Wildcats on the river

Floating the Thorne when it's low is possible, but a little more tricky.
Floating the Thorne when it’s low is possible, but a little more tricky.

When planning an Alaska itinerary for college friends, it is important to consider things like safety. My fellow University of Arizona alumni had no canoe experience but I figured since the Thorne River was low thanks to a weak snow pack and lack of recent rain, there was nothing to worry about. When the canoes rolled (inevitably not probably) the thin water would be conducive to a quick recovery.
The section I chose for our float was the widest and slowest of the sections I have explored and gets the most summer traffic, which is hardly any.
However, the water ended up being much slower than I had anticipated. I had three friends set up in a canoe borrowed from a friend and another three in a larger canoe borrowed from a local lodge.
We thought about fitting all of us in two canoes, but I threw my cheap inflatable raft in the suburban we rented from a gas station anyway. We parked a car at each point, organized ourselves and were off.
I pushed the two canoes into the heavily sedated current then trailed in the raft. The going was decent at first, but combating rocks on the riverbed became almost constant. The stones were smooth and small for the most part but we were forced to walk the canoe for stretches.
We stopped to fish at a spot I knew was usually good for rainbows and cutthroats.
That’s when team 1 rolled. Thankfully I happened to be looking up river to see the canoe turn broadside and roll, dumping the guys. There was no danger, so I felt no need to hesitate before laughing.
Once they recovered and caught up, I taught them how to fly fish in the midday sun. We couldn’t have asked for a better day to drift, so the lack of fish action wasn’t a big deal. We continued to the next fishing spot.
After maybe 20 minutes of fruitless fishing at the bridge crossing a deep hole, I departed down river. Once I turned around a little spit that jutted out and obscured my view up river, team 2 dumped while shoving off. Only two of the three passengers were soaked. Unfortunately for Lee, he escaped soaking, but his wife didn’t. This subjected him to ridicule.
We floated through the deepest part of the river without hitch or fish and passed my favorite salmon spot on the river. It was now four hours from when we started and the heat of the day had more than likely put the salmon off. That plus the stress of being in low, warm water.
Team 1 and I kept floating past a great spot for spring steelhead to the take out spot and started fishing it. Team 2 rolled into deep water while attempting to exit the canoe to fish a point 200 yards from us. It was a full submersion that we didn’t know about until they reached the takeout and we saw wet cloths clinging to their clothes.
We took inventory of what we had lost during the trip – four cameras, one premium fly rod and my raft had two tears so it would have to be retired. But as is the case with anything, attitude is the most important defense against crisis. We loved it all and considered the over $1,000 of lost merchandise a small price for what we knew would be a great week and a half together.
Not everyone has that attitude. You know people like that. You wouldn’t call them troopers. Usually we only get together in the hurried weekends of a fellow Wildcat getting married. This trip is all about fun, excitement and reconnecting, with stress and adventure on our own terms.
That’s probably why the seven of us get along so well. We consider others, think the same things are funny and can match appropriate movie quotes with any situation. But we’ve changed a bit since college. Our nights are earlier and bodies in more need of stretching to stay nimble enough to escape a flooding canoe in 18 inches of water.

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