Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Surviving Alaska's Wilds

Photo credit Jack London State Historic Park

Every couple of years a friend of mine and I head out on a “guys only adventure” in the summer. We have been doing this for almost three decades. Most involve looking for gold. All have resulted in sore backs, bruises and anemia due to blood-sucking insects of various sorts, but very little of the precious metal. Our wives think it’s great because we get it out of our systems without making them suffer along.

The ideas for our adventures are invariably born in the dead of winter after a couple of shots of an adult libation and reading one too many Robert Service poems, or re-reading Jack London’s tales. We yearn to overcome the same trials as the early Alaskan pioneers. 

The long road trip into Alaska

This year’s adventure, a trip to Chicken, Alaska, was my idea. I took my wife there for our 38th wedding anniversary, two years ago. (I mean really, Paris is fine and Tahiti is nice, but both are so, so overdone.) While my wife’s reaction to our trip was not all I had hoped it would be (I guess maybe the romance really does fade with the years.), it gave me an idea for the next adventure with my friend.

The plan was hatched in February, with a launch date of June 13th, arriving in Chicken on the 15th. However, we were advised there would be no place to camp until June 19th due to “Chickenstock,” a yearly music festival. Plan B was born: go to the old Kennecott copper mine in McCarthy first, then up to Chicken.

Our trip has been successful in providing the pioneer experience. Okay, maybe it’s a little different  in a small motor home, but there have been trials aplenty.  

Mosquito net on my fashionable friend


First of all, this year’s crop of mosquitoes has taken misery to a new level. And with so many of them, they have turned mean in the competition for blood. They can be fended off to a small degree with bug dope, but they still congregate so thickly it’s all but impossible to breathe without choking on one, or two, or a dozen. A fashionable wardrobe in Alaska includes a mosquito net.

Alaskan survival kit

Then, there’s the wine. We had to settle for boxed wine. BOXED wine, no bottled stuff for these adventurers. I’ll bet that’s a problem the guys in the ’98 stampede never had to worry about. It gets worse. The spray cleaner under the sink tipped over, leaked, and soaked the box. Immediate emergency measures had to be implemented. Fortunately we were clever enough to reflect on how Jack London might have responded to such a dire situation, and like true Alaskans, we employed the use of duct tape.

The ultimate Alaskan camper!

On the way to McCarthy, we stopped in Copper Center to check out the action. There, we found the Alaskan spirit of invention was alive and well. On display was the perfect Alaskan truck and camper. We also had to walk both blocks of the town, as the local taxi was out of commission.

The scenery has been unparalleled, and we found a small camping area near the start of our McCarthy trip, called Liberty Falls. Not only were the falls beautiful, but they helped cool off the air. But again, we found ourselves in jeopardy. The canyon for Liberty Creek is so perilous it required a special sign. It seems the canyon walls are steep cliffs, not your ordinary, easy-going, kind of slide down at a gentle slope, cliffs. I got chills just reading the sign. 

Liberty Falls
Oh no Fluffy! A STEEP cliff!

The road to McCarthy, all sixty miles of it, is gravel. They buried a perfectly good railroad line to make it. I’m not sure why they covered the railroad tracks up with gravel and dirt, perhaps to make the drive a little more challenging. The single-lane cut through a rock wall should have served as ample warning for the next sixty miles, but we ignored it and pressed on. I will say, however, I never knew my friend could scream so loud, and in such a high pitch. If nothing, these adventures are informative.

Entering McCarthy Road

We made it out of McCarthy, and are now in Tok (pronounced “toke” - yeah, yeah they’ve heard all the jokes). Today, we move on to seek our riches in the gold fields of Chicken. Check in next week to hear how the adventure ends.

Jack London never had our problems!


  1. Mosquitoes are fierce this year. Fierce. Must tease your friend for screaming like a little girl.

  2. Bomb squad suits and flame throwers are excellent protection from the nasty little vampires although it makes things awkward when trying to B-B-Q

    If you will be panning for gold, I'd recommend a manly set of full body SCUBA gear.
    The gear will keep you pest free while hiking to the streams and allow breathing above water without inhaling the critters .


  3. Is the laptop an essential part of goldminer's gear?