This is an excerpt from my, as yet unpublished book. The title of this story is, “Dr. Livingston, I presume.”
This story happened almost 50 years ago. We were in a remote part of Alaska, north of the Brooks Range with its 24-hours of summer daylight. I had just finished my bachelor’s double major degree in wildlife management/fisheries biology from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Several things were happening that summer of 1972. As mentioned, I had just completed my undergraduate program. I had been accepted to graduate school but needed a job during the summer to earn some money and gain some experience in my chosen profession. I interviewed for a temporary position with the Sport Fish Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G) on a pre-Alaska pipeline fisheries research project on the North Slope. Five of us were hired…
A complete solar eclipse happened that summer and we were ideally located where the eclipse was total rather than partial. Harvey (project manager) had told us over the radio when the eclipse was scheduled and that everyone was being warned not to look directly at it for fear of eye damage from the type of radiation emanating from the eclipse. Of course, Roger and I both watched as the eclipse progressed from beginning to end. We took photos and marveled as the daylight went from full sunny-day brightness to dusky to total darkness, where you literally couldn’t see your hand in front of your face – I tried! The darkness lasted for several minutes before the reversal of the eclipse effects occurred. My slides of the eclipse didn’t come out very well, but I also didn’t seem to suffer any eye damage either…
We were winding down about mid-August with the work Harvey wanted done at the Ivishak field camp. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with Dave and I, but after some of the pranks various crew members had pulled on him at the Happy Valley camp during the season (short-sheeting his bed and sewing his blue jeans legs shut), he knew he didn’t want three of us (Roger was already at Happy Valley) together there!
Harvey asked Dave and me over the radio if, after we took the Ivishak field camp down, we might want to spend a week to ten days floating the Ivishak River, catching and sampling fish, looking for tagged fish, and recording the data. That was another “duh” moment! The next day, we assembled the needed gear from what we had in the field camp and readied the rest for transport back to Happy Valley. The helicopter arrived and we loaded it for the freight haul back to base camp.
When the helicopter returned, the pilot had brought a small pup tent. We had all the rest of the gear and food ready to go. We loaded the chopper, and the pilot flew us as far up the river as he could and still land the aircraft. We were in the northern foothills of the Brooks Range when we were dropped off. We inflated the raft, loaded the gear, and began our journey.
I don’t remember a lot of specifics from that trip other than once, when we hit a sharp rock, and tore a hole in the bottom of the raft. We took a half-day to make repairs before starting out again. We fished at specific stopping points as we floated and took in the scenery. One evening, we stopped and climbed one of the taller hills next to the river. From the top, we had a grand view of the “braided channels” Alaskan rivers are noted for. We occasionally would stop and hike around to stretch our legs and see the countryside.
We didn’t see any man-made objects the entire trip, except for one jet contrail crossing overhead one day. Talk about pristine wilderness and solitude! When we floated onto the Sagavanirktok (Sag) River, I knew I was almost done for the summer. I remember looking forward to a hot shower and a warm meal. I also noted a touch of anxiety over what life held for me next – leaving Alaska to start my graduate studies.
That first evening back at camp, Harvey informed Dave and me that, as far as he knew, we were the first white men ever to float the entire length of the Ivishak River. That boosted my spirits a bit. It’s not every day an opportunity like that comes along in one’s life.