Solo Canoe Trip . Noatak River . 8/94 . Day 12

No sun. No sleep. No animals. No home made bread. But I couldn't be happier. The water had stopped rising during the night, although still rough and loud. I had set my alarm for every hour. Between that and the rivers noise, I got no sleep at all. My ears must be sensitized to the quite of this place for the river sounds like freeway traffic.

Early in the day I pack up. With the wind down, the river looks manageable. I'm not sure if I should wait or leave. Somehow a relatively easy decision becomes an "Out of the frying pan, into the fire" kind of choice. The rain I see up river makes my mind up for me.

I'm flying with the current but it's not as fast as yesterday. I'm able to keep my boat where I need it to be, but I'm getting a hell of a workout. Not because of the wind, but the faster current and all the obstacles require much quicker reaction on my part. I notice along the way that there is virtually no place to pull out. A few miles down, the braids of the river merge together into one channel again, and with no submerged islands in the way the going gets easier. And it's 50 degrees. What are the odds?

After a few hours I have to rest. I stop at the only spot available, a small (8'x3') sand bank next to a crumbling sand ledge with some trees on it. I look around and find a small wolf skull, bout three years old. It has its fangs and moss growing in its eye sockets. I put the skull in my canoe to take a picture of when the light is better. As I'm pushing off, thump, I'm face down. The only thing I think of on the way down is to hold on to the canoe. I'm not too wet, but the realization of why I went down is chilling. My feet are stuck in the sand, quick sand.

I had read about how quick forms in this region, at the v of two rivers joining, and how the Copper River mouth is know fir its bottomless quicksand holes. I know that random movement will just make it worse, so I freeze and take stock of the situation.

I'm not very deep at all. Its just some suction that's been created. I remember all those Tarzan movies where the victim immediately falls in up to the neck, then slowly sinks the rest of the way. I'm on my knees and one hand with a face full of sand. My legs are only half in the sand, but my feet are fully in. I try to work one foot out and the other knee starts to sink.

It's readily apparent that I'm not in a bad position yet, but if I move around too much, I could be seriously stuck. I opt for an idea that has the least amount of leg movement involved. I pull the canoe close and I roll into it, which is accompanied by a big sucking sound (not jobs heading south).

(Here is a related video I found on Youtube of the Noatak mud experience)

Just a short distance from there the wind picks up again. As I am looking for a place to stop, I see a camp of five tents and a park service boat. I stop to talk and get any info I can. Turns out, they are archeologists from Brown University digging up a native dwelling from the late 1800's. The Ranger named Bob tells me they radioed in yesterday for a weather report (finally) and it's more of the same with another large rain front in a few days. He is very familiar with this river and it is at the highest he's seen. Probably ten feet or more above normal high water. There are no gauge stations on this river, so he cant give exact numbers. They have only seen a few Caribou and a young bear that bit their boat a few days ago. Bit the windshield and broke it. Found a few arrowheads though. Still no sun.

They invite me to lunch. Mac and cheese with an unknown vegetable in it, biscuits with jam and coffee. One of the instructors asks me if Zeos is a good computer brand to buy, as he is getting into multimedia. Two other guys in a raft stop and join us. I locate a flat spot, set up camp and join them for tea.

Robert is a local photographer and Chuck is with the BLM. They are here for fun, but the river was too high when they arrived, and all the gravel bars above Emma's were covered. Raft's don't make very good progress in this wind, but they hardly notice the standing waves.

We join the college crew later for and evening of filling out forms. Numbering the tags they place on each and every artifact,... hundreds of them. I get a cramp.