We pulled into Chitina late in the afternoon. The two students, both young women named Sara, who had driven the pick-up with the raft were there ahead of us. They were waiting on the bank of the Chitina River, just north of where it flows into the Copper River.
The salmon run on the Copper had begun the week before. Alaskan natives had fish wheels up and running on the Chitina. Others were using fish nets on the river’s edge. Behind them were smoke house trailers and tables to gut and clean the fish.
A strong wind was blowing.
We made camp slowly in the face of the wind. It was a struggle. We didn’t try to set up the stove. We did try to lay out the raft, but we were afraid it would blow away in the night. We collected dry bags from the pick-up and watched while Dave showed us what was in his dry bag.
His clothes were warmer than ours. We had brought everything on the list but, for example, my raincoat buttons. It doesn’t zip. I didn’t have a true parka.
Ah, well. We were a little nervous, but the simple logistics of putting up tents, sorting clothes, putting what we wouldn’t want on the raft into the van, getting the food out, eating, carrying the bear spray.
It was 11 PM. We were tired cookies. And the wind was fierce. It was supposed to rise around 3 or 4 in the afternoon and die down in the evening. The salmon fishers were closing up, and one of them said it had been blowing like this all week. The wind blew all night. It tore Julie and Peggy’s tent and broke a tent pole. In the morning we were all covered with a fine, gritty sand, blown through the tent and the rain fly. And in the morning in kept blowing.
I walked over and looked at the Chitina River, towards the bridge into town where the Chitina merged with the Copper. We would have to drop the raft about two feet into the fast-moving river, then load the food and the kitchen, our dry bags, us.
We decided to bag the Copper River. Instead we would take the van across Alaska, visit Denali, and send the two Sara’s back with the pick-up truck.
We resorted and repacked everything. We mended the tent. We ate breakfast. The wind kept blowing hard. We sent the Sara’s back in the pick-up truck and crossed the river back towards the Wrangle Mountains and the Kennicott Copper Mine in Saint Elias National Park.