A Winter Expedition Into Yukon – Charley Rivers National Preserve

October 29th, 2015 by
On March 8, 1983, I flew the National Park Service Cessna 185 from Bettles to Eagle.  The plane carried a folding toboggan, winter camping gear and seven of our strongest huskies.  The purpose of the trip was to take part in a winter exploration expedition into the heart of the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve.  Other expedition members included Dave Mahalic, the preserve superintendent, the chief ranger, and three local men who worked seasonally as park rangers.  The local men were experienced outdoorsmen skilled in winter travel.
 A total of four dog teams, including mine, pulled heavily loaded toboggans through deep, soft snow and overflow that spread completely across the frozen ice of Godge Creek forcing dogs and men to wade through heavy slush.  The team members took turns slogging ahead on snowshoes to pack a trail for the dogs.  Progress the first few days was slow and laborious as we struggled to push through unbroken snow and confront the quagmire of water saturated snow.  It was necessary to occasionally turn off the creek bottom and ascend the thickly forested banks to escape the overflow and give the dogs a chance to rest and clean themselves of crusty ice clinging to their fur.
We tried to pitch camp in the mid afternoon picking relatively level benches off the river where we could find dry wood and willows and spruce boughs to serve as a mat to keep the sleeping bags off the wet surface.  Despite the hard work of travel everyone remained in good spirits as we gradually ascended to a high pass providing a stunning view of the headwaters of the Charley River.  Steep mountains formed a massive amphitheater for the upper headwaters of the Charley River.  Double sundogs gave off a surreal glow making the scene almost fairyland-like.  We descended about a mile down the creek toward the Charley River setting up camp. 
The following day we divided forces with part of the team crossing a broad lowland several miles to a northerly branch of the Charley River.  Several days earlier I had landed a Super Cub on skis near a deserted prospector’s cabin where I cached extra supplies for the trip, including bags of dried salmon for the dogs.  We found that a wolverine had vandalized part of the cache, but there was still enough food to support our return trip.
The return trip was substantially easier than the first leg of the expedition.  The trail that we had pioneered had set up (frozen) providing a solid base for travel.  We did hit a few patches of fresh overflow, but it did little to slow our progress.  Our travel per day easily doubled over what it had been a few days earlier.  The final picture shows two of the crew mushing up the Yukon River back into the village of Eagle.