Final Summary

Well, I am back in Fairbanks. I feel a little like Evil Knievel when he attempted to jump Snake River canyon. Regretfully, due to weather, I felt like the only safe thing for me to do is call off the project.

Three things led to my decision;

When I first landed I fished the river for four hours and never caught a fish. I had fished that river before and found an over-abundance of fish there, both grayling and dollies. I know the species and I know how to fish the river. Something was wrong. I continued to fish the river for three days, and still did not catch a fish. Next I tried ground squirrels they were not there either, I found one.

The edible greens were not green, everything was still brown, from the winter, no new growth.

The forecast was calling for a winter storm warning,  5-14 inches of new snow with 35 MPH winds.

The problems; I was counting on fish from mid-river, where I was, to carry me over the upper river and the continental divide. I was going to catch a surplus, smoke and dry them for food to sustain me till I found fish on the other side. The fish just had not reached the middle river yet. If there's no fish in mid river, there's no fish in the upper river. No fish, game over. Grayling over-winter in the lower river and all but a few Dollie Varden spend the winter in the ocean. In the spring both species migrate up the river to spawn.

You can't eat brown edible plants. Well, you can, they just don't taste good and they have little nutritional value. I did find and eat some freeze dried cranberries from last fall. They were sweet but not plentiful and were mostly seeds.

I was not really afraid of the weather, I had already spent the first night in blizzard like conditions. My concern was that with all the new snow, the rivers would all go up making my river crossings too unsafe.

My mistakes; It's important to analyze what went wrong so you can learn from it. My mistake if I made one was in timing. Either I was early or it was a late spring in the arctic. It's probably a little of both. None of the river guides I spoke to up there can remember such a late spring. Two or three weeks could have made a world of difference.

The solutions; I could have tried to get a report on the conditions of the river before I started. It's hard to do when you're one of the first people to go there in the spring, and it's remote.

In hind sight, I could have brought a weeks worth of freeze dry with me to hold me over till I figured things out. I think that would have just postponed my problems in this case.

If it had been a true survival situation, I could have headed down river till I found fish. Not an option for me here, I needed to go up river.

Also, there was a small herd of caribou just over the hill from me for the whole three days. In a true survival situation I could have shot one of them. In my situation I could not legally shoot one.

With some food I could have waited for the storms to blow over and the rivers to go down enough for me to cross safely.

You make the best decisions you can with the information you have.

I was able to keep warm and dry, all my gear worked like it should have. I was never in danger. I carefully weighed all my options and made a decision to end it before it became dangerous.

To be sure, this was an ambitious thing to try. My confidence, perseverance and ingenuity have carried me through lots of exciting adventures. To me it's boring to do things I already know I can do. I have already camped with all the gear, freeze dried food and rafts etc. Without the challenge it's not exciting or interesting to me. Because I am always challenging myself with new things, I'm bound to fail at some of them. Nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished from the easy chair.

There were lots of things I wanted to show you on this trip;

Carving eating utensils and bowls from sheep horn and antler.

A multitude of traps and snares, both primitive and using more modern materials.

Primitive fishing techniques, making fish hooks and nets and traps.

Ways to cook things that you may not have thought of.

Edible plants.

I'm not one to pretend and do these things in my back yard, the setting is everything. It's my hope that I can do all these things and more on future trips.

In the next couple of days, there will be video from the trip on my blog if you'd like to see it.

Thank you to my supporters here.

Mark

The Cold Hard Truth

Sometimes things don't go the way you want them to. There is a winter storm warning out for the eastern Brooks Range. 5 to 14 inches of snow expected. Winds gusting to 35 mph through Monday night. It's starting right now. With the new rain and snow the rivers will rise and make crossing dangerous. For this reason and a couple of others I have regretfully decided to end this trip. The fish have not made it up the river this far and without them I can't continue. Some health issues have also flared up. The only smart thing I can do is call it off. There's a chance that a plane can get me out tomorrow. I hope to be on it.

Mark

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The Journey Begins

I got to Drain Creek at about 2:00 today. Shortly after getting here it started to rain, and it got very windy. By 6 it had started to snow sideways. Tried to fish but it was much too windy. I heard a ground squirrel bark up on hill. Will try to catch some tomorrow. I put up a quick shelter, had a nice fire and am warm and dry. I am hoping for better weather tomorrow.

PS, there was a bull caribou just up river of the gravel bar landing strip when we landed.

Mark

Final Preparations

Tomorrow morning at 6:45AM, I board a small prop plane to Arctic Village in the Brooks Range. There, I will meet with my bush pilot from Yukon Air Service for my flight to the gravel bar air strip on Drain Creek, on the north slope of the Brooks Range, in the north east corner of Alaska, about 40 miles from the Canadian border. This is where my trek begins.

Today, I’m making final preparations for the journey. I’m checking my lists; survival gear, camera gear and communications.  I’ve charged all the batteries and checked all the gear to make sure everything works properly. Parts of this trip will be tough, but with some persistence, ingenuity and stamina everything will be fine. If I forget something, I will have to make do. This is after all, a survival trip. My list of camera and communications gear, by far, exceeds my list of gear associated with bush craft and survival. 

As for my background, I am not an extraordinary guy, I am in my late 50’s, about 50 lbs. overweight and sleep with a CPAP machine. Like a lot of kids, my first exposure to camping was in the Boy Scouts. In high school, I took two years of machine shop classes, and after graduation in 1979, I went to work in Minneapolis machine shops where I worked up through the ranks to become a tool and die maker. In 1984, I fulfilled a lifelong dream and moved to Alaska to become a big game guide, commercial fisherman and professional trapper. I started out as a packer in guide camps in the Brooks Range and became a registered guide in 1987. I guided, commercial fished and trapped full time for 15 years. In 1999, I decided I needed to start building for the future and put down roots somewhere. I quit fishing in the summer and got a “real job” in town and started putting away some money for land. It was during my summer job that I met Angel, who was to become my wife in 2000. It made little sense for me to go to the remote trap line alone for the six month trapping season, and even less sense for both of us to quit our relatively good paying jobs, to go to the trap line together, so I sold the trap line. That would mark the first year I spent the winter in civilization since 1985.

Shortly after Angel and I were married, we started our own business, The Cutting Edge, a tool sharpening and machine shop, this is when I began making custom knives. I continued to guide fisherman and big game hunters, although, not to the same scale I used to.

I became a full time knifemaker in 2005. Angel and I expanded our business, The Edge of the Arctic Trading Post – Custom Knives and Art Gallery, where we sell my custom knives and original artwork from Alaska.

I continue to go on extended float trips and treks to test the equipment I build, expand my knowledge and hone my skills. 

My next message will be from one of the most remote locations in Alaska and the U.S.

Stay tuned, I invite you to follow along and see what happens.

Mark

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