Kuskokwim River Trip

This summer's canoe trip down the Kuskokwim from McGrath to Aniak was another successful adventure! For the first 150 miles we enjoyed the solitude- seeing only one other boat on the river. We expected very high water and warm weather, but we the river dropped each day and temperatures were down to the 38F at times. The winds were also cold and challenging on a few of our days. The ice had just gone out about 10 days before, so we saw lots of ice along the banks still, and mostly otter tracks in the newly formed mud and sand. We felt like some of the first beings to travel along the open river after the long winter. We also knew that we had taken the plunge into massive forces of sky, wind, water, and wildness much bigger than ourselves and our tiny canoes.


Bears, wolves and moose were also starting to frequent the mainland banks, but only a few of the islands. We saw many grizzlies and no black bears. All the tracks were grizzlies for the entire 300 miles and we saw a large male up close on our last morning, just five miles from Aniak! Swans, geese, ducks, and shorebirds were everywhere. We couldn't float without having them lead us away from their nests, and we couldn't camp anywhere without irritating them! Peregrine Falcons screamed from nearly every high bluff along the river. The current was mild even though the river is large, and twice we saw moose swim straight across the river in front of us (even a nearly newborn calf). We didn't take much time for fishing, but we did catch a few nice Grayling. All in all, it was a great chance to experience the variety of wildlife and to chase a few grizzlies.

Learning and Skills

We paddled nearly continuously because of breezes and slow currents (and sometimes just to keep warm!) and all six of us experienced good physical conditioning. Everyone learned very quickly how to read the rivers and improve their canoeing skills. The tributaries were high and swift, making travel upriver difficult, but we did manage to paddle up a little ways to explore some of them. Fresh, clear, drinking water was always easily available and even the main river was clear for the time of year. We boiled, treated, or "tested" the water from various sources to avoid Giardia. Small skills in handling the water can make a huge difference. Topographic map reading and recognizing the landmarks along the river allowed us to keep track of where we were, since we did have a two-week time constraint. We did get mixed up once, and paddled up a river that didn't exist; Juliana finally, conclusively won the bet about where we were later on that day when we were back on the main river. Fire making skills were critical for quick warm-ups along the way. Making and breaking camp took a long time at first, but by the end of the trip everyone had improved considerably. Again, small things really add up when dealing with changing weather, cold, or just being out where it is up to you to get real. You may want to see animals, stay warm, or go from here to there; you may even imagine or tell yourself in some way, but are you actually capable of doing it? Are you really warm? It all comes real one way or the other when the consequences are immediately clear and evident! It is difficult to lie to the wind or cheat the river. Sometimes one can't even afford to get frustrated or throw the blame. Less experienced students could rely on the others for a transition into handling more and more for themselves. Our Atheneum goals of self-reliance, respect for each other and the environment, readiness, and increased awareness were always in practice.


We observed the developments happening on the lower 100 miles of the river and stopped in Sleetmute and then in Chuathbaluk to find a friend who lives there. People were very friendly and interested in what we were doing out in the canoes. Several folks had never thought of canoeing the river because the general transport is motorized boats. Canoes gave us the advantage of quietly and slowly moving through the country and thereby seeing more wildlife. Subsistence lifestyles were evident; the grocery store at Sleetmute supplies a large area and is little more than a 7-11 quick stop type store.

Back to "Civ"

We all felt the impact of being out in the wilderness for two weeks and it was strange and a bit sad to go back to civilization. We had all our gear shipped back from Aniak on Northern Air Cargo and flew out that afternoon, arriving in Anchorage in less than two hours. Vivid memories of grizzlies, big water, birds and wind still inspire us to plan our next trip.
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