Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Footsteps of Giants: Lost coast north day five.

The breeze and drizzle stayed consistent through the night, making for unsettled sleeping and one big, wet, psychological hurdle in getting dressed the next morning.

Once we'd rolled out to meet the day we found the seals back in their favorite spot, leery as ever but seemingly disinclined to move.

A quick ride to where the bluff shut things down, then a quicker paddle saw us across the high volume but very flat Kaliakh.

Moody low-ceiling light ushered us across this vast mirrored flat toward looming peaks, bulging glaciers, and one massive distraction of a relic being reclaimed by the earth.

What they were after, just before the storm ended those dreams and a few lives.

A balls-deep crossing somewhere just south of the Yakataga River.  First few steps felt fine, then the subsurface crust got thinner, started to feel like sodden cardboard, and then we were wallowing ankle deep in muck, with current complicating each footfall.

Heading inland to find a better place to cross the Yakataga.  Roman vocalized what I'd been thinking here, that it "Felt more like B.C. than Alaska".

We'd had an air service fly a food/fuel drop to the Yakataga grass airstrip.  I'd been against it on general principle, arguing that we could easily carry the ~9 days of food we'd need.  But Jaybs tight schedule meant that any time we could save by not schlepping added mass might make the difference in him getting out on time, so I'd grudgingly agreed.  Diving in to our stashes of freshies felt like christmas, and I felt silly for not getting behind the plan from the start.

As part of his unprecedented and unrepeatable-for-mortals-or-anyone-else tour of Alaska in 2010, Andrew Skurka had walked this stretch of coast, and afterward had shared his annotated maps with Roman.  Knowing how tight our timetable was, and seeing notes from Skurka indicating a road connecting Yakataga and Icy Bay, we'd collectively agreed that that was the route we needed to follow.  Perhaps the speed achieved on that hard-surfaced route would buy back some of the time we'd lost early on.

Thus we followed that constantly devolving road out of Yakataga, made a wrong turn, did some backtracking, eventually pushed out to the beach when the "road" became more akin to a bear trail, and the saturated vegetation lining it became akin to riding, slowly, through a pressurized drive-through carwash.

We were soaked to the skin even wearing full raingear, and then it *really* started to rain.  The afternoon passed quickly as we alternated between riding soft, fluffy beach sand into a headwind with driving rain, and stumblefucking up into the jungle in search of Skurka's yellow brick road.

Each time some semblance of the road was there, but underneath and overgrown by the rainforest.  Essentially reclaimed by the earth.  After much effort to cover little distance, we cut our losses at the edge of the White River, threw up tents, wiggled out of sodden clothes, climbed into sleeping bags.  We brewed up dinner while poring over maps both real and imagined, wondering if the 'road' we'd found was the same as Skurka had hauled ass along.  Wondering if we should have just skipped it from the outset and ridden the slow-as beach.  Wondering if it would ever stop raining.

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