed we had a very emotional day in hospice today....then came home late to discover this blog and vid! are the best! One of Alicia and my fav Eddie Vegger songs, your gorgeous face, sky and crew, my gosh you pull us back up every time! Beautiful Ed and friends, thank you xxx

Michelle said...

Eddie Vedder I was meaning to say, been a long day here xx

Eric said...

Awesome Ed. Man you had to throw "Hard Sun" in there didn't you? That still gives me the chills.

Anonymous said...

It is certainly interesting for me to read this blog. Thank author for it. I like such themes and everything connected to them. I definitely want to read a bit more on that blog soon.

Nate Auck said...

Hey Ed. I was wondering what changes the guy in the blue boat made to his packraft on your West Frk of the Atigun video? He's got some sort of foam or airdamn under the skirt which (assumedly) prevents water from spilling into the packraft through the skirt opening. I wonder how it was made and what it's made of?
Great blog by the way. I appreciate the maps and route specifics.

Anonymous said...

Don't stop posting such themes. I love to read stories like this. Just add more pics :)