August 1-2 – After spending a wonderful night camped out beside the Matanuska, it was time for a more personal experience with the river. Wednesday morning, bright and early, we walked over from our camper to the Nova office and got geared up for our rafting trip.
When I picture rafting, I still think of swim suits and sandals….not a full dry suit! The Matanuska River stays at a cold 37 degrees! Jackets, hats, gloves, and dry suits…..at least for this first, whitewater part of our trip.
We were driven up river to our put in spot. There were 12 of us, in two rafts, heading down the river. The section that I was worried about (and I will admit to being more than a little scared) was called the Lions Head….a two mile section of class III and IV rapids that we would raft this morning. It did not help that our guide, Travis, told us that this was his first week on this river, and he had had only 8 ‘swimmers’ so far. OK, so I should have known that he was kidding……but, I just wanted a bit of reassurance…not humor.
I am a pretty big ‘wus’ when it comes to this sort of thing. I sat on the side of the raft and paddled through the easier sections of white water, but, when it came to the big rapids, I got in my ‘hunker down’ mode (that’s me hanging on in the middle) while Fred, Laura and Dave and fellow overnighter, Josh, paddled. Our guide, Travis, sat in back steering with the oars.
The water was cold! Major ‘brain freeze’ when we got doused in the face, some leakage down the neck, but thank goodness for the dry suits!
The Lion’s Head was intense……but, really more exciting than scary. Even on the one rapid where we went vertical….No picture of that one…..and it was over before I even knew it. : ) After we were over the worst, Travis confessed that he was the owners’ son and had grown up running this river. he was young (21) but he did know what he was doing! The rest of our group excelled at the paddling, And the big grin on Laura’s face was priceless.
By lunchtime, we were back at the Hicks Creek staging area where we had started.….
There, the Nova guides, Travis and Read, set out a wonderful lunch. That’s Dave and Josh fixing a bite to eat…..and we all ‘chowed down’, having worked up an appetite after such an exciting morning.
That afternoon, we loaded up for our overnight. Fred and I in the front of the raft, our guide, Read, in the middle on oars, and Laura and Dave in the back.
There was only one other overnight guest, Josh, who rode with Travis in the equipment raft.
It is so hard to get any really good pictures while we were on the water……
But I did snap this one of Laura and Dave. We had changed out of the dry suits into heavy vinyl rain gear for this portion of the float trip, as there were not supposed to be any major rapids to run. It was COLD out! We were not paddling, so we just had to huddle up and try to stay warm!
We stopped about 4:30pm along the banks of the river for our overnight.
Travis and Read set up the ‘kitchen’ under a tarp….
And we got our tents set up. We were more than a bit concerned about the fresh bear and moose tracks along the beach, and the fresh pile of bear scat in the clearing right next to our tents! We knew that we would need to keep an eye out for the ‘critters’, but figured that it was unlikely that we would find a better campsite that had no trace of bears.
This was our first experience with a guided overnight trip,but when Read set out the happy hour snacks (chips, salsa, guacamole, beer, wine and margaritas) we decided that we could get used to this. ;– )
A little relaxing…..a few rocks chucked into the river….and a bit of rock skeet shooting…..Then, supper - chicken and steak burritos, and Copper River Red salmon for the vegetarians. Dessert, served a bit later, was a German chocolate cake cooked by Read in a Dutch oven. Read perfected his cooking during a summer spent cooking for rafting groups on the Colorado River.
That night, we slept well …..except for maybe a few minutes of concern over some rustling in the bushes……then awoke to a light drizzle. Those rain suits sure come in handy! A cup of coffee and a cooked breakfast to start the morning…..but those worried expressions were for the Dall sheep that we spotted waaay up on the opposite bank hillside……
The one by himself seemed stuck in a precarious position, though, I think that sheep somehow find their way down (or back up). We watched until it was time for us to load up, and then just wished the little sheep well……
No pictures for the float back to Chickaloon that morning……it started out in a drizzle and ended in a downpour! The rain, plus a few very dousing rapids had us chilled through. Thank goodness for a wood heater and a cup of hot chocolate in the Nova office and a warm, dry set of clothes from our camper. : )
Thursday afternoon - we drove back to Wasilla to pick up Jade and camped just up the road. Tomorrow, on to Denali NP………