29-May-2004 -- The three of us took off from my house in Palmer at 9pm on Thursday May 27th. Our goal for the weekend was to hike to 64N142W and possibly try for another point in the area or at the very least scout one out. My brother, Scott, is a writer for The Anchorage Press, www.anchoragepress.com . He had pitched the confluence story to his editor and was given the cover story slot for July 1st. He really wanted to have a successful visit in his story, so since I had scouted this point in 2003, I said we could get to it fairly easily, albeit with a 700 mile round trip drive. I had found the trail, or at least what I thought was the trail, and walked down it about 300 yards. It was heading in generally the right direction and off the trail would be easy walking also. I encourage you to go to the website above and read Scott’s account of our trip. It’s much better than mine, and funnier too.
Heading northeast on the Glenn Highway, we drove until just after midnight and decided it was best to camp for the night and continue on in the morning. We pulled into Porcupine Creek State Recreation Site and Campground and had a late night campfire and some carb loading and turned in for the night. We were the only ones in the campground. On Friday we headed on north up the Tok-cutoff portion of the Glenn Highway. Turning onto the Alaska Highway at Tok, we traveled east for 12 miles where we turned due north on the Taylor Highway. The Taylor is paved to Chicken, approximately 65 miles and then gravel for the next 90 miles to Eagle, Ak.
We reached the trailhead I had scouted in 2003 and parked the truck and got ready to hike. This trail was the width of a truck, two ruts through the woods, probably an old mining road. This area is the Forty-Mile Mining district. Gold was first discovered here in the 1880’s about 10 years before the nearby and more famous Klondike Gold Rush which began around 1896. Within a couple of minutes of leaving the truck we realized the trail we were on was going the wrong way. We backtracked to the vehicle and got back on the road and drove up and down exploring a couple of turnouts. We finally picked another one that had a nice trail heading the correct direction and walked down it about a quarter of a mile. It was clearly cut through the woods on purpose, about 3 feet wide, not just a game trail, so we decided this was the right one. It was getting to be late afternoon and thunder clouds were rolling in so we decided we’d wait until the next day, Saturday, and get an early start on the hike.
To pass the time we drove the remaining 90 miles to Eagle, a small town on the Yukon River. The road is good gravel, winding, over mountains, and no guardrails so it took us 3 hours to travel the 90 miles. During the Gold Rush times Eagle was a reasonable size town (pop. appr. 700 in 1898) and had a U.S. Fort (Ft. Egbert). In 1900 it became the seat of the Third U.S. Judicial District of Alaska, presided over by Judge James Wickersham. From 1899 to 1900 a trail was built from Valdez to Eagle and a telegraph line from Eagle to Dawson City in Canada. In 1902 a telegraph line was run from Eagle to Valdez and then to Seattle in 1904. In December of 1905, Roald Amundsen the explorer, mushed 400 miles by dog team from the Beaufort Sea to Eagle. This was during his trip to be the first to sail through the Northwest Passage. He traveled overland to Eagle to send a telegraph to tell his family of his success after a two and one-half year silence and to request money be telegraphed to him. Eagle is now an interesting historical place to visit and is right on the Yukon River. They have a website at http://www.eagleak.org/. After our brief visit in Eagle we headed back south and stopped to camp at the Walker Fork of the Fortymile River in a small but nice U.S. Forest Service Campground.
The best laid plans……………
Saturday morning we got up and drove the remaining hour to a gravel pull out across from the trail we had found. We loaded up our knapsacks with water and lunch and headed out on the trail at about 10am. I estimated the confluence to be about 4 miles off the road (8 miles round trip) with a trail going more than half that distance; we figured about 4 hours round trip at an enjoyable pace. About a quarter mile down the trail things started to go awry. The trail petered out into a bog. We crossed this heading in generally the correct direction to some dry ground. At this point there was no more trail. Discussing our options we decided that it was a beautiful sunny Alaska day, temperatures reached into the 70's, and we could make our way through the woods to the point without a trail. At this point someone should have posted a sign "objects in front of you are more difficult to traverse than they appear". For the next hour or so we traveled along a hill with some tall trees and some old scrub downed ones. There was evidence of old forest fires but it wasn't all that bad.
We stopped around noon for lunch and looking at the GPS we really hadn’t made it very far. We were averaging just over a mile an hour and quite frankly none of us were in the necessary physical shape to complete this journey. Plus we hadn’t brought enough water or food. During lunch we took a vote and unanimously decided to continue. Later, after returning to the truck, we all admit that each of us wanted to vote to turn back but no one wanted to be the first to speak up. This is the kind of fuzzy male macho thinking that gets people in trouble, particularly in the wilderness. After lunch the terrain got far worse. Going over, around, and through the downed trees was exhausting. With no trail and because of the softness of the ground each step you have to pick your foot up nearly to your other knee. At about 2pm we ran out of water. A lot of the bogs we went through had about 6 inches of water on top of ice. We decided the chance of getting sick from the water was not as great as dying of dehydration so we just drank the swamp water. It turned out we were right, none of us got sick and we all made it back to the truck.
At 3pm we broke out of the trees into a large swamp. A short distance out into it we found the point, took our photos, and with no dry place to sit headed back towards the road. We reached the point at 3:20pm; my GPS said elevation 1759. From the road to the point we had also dropped about 700 feet of elevation so the trip back was mostly uphill. On the way back I devised a new strategy. We followed along the ridge at its highest point even though that would be a longer hike. This strategy actually worked. Along much of the ridge it was drier with less downed trees.
At 7pm, exhausted, thirsty, and hungry we made it back to the truck. 8 miles, 9hours, you do the math.
After we did this trip, in the summer of 2004, this whole area, including, by my estimation, right around the confluence, was part of the biggest fire season in Alaska history. Over 6 million acres went up in wild fires. I hope to get up this way in the summer of '05 or '06 to see if it’s changed much. Sometimes the fires just "blow through" leaving dead but standing trees. If it burned drastically it could be an easy walk to the point now.