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Friday, September 23, 2011

Up North 8

Chapter 8


The Trip
   Here it was the last week of July and I’d been working on the place since the first of April trying to get everything ready for winter. The cabin was as snug as I was going to be able to get it. The garden was doing well and I was even getting a few green beans from it. I was planning on letting everything grow as long as I could then save as much as I could for winter. I had quite a few smoked and dried fish and was already getting a little tired of fish suppers. I knew I was going to have to go to town at least once more before bad weather set in and stock up on a few supplies. The problem was that I was a little short on cash. I had around a hundred dollars worth of gold I had panned out of the creek and I had made a few bucks from putting on a fish dinner for a couple of the fishing trips that had come down the river. I was still going to need quite a bit more to make sure I had what I needed to get through the winter. One of the things I was going to need was traps. If I could get enough of them I’d be able to make money that winter with a trap line. I had already seen pine martens, fox, wolverine, ermine and two Lynx and that’s not counting the wolf pack that came through about once a month.

   I decided the best way to make a little money would be panning for gold again. I hadn’t really had time to put in a good trip other than the one up to the waterfall a couple of months ago. This time I planned on being gone at least a week panning the creek as I went and trying to find the best places. If I could find a really good spot to pan I could set up camp there and work the area until I thought I had enough. There was color in just about every spot I had looked in the creek but such a small amount you could work all day for a few penny weights and I was looking for a spot I could find ounces. I knew that was going to be real hard no matter how far I went or how hard I work because all I had was my gold pan. I was really wishing for a good sluice box or even a dredge but wishing for it wasn’t going to make them appear so I was stuck with what I had.

   I packed everything up and headed out at daylight. That seemed to be my normal starting time for two reasons, number one I could cover more country by getting an early start and number two I just liked walking through the woods as the sun came up. You’d be surprised at what you can see at that time of the day. A lot of the night animals are headed back to their dens for the day. The birds are just coming out to start feeding for the day. No matter what country I’m in be it deep woods or the high desert daylight has always been my favorite time of the day. Just on the trip to the waterfall I got to see three Moose one a cow with two calves. There was one nice size river otter playing in the pool below the water fall. I sat on a log and watched him swimming around the pool then dive down and come up with a trout. The fire pit was still there from the last time I had been to this pool so I decided to spend the night there, do a little panning and maybe a little fishing but mainly I just wanted to relax and see if I could spot any more wildlife. I went up to a small meadow and found a nice size patch of blue berries with quite a few of them ripe. On the way back to the creek I happened across some chanterelle mushrooms and since this is about the only kind of wild mushrooms that I know are safe I gathered all of them I could find. Now that had the beginning of a good meal. I had to make a detour to a beaver pond off the main creek and gather some cat tails. You can eat most of the cat tails including the roots but I was looking for some nice green ones. You can peel the inner core out of them and either eat them raw or drop them in a pan along with the mushrooms. The nutty taste of the tails goes really well with the shrooms. When I got back to the pool I spent just enough time fishing to catch one trout. There is just enough fat on a trout to add him in with the shrooms and the cat tails in one pan. I was going to have coffee with the meal but since I had only brought a little with me I decided to have willow bark tea instead. That was just one of many great meals I had while I was in that country. Very filling and the only supplies I had brought with me that I needed to use was a small amount of salt and pepper.

   I had found a tiny bit of color below the waterfall but I still had a long way to go before I would even be close to an ounce so the next morning I headed on up the creek. I had been up this far before and found a couple of good spots in the bedrock but this time I wanted to do a little sightseeing so I passed by that area and moved up to new country. I was climbing pretty steadily and by the end of the second day I found an open meadow where I could look back and see the river shining in the distance. This is the first time I had been this far east of the cabin and had no Idea of what lay ahead. I knew if I went far enough I would be in Canada and the only way I would know it would be when I met a Mountie. I wasn’t worried about getting lost as long as I followed the creek. I had passed several waterfalls and rapids that day but the creek didn’t look much smaller than it had back on the first day. I knew there was gold in the creek but with the swift and deep water there just wasn’t anyplace I could get to with my pan. I needed, and hoped I would find an area of bed rock the creek had cut through without being too deep. I was really tired from the hike that day and it was starting to look like it was going to rain so for my camp that night I found a grove of trees away from the creek that I hoped would shed any rain. I only had one tarp with me and if I needed I could always wrap up in it to keep the rain off.

