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Spring 2004 Issue
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Wilderness Facts
Leaders in Wilderness Preservation
Tebenkof Bay
Tribute to a True Wilderness Leader
Paddling at the Edge of the World
Alaskan Rain & the Rivine River
The Way It Was…
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Alaskan Rain and the Rivine River
By Lauren Edwards

© Jason Lehmbeck
It was the last day of our independent student expedition, which wrapped up a long but amazing 50 days of hiking through the mountains of the eastern Alaska Range on a NOLS Semester. This was our chance to travel for a few days without instructors and use all the leadership skills we'd practiced and learned. The next day was going to be the day that the bus would pick us up at the road head, but considering the situation on hand, it didn’t look like our group was going to be on it. We were a mere 15 miles from the Denali Highway, and were hopelessly stuck. Who would’ve thought that a little rain could put us in such a position?

Alaska rain is different from rain in the lower 48. There aren't those big, fat raindrops, but the skies shower you with a light drizzle that’s never-ending—kind of like Chinese water torture. You don’t think a little drop of water will be much of a bother, but after days on end of a continuous and unrelenting stream of it, it kind of drives you nuts. I wish I had a tape recorder to playback and listen to my friend Dustin. I can only try to remember the string of dialogue he had with himself for about two hours of bushwhacking through wet plants. The rest of us were tired enough to let him ramble, if not slightly amused by his continuous chatter.

The first drainage that we came to earlier that day should have been a warning to us all—it was moving incredibly fast, probably Class V rapids, and a huge waterfall stopped us dead in our tracks. It sidetracked us a good mile and a half downstream, where we finally found a place safe enough to cross. Even still, the water was up to my hips and I was fourth on the eddy line.

Our plan for the day was to push our "X" on the map a bit further and cross Rivine Creek so that on the final day of the trip we wouldn’t have far to go. After hours of hiking, wandering up and down the valley to avoid bushwhacking, soaked to the bone, we were standing on top of the ridge that led down to Rivine Creek. I remember feeling myself going into robot mode. I’d never been so wet and tired in my life, and I was looking forward to setting up camp and crawling into my semi-dry sleeping bag. When we go to the bottom of the creek, however, I heard a, “Holy crap!” and, “Are you kidding me?” among various other cuss words strung together in surprise and disbelief. Rivine Creek was hardly a creek—all the rain we’d been experiencing had turned our small stream into a full-on raging river that was moving incredibly fast. The huge trees lining the original riverbed were being sucked down, and we could hear giant boulders being tossed down stream. It’s kind of a scary sound, knowing that rocks that big are literally being bashed into each other; thrown and pushed down the river by the sheer force of the water.

After about a minute of staring dumbstruck at the river, we quickly decided to get camp set up and start dinner. It was still raining, possibly harder since we had stopped. Still stunned from the sudden halt in our momentum, we all quietly realized that this wasn’t going to be the last day of our student expedition. We were officially stuck. We worked quickly to set up tents and cook dinner. Some had fingers so cold and wet that simple motor functions like zippering clothing and tying knots were hard—everyone did what they could to help everyone else. Clam chowder and pasta soup were the only things left in our ration, and it was about the fifth night in a row that we were forced to eat clam chowder. The memory of those meals still sticks with me. I will never again eat dehydrated clam chowder.

After dinner we got straight into our tents. We knew we were going to have to watch the river all night, and make sure it didn’t rise any. But sure enough, at 4:30 a.m., the water had risen enough that it was creeping toward us. It was Bryces’ sharp senses that woke us up, and we scrambled to move our tents further from the riverbank. The rest of that morning we found ourselves almost floating on our therma-rests from the amount of water that was inside our tents. Big puddles occupied the inside corners of our shelters.

We slept in, exhausted from the previous day’s travel. When we awoke mid morning and crawled out of our tents, we were ecstatic from what we saw—the sun! After hiding from us for more than a week, it had reappeared. We quickly got to work drying out our clothes, and tried devising a plan to get ourselves across the raging river. No sooner had we had hung up our socks and extra layers, when we heard calls off in the distance. Everyone shushed each other up, and we listened with strained ears for the possibility of hearing the other student group. The calls got closer and closer, and all of a sudden we started hollering at the top of our lungs in return to the other shouts. We were practically running up the riverbank in the direction of the voices. Then, out of the clearing, appeared Don and Sarah, our instructors! Everyone’s mood changed suddenly from dreary to ecstatic. We couldn’t believe that they had found us. Then again, I guess that’s why they’re instructors and we’re students...they had the intuition to realize that all the rain would flash flood the creek, and came to find us before we totally ran out of food and fuel.

Our student expedition came to an exciting and memory-filled end. I’ll never forget what it was like to see our trusty instructors on the other side of the riverbank. We ended up having to stay where we were that night, and wait a bit more for the river to go down before we crossed. But when we got to the other side, and our whole group (plus the other small group) was reunited, it was an amazing feeling. The wilderness and weather that we had traveled through, the skills we learned, and the friends we made over the course of 50 days was a truly incredible experience. Alaska is a place that I hope to return to someday soon. Although the days on end of rain can be trying, when the skies clear and you can see all the mountains and the pure, pristine wilderness the place holds for miles around you, the rainy days and wet clothes seem a small price to pay.

Lauren Edwards is a graduate of a 2003 NOLS Semester in Alaska. She's currently an intern in the NOLS marketing department in Lander, Wyoming.

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