14-Aug-2005 -- The area around this confluence is infested with caribou. Really -- it's a problem. The road to and from our starting point was blocked three times by caribou herds.
We flew from Anchorage to Nome, a small bush town off the road system, which is known for being the finish line for the Iditarod sled dog race. We stayed with our friend, Karlin, who was raised in Nome and who aspires to become governor of Alaska someday. He had just bought eight sled dogs – the beginning of his mushing team. The two of us, plus Karlin, his girlfriend, Jamie, his friend, Mike, and three of Karlin's new dogs made the 50 mile drive up a gravel road to the start of our hike to the confluence. Within the first few minutes of our hike, the dogs proved too feral to join us. They immediately started running up and down the road ignoring their new owner's yells. So Karlin, Jamie, and Mike decided to pick wild blueberries and tie up the dogs rather than join us to the confluence.
The hike was over five miles of rolling hills of squishy tundra. It's hard work hiking on a surface with the composition of a sponge for eight hours, but the country was surprisingly pretty. It was a balmy 80 degrees (global warming at its finest). What looks like fog in the photos is actually smoke from fires near Fairbanks, some 400 miles away.
After two miles we came to Canyon Creek, stinking of late-summer rotting salmon. It looked easy enough to ford, but we had to strip to our underwear and got thoroughly soaked. (Our friend, Mike, surprised us in our underwear when he unexpectedly caught up to us as we crossed the river).
Our friend, Ashley, is a reporter for the Alaska Public Radio Network and she had asked us to take recording equipment with us to chronicle our journey. We were shy with the mic at first but quickly learned to take advantage of the lack of visual corroboration that only audio recording can offer (e.g. "I heroically rescued Tom from imminent death as the icy river threatened to sweep him off his feet"....Actually, Tom slipped in the river but caught himself and made it across without incident.)
The confluence itself was on a gently sloping hill overlooking Canyon Creek as it snakes its way into the mountains. We felt fortunate to have found a confluence that was in a picturesque setting -- rather than in the middle of alders or a bog. We took photos, recorded our victory comments on the tape recorder, ate lunch, and appropriately celebrated.
On the way back to the road, we came across a musk ox skull with horns intact. As an amateur taxidermist, Tom was thrilled with this discovery. We also ran into another immense caribou herd, this one was heading right for us; without the protection of a large truck it was a bit unnerving. The caribou came so close we could hear them snorting.
We arrived at the car hot and tired. Our friends had given up on us and had headed back to Nome. Thankfully, they left us a car so we didn't have to hitch out and left us dry shoes to change into. The drive back to Nome left us with yet another glimpse of the amazing wildlife in the Alaska bush: a red fox with the tip of his tail already turning white in anticipation of the coming winter.
All in all we had a great experience and were grateful we weren't confronted with any grizzlies or ornery caribou.