   I’m not sure what woke me up that night but as soon as I was awake I could hear something moving around in the trees. It had started to rain very lightly and my fire was just about out. I was trying to slowly push some more firewood on it when I heard a woofing and clacking noise very close by. I had been up here long enough to recognize that noise. Somewhere in this grove of trees with me was a bear. I knew he was agitated from the sounds he was making but with the rain and him moving around in the tree I couldn’t tell exactly where he was at. I set up as slowly as I could and leaned my back against a tree. Thank god I hadn’t wrapped myself up in the tarp yet nor was my sleeping bag zipped all the way. Once I was against the tree I was able to shrug the sleeping bag down and reaching out with one hand as able to pull my rifle to me. One thing I had learned was never to go anywhere in that country with an unloaded gun so all I had to do was flick the safety off and I was as ready as I’d ever be. The bear had stopped making any noise during this time. I wasn’t sure if he had taken off while I was getting myself against the tree or if he was standing just the other side of the fire watching me. I didn’t have any choice though, I had to have some more light. Holding the rifle in my right hand I was able to just reach my stack of fire wood with the left. I tried to ease the branches into the fire making as little noise and movement as I could. I got five or six sticks on the fire when I heard him moving to my left. I had seen quite a few bears since I had been up here. A couple of them scared me and a few even amused me but there is nothing but solid fear when you’re sitting with both your legs wrapped in a sleeping bag, in the dark trying to see a bear that as far as you know may be standing close enough to you to swat you with a paw. Then I heard him moving in front of me just as the fire flared up and there he was, or at least there were his eyes. He was just across the fire from me moving to the right. He didn’t like the fire and stopped to stare at me. I realized he had been moving back and forth on the other side of the fire trying to figure out how to get to me.

   I eased my hand down and shoved a couple more branches in the fire even though I knew it wouldn’t stop him if he decided to charge. Thank God I had decided to sleep next to the tree because if he did charge he would have to come at me from the front and that would give me a very slim chance. The very last thing I wanted to do was to have to shoot at him. I knew that at best I would only get one shot and I was under no illusions that I was going to come out of it unhurt if at all. I think the part that scared me the most was the he kept clacking his teeth as he stared at me which usually means they’re really excited and getting ready to charge. I was afraid to even bring the gun up and aim at him because that little extra movement might be enough to sit him off.

   He kept moving back and forth in front of me of what seemed like hours. He would clack his teeth and every once in awhile make the woofing sounds and come a few steps closer. Each time he did that I thought it was over but before I could raise the rifle he would back off again. Then it was over. It seemed like I was staring right at him when I blinked my eyes and he was gone. I was afraid to move. Afraid he might still be there so I sat against that tree pushing wood into the fire until it finally got light enough to see.

   I was soaked from the rain and my eyes were gritty feeling from trying to stare back under the trees. Once it was light enough to see I had almost convinced myself that it had been a nightmare until I moved around the fire and could see the tracks he had left in the muddy ground. I have no idea how big he was but I spread my fingers out as far as I could and put them in one of his prints which were over twice the size of my hand. I gathered my stuff up and got myself out of there just as fast as I could. I don’t know why I reacted like that but I was four hours up the creek before I even slowed down. For the first hour I was just about running and jumping at every little noise. I went as far as I could before I just collapsed on the ground. Part of me wanted to cry from relief and another part wanted to laugh, I think I did a little of each. Once I finally got calmed down enough to pay attention I couldn’t figure out why I had reacted that way. For one thing it was over and the bear had left at least a couple of hours before my mad dash up the creek. For another thing I had no idea why I had run UP the creek instead of back toward the cabin. They only tracks I had checked were the ones by the fire so I really had no idea which way the bear had gone. For all I knew I might be running along right behind him.

   It still took another hour for me to get calmed down and take a look around at where I was which wasn’t a bad place. I had somehow managed to stop right at a place I had been looking for. The creek had spread out to only a few inches deep and was running over a section of bedrock a few hundred feet long. As I got my breath back and started checking things out I realized this was going to be a good spot for prospecting. I spent most of the rest of the day fixing up a camp even going so far as to drag a bunch of drift wood over and lay it out in a circle around the camp. Nothing would be able to get close to me without my hearing it. I also stacked enough fire wood to last at least three nights. I wasn’t taking any chances. With all that I still spent a really nervous night. I woke up so often during the night knowing I had heard something that I ended up only getting a few hours sleep.

   I didn’t get back to normal until the fourth pan the next morning when I found a few pickers and one decent sizes nugget in my gold pan. Even being scared to death was no match for gold fever. I stayed there for the next three days working till well after dark and just taking time out from panning to grab a quick bite. I had to quit then because I realized that if I didn’t catch a fish or something it was going to get real hungry by the time I made it back to the cabin. I hated to stop but by then I had well over an ounce of gold. I piled up some rocks and marked the spot as best I could on the map planning on filing a claim the next time I went to town. I wasn’t too worried about anyone else messing with the spot as I had seen no sign of another person even being in the same country since I had left the cabin.

   For all the excitement on the trip up I had a totally uneventful trip back home. I spent one cold hungry night before I got back to the waterfall and managed to catch a couple of trout but other than that it was a walk in the park. The biggest wildlife I even saw was one beaver and a few pine squirrels. Everything looked normal when I got back to the cabin. I had left the cellar door open to keep the fish stealing bears out and it seems it had worked. The only thing that surprised me was a note on the door. I seems that some guy had been on his way to Circle from Fort Yukon and had turned his canoe over. He had found the trail to the cabin and came up to see if anyone was there. His note apologized for going in but it sounds like he was soaked and I know how that feels. Nothing was missing although my dishes had been cleaned and stacked on the counter. I figure he’d got something to eat while his cloths dried out. His name was on the note and he told me where to find him in Circle.

   The next day I went down to the river and put up a flag I used to get James’s attention when he was on the river. I was getting lazy and I thought I’d give it a couple of days to see if he stopped by. I could catch a ride with him either to circle or Fort Yukon and see if I could sell my gold and restock on supplies and traps. Surprisingly as I was on the porch having a cup the next morning he came walking up the trail. He had a couple of other guys with him and I found out they had been on a fishing trip down river and were headed back to Circle when they saw the flag. He told me he’s be happy to give me a ride as long as I didn’t mind staying the night because he wouldn’t be headed back down river until the next day. How could I argue it was a one day trip to town with his jet boat versus up to three days up and two days back with my canoe?

    It was my first ride in his jet boat and let me tell you, it was exciting. All the rapids that I had to carry my canoe around we just went powering through. There was one spot I don’t believe was part of his normal trip, I think he was just showing off because we went through a couple of big rocks where there was not over a couple of inches on each side of the boat. It was dark by the time we pulled up to the docks and I helped James get his fishermen unloaded and back to their cabin. I ended up spending the night at James’s house. I got to meet his wife and two kids and had the first home cooked, by someone else, meal that I had enjoyed in over four months. As much as I enjoyed being at the cabin and out by myself it was really nice to visit with other people that night.

   I headed down to the store the next morning to see if I could sell my gold and pick up the supplies and be ready to head back down river by the time James was ready. Not only could I sell it but I had a little over nine hundred dollars worth. Plenty for the supplies I needed plus a few extras. An odd thing happened while I was at the store. When I filled out the paperwork for the gold the store owner saw my name and told me he had something for me. I had no idea what it might have been but I followed him out behind the store. I didn’t see anything out there that I thought he might be talking about until he pointed at a sixteen foot canoe. He told me a guy had come in a few days before who was going back to the states and wanted to leave some stuff for the guy that owned the cabin down river. It seems he had found my name in the cabin. It seems it was the guy who had turned his canoe over. Since he was headed back to the states he had left me his canoe and half a dozen traps as a thank you for using my cabin. I thought that was really nice of him although I didn’t mind him using the cabin to get warmed up the canoe actually worked our well. James had four guys going fishing that day and between all their gear there wasn’t a lot of room in his boat. By having the new canoe we were able to put all my stuff in it and tow it behind his boat. I have to admire the way he can run his. At one of the rapids he turned his backwards and let my canoe go ahead of us down the rapids keeping just enough power to his for control. If I had been running his I would have smashed both of them.

   We made it back to the cabin just fine and in exchange for a smoked salmon lunch all the other guys helped me unload all my stuff. They were going to camp on the river that night and do some fishing the next day so things worked out well.

   No I had even more work to do getting the traps ready for that winter. I had trapped in the snow down home but from what I was hearing and what I had seen the winter before I had never tried it in the kind of snow Alaska had. I was a little apprehensive but looking forward to it at the same time. I also needed to harvest my garden. I took most of the onions and hung them from the rafters in the cabin along with the peppers. The potatoes were looking good and after I dug them out they went in the root cellar. I was really hoping the bears would leave them alone. I was surprised that I got almost two bushels of pinto beans as I really didn’t think they would even grow up there. Just to be on the safe side I went up to the beaver pond and spent a day digging cat tails. The roots may not be the best tasting thing in the world but they are filling. The one bit of bad news I had was from James. He was talking to his fishermen the night he was here and remarked to them that during the winter the Yukon would freeze. I knew it was going to get really cold but I never even though about a river the size of the Yukon freezing. It was going to be an interesting winter